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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Scott Mandia: Monckton KO’d in Recent Debate by Professor Graham Parkes of University College, Cork, Ireland

Monckton KO’d in Recent Debate

by Scott Mandia, October 26, 2010

In a recent debate at The Philosophical Society (Debating Club) for University College Cork, Ireland, on October 4, 2010, Viscount Christopher Monckton was defeated by Graham Parkes by a vote of 100 to 3.

Graham Parkes is Professor of Philosophy and Head of the School of Sociology and Philosophy for University College, Cork, Ireland.  The text below is by Graham Parkes and he has given his approval to repost here.  The paranthetical links were added by me.

I was unsure whether I should appear before you this evening, having received the invitation to speak just a few days ago and then come down with a nasty cold. [Cough] Also, as a student of philosophy, I have virtually no experience of debating, but in the interests of full disclosure, I should begin by outlining that minimal background. Here’s what happened when I tried to get onto the debating team at a school in Glasgow, some time in the early nineteen-sixties. The schoolmaster in charge asked me: ‘Now, young Parkes, do you think that rampant capitalism benefits everyone in the long run?’ I replied: ‘Well no Sir, I don’t actually.’ ‘That’s just grand!’ he replied; ‘So you’ll be arguing that it does.’  He went on to explain that the truth, or the actual facts of the situation, is irrelevant: what matters in debating is the power of one’s rhetoric, which one ought to be able to deploy even to convince the audience of things that are false. Well, obviously not cut out for a career in politics or law, I failed to make it onto the team.  I was relieved to discover later on that a different profession, namely philosophy, developed in the western tradition by positioning itself against the methods of debating, when Socrates distinguished himself from the Sophists. Whereas the Sophists charged exorbitant fees to the rich young men of Athens for teaching them how to succeed in politics by training them in fallacious argumentation, Socratic philosophy tried through careful questioning to ascertain the true nature of things.

What made me decide, then, to speak this evening was a concern that, if I didn’t, sophistry and misinformation might carry the day — on a topic of crucial importance.

As you know, there has been an enormous amount of controversy over what is happening with the earth’s climate, and why; but it so happens that one of the most important documents for making sense of the confusion was published just the other day. Here’s the background to it first. In May of this year, the Chief Policy Advisor of the Science and Public Policy Institute testified before the Select Committee on Global Warming in the United States Congress. He begins by saying that the conclusion by ‘various scientific bodies [that] the global climate has warmed … requires heavy qualification’, and that their view that ‘Human activities account for most of the warming since the mid-20th century’ is ‘wrong’. His conclusion is this:
There are many urgent priorities that need the attention of Congress. … Yet … on any view, ‘global warming’ is not one of them.
You can imagine how delighted the Republican members of the Committee must have been to hear those glad tidings.

The ‘important document’ I just mentioned is titled ‘Climate Scientists Respond’, and it’s a detailed response to this testimony by 21 leading climate scientists from institutes and universities such as Stanford, Columbia, the University of Chicago, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, NASA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the Laurence Livermore National Laboratory.1  These scientists distinguish nine main assertions made by the policy advisor, and go on to refute each and every one of them. His claims, they demonstrate, are (and I quote):
 ‘extremely superficial’, ‘profoundly wrong’, and they ‘totally misinterpret the physics’. The arguments are based on premises that are ‘simply false’, contain ‘reasoning and calculation [that is] simply incorrect’ and numerous statements that are ‘misleading’, and they make frequent ‘illogical leaps’.
One would have thought that the policy advisor in question would have vowed there and then never again to even utter the phrase ‘global warming’.  But no, quite the opposite — as demonstrated by the fact that he is here with us right now, ready and eager to oppose this evening’s motion: ‘that manmade global warming is a global crisis’. I hope this means that Mr Monckton now accepts that the current global warming is mostly manmade, and that he’s going to discuss the politics of the problem, about which he surely knows more than he does about the science. But just in case he does talk about the science, I trust that you will hear whatever he says in the context of the recent exposure of the weakness of his arguments in that area.

It’s important to understand in this context that scientists have traditionally been conservative types who avoid making definitive statements for fear of being proved wrong. And if we expand our focus beyond the twenty-one climate scientists who refuted Mr Monckton to the professional organisations to which they belong, we find those scientific bodies to be even more cautious than their individual members. In general, the more prestigious the organisation, the more trustworthy the statements it issues, because such professional bodies have an enormous stake in upholding their reputations, and take great pains to avoid saying anything that could possibly make them look stupid in retrospect.

Among the most respected such organisations in the world are The National Academy of Sciences, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in the U.K. the Royal Society2—all of which have become so bold as to issue statements warning of the critical dangers of global warming.

Indeed, the National Academies of Sciences of thirteen nations took the unprecedented step last year of issuing a Joint Statement on Climate Change. We’re talking here about the premiere scientific organizations of Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. (Can you imagine Britain and France agreeing on anything? or China and Japan? Russia and the United States?!) The members of these thirteen academies, having considered a vast amount of mass of scientific evidence (which I can’t describe in detail this evening, but it’s available to anyone in the peer-reviewed scientific literature), agreed to issue the following warning:
Climate change is happening even faster than previously estimated; global CO2 emissions since 2000 have been higher than even the highest predictions, Arctic sea ice has been melting at rates much faster than predicted, and the rise in the sea level has become more rapid. Feedbacks in the climate system might lead to much more rapid climate changes.  The need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable.3
Sounds a lot like ‘a global crisis’ to me.

So, on one side we have Mr Monckton, who has no professional qualifications in any of the relevant sciences, along with a few other politicians and the occasional dissenting geologist, and on the other the overwhelming majority of the world’s most distinguished experts on the climate sciences.

But if Mr Monckton’s scientific arguments are so specious, why has anyone ever taken them seriously? One important reason is mentioned in the ‘Climate Scientists Respond’ document (and I quote):
For those having little or no acquaintance with climate science [that means the vast majority of people], Monckton’s assertions may sound scientifically credible. But in fact his argument is not only seriously in error but is also profoundly  misleading and irresponsible.
That’s the first explanation: the climate sciences involve vast amounts of complex data and so constitute a field in which it’s easy (in the words of another author of ‘Climate Scientists Respond’) ‘to cherry-pick low and high points in the record which are not representative of the bigger picture’ — and to get away with it, at least for a while.

Next, we have to look at the vested interests that are behind the whole controversy. On the side of the leading climate scientists, there’s no personal advantage to producing research that shows that human-caused global warming is a crisis. Their funding isn’t dependent on their producing such results, and I doubt whether clean energy companies are making sufficient profits yet to be paying these scientists off. On the other hand, our current fossil fuel infrastructure — from those reliable BP oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico to pipelines and supertankers, coal mines and power plants — has apparently cost us over 10 trillion dollars. That infrastructure is going to be around for up to 50 more years before the capital costs will be paid off, and if we shut it down early, merely to prevent ourselves from frying the planet, many investors are going to lose vast sums of money.4

The oil and coal companies therefore funnel large amounts of money to politicians in the U.S. Congress to get them to oppose any legislation that threatens to render that 10 trillion dollar infrastructure redundant. One company in particular, Koch Industries, has funded groups opposed to taking action on global warming to the tune of 48 million dollars — ‘thinktanks’ like the Mercatus Center at George Washington University, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute, where less than scrupulous scholars and scientists are well paid to promote the comfortable view that global warming is nothing to worry about.5 In short, opposing reductions of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning can be an extremely lucrative line of business.

A third factor here is the strange change that has recently taken place with respect to the status of natural scientists, who not long ago were trusted and respected by the general public. But then waves of postmodernism and deconstruction and relativism washed through the universities, and the public, tired of being dictated to by the elite, concluded that science must be merely one narrative among many competing accounts of what’s going on in the world.

Here is where the honesty of most scientists, who admit that the sciences can never attain certainty, backfires — since it gives the public a reason not to trust what they say. And of course certainty is far less attainable in the field of climate sciences. To insist that we have to ‘wait for certainty’ is to say we have to wait for the impossible to happen; and to pay no heed to what are demonstrably dangerous trends is sheer stupidity.

A final, more general factor is the all-too-human desire to avoid facing unpleasant facts: why not just bury one’s head in the sand of wishful thinking and hope that they’ll go away? How delighted the Republicans must have been when Mr Monckton concluded his 2009 testimony to Congress with these stirring words:
There is no ‘climate crisis’. The correct policy response to the nonproblem of ‘global warming’ is not to cap or tax carbon dioxide emissions. It is to have the courage to do nothing. 
That last line deserves to become a classic of Orwellian Newspeak. It sounds pretty good — at least until you think about it. I mean, just how much courage does it take to go on living a life of comfortable convenience, while people in the developing countries are already suffering the effects of global warming for which we are mainly responsible?

As for this evening’s motion: assuming that we have a bad case of humancaused global warming, does it constitute a global crisis? Well, the effects that we’re seeing already should be making us uneasy, since climate scientists believe they are connected with global warming, and they are already devastating human livelihoods in many places in the world. Several island nations in the south Pacific are already beginning to go under, and their populations will eventually have to make a home in some other country. And when refugees from flooded Bangladesh and drought-stricken sub-Saharan Africa start emigrating in the millions, and eco-terrorists are setting off bombs in crowded cities with the aim of attracting the attention of the governments of the richer nations, the crisis will be palpably manifest on a global level.

The root of the word ‘crisis’ is the Greek krinein, meaning ‘to decide’. And since we are now faced with making a decision on the basis of uncertainty, we need to be asking, ‘What’s the most prudent course of action, given the uncertainties and the risks?’ Shall we have ‘the courage to do nothing’ and risk all kinds of environmental, social, political, economic, and public health disasters, or shall we have the wisdom to change our ways, and take advantage of the many opportunities that are implicated in the crisis?

The motion was carried, with only three votes for Monckton and over 100 against.

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