A review of the Wellington debate
Feb 23, 2010
Bishop Hill in Climate

These are the impressions of the global warming debate held at Wellington College of commenter Atomic Hairdryer.

The Wellington Squared debate, a sceptic's view (link)

Motion to be debated was

"The prophets of global warming are guilty of scaremongering"

The venue was interesting. An imposing college built as a monument to Wellington for his services in that old British tradition of warring with the French. The debate itself was held in the chapel, which may have been appropriate given global warming as a religion and prophets but was a somewhat awkward arrangement. The pews were at 90 degrees to the altar where the debaters and screen was placed so not as comfortable as the RI.

While waiting for the event to begin, it got me thinking about Napoleon and his Russian tour, and the part the weather played in that misadventure. Lots of dramatic snowscapes were painted, but the cold may have been exagerated based on this famous graphic-

But Gen.Davidov wrote that the previous campaigns in 1795 and 1807 had been much colder. Early global warming, just climate change, or PR to blame the weather for Napoleon's defeat and horrendous losses.

So on to the debate, with Dr.Anthony Seldon chairing. Format was each speaker had 9 minutes, alternating speakers for and against the motion.

Polling on the way in gave-

For 129
Against 175
DK 29

First up was Prof. Stott who spoke very passionately. He opened with quotes from Prof. Beddington regarding healthy scepticism, Prof. Jones that the debate was not over and Watson's comments in the Times that the effects had been overstated. He pointed out that the climate has always changed and our influence was less certain. He then went on to cover some of the damage caused by scaremongering. The energy agenda has been undermined by AGW and delayed 10-15 years, poverty has been increased by diverting £1.5bn from our foreign aid budget, biofuels have had negative impacts, damage to peat bogs from windfarms, and mercury poisoning from CFL's. His view was water is the dominant driver, not CO2. He then went on to cover the potential damage to the reputation of science caused by bad or sloppy science and the economic impact given the cost vs risk. It is more important to focus on clean water, food and energy given that growing demands will mean food and energy security are the next big threats.

Next up, Lynas. Lovely fellow, not sure if he was searched for baked alaska. He opened by asking who are the prophets? Then spun it around to false prophets on the denier side. Quoted WMO record warm years for 2009 and the Arctic ice melts as proof of AGW. Mentioned the fear of green taxes, but what's the issue, we need to pay. Then went on to complain about the 'deniers' being an organised, well funded conspiracy backed by the oil and coal companies. Stated that the sceptics arguments are incoherent when the issue is simple, we dig up carbon, burn it, produce CO2 and warming. Science is simple and proven. Why do people listen to the false prophets when we wouldn't have heart surgery performed by builders or fly in an plane pilotted by a hairdresser. He then mentioned the work he's doing to help the Maldives transform into a zero carbon economy via wind and solar. Next he linked climate change denial to HIV denial and Mbeki's stance on HIV treatment in South Africa, and closed by stating we have the highest temperature in 3 million years, and are gambling with our children's futures.

So David Davis's turn. Started by mentioning he'd previously been a believer, but swayed by a debate on R4's Today programme where the pro-AGW person attacked the denier prompting him to investigate the issues. He stated no serious scientific debate is ever over, and mentioned a conversation with James Lovelock where Lovelock estimated climatology is at a development stage equivalent to surgery in the 17th Century. He stated he believed the world had warmed, and there is some contribution from CO2, but the effects are uncertain. Climategate came next where he raised the concerns around abuse of FOI and the peer review process. Then the pattern of behaviour in senior climatologists with similar concealment and errors from Mann, NZ and NASA (was busy writing, but may have been specifically some of the 'NASAgate' emails, if so, he's keeping up). He stated that the scientific method matters, ie reproducibility and falsifiability. He then moved on to the errors in temperature, stats, and cherrypicking used, and how the politics have lead to bad science. He covered confirmation bias and noble cause corruption, pointing out scientists are also humans, but the problems with malariagate, hurricanegate damage science. Closed with the dangers to science of crying wolf.

And last but not least, Aaronovitch. He stated this was a proposer's motion and just needed to find a prophet. He also mentioned the chapel was cold, which may help sceptics. Moving on, he questioned whether Davis thought global warming was a bad thing, then levels of certainty required before we take action, some uncertainty or wait for total certainty and if we believed scientists are biased fantasists involved in some conspiracy. But at that point, I stopped taking notes and wrote IDIOT. He rambled on for a bit longer and threw in chutzpah and counting CCTV cameras. Did use the 'B' word and the Master threatened detention, plus reminded him the chaplain was in the audience.

Then on to the Q&A. Not that many questions, so didn't take many notes.

Closing comments-

Aaronovitch- We must do something.
Davis- The IPCC errors and exagerations aren't good science and have cost the UK £603m over the last 10 years.
Lynas- Uncertainty doesn't mean we mustn't do something.
Stott- Important differences between AGW and climate change and the way the issue is falling off people's agendas in opinion polls.

Vote at the end was

For 126
Against 217
DK 5

My thoughts.

Stott performed as expected, Davis also did well. The opposition were the standard anti-denier attack muppets, so somewhat suprised by the results. When he asked who these scaremongering prophets were, well, the two PR types opposing the motion would've worked for me. Both did the standard appeals to authority and emotion. When Aaronovitch made his quip about the cold chapel, I was tempted to shout 'it workd for Hansen'.

False prophets and Lynas's surgery analogies were maybe more interesting. He mentioned a builder, but what about a GP? What exactly makes a qualified climatologist given it covers many disciplines? Should we listen to Mann on science other than dendro? Pielke jnr made this point well at the RI debate, ie don't ask him about aspects of climate change he's not qualified to comment on. Yet Pachauri's qualified to speak on glacier melts, when he's a railway engineer. If scientist stuck to their areas of expertise, maybe climate science wouldn't be in such a mess now. But seems like anyone can become a climate expert, after all Lynas's education seems to have been in history and politics, yet acted as science advisor to 'The Age of Stupid', and now advising the Maldives on climate change. Will be interesting to see how he creates a zero carbon economy from an island dependent on tourism and fishing. It seems to me that the false prophets may exist on the warming side.


Article originally appeared on (http://www.bishop-hill.net/).
See website for complete article licensing information.