January 28th, 2013
Fine line. Let’s get clear on this. And let’s understand why you need to respect the climate skeptics, whether you hate them or not.
Do climate skeptics deserve your respect? (image from www.trollcats.com)
CONTRADICTION? A LOGICAL RESPONSE TO THE MORANO ESSAYS
In response to my Morano and leadership essays last week three people emailed me asking whether I was contradicting myself. On the one hand I’m saying “you can’t afford to ignore climate skeptics,” but on the other hand I’m saying, “When Marc Morano asks for a debate, you should ignore him.” Is this a contradiction? No, but it’s a valid question.
IGNORE THE MAN, NOT THE MOVEMENT
“Ignoring the climate skeptic movement,” is what Al Gore pretty much did in his movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” He trivialized the entire climate skeptic movement at a time when the oil companies were starting to pour staggering amounts of money into combatting climate action ($450 million a year by 2008 according to an EDF mass e-mail I received from them in 2009). In the movie he only had one moment involving the climate skeptic movement which was when he talked about Naomi Oreskes’ Science paper surveying over 900 climate science papers. Here is exactly what he said:
“There was a massive study of EVERY scientific article in a peer-reviewed journal written on global warming for the last TEN years, and they took a big sample, of ten percent — 928 articles — and you know the number of those that disagreed with the scientific consensus that we’re causing global warming and that it’s a serious problem … out of the 928 … zero.”
As he says this, on the screen behind him, the number 928 zooms down to 0. That’s a powerful symbolic dismissal of climate skeptics — basically, “Here’s the number of legitimate people you have on your side — ZERO.”
I’m sorry, but I can’t say enough bad things about how tactless of a moment that was. There was no other consideration of what was already a massive opponent to the global warming message. It came at a time where bestselling science fiction author, Michael Crichton, had already reached #1 on the Amazon bestsellers list in 2004 with his (garbage) anti-climate science novel “State of Fear” and the anti-climate action movement had hired far more anti-climate action lobbyists on Capital Hill than the pro-climate action movement had, by a long shot. You don’t represent that amount of effort on the screen with a zero. You just don’t.
It falls under the category of “rising above,” that I discussed in my book — how if you opt to take the path of superiority/arrogance/condescension by looking down on your opponent, saying “you’re trivial,” and simply not engaging, your audience will dislike you and sympathize with your opponent. It’s true and it’s what happened throughout America to some extent as polls showed a shift towards greater climate skepticism.
More importantly, I think it just further fanned the flames of rage among the climate skeptics, eventually erupting in November, 2009 with their hugely successful “Climategate” action, which proved to be a turning point. Previous to Climategate you heard a lot of climate proponents say blindly, “There is no debate about global warming.” After it, nobody said that any more, and if they did they probably heard back, “Are you shitting me?” from whoever was listening since today there is an ENORMOUS debate about it. It may not be a justified debate, but it is definitely a debate, regardless.
So the bottom line is you cannot afford to ignore such a massive movement. Gore should have allocated at least 15 minutes in his movie to present the basic arguments of climate skeptics, saying this is a serious concern, and doing his best to present them in a way in which we can understand what motivates them to fight so much solid science so vigorously. Presenting your opponent in an understandable, dignified, respectable light makes YOU look more confident, more human, and more likeable. And that results in more people being drawn to you. The fact that so many in the climate movement fail to grasp this is a major element in their undoing. And make no mistake, at this point they are definitely undone (see the recent Skocpol article for one statement on this).
IRRATIONAL VS RATIONAL VENUES
So, all that said, at the individual level the climate movement HAS to take the skeptics seriously (not ignore them), but should refuse to engage with climate skeptics in IRRATIONAL VENUES, meaning town halls, public “debates”, TV talk show moderated “debates,” or haggling sessions in front of drunken bar patrons (as was staged a couple years ago by a car manufacturer). It’s a losing proposition in such venues. For starters there is no means of controlling “the Gish Gallop,” that I discussed last week.
But on the other hand, if the climate skeptics are ever foolish enough to do what the creationists did in the evolution issue and bungle their way into a RATIONAL VENUE, namely a major court of law, then that is finally the place where all forces should be mustered and they should be taken on 100%. This is what happened with the mighty Intelligent Design movement in December, 2005 at Dover, Pennsylvania, and it was basically their Waterloo.
It was a movement that had a full head of steam, having scored the cover of TIME Magazine in August of 2005. Across the country creationists were winning huge public victories through silly public debates and forums where scientists were having circles spun around them by the fast talking intelligent designers. But then, in a nearly instantaneous event, the entire issue got dragged into a federal court, a very level headed conservative judge gave both sides their chance to make their cases in detail, then rendered a totally rational decision that pulled the rug out from under the movement, and within months the entire monster withered and died.
It’s conceivable that some day that could happen with the climate skeptics, but ONLY if they prove to be as inept as the intelligent designers did. But I don’t think they are that foolish. Which means they’re going to be around for a long time. Which means you’d better respect them, whether it pains you or not.