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« Lindzen at the Oxford Union - Cartoon Notes by Josh | Main | Air quality »

Lindzen at the Oxford Union

The Lindzen debate at the Oxford Union was, I think, a rather significant moment in the climate debate. One in which sceptic views got a fair hearing in an open debate. Lindzen was to be accompanied by a panel of invited experts consisting of David Rose, Mark Lynas and Myles Allen. Part 1 was an interview of Lindzen with interjections from the panel, while part 2 opened up the debate to the floor.

A few of us sceptics - Josh, Tallbloke, David Holland and others had met up beforehand and I think it's fair to say that we all expected little from the evening. Mehdi Hasan, the left-wing journalist who was to compere the event had been using the d-word a couple of evenings ago and had said he wasn't a neutral. This didn't bode well. In the event he ran through the gamut of "questions you ask sceptics" - denialism, big oil funding and do on - and in a way that was quite aggressive (but not unfairly so), but I think it fair to say that didn't go the way he expected. I should add that Hasan's handling of the Q&A was exemplary.

Lindzen's laid-back style does not make for good TV and I think Hasan and the TV people might have wished for a more flamboyant figure. However, it does lend him an air of authority and many of the barbs from the chair seemed to simply bounce off Lindzen's avuncular force-field.

The debate was very wide-ranging, covering everything from peer review to climate sensitivity to Milankovitch cycles to policy matters and US libel laws. Lindzen certainly knows his stuff and there was nothing that threw him and only a couple of moments when his quiet calm seemed disturbed.

The star of the show, however, was David Rose, whose controlled aggression and moral outrage was combined with great lucidity and an ability to get complex points over in an accessible fashion. This was star in the making stuff. His opponents on the expert panel on the other hand were strangely muted and almost seemed as if they had no stomach for the fight. There was in fact a great deal of agreement on many aspects of the debate - for example, everyone agreed that Hasan's "97% of scientists" line was irrelevant (and as Barry Woods explained later isn't true anyway). Perhaps more importantly, everyone also seemd to agree that current policy choices are foolish, the main differences being over whether emissions reductions are required.

Before I left home I wondered if such a long trip was worth the effort. In the aftermath I am sure that it was.

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Reader Comments (180)

'Mosh: I've taken offence, as instructed. I've also not understood everything you've just written. But I think it's valuable make the defining issue whether we should burn all our fossil fuels. (All that become economic to burn, I guess. And that's quite a circular function. But anyway.) I do think it's possible that it will be net harmful to humanity for humanity to do so. (Almost channeled a negative Gettysburg there.) So I have no reason to take offence at your position. And I certainly agree that all options should be on the policy table, with some of the stupidest ones labelled green, because that's what how we choose to color code them. :)'

Sorry, in the midst of a long compile... taps foots.

Ah well, you know that CS Lewis is a favorite, not only Screwtape, but Mere Christianity, and of course his sci fi work.

Think of this position as Mere Enviromentalism. Do we really want to plan to burn it all? From my position, the uncertainty involved in this Plan, argues that we dont want our plan to be to burn it all.
The alternatives? Wide open. Folks should have that discussion. Discussions happen when their is common ground. So whats the common ground? My modest proposal. The plan should not be to burn it all.

The most cogent objection to my position is that folks should not be restricted by any plan of any sort.
I get to poop in your water if I live upstream, deal with it. But dont pretend your right to poop in the water is supported by science that says poop in the water is harmless.
In other words, once you accept some role for GHGs in the climate, you have to face the issue of plans. who makes them and how are they inforced. At issue of course is global governance. Its very hard to have adult conversations about that. But if GHGs play a role, then that issue is broached.

Mar 11, 2013 at 4:41 PM | Unregistered Commentersteven mosher

" At issue of course is global governance. Its very hard to have adult conversations about that."

We all enter as nations into international treaties. No biggie, no need to have world governance advance its bounds any further than it already has. Unless that is what you wanted and you were looking for an excuse, which some of us think applies to some of 'them'.

Mar 11, 2013 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda


Think of this position as Mere Enviromentalism.

Lol. That's scandalous, using CS Lewis against me like that. I need time to recover. I had no inkling you'd stoop so low :)

Mar 11, 2013 at 5:29 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

'Fit Man' Procrustes,
The Abolition of Man.
L'histoire necessite.

Mar 11, 2013 at 7:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

We can’t have the discussion about how much we burn and what solutions we go for because in shutting down debate on AGW, all discussion was blocked. To question carbon capture is to question climate change. To question the effects of warming on weather is to question climate change. First rule of climate change club, don’t question climate change.

Because such high values have been declared/hinted at for a doubling of CO2 everyone rushes round crying ‘will someone think of the children, we must act NOW!’ Our government has scrambled to act and money is being wasted. The environment is being damaged. Money and public goodwill is being frittered away to sooth the consciences of the wealthy. They’re not even admitting it’s not working. In real terms the UK CO2 footprint is now a tonne up per capita on 1990 levels. I suppose that would break rule number on of climate change club.

Mar 11, 2013 at 8:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

I'd quite forgotten, but I began a discussion topic on CS right here under the title 'Sense and Sensitivity'.

If anybody wants to explain it all to me the post is still there.

Mar 11, 2013 at 8:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

"At issue of course is global governance. Its very hard to have adult conversations about that. But if GHGs play a role, then that issue is broached."

Mar 11, 2013 at 4:41 PM | steven mosher

This cropped up at Rio 2012. It was very noticeable that the governments tended to stand on their independance and refuse to do much unless everyone else did, with the usual negative result.

The NGOs and the international companies quietly got together and started working out strategies to continue operating in a warmer world. Even the oil companies are moving away from their support of climate sceptic lobbies and are concentrating on adaptation.

Mar 11, 2013 at 11:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Rhoda: do you have a link to that discussion on CS that you mentioned?

Mar 12, 2013 at 9:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Anthony

The NGOs and the international companies quietly got together and started working out strategies to continue operating in a warmer world. Even the oil companies are moving away from their support of climate sceptic lobbies and are concentrating on adaptation.
Mar 11, 2013 at 11:52 PM Entropic man

Who said adaptation wasn't supported by sceptics? It's warmists who think the sea level would freeze at twentieth century levels. You guys seem to think weather used to be gentle and benign all the time. As for oil companies, they know full well that they'll most likely run out of oil before we're in a position to stop using it.

Mar 12, 2013 at 9:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Simon, here:

Mar 12, 2013 at 9:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

" Even the oil companies are moving away from their support of climate sceptic lobbies"

Dunno how I am going to manage without all that oil cash. Or, do you even read what you write?

Mar 12, 2013 at 9:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda


'Dunno how I am going to manage without all that oil cash'

Me neither. Looks like our glory days of living high on the hog are over. :-(.

Back in February, I even had a second small diet Coke to go with my self-funded fish and chips in the Prince of Wales, Iffley....If only I'd realised that it was my last time for such extravagance................

Mar 12, 2013 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Well said Rhoda. You da lady.

Mar 12, 2013 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

To me, among the most knowledgeable and scientifically knowledgeable people on the skeptic side of the arguments are Matt Ridlley, Patrick Michaels, Steve McIntyre, Ross McKitrick, and Prof. Lindzen. I agree with most commenters on the Bishop's blog that Monckton is an excellent debater. but I don't think he understands the science nearly as well as, say, Ridley and Michaels and Lindzen. Not that the skeptical side doesn't need good debaters....

Mar 12, 2013 at 3:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn


I read your idea that climate sensitivity does not exist. I'll leave you to discuss that with fellow sceptics. I think you'll find that Linzden, Spencer, Currey etc all accept the idea of climate sensitivity. The arguments revolve around the size of the effect.

You are more likely to believe your fellow sceptics than a warmist like myself.

Mar 12, 2013 at 10:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Entropic, I am a sceptic. I don't have to agree with anyone else who is a sceptic, it doesn't work like that. Your contribution is not as helpful as it might be for it does not contain anything but an appeal to authority. If any supporter of the concept of CS would like to take up the argument, let them. Just repeating what it means and cutting and pasting the numbers will not do.

If you haven't noticed my schtick is what I believe is called Socratic. I ask questions designed to make people think about their case, to see whether it will stand examination. In the case of CS, not much is coming back. No justification for why it is a fixed number which will count now and in a century if conditions change. It's not the bloody gravitational constant or the speed of light, why should it be fixed?

I'll tell you why it may NOT be fixed. Water. H2O. Gazillions of tons of it, changing state, sucking up heat here and dumping it there, changing the albedo. We don't know what the water does. We don't incidentally have any idea of the carbon cycle either, or how that may change under different conditions. Or the sun. That makes the practice of making solemn predictions of climate a farce. It is clear to me that it isn't clear at all. Anybody who makes a firm prediction is talking BS, no matter how many super-computers they have.

That's why my policy recommendation is: Get rich and adapt to what comes.

Mar 13, 2013 at 8:46 AM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

Yeah, the First Rule of Sceptic Club: you can't speak for anyone else in Sceptic Club.

But I happen to agree with everything Rhoda's just written.

Mar 13, 2013 at 9:36 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Yes, when someone posted

Forcing = 5.35 * natural logarithm (New CO2 concentration/ reference CO2 concentration)

The reference CO2 concentration is 280ppm. The units of forcing are W/M^2

This is where the logarithmic relationship between [CO2] and temperature comes from.

Radiative forcing is a decrease in outgoing radiation relative to incoming radiation for a planet. Since both are expressed as a rate of energy flow, W/ M^2, the forcing will be in the same units.

On Earth a rise in forcing of about 3.6W / M^2 would produce a temperature rise of 1C.

(numbers given to two or three significant figures) I thought at first they were not being serious. Like someone who quotes the size of A4 paper to ten decimal places - and then adds "approximately".

But when I asked them where they got this stuff, they said, apparently with a straight face, "I read the literature".

As I mentioned earlier, Steve McIntyre tried to track down the origin of the logarithm formula but was unimpressed. I was told by SoD it came from fitting a curve to the output of radiation modelling programs. Yet it seems to be accepted by nearly everyone as if it were a physical law where the only uncertainty (perhaps) is the precise value of a coefficient. I think it is one of those things that people believe "because everyone knows that's what it is".

The amazing thing to me is that it seems to have been swallowed by most sceptics too.


Rhoda gave a preliminary list of some of the omitted effects. I thought of adding to them but there are not enough lines on my computer screen.

Mar 13, 2013 at 2:15 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A


"Your contribution is not as helpful as it might be for it does not contain anything but an appeal to authority."

We have a philosophical problem. You regard evidence taken from scientific papers as an appeal to authority, which automatically disqualifies all scientific evidence except what you can measure yourself.

How then do we discuss a scientific question such as climate sensitivity?

"All that CO2 does not change the totals of incoming or outgoing to the planetary system one whit."

If all scientific evidence we refer to is appeal to authority, how can you provide evidence to justify your statement above?

Perhaps we should both do some reading.

Mar 13, 2013 at 6:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

"All that CO2 does not change the totals of incoming or outgoing to the planetary system one whit."

And that is true. Given time for equilibration. Don't you think it is? Just trying to point out that you misstated what happens. What good is quoting a figure for CS without the justification for the concept? Who defined it, who defends it? You seem very inclined to accept what you are told without question. If MY question is so daft, why are there no answers here? Not just EM, anybody is free to explain it to me. I don't discount the possibility that I may be stubbornly clinging to my doubt, but where is the convincing explanation? If you can't answer, point to the literature.

Mar 13, 2013 at 6:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

I regard the strongest evidence that greenhouse gases are retaining heat as the outgoing longwave radiation spectrum. You'll find a summary here:

The earth radiates outgoing energy mostly in the infrared, The part of the spectrum relevant to our discussion can be visualised graphically as a bell curve with peak energy around 17 micrometres. The area under the black body curve is a measure of the total energy.

At a number of wavelengths stratosphere and satellite measurements see troughs in the emission spectrum which correspond to absorbtion lines observed in the laboratory. Water generates a number of small absorbtion troughs. Ozone and methane have one larger trough each. The largest is from CO2, visible between 13 and 17 micrometres. The area enclosed by each trough is a measure of energy which, without the atmosphere, would be radiated into space. Instead that energy is retained within the system.

Combining spectra taken from different areas and latitudes allows the total energies for the planet to be calculated. It is possible to study individual areas, but the larger pattern gets obscured in a mass of detail, the "cant see the wood for the trees" problem

Increased CO2 in the atmosphere has increased the area of its trough, indicating increased energy retention, which is causing the imbalance.

In the context of climate sensitivity:

The direct sensitivity of the climate to CO2 increase can be measured by observation of the OLR spectrum or derived from laboratory measurement. For CO2 it has been measured as equivalent to 1.1C/doubling.

The radiative forcing formula I quoted was derived from laboratory measurements, describing the shape of the measured data curve as a mathematical expression. ( Incidentally, the natural logarithm part of the function is due to band spreading as CO2 interacts with other gases in the atmosphere. Pure CO2 absorbs over a narrower wavelength band and shows a linear response.)

The direct warming from CO2 generates secondary effects, such as increased exaporation from the ocean surface The extra water vapour then hasi ts own increased effect on the OLR.

Overall climate sensitivity for CO2 is the sum of its direct effect and all the indirect effects. The local value will vary depending on the surface. A reflective bare rock desert will show lower climate sensitivity than an ocean. Once again, combining these to give an overall sensitivity on a planetary scale allows the overall effect to be more clearly perceived.

As you know, an exact figure for climate sensitivity can only be measured in hindsight. Estimates vary from zero (according to Latimer Adler) up to 6C from some pessimists. Some 40 estimates have been published, mostly grouped between 2C and 3C.

Mar 15, 2013 at 1:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

So you have no evidence or indication of a number of degrees per doubling over the timescale required for a doubling. Looking at the change in temp compared to the CO2 change on a logarithmic scale over time in the past is all well and good. First get rid of the 'natural variations'. That bit is not possible imho but never mind. Whatever you have left is the input to your equation. And you will get a number. Composed of CO2 effects, feedbacks and unknown unknowns. If that's the way you define it in a desperate attempt to prove it is relevant, fine. But the relevance of CS as we discuss it here is all about prediction. And the number you derive says little about what happens next. I'd say the historical number, subject as it is to so many approximations and natural cycles, is useless. It would (again imho) be a miracle or a cheat if it ever was the same for the last ten years as for the next. Or indeed over different time periods in the known measured past.

I'll sum up my considered position just for fun and maybe clarity.

Nothing much is happening.

There is nobody who is anywhere near knowing how it alls works. If they say they know they are lying.

Get rich and adapt to whatever comes.

(Oh, and you must realise that having played the 'heat going down a hole in the ocean for 2000 years' card, any number you come up with is moot. The climate today is a result of something that happened when Jesus was alive)

Mar 15, 2013 at 9:47 AM | Registered Commenterrhoda

Madam, you ask for a discussion of climate sensitivity. I oblige with science and you respond with a diatribe. The inability of deniers like yourself to debate the evidence is one reason why you are a small minority squatting in ghettos like this telling one another you are right.

Mar 15, 2013 at 11:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Stop wasting your efforts Rhoda - all you'll get is more offensive, smug, dishonest condescension from this braying troll that claims that it is here to 'educate' us.

George Bernard Shaw was right - "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach."

Mar 16, 2013 at 12:31 AM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

What really amuses me is that people like EM still like the idea that sceptics are "deniers" he needs to "educate" even *after* he is presumably aware that we count amongst our number several eminent atmospheric physicists, and also that there are scientists and engineers amongst the BH commenters (I believe Rhoda drinks with some of them).

Also amusing that he thought he'd impress us by telling us stuff most of us learnt when we first starting following this debate years ago.

Dumb as a box of frogs is the phrase that comes to mind.

Mar 16, 2013 at 1:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterSJF


Spare a thought - during the Cold War his sort at least carried the adjective 'useful'.

Mar 16, 2013 at 1:37 AM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

Well, did the heat go down a hole in the ocean or not? Inquiring minds need to know, because if a significant amount of heat can hide down there for an indeterminate number of years we can all make any hypothesis work by adding or subtracting an unmeasurable ocean factor.

Mar 16, 2013 at 7:41 AM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

Well, did the heat go down a hole in the ocean or not?

Mar 16, 2013 at 7:41 AM | rhoda

Probably not. From what I've been able to glean the thermohaline circulation is not slowing as fast as some expected, but the volumes and temperatures involved are not large enough to carry that much heat.

Among the measurable changes the reduced insolation during the extended solar minimum and the weakness of the current cycle look the most likely cause of the current pause in temperatures.

The sceptics who used to tell us that "Its the Sun, stupid" may have got something right. :-)

Mar 17, 2013 at 12:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

David Rose, is that the scientific expert David Rose, OUR David Rose of the Daily Mail, who moved from WMD in Iraq to climate? And he was an "invited expert" as an Oxford Union debate? It certainly invites the question "What on earth is he expert on"?

What is more, a "star is born"? Jeez, surely there is a fair bit of self-deception going on here.

Mar 19, 2013 at 8:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterToby

I can only find an edited version of this interview online
Is there anyway to get a full transcript of the event?

Sep 14, 2013 at 2:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterMurray

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