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Discussion > Convincing beer discussions

(Prompted by a couple of posts on unthreaded and a pub conversation with my brother.)

I'm pretty useless at debating stuff (usually have no interest in persuading other people of my views) but have recently had a few pub conversations re AGW. Whilst comfortable with my own analysis I was stuck for words to explain it to others after a few sherbets.

So can anyone relate successful and convincng "soundbite" arguments that you've used with friends that can be reused after 5 pints of lager! So you literally have an attention span of say 5-10 minutes to play with (no internet links allowed) on either specific points or the more general "why do think AGW is rubbish then".

My apathetic brother's view was that: "It's taken millions of years to form all the coal and oil, yet we are burning it in a few generations. Can't be good and gotta have some effect".

Got some good replies in Unthreaded along the lines of: we have 300+ years of fossil fuels left and who knows what the world will be like then and what the ingenuity of man will have found along the way. Solve more pressing problems now and let the future generations solve theirs with the future tools at their disposal. (compare 300 years ago to now).

I did get some traction with, "so you think all those scientists are wrong" (yes the 97% meme has had a huge effect) by explaining our "Centre of Excellence" was a few leather elbow patched geography lecturers at the University of East Anglia. He thought it was all top boffins at Oxbridge so his Uni/Poly prejudice kicked in and made him think.

Mike Jackson had this one:

In reality the answer to the "if your doctor told you ..." argument ought to be "When climate scientists know one-tenth as much about climate as doctors know about the human body, I might just start listening to them." It works, believe me. You can tell by the way people splutter and then shuffle off mumbling!

So out of interest what works and what doesn't in your pub discussions?

Dec 1, 2015 at 12:02 PM | Registered CommenterSimonW

I've found when trying to convince, it's often best to show where you agree. They've been conditioned to knee-jerk when they come across a 'denier', because you are the enemy of mankind and everything good and cuddly. They will assume you doubt the whole thing, and when they find out your area of disagreement is a 'mere detail' (to them, a value of sensitivity, a small amount of warming, a technological waste of money are all just 'details'), they are much more happy to listen and accept. It's lip-service, and a little dishonest, but you sort of have to prove your credential as one of the 'good guys' first, then you can start attacking it and they will listen.

Dec 1, 2015 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

It's a religion. It's a mass delusion. Take it or leave it.

Dec 1, 2015 at 12:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

Thanks TBYJ, well I find you convincing on here so your tactics must work!

I should have clarified that for this exercise my audience are intelligent, educated folk but who have very little interest in AGW except what they've picked up in passing from the Beeb etc. So they've had the full drip, drip onslaught which has burned the "truth" into their brains without them really thinking about it. They wouldn't have a clue what climate sensitivity was, or Climategate, or most of the stuff we talk about here. So I'm not thinking of an informed Sceptic v Believer conversation, more a Pete and Dud or Smith and Jones one!

I thought of two more points he made: "Well all the ice is melting" and "hurricanes are getting worse". Apart from saying, err no they're not and even if they were it doesn't show it's man's fault what can you say?

Dec 1, 2015 at 12:36 PM | Registered CommenterSimonW

That is all you can do.

What an intelligent but uninformed person will do is weight up the provenance. They will say on the one hand "97% of scientists" versus this bloke in the pub. Unless they are willing do to the research themselves, it's a reasonable strategy for them to go with the consensus position. I don't blame any of them for it.

At that point it all hangs on the personalities.

On the one hand, how do they rate you the teller as a credible source. Are you always banging on about conspiracies, are you well known for being something of a crank on many wide ranging areas. This can damage the provenance, if the listeners are the sort of people who usually dismiss conspiracies out of hand.

One their side, are they the sort of personality who is interested by the idea of an underdog, that perhaps things aren't always as they are being fed on the media. The redefinition of who the good guys are can sometimes appeal to certain types of people. But there will be some who cling to the establishment because to abandon it would be to abandon their sense of security.

So I don't believe there is a one-size-fits-all killer argument that you can make to a varied set of people. If they are lazy (and let's face it, most people are) then pointing to a graph isn't going to cut any ice, because then they'd need to take the time to understand the graph. If they are establishment types, then they will assume even if there are inconsistencies, then they have been decided by our betters to be ignored, and it doesn't change the headline.

Dec 1, 2015 at 1:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

SimonW on Dec 1, 2015 at 12:02 PM

"In reality the answer to the "if your doctor told you ..."

If he tapped me on the shoulder, in a checkout queue, even in Waitrose, and told me I had whatever the in vogue terminal illness was, I would think he was off his trolley. I haven't had any X-rays, blood tests or any other examination, yet!

If I had had some tests recently and he said, "I have thrown away the results, but I made copies, and 'improved' them to agree with my conclusions", I would only believe him 97%.

(This line of response does have the advantage of highlighting the Alarmists' techniques.)

Dec 1, 2015 at 1:20 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

From my lukewarm-ish perspective I find that the argumentative gap isn't between:
"It's getting warmer" vs "No , it isn't"
"We're doing it" vs "We don't know what we are doing as we don't know the background changes".
Those are both arguments that get quite technical over attribution studies and timescales. Most people don't study the subject enough to care about the distinctions.

The real issue being discussed is,
"This is important and dangerous" vs "This is just another hyped up millennial scare".

Does anyone really believe that, this time, the world is doomed?
Unless, of course, we spend a fortune entirely re-engineering our economy and industry.

We've had this going on for 30 to 40 years. And the world hasn't really changed that much. Winters are a bit less cold most years, perhaps.
But we don't see mass deaths. We don't see flooded cities. We don't see the breakdown of society as tropical diseases ravage the wildernesses once called Edinburgh and Oslo...

It's so over-hyped that we can all see it needs to be reeled in a bit. Yet the activists say we need to do more and more, always more.

It's ridiculous.

"Well, yeah. But there might be something in it," True. But is it important? Is it dangerous?
Not compared with real, current problems.

And that's why the activists can't allow any back-sliding at all. Because once you consider if this is over-hyped...
You have to concede it is.

Dec 1, 2015 at 2:02 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Ask them how much they believe it. Ask them how big they want their bills to be (with no increased salary). How much reduction in lifestyle they are prepared for – smaller home, no flying, less possession, less grandkids, no pets, vegetarian diet, etc. Whatever they like to do, chances are they’re using too much energy. Current renewables won’t come to their aid. Ask them if they’ve even bothered to calculate their CO2 footprint (which has to be step one of acting on CO2). Ask them how close to the 2 tonne and falling sum they get. Anything above that is too much. The last time we were at that level of emission it was about 1850, walking was our main form of transport and the light bulb hadn’t been invented.

Ask them why, if AGW is so significant they know almost nothing about it and care even less. Why is it the only major area in their lives they hand over all decisions and responsibilities to people they nothing about.

If you were about to be condemned to a lifetime of poverty and hardship, wouldn't you want all the facts about your guilt to be examined and argued?

Dec 1, 2015 at 4:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2


Regarding 'All the ice is melting', there are 2 points:
1 - We've only been watching it from space since the mid 70s and measuring accurately since 79/80. There is some evidence that this was pretty much the peak of Arctic ice extent, and that it had been similarly low in the 1930s and (iirc) the 1880s
2 - Antarctica isn't following the same path, and has been setting record high extent and area over the last couple of years.

Regarding 'Hurricaines are getting stronger', there are four points:
1 - There hasn't been a major Atlantic hurricane make landfall in the US for a record period (since 2008?)
2 - Historically, the strength of hurricanes was only determined at landfall (or occasionally if a ship was unfortunate enough to have to go through one, which is something they tended to avoid), and the strength decreases very rapidly once the storm hits land. Now we are getting measurements at sea, where the storm is still being fed by the warm ocean water
3 - We are hearing more about tropical storms hitting very remote parts of the world. There's more reporting rather than more or bigger storms. ACE numbers generally support this, showing that the amount of cyclone energy varies fairly randomly.
4 - A warming climate does not necessarily lead to larger storms. The jury is still out on this one, but it is a reasonable hypothesis that because gorebull warming has a stronger effect in colder regions (temperate / polar), the decreased thermal gradient will actually reduce hurricanes in both number and intensity.

As for other points, it's probably worth finding out what your drinking buddies know, and particularly 'what they know that just ain't so'

1 - What the temperature rise from pre-industrial levels to present
2 - What the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is, and what it has been historically
3 - Do they know we are in an ice age? (OK, an interglacial, but it's still quite cold from an Earth history perspective).
4 - Where the evidence for large scale future warming comes from...

Dec 2, 2015 at 1:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan Blanchard

I find pointing out that approximately one third of all man-made CO2 emissions have taken place in the last 20 or so years, during which period (give or take) the satellite measurements say that no warming has taken place.

If that plays well, I then move onto an explanation of UHI, and how the land-based figures are being fiddled the wrong way.

If they're still with me, I point out that it's a $1Tr dollar industry annually, and we have nothing to show for it but an unreliable energy supply, danger of winter energy blackouts, higher energy bills, a visual environment polluted by wind turbines which don't work well (and which arguably have the effect of increasing CO2 emissions), and we've exported our jobs (and our CO2 emissions to China).

By then, we're onto our 5th pint, and we're usually talking about football instead.

Dec 3, 2015 at 12:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Hodgson


Hello SimonW 

I think you need a really ‘end of story’ argument but first a couple of points;

The people on Bishop Hill are all free thinkers and they argue quite violently with each other sometimes ^.^ What they agree on is basically that there is absolutely no evidence to support the theory that CO2 can cause catastrophic warming.
We all disagree on why CO2 can not cause catastrophic warming which I find quite reassuring.

The problem is that CO2 has been labelled as a pollutant and as dirty.
What should be remembered is that CO2 is a life giving gas and that it is almost at the lowest atmospheric level ever. Should atmospheric CO2 sink below 150 parts per million (apart from during an ice age) then no life form on the planet can survive. We are after all Carbon based life.
Government policy is to lower atmospheric CO2 from its current 400 ppm to an unspecified level.

Dec 3, 2015 at 4:51 PM | Registered CommenterDung

If I was a believer curious about all this denier stuff, and open to being talked around, not sure anything I've seen here is a killer argument yet. Which is unsurprising, because I don't think there is one.

The arguments are subtle, usually criticisms of scale, speed and confidence levels. Yes, CO2 could in theory do this or that, but we don't see much of it actually happening in the world, or that the amounts they predicted 20 years ago have not happened, and this has consequences for other dire predictions etc.

Most of it requires the listener to get off their bums ad understand the science, which for most people is a step too far.

Dec 3, 2015 at 5:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

Silly me!

I sort of thought that the prospect of reducing CO2 leading to the death of all life on the planet might be considered a 'killer' argument ^.^

Dec 3, 2015 at 6:41 PM | Registered CommenterDung

I don't think there's much chance of us reducing CO2 to dangerous levels, any time soon, so not sure that's an argument for convincing anyone.

Dec 4, 2015 at 2:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

If the words "Reverse Global Warming/Climate Change" are used, I usually ask How Far, 50-60 years, to pre-industrial times, 20,00years? Then add Winter of 1962/63, Little Ice Age, proper Ice age.

Apart from that lots of good things pointed out here already.

Dec 4, 2015 at 6:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS