Lindzen at the Oxford Union
Mar 9, 2013
Bishop Hill in Climate: Sceptics

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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