Climate Science and Climate Scepticism

by | Nov 5, 2009

Ben (C-R editor) gave a presentation at York University last week, in a debate organised by the Freedom Association, alongside Professor David Bellamy and Richard S. Courtney, and opposite Stephen Hockman QC (who intends to establish an international climate change court), Simon Bowens from Friends of the Earth, and a couple of environmental science students.

Ben argues that the debate about the science divides on many axes, and predominantly following claims made about the consequences of climate change.

Listen to the audio and see the slides from the presentation with the widget below. (Requires flash)


  1. Luke Warmer


    A really good talk and thanks for sharing it with us. I’d welcome a follow-on post about the reaction/viewpoint of the next speaker and the overall reception by the audience.

    What you said is in striking contrast to Monbiot’s latest missive accusing skeptics of merely being old (60 to 70) which is not the case for me and many others:

    All of the anti-skeptic rhetoric has coalesced into simple, crass Ad Hominem or Appeals to Authority and presentations like yours using calm logic and factual discussion should help to see this debate become more rational.

    A final question in relation to your potential re-framing around a wider social poverty/aid issue – what if you’re also a development aid ‘skeptic’? De Soto, Bauer, Easterly and Dambisa Moyo and many others make cases that development aid is seldom effective, displaces local initiatives, allows corruption to thrive, needs effective property rights etc etc yet the answer from the NGOs is just give ‘us’ more money.

    I’ve been amazed at how quickly the NGOs have become climate campaigners, how the outcome is no longer about CO2 reductions but simply wealth transfer to the developing nations and how this nebulous concept of climate justice has been created. A counter side of your model should now (as per your previous posts) also show the impact (£) and bias of ‘Big NGO’ on this whole debate.

  2. geoffchambers

    I agree with Luke Warmer, it would be nice to hear the reply of Simon Bowens of FoE. It’s always comic (viz. the Guardian’s Science correspondent David Adam here last year) to see the Greens trying to face up to a sceptical argument which doesn’t conform to their expectations.
    The government’s drowning dog campaign requires more than a dismissive chuckle to see it off though. It’s £6 million of our (well, your) money after all, It’s got Miliband written all over it, and it’s probably illegal. Journalists and opposition politicians may suddenly discover hidden reserves of climate scepticism when they see the possibility of embarrassing a government minister.
    Harmless Skies and Wattsupwiththat have done a good job on this campaign, and the subsequent complaints to the Advertising Standard Authority and OfCom. Apparently there are now press ads. It would be nice to hear more from you on this subject, which links so neatly the politics, the supposed science, and public opinion.

  3. George Carty

    Geoff, which sceptical arguments in your opinion do conform to Green expectations? (By the way, I’m asking about the arguments themselves, not the people who make them.)

  4. Ben Pile

    Luke, thanks for your comments.

    Unfortunately, the presentations in the debate over-ran, and there was no time for dialogue between the speakers, or questions from the floor.

    I approached both Bowen and Hockman after the discussion, but they didn’t want to engage in discussion at all. Bowen’s speech managed to contradict nearly everything I had said. I think the Freedom Association may be putting the whole debate online at some point.

    (And yes, I’m half as old as Monbiot imagines the average sceptic to be.)

    Your question about aid is interesting. I am sceptical of aid too. My point wasn’t to make an argument for aid. But there was only so much time to make a case with, and perhaps I left the point up in the air. The point is to draw out the anti-development tendency of environmentalism which prohibits the discussion of development altogether. The fact is, however, there could be an effort the size (and cost) of the climate change mitigation propositions, which could be arranged in such a way as to not interfere with development. For instance, it might be worthwhile financing projects in the developing world – especially large scale water, energy, transport, and agricultural projects in which the developed world takes a greater share of the risk than previously.

    NGOs seem to offer no more than palliatives to existing problems, while getting themselves into comfortable relationships with Western governments. As we’ve speculated previously, it appears that if development organisations actually delivered development, they would take the rug out from beneath themselves.

    Our next post is about such an NGO.

  5. geoffchambers

    George Carty #3 asks what I mean by “a sceptical argument which conforms to expectations” I mean the stuff that fills comment threads – “brr it’s cold today”, “Hansen is a leftwing loony” “Gore is rich” “scientists are in it for the money” etc. It’s so prevalent that many supposedly knowledgable greens seem genuinely unaware that there are rational grounds for doubting their beliefs. Others, like Monbiot, follow the sceptical arguments, and carefully pick out the weaker ones in order to brand all sceptics as idiots. It’s a standard debating gambit, and will no doubt be used to the maximum as the sceptical position gains ground.

  6. Luke Warmer

    Ben – thanks – palliative is a great word and “Palliative Aid” should perhaps get more airplay. As Dambisa Moyo said, “Africa is to development as Mars is to NASA”.

    Others have pointed out that the aid community is as prepared to spin the numbers as the warmist community, e.g.:

    A recent Christian Aid advert stated that 500 million people had been lifted out of poverty in the last 25 years but made no attempt to clarify that most was due to economic growth in the B(R)IC countries and not down to their efforts.

    The idea of a splendide mendax or noble lie comes to mind but it’s still a lie nevertheless and its not science or evidence.


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