Munk Debate: Lawson/Lomborg Score Win Against Monbiot/May

  • Date: 20/11/09

National Post: On Tuesday night about 1,100 people participated in a sold-out global warming debate that, in the end, turned downtown Toronto’s new concert hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music into a microcosm of a larger tranformation that is sweeping the world. The debate pitted two well known global warming activists of international repute against two well-known skeptics. The skeptics won, shifting the audience’s support away from the drastic global warming action demanded by activists and toward the moderate reponse of the skeptics, a move that is rapidly becoming a trend everywhere. If global warming is a problem — and many have growing doubts about that — it is not a crisis that warrants draconian policy intervention in Copenhagen or anywhere else.

In polls and in science debates, in political discourse and in the buildup to Copenhagen, the foundations of support for global warming action are in decline. A new Harris Poll yesterday found a big drop, from 71% to 51%, in Americans who believe that the release of carbon dioxide and other gases will lead to global warming. While many people are not sure, those who do not believe that carbon dioxide emissions will cause global warming have increased from 23% to 29% since 2007.

Australia is in political turmoil over carbon emissions policy. In the United Kingdom, the leading scientist charged with assembling temperature data has resigned pending an investigation. The recent leak of emails from Britain’s Climate Research Unit, at the University of East Anglia, where the words “trick” and “hide the decline” are found, is gradually snowballing from being a skeptical bloggers’ dream event into a mainstream political scandal. From Daily Show host Jon Stewart to Canadian Environment Minister Jim Prentice, there is a sense that all is not right with the global warming file. “I take from what’s happened at the East Anglia institution is that there were some serious allegations of impropriety and some serious questions about the quality of the scientific work that was done there,” said Mr. Prentice yesterday.

At the Munk Debate in Toronto Tuesday night, the email scandal was barely mentioned and so had little direct impact on the results. Before the debate, the 1,100 people in the audience cast ballots, with 61% supporting the resolution that “climate change is mankind’s defining crisis and demands a commensurate response.” At the end of the debate, support had fallen to 53%.

Had the email exchange among leading scientists been explored, the outcome might have been even more significant decline in support for extreme climate action. Support might have collapsed completely had there been a way to have a fact checker interrupt the debate to review the various clashes over science and the statistics.

On the activist side were two leading climate activists, Canadian Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and British author and columnist George Monbiot. The miracle is that these two grandstanding professional agitators held on to as much of the audience as they did after two hours of cheap theatrical tricks, ad hominem attacks, dubious science claims and frequent dips into Stephen Lewis’s tear-filled pool of emotive personal anecdotes of poverty and disease. They rarely got the science or the economics right.

Trying to bring rational argument to all this were Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool it: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide To Global Warming, and Lord Nigel Lawson, Margaret Thatcher’s former finance minister and also the author of An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming. They stuck to their core arguments and, for the most part, successfully defended their positions against exaggerated claims and counter arguments that were questionable or just plain wrong.

Too bad the audience had no way of knowing what was fact and fiction. A fact-checking referee would have helped verify Mr. Monbiot’s and Ms. May’s frequent stretches and exaggerations.

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