Friday, February 08, 2008

Challenging Global Warming Skeptics

Prof. Richard Gammon

"Facts are stubborn things", Ronald Reagan reminded knee-jerk ideologues with advice that applies to many of the people gathered at the Mercer Island Library for last night's Conservative Enthusiasts meeting on Global Warming. No matter how much you may wish it were different, if you're wrong about the evidence, your position is ultimately doomed.

Mark Sussman (MIT PhD and organizer of the group) understands the importance of real debate, so he invited as a special guest Dr. Richard Gammon, climatologist from the University of Washington, and Nobel Prize-winning member of the IPCC. After a showing of the movie (I saw last year) The Great Global Warming Swindle, they invited Prof. Gammon to give a rebuttal -- and take questions from the skeptics.

Prof. Gammon deserves another Nobel Prize for agreeing to present in front of such a hostile audience. If you think man-made global warming is a crisis and you want to affect opinions, you need to persuade the skeptics, not dismiss them as idiots the way Al Gore and others do by insisting "the debate is over". (If you think there's nothing to debate, by the way, I dare you to listen to the NPR-sponsored Global Warming debate ).  To Gammon's great credit, at least he was willing to come visit the other side.

The problem for most of the conservatives last night, I think, is that they approach the scientists' political motivations so skeptically that they refuse to listen, whether to facts or anything else. Unfortunately, Professor Gammon's talk ultimately failed because, like many from the Global Warming movement, he mixes science (where he is an expert) with policy (where he is not) -- and of course the audience saw right through it, and missed his overall point.

Here's the kind of presentation I'd like to see Prof. Gammon and others give next time:

  1. Eliminate all talk about politics.  Assume nobody's a liberal, nobody's a conservative. Just talk provable science.
  2. Be very humble when discussing projections about the future.  What may or may not happen in 50 or 100 years is so speculative and prone to error that it distracts from the real message--experimentally verifiable facts about what has happened in the past and what is happening right now.
  3. Stop the tape.  While watching the video, push the pause button and refute the assertions one-by-one.  One reason the Swindle video is so powerful is that it does have some truth to it; acknowledge those facts and the uncertainties so you have credibility when refuting the errors.
  4. Ask for advice. Conservatives don't want the world to end either.  If humans are causing the world to warm out of control, ask the audience how they would fix it.  Unfortunately, conservatives think the IPCC's proposal is "vote for Al Gore" -- which clearly has nothing to do with science. 

The Global Warming deniers are making a huge bet that facts are on their side.  But facts don't care about ideology. I think a committed focus on facts--not policy opinions--would change more minds.


Anonymous said...

Endlessly implying that "facts" are on one side of the debate and someone (you?) knows what are and are not "facts" is the hogwash being offered here.

The truth is that the entire subject is so complex that thaousands of facts can be offered on both sides of this subject and pretenders on both sides like most of all to pretend that they see it all.

There is no proof that CO2 causes global temps to rise. That little fact is ignored by the advocates who keep name-calling and insulting their opposition.

Richard Sprague said...

But the facts are on one side of this. I don't disagree with you about the complexity, but it's baffling to me why some people feel threatened by the facts. Why be so defensive? Does your whole ideology depend on the results of scientific experiments (one way or another)?

My free market-oriented policy suggestions don't change, regardless of whether "the facts" prove human-caused global warming or not. How about you?

Anonymous said...

The facts certainly are not on one side of the AGW debate. That is something you cannot prove.

Psychobabbling about people feeling "threatened" if they don't agree with you is the sort of false debate nonsense that has come to typify the AGW side of the debate. Use of the term "denier" is more of the same psychobabble.

Your position is wrong. People who say so do not need your irrelevant and amateurish psycho-analysis. What they need is proof from you that CO2 causes global warming. Short of that proof, you are spinning your rhetorical wheels.

My ideology is also free-market - utterly free. I see no place for public policy in any aspect of the market or the economy.

I am convinced, from reading the science, that AGW is nonsense. "Non sense" means no evidence.

Richard Sprague said...

Let me rephrase. Only one of the following is a fact:

Position A: AGW is true.
Position B: AGW is false.

If you believe in free markets, I don't understand why it matters one wit whether you take position A or position B.

Al Gore wants to equate Position A with the need for Big Government, and for some reason a lot of Conservatives agree, so naturally they take Position B.

But Position A does not imply Big Government! Somebody please explain to me why there must be a link.

Anonymous said...

I know of no one who says there "must" be a link between these two subjects. However, if the AGW crowd is also mainly the totalitarian world government (TWG) solution crowd, it makes sense to point out that AGW is false, if that is what you believe.

One can say BOTH that AGW is not a problem AND that, even if it was, TWG would not be the solution.

My own hunch is that TWG is the main reason for the popularity of AGW. The science isn't there, but the love of legislation is.

Richard Sprague said...

Facts are stubborn things, and somebody a scientific experiment will prove one of the two positions correct. That's where I think Al Gore has tricked you into making a serious tactical mistake because he got you to stake your credibility on the fate of scientific experiments -- where neither you nor Al Gore are experts.

The TWG people have nothing to lose, so they may as well go all out hoping science eventually proves AWG, making them look like prophets.

But why do you want to blow your credibility over something that, you admit, doesn't even affect your policy positions?

Anonymous said...

As I wrote in my first comment:

"The truth is that the entire subject is so complex that thousands of facts can be offered on both sides of this subject and pretenders on both sides like most of all to pretend that they see it all."

So why do you want to blow your credibility by failing to read carefully?

Your idea that some experiment is going to settle this dispute is evidence that you have been tricked - perhaps by Al Gore - into thinking that the subject is a simple one.

Where did you find the evidence that I am not an expert on this subject? More psychobabble? More leaping to conclusions without evidence?

Clearly, you are an expert at mind reading as well as the climate of the entire earth, its history, and its future.

Anonymous said...

Global warming caused by humans is not fact.

Claiming it's fact is equivalent to claiming the bible is fact.

You can believe it...but your faith does not make your beliefs fact.

There are tons, and a simple internet search shows it, statemensts that show that temperature differentials may not be caused by human activity.

This is certainly interesting coming from the person who said that flouride in water is bad (as if that were fact too!).

One must distinguish fact from faith. Once you do that -- your arguments will become more cogent as you preach your beliefs.

Anonymous said...

This event will be very well remembered by those who attended! Mark Sussman and I wanted a two sided debate regarding GW, and that's exactly what we got. Mark, an MIT grad encourages methodical discussions/debates and that's why he is 'above the fray'. That's why I helped him host this event and secure Dr. Gammon as our speaker.