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Intelligence squared climate debate: audio and video

YouTube: video (10 parts)
MP3 from NPR (50 minutes, shortened and with summaries by an NPR host)
Full debate (92 minutes, Windows Media, more meat)
NPR web page of the event

As we have reported earlier, skeptics won. By the way, in a similar debate, skeptic Joe Kernen defeated alarmists Sheryl Crow and Laurie David.

When you listen to the audio, you can't be surprised. The alarmists are just categories below the skeptics as far as their scientific as well as rhetorical abilities go. Gavin Schmidt may be aggressive and says things that the audience doesn't like but he's clearly the brightest member of the alarmist team.

Opening statements

Richard Lindzen first explains basic facts. There has been warming in the 20th century: no side questions that. CO2 greenhouse effect contributes to the dynamics to one extent or another - probably not much - but no party questions this either. Then he says an important general fact that much of the confusion about the climate can be attributed to people's ignorance what is normal and what is not normal about the climate: weather events have always existed. Neither group claims that the climate change is a crisis today but the skeptics argue that it won't be a crisis in a foreseeable future either. Lindzen explains that most of the greenhouse effect expected from a doubling of CO2 has already occurred and it only led to a 0.6 Celsius degrees increase or so (and much of this small change could be due to other reasons). Sea level is more affected by tectonics than warming. Warm weather is more comfortable than cold weather. Warming helped to improve agriculture in India. Aerosols are often claimed to explain all gaps in the data except that IPCC admits that the impact of aerosols is virtually unknown and probably insufficient to cancel the warming. Other wrong predictions are blamed in the capacity of oceans except that these explanations start to look contrived. He says that the models can be adjusted to agree with the past behavior once it's known but that's very different from having a model whose future predictions can be trusted. Instead of accelerating, warming has been absent for 10 years. Data don't confirm a crisis. There's no way how we can be close to a "threshold". Temperature in the middle of the troposphere - one that should be caused by the greenhouse effect - is increasingly even slower than the surface temperature.




Everything that Lindzen says is based on relevant facts, broad scientific picture, and rational and quantitative considerations. (Applause.)

The initial testimony of another Richard, Richard Somerville, couldn't be more different. He first quotes several verses from the holy scripture that say that the climate change is unequivocally serious. He spends literally several minutes by prayers how his God is great. God who wrote the IPCC report is so great that there are 30,000 reviewer comments by great people who agree that God is great. Well, I apologize but if these 30,000 people are as unable to focus on the physical content as Richard Somerville clearly is, the value of the IPCC report doesn't necessarily have to exceed a dirty piece of toilet paper.

At the beginning, if I can be acausal a bit, Somerville tries to define what a "crisis" is, using a lot of big words that have obviously no relation with reality. He outrageously argues that individual geniuses almost never make progress in science and uses the word "contrarians" for all kinds of people. He even uses the continental drift as a success story for scientific consensus - no kidding. He collects several dozens of observations that have clearly no direct relevance for the question whether the climate change is a crisis.

He says that warm years occurred in recent era. Well, if you have *any* signal, natural or otherwise, whose period is comparable to one century, it is rather likely that most of the recent years will either be the warmest ones or the coolest ones. He glues together random data from a heat wave, a melting glacier, and speculations about a *positive* feedback from water vapor, and so forth - literally proving Lindzen's assertion that many people are completely unable to understand what's natural about the climate and what is not. He says that climate scientists have predicted these things. That's very funny because when they should have predicted them, they were predicting a new ice age. Climate science has so far made no long-term predictions that would be more successful than random guessing.

Michael Crichton starts by correcting Somerville's anti-history of the continental drift. The guy who had the right idea was vigorously ridiculed by all kinds of "leading" geologists at Harvard and elsewhere. The punch line of many such stories is that it is perfectly plausible that one person is right and a majority is wrong. (Applause.)

Crichton explains how surprised he was when he first looked into the climate numbers. The temperature increase was negligible. What drives the interest in the climate change is the future and the future is predicted by climate models that are unreliable and have already made all kinds of wrong predictions. He talks about the green preachers in the private jets who only talk about these things but have no intention to change their lifestyles. If they don't want to do it, why should anybody else? (Applause.) He explains some real problems of the world - poverty, no water and electricity for billions of people, and the immoral nature of the rich world that views these facts as less important than the hypothetical climate change.

Gavin Schmidt starts with a lot of correct general words about different levels of certainty in science, the task of scientists to find the most likely explanation without a bias and preconceptions. He correctly says that it's bad if a debate whose real driving force is a political concept starts to use science. He mentions creationism and CFC that may contribute to the ozone hole as examples where something that sounds scientific is used for politics. Although I would have certain problems with some of his examples, I completely agree that there's a lot of cases in which scientifically sounding arguments are not directed to experts but are meant to influence the lay public opinion. Well, he also includes the perfectionist and rational presentation by the other side as an example of the public being misled. I strongly disagree with it but even if I agreed, it's clear that most of the audience probably didn't like the idea that they're so stupid.

Schmidt tells the audience how they should count negative points. Every time the defenders of motion say an argument - for example about the lag of CO2 concentration behind temperature - the audience should add several negative points, Schmidt argues. ;-) Someone asks why and Schmidt obviously doesn't answer simply because there exists no "answer" to this argument that would be anything else than ridiculous.

Philip Stott is a born poet. His passionate presentation reminds me of some heroes of classical theater or, indeed, some of the best priests in the Church. ;-) He explains that science makes progress by falsification and paradigm shifts, not by consensus. Stott reads from several newspapers in the 1970s that reported the consensus about the catastrophes of coming global cooling. Global cooling may sound different than global warming except that the evidence came from oceans, from polar bears - they always play a key role, - changing seasons, and it was always a disaster. Why do we believe them now? To make things even more funny, he reminds us of the orthodoxy behind the first Earth Day. They argued that the U.S. population would drop to 20 million by the year 2000, bringing the calories per day near the African levels. ;-)

Climate is always changing. If it were not changing, it would be an interesting scientific anomaly that occurred for the first time in 4.6 billion years. Climate is very complex and as chaotic as the streets of Glasgow. We should ask the politicians: "When the desired effects of the policies will emerge?" Poverty affecting billions of people is more important. He is thus a left-wing critic of these things. As a European, he thinks that the hypocricy in Europe about these issues is absolutely mind-blowing. (Applause.) The emissions in many countries grow like mad yet the people want to teach others. Stott decided not to say anything about Al Gore and his house. (Laughter.) Angela Merkel is specifically mentioned for her plans to control the climate within a degree: that's a political crisis. (Big applause.)

Brenda Ekwurzel offers her (and Al Gore's) silly analogy with the fever. We're a doctor that has determined that the fever is caused by the emitted greenhouse gases. She argues that "1.4 degrees F means everything to 'fragile' Earth although it doesn't mean much to us". Who could have thought. Everything is exactly the other way around than she says. Individual animals, objects, and people are much more fragile than Earth. Earth has survived much much more drastic variations of anything. If the temperature change doesn't influence a typical human person, you can be pretty sure that it won't kill "Earth" either.

Confrontation

Brian Lehrer asks Lindzen and Ekwurzel whether the world will become more stable or less stable. Lindzen explains that the predicted decrease of the temperatures between the poles and the equator would reduce all kinds of storminess and other extreme phenomena. He answers a question whether the world could get better: of course that it could. We're not guaranteed to be at any optimum now. Stott supports this assertion later by pointing out the holocene optimum that was warmer and apparently more optimal than the present. An alarmist claims that a basement could be flooded. Stott says that global warming can't be used as a justification for bad engineers. (Applause.)

Ekwurzel, on the other hand, says that everything will get worse. She offers no explanation or anything that would be related to the scientific question but immediately starts to talk about the governments that must spend everything she wants them to spend. Well, poultry brains have been getting their PhDs for quite some time and political correctness has certainly contributed to this misplacement of scientific degrees.

Crichton is asked why the audience should believe his team and not the "huge consensus". He explains that this way of thinking is a warning signal because if the statements were scientifically solid, no one would ever refer to a consensus - for example in the question whether the Moon is orbiting the Earth. He mentions an example with Einstein who was asked "How does it feel that all these 2000 scientists are against you?" Einstein answered: "It only takes one to prove me wrong."

Schmidt agrees with Crichton that consensus is not science - it's what's left after the science is done. That's of course true (whenever the consensus arises) except that this observation has nothing to do with the key comment about the consensus - that consensus simply can't be used as a scientific argument. Schmidt says that people should be at the cutting edge. Stott agrees and explains that being at the cutting edge means to study the role of the cosmic rays. Schmidt says that the cosmic rays couldn't have caused any recent changes because their flux hasn't changed. He has no other arguments against the general framework that the cosmic rays are an important factor influencing the climate - something that has been studied at longer timescales. So he says that he just knows it's bogus and his colleague knows it's bogus. Everyone is amused. ;-)

Lindzen mentions some examples of Somerville and Schmidt saying wrong things, for example that the current weather is warmer than in the last 1300 years. As the NAS panel confirmed, the hockey stick graphs reconstructions before 1600 are not credible because the Mann et al. methodology was flawed. Let me quote the paragraph of the politically correct NAS panel about the small confidence in the very long-term reconstructions:

  • Based on the analyses presented in the original papers by Mann et al. and this newer supporting evidence, the committee finds it plausible that the Northern Hemisphere was warmer during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period over the preceding millennium. The substantial uncertainties currently present in the quantitative assessment of large-scale surface temperature changes prior to about A.D. 1600 lower our confidence in this conclusion compared to the high level of confidence we place in the Little Ice Age cooling and 20th century warming. Even less confidence can be placed in the original conclusions by Mann et al. (1999) that "the 1990s are likely the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in at least a millennium" because the uncertainties inherent in temperature reconstructions for individual years and decades are larger than those for longer time periods, and because not all of the available proxies record temperature information on such short timescales."

Schmidt suddenly screams that the defenders of the motion say things that the audience can't understand. The audience boos. ;-) When Schmidt is asked whether his foes are biased because of an agenda, he says that he doesn't care. Philip Stott adds that he is left-wing and has no money from oil companies. :-)

Andrew Revkin (New York Times) asks whether anyone besides Stott questions that CO2 will warm the atmosphere. Ekwurzel unexpectedly starts to talk about methane emissions in the context of a question that has nothing to do with it, as far as I can say. Stott criticizes the Stern report that he didn't include social discount: a generation is paying for a richer generation. Ekwurzel disagrees and thinks that the future generations will be poorer and economics arguments can't be used. Well, if similar Ekwurzels start to shape policies, it can't be ruled out that the future generations will indeed be poorer. Somerville tries to make this topic even more political, insisting that the electorate should exert pressure on the politicians and tell them that it is extremely important to fight against the climate change. Oops.

An articulate female non-scientist member of the audience says that the consensus of scientists doesn't need much, citing a few examples - and she asks Brenda why is it so that the Earth is more fragile than the human being - a bold hypothesis that I was also stunned by. ;-) She asks why the warmer periods were so bad, citing warm Greenland as good examples. Ekwurzel gives a long answer - a kind of hysterical screech that nothing can adapt anymore and everyone will suffer - whose meaning I haven't understood at all so I can't transform this incoherent confusion into meaningful sentences.

Stott of course agrees with the woman that the Earth is much more robust than we are. Another question leads Stott to explain how hard it is to model an important man-made factor - changes in reflectivity. Schmidt says that it's meaningless to say that we don't know 80% of the effects.

Somerville says that it is enough for climate scientists to be useful - much like a doctor who can be useful even if she hasn't solved all diseases. Well, that's very nice except that this whole debate is about the question whether the recommendations by climate scientists and activists are useful or on the contrary - which largely depends on the question whether they're mostly right or mostly wrong. That's a question he doesn't want to ask at all which is the main origin of his poor performance.

Stott replies to Schmidt that he, Stott, doesn't want to cross a Brooklyn bridge built by an engineer who only understands 80% of the forces on that bridge. (Laughter.)

The participants are asked how they prioritize. Somerville gives another confused answer, illogically attacking the pro-side while saying that the investment in this "horrible" climate change business doesn't have to reduce money for fighting poverty etc. He adds some crazy comments that the poor will suffer most from the global warming. Crichton says that we can indeed do several things at the same moment except that we don't do them. Instead, we're talking about some speculative scenarios that will happen in 2100 while 3500 poor people die during the debate. (Applause.)

Closing statements

According to Somerville, we will run out of oil and we're using the atmosphere as a dumping ground which will damage the planet. Science is only useful if we do things according to its predictions: he cites a Nobel winner. Decisions must be made: it's thus a crisis, and we will therefore face dire consequences if we don't act. Well, this logic is different from the logic that I am used to. Neither of his "implications" follows the laws of logic as I know them. He repeats that global warming is a crisis and not fighting is irresponsible about 5 times, without a glimpse of a rational argument. (Weak applause.)

Stott says that the last thing he wants to do demean any scientist. The point of science is a constant debate. The main problem is not demeaning of scientists but the attempts to close the debate. (Applause.) Using a music analogy - Stott is not only a blogger but also a musician - reconstructing climate is like playing Mozart's symphony without most of the instruments. He says that poverty and current energy problems are more important and that global warming is being used by everyone for their personal agendas. (Applause.)

Schmidt says that the climate change is not new. He attacks what his three opponents are saying although it's not clear how the attack follows from the context. He quotes some "serious scientists" in the 1960s - no idea whom he means - who allegedly predicted all details of the current climate. There are no coherent theories that fit the data better, he says. Well, even if it were the case, and it's not, it is not a reason to trust one so randomly chosen theory. To deny that we have a crisis at a planetary scale is to fiddle while a home burns. ;-) (Applause.)

Lindzen thinks it's difficult to respond if others are telling you not to attack scientists - while they are attacking scientists; when they tell you how to regulate methane - without telling you that it has stopped rising; when they only tell you that there's warming on Earth - but don't tell you about the warming at Mars, Jupiter, Triton, Pluto; they tell you how oceans fit into the theory - while they don't tell you that oceans have recently cooled down and two papers from 2006 lead to the conclusion that the sensitivity is 1/10 of what Jim Hansen got by making incorrect assumptions about the ocean. If everything is so certain, why does the data keep on changing? And as they change, do we want to ignore the changes and stick to the point? (Applause.)

Ekwurzel claims that global warming is not only there but it is "accelerating". She is apparently used not to be expected to give any explanation, even for the craziest statements, which is why she immediately talks about business leaders who think it is a great idea to fight global warming. She enumerates several big corporations that are asking for action: in this case, of course, those who agree with the big corporations are not corrupt dishonest stooges and charlatans although she doesn't explain why. Several obnoxious sentences filled with a vacuous political propaganda follow. (Short applause.)

Crichton mentions a story when he was a physician: a woman came and said she was blind. They looked into it: she had hysterical blindness. He says that the reactions don't always have the same strength as their causes. Crichton says that most proposed actions are symbolic - and he adds his own: a private jet ban. Greenpeace and NRDC should ask their members to follow these restrictions. If they can't do that, why should we? (Applause.)

The defenders of the motion "Climate change is not a crisis" from 30 to 46 percent. The opponents of the motion went from 57 to 42 percent. Hard core ambivalents went from 13 to 12 percent and are still among us.

The skeptics were much better than the alarmists and Gavin Schmidt was, despite his aggressive approach, much brighter and more convincing than the other two members of his team.

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reader beckon duel said...

Dear "Reference Frame" Staff,

Your "debate" on global warming was framed in a biased way. "Global Warming Is Not A Crisis" is a statement that assumes those who support this statement are correct, leaving the burden of proof on those who oppose it. It's the same as saying to a man "You are beating your wife", leaving the burden of proof on him to prove he is not.

A more neutral title for the debate would be "Is Global Warming A Crisis?" This would leave the burden of proof on both sides of the issue.

In addition, I see no reason why people outside the scientific community were included in this debate. Is it really important to know what a film producer thinks about global warming? I hope, in the future, you are more careful about the selection of guests for issues that are as important as the subject of global warming is now.

Respectfully,
Beckon Duel


reader jasontd said...

The debate was not connected with the owner of this blog. He just comments on it since he is very concerned about the issue. The debate was actually sponsered by a group called the Rosenkranz Foundation under the name Intelligence Squared which hopes to provide a bit more rigor in public discourse instead of the typical sound bite news most Americans are used to. Here is the homepage for this event: http://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/Event.aspx?Event=12

As for how the question was framed, it may seem biased to pose the question that way, but I think it may be fairly typical of how debates are structured. There is a question and the debate is broken into a "For" side and an "Against" side. I was never on the debate team or anything like that, so I don't know why it would be better to phrase the question that way instead of with a more neutral tone.

As for Michael Critchon, I have to agree with you there, though perhaps not too strongly. The question posed wasn't so much whether global warming was happening, but whether it is a "crisis." While human's role in any global warming would determine what type of actions we should take if it were to be considered a crisis, the question itself is broad enough that those without specialized knowledge of climate science could be included to talk about policy implications, for instance.

People are free to judge the credibility and reliability of such non-experts as Critchon on their own, but based only on background knowledge and training, I wouldn't expect anyone to give his opinion on whether humans are responsible for the late 20th century warming and predicted future warming significantly more weight than anyone else's that speaks on the issue. And I would think people would give it substantially less weight than what actual climate scientists have to say.


reader yourworstnightmare said...

I love how you use "debate" in quotes as though Motl made this all up. Apparently Richard Lindzen's name doesn't ring a bell with you?

Credentials mean little today...Crichton was talking more about science and truth than those with 'credentials' that you seem to favor over people with common sense.

If the climate expert "for" warming sounds more like a politician and offers no scientific basis for his position or offers weak scientific evidence, then science still wins, no matter whose mouth it emanates from,and actually weakens the credibility of the global warming enthusiast.

Pedigrees and diplomas, as Motl points out, are given out to headless chickens more oft than not today. Some of them can't even spell or work out a simple equation.


reader fulldroolcup said...

For the record: Michael Crichton is not just a "film producer". From his wikipedia biography: "Crichton graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College, received his MD from Harvard Medical School, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, researching public policy with Jacob Bronowski. He has taught courses in anthropology at Cambridge University and writing at MIT." He's certainly got a helluva lot more scientific cred than Algore (who will not debate any climate scientist), but who enviro-evangelistas consider their Oracle.


reader Gabe said...

Hey drool cup, it's nice to know that Crichton went to Harvard, but I hope you realize that doesn't make him any less full of crap.
Algore is not my oracle, Tim Flannery is (I wish there was a movie version of 'the weather makers')

Now to take on Motl: You say that sea level is effected more by tectonics that warming. What is your source on that? Do you literally mean that the effects of a greater evaporation rate and shifting tectonic plates could work faster than the effect of the greenland and Antarctica ice melting?
"Instead of accelleration, warming has been absent for 10 years". Maybe right in front of your nose. Otherwise the global temperature has been rising, and one of the warmest years ever, possibly the warmest, was 2006.
Data from a heat wave is random. You have a point here. I am was annoyed by the way the media hyped the short-lived heat wave last summer as part of global warming. However, similarily, I am equally annoyed when there's a cold winter and people start dismissing global warming.
By the way, I can't believe that you are basically citing Crichton as a source. We already know that Crichton hates enviornmentalists, and will stoop even lower than you to attempt to discredit them. Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time, a writer gave Crichton a lousy reveiw for one of his books. What did Crichton do? He made the reviewer a character in State of Fear, but he took the liberty of making the reviewer be a child molester in his book.

the temperature change has already influenced many people, and it won't kill earth, but it might kill us and many other species.

Now on a very dirty, personal note: I hear that whenever someone challanges string theory, you say that they don't know nearly enough about it. Yet you will pretend to know everything about climate change. I won't be condescending enough to suggest that you shouldn't be talking about something thats not in 'your zone'. However, the fact that you use Crichton as a source clearly indicates that you really don't care about actually learning about the climate science in an objective way.