Saturday, May 31, 2008

Why are green advocates failing in climate debate?

Final results: Among 1292 voters, 64% think that it's because the greens are wrong and one can't defend wrong statements well; 18% think that they're overwhelmed by their "religion" or big ideas and can't see and learn the "details"; 9% think that they're obsessed with the change that prevents them from seeing the status quo (the previous two groups have twenty-seven percent in total); 5% think that the greens are not under the same pressure that forces the skeptics to be good to survive; 4% think that the greens are more ignorant or more stupid; 1% think that the greens have less at stake; 0% or 2 participants think that the greens are less passionate.
There seems to be one question in which the green advocates and climate realists agree, and it is this. Green advocates are failing in the climate debate.

Mark Seal is concerned about the climate. So he decided to create the TalkClimateChange forums where all the fantastic green arguments will be collected. He was afraid that there would be no skeptics. Finally, he summarized his experience on La Marguerite.

When I launched the TalkClimateChange forums last year, I was initially worried as to where I would find people who didn’t believe in global warming. I had planned to create a furious debate, but in my experience global warming was such a universally accepted issue that I expected to have to dredge the slums of the internet in order to find a couple of deniers who could keep the argument thriving.

The first few days were slow going, but following a brief write-up of my site by Junk Science I was swamped by climate skeptics who did a good job of frightening off the few brave Greens who slogged out the debate with. Whilst there was a lot of rubbish written, the truth was that they didn’t so much frighten the Greens away - they comprehensively demolished them with a more in depth understanding of the science, cleverly thought out arguments, and some very smart answers. If you want to learn about the physics of convection currents, gas chromatography, or any number of climate science topics then read some of the early debates on TalkClimateChange. I didn’t believe a word of it, but I had to admit that these guys were good.

In the following months the situation hardly changed. As the forum continued to grow, as the blog began to catch traffic, and as I continued to try and recruit green members I continued to be disappointed with the debate. In short, and I am sorry to say it, anti-greens (Reds, as we call them) appear to be more willing to comment, more structured, more able to quote peer reviewed research, more apparently rational and apparently wider read and better informed.

And it’s not just TalkClimateChange. Since we re-launched the forums on Green Options and promoted the “Live Debate“ on Nuclear Power, the pro-nuclear crowd have outclassed the few brave souls that have attempted to take them on (with the exception of our own Matt from TalkClimateChange). So how can this be? Where are all these bright Green champions, and why have I failed to recruit them into the debate? Either it’s down to poor online marketing skills, or there is something else missing. I’ve considered a range of theories as to the problem, none of which seem to fit - such as:

Greens are less educated? Nope.
Greens have less time? Nope.
Greens are a little reticent? Nope.
Greens are less intelligent? Definitely nope.
Greens are less passionate? Absolutely nope.]
Greens have less at stake? Clearly not.

The only feasible explanation that I can come up with so far is that perhaps Greens are less invested in the status quo, and therefore less motivated to protect it? The other possibility is that we are all completely wrong and we’re deluded - please tell me this isn’t so. So I am hoping that La Marguerite, with its insightful host and enlightened readership may be able to help shed some light on this peculiar phenomenon?

Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Via Tom Nelson.

Let us try to figure out what are the main reasons why the skeptics are more well-informed and better debaters. Here is a poll that will expire in 2 weeks, around May 24th. Incidentally, if you want to answer that the Greens are bad in these exchanges because they are religiously motivated, you should vote for "Greens are overwhelmed by their big plans that don't allow them to see the details." If you think a bit, I believe you will agree it is essentially the same thing.

I tried to choose options that are more structured, well-informed, and organized. Oops. Once again I revealed that I am a skeptic. ;-)

The option "I disagree with Mark Seal because the Greens are actually very good" was intentionally omitted because it would transform the poll into the usual emotional battle of two sides. This poll is designed to encourage us, the readers, to think about slightly less emotional, more subtle, and less widely discussed questions.

After 1,000+ people have voted, around 60% say that "Greens are not right" while almost 20% say that "their huge plans (or religion) prevents them from seeing the details". A similar answer with "change and status quo" has 10%. 3% voted for "less intelligent or educated", 1% for "less at stake", and 0% (2 people) for "less passionate".


  1. Well the muttons were told debate is over. Case closed. The IPCC Gods have spoken and any dissent is akin to being Holocaust deniers.
    So the eco activists went home and relaxed in the dark.

  2. Lumo, (or anyone): I'm not sure in what sense you think "green advocates" (not logically synonymous with "atmosphere scientists/climatologists who think, for physical reasons, that the CO2 increase is likely to cause significant global warming") are failing in the climate debate. If you mean, many people aren't as convinced it is highly likely that average temperatures will rise much (for that reason, at least) in the near future, maybe you have a point. But three things matter here. One is that a climate "stimulus" like CO2 is somewhat akin to an economic stimulus like lowering interest rates. The fluctuation in the economy due to other factors and just plain randomness means that the stimulus won't necessarily produce a steady increasing effect over time. Heck, have a more direct analogy and just consider how the temperature fluctuates up and down as the angle of the Sun steadily increases with the approach of summer! So, I'm not sure just what big deal for example the recent flattening of temperature change shows about the debate.

    Second, the increase of CO2 is presumably still a "risk factor" even if you object to an air of certainty from AGW advocates. Opposing someone else's certitudes as unwarranted isn't equivalent to firming up certitude in the opposite, I'm sure you'll agree. I know that you and others have looked at what you consider reasonable effects of given CO2 concentrations and don't consider a high increase likely for specific reasons. Even so, the inherent uncertainties (right?) mean that we are taking a risk of significant climate change if we let CO2 increase greatly.

    Third, some of the measures to inhibit CO2 output have economic costs, but many of them (conservation and reduction of energy use via more efficient bulbs and cars etc.), independence from external HCs in sensitive areas, etc.) are worth doing anyway. I do recognize (as pointed out in recent Wired magazine) that some "savings" are questionable due to the mfr costs and other side issues.