Climate Realists Beat Alarmists in New York Debate

Published May 1, 2007

Claims by global warming alarmists that “the debate is over” took a significant hit on March 14 when an audience at a prestigious New York debating society declared three prominent climate realists the winners in a debate on climate change science against three prominent global warming alarmists.

The debate was sponsored by Intelligence Squared, which holds debates eight times a year on important current events. For each debate topic, the organization invites three prominent proponents and three prominent opponents to debate each side of the proposition in front of an audience numbering in the hundreds. The debate is taped by National Public Radio (NPR) and distributed to NPR affiliates across the nation.

A pre-debate poll of audience members indicated that by a 2 to 1 margin (57 percent to 29 percent, with 14 percent undecided) they believed global warming has become a crisis. After the debate, however, the audience indicated by 46 percent to 42 percent they do not believe it is a crisis, with 12 percent undecided.

Supporting the proposition that global warming is not a crisis were Richard S. Lindzen, professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Philip Stott, emeritus professor of bio-geography at the University of London; and author Michael Crichton, a Harvard-trained medical doctor who has been a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and an instructor at Cambridge University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Opposing the proposition were Brenda Ekwurzel, climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists; Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a subordinate of prominent alarmist James Hansen; and Richard C. J. Somerville, professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego.

In his opening remarks, Robert Rosenkranz, chairman of Intelligence Squared, explained the decision to host a debate on the topic of global warming science.

“Why this particular topic?” Rosenkranz asked. “Senator Barbara Boxer [and] Al Gore have assured us that on this particular topic the debate is over. Well, we took that as throwing down the gauntlet,” Rosenkranz explained.

Lindzen Presents Science

Lindzen opened the debate by noting the Earth’s climate is never static and the planet is always either warming or cooling. Accordingly, he observed, the Earth’s recent moderate warming is not unusual or alarming in and of itself. The issue, Lindzen pointed out, is whether human activity is likely to cause a future warming that is significantly destructive to human civilization or our global environment.

Fears of alarming sea level rise, more frequent and intense tropical storms, and a spread of tropical diseases are not supported by sound science, Lindzen noted. Moreover, future warming is likely to be far less than alarmist projections would lead us to believe. Indeed, he said, the very computer models that predict alarming warming are working with faulty data that has predicted far more warming should have already occurred than real-world temperature data indicate.

Models that predicted far more warming for today than has actually occurred are likely to overestimate future warming as well, Lindzen noted.

Finally, Lindzen observed that according to global warming theory, the middle troposphere should be warming faster than the surface, but the exact opposite is taking place. Because of this, “there are positive reasons to suspect that greenhouse warming is not significant,” Lindzen noted.

Somerville Claims ‘Consensus’

Somerville, speaking next, immediately backpedaled from any notion that he believed global warming was alarming or catastrophic.

“The motion before us, global warming is not a crisis, means we ought to know what crisis means,” Somerville stated. “The word does not mean catastrophe or alarmism. It means a crucial or decisive moment, a turning point, a state of affairs in which a decisive change for better or worse is imminent.”

Somerville then asserted, “the science community today has impeccable settled science … that demonstrates the reality of global warming and its primary origin in human activities. … We also have powerful tools to project many aspects of the future climate with considerable confidence.”

Global warming “contrarians,” argued Somerville, are like people who argue HIV does not cause AIDS and that continental drift is mere fantasy. Responding to the reality that Galileo and Einstein were similarly viewed as contrarians in their time, he said, “An occasional Galileo does come along or an Einstein. Not often. Most people who think they’re a Galileo are just wrong.”

Finishing his remarks, Somerville asserted the scientific community is in near-universal agreement that human-induced global warming is intensifying and is causing a litany of climate crises, such as rapid sea level rise, more frequent and severe tropical storms, and receding ice caps.

“None of these observational facts is a surprise to the science community,” Somerville claimed. “They are what we had predicted.”

Science Converted Crichton

Speaking next, Crichton immediately pointed out the irony of comparing global warming skeptics with deniers of plate tectonics. “The story of plate tectonics actually is the story of one person who had the right idea–Alfred Wagener. He had it in 1912. And it is the story of major scientists at Harvard and elsewhere opposing him for decade after decade until it finally was proven to be incorrect what they were believing.”

Crichton explained that he, too, once had very activist views of global warming. Seven years ago he began researching the science more deeply and, in the process, he discovered the science contradicts much of what global warming alarmists would lead us to believe.

Addressing Somerville’s assertion that “the science community today has impeccably settled science,” Crichton pointed out that in 1998, “The New York Times published a model result suggesting that in the next 100 years there would be 12 degrees Celsius increase. A few years later the increase was estimated to be 6 degrees, then 4 degrees. The most recent U.N. estimate is 3 degrees. Will it continue to go down? I expect so.”

Crichton also pointed out the hypocrisy of some global warming alarmists. A number of major climate leaders “clearly have no intention of changing their lifestyle, reducing their own consumption, or getting off private jets themselves. If they’re not willing to do it, why should anybody else?” Crichton asked.

Crichton concluded by challenging priorities in addressing global crises. “Every day 30,000 people on this planet die of the diseases of poverty. A third of the planet doesn’t have electricity. We have a billion people with no clean water; we have half-a-billion people going to bed hungry every night. Do we care about this? It seems that we don’t.

“It seems that we would rather look 100 years into the future than pay attention to what’s going on now. I think that’s unacceptable,” Crichton continued.

Schmidt Attacks ‘Pseudo Science’

Schmidt followed, repeating Somerville’s assertion that a consensus of scientists believes global warming is a crisis. He then compared scientists who disagree with that proposition to creationists who are repeatedly refuted by science but always “simply move on” to some other creationist angle.

Global warming skepticism is a “pseudo debate” that is no more scientific than assertions that smoking tobacco is good for you, Schmidt asserted. “These arguments are examples of pseudo debates, scientific sounding points that are designed not to fool the experts, but to sow confusion and doubt in the minds of the lay public.”

Recitations of prior climate predictions that have failed to come to pass are no more than anecdotes and “cherry picking” the scientific data, Schmidt asserted.

Stott Recalls Cooling Crisis

Responding to Somerville’s and Schmidt’s repeated appeals to the asserted consensus of scientists, Stott pointed out, “Science does not progress by consensus; it progresses by falsification and by what we call paradigm shifts.”

Stott listed examples of scientific consensus that had been woefully wrong in the past, including a scientific consensus in the 1970s that humans were causing an alarming cooling of the planet. After quoting 1970s’ issues of the Christian Science Monitor and the New York Times regarding alarming cooling at the time, Stott quoted a 1970s’ Newsweek article asserting, “Meteorologists are almost unanimous that catastrophic famines will result from global cooling.”

Calling himself a political liberal, Stott nevertheless said there are far more pressing environment and human health crises on the planet than global warming.

Rather than expend a tremendous amount of resources fighting a speculative problem that will have few concrete negative impacts over at least the next few decades, Stott said, nations should be directing their resources to more pressing and deadly issues, mostly related to global poverty.

Ekwurzel Describes ‘Fever’

The final speaker, Ekwurzel, compared the Earth to a person with a fever. Just a few degrees off the norm can be the difference between life and death, she asserted. Moreover, she said, “the Earth is much more fragile than the body when it comes to temperature.”

Ekwurzel then presented a list of negative side effects she alleged are already resulting from human-induced global warming. According to Ekwurzel, the oceans are warming, plants and animals are having to migrate to higher latitudes, polar ice caps are shrinking, and sea levels are rising.

“The Earth’s fever is only getting worse and the animals and the plants that are out there struggling are already giving us the early warning signs,” Ekwurzel said.

The only viable course for humans, Ekwurzel asserted, is an immediate turn to alternative power sources such as solar and wind power.

Consensus Does Not Exist

In response to audience questions after each speaker’s presentation, Stott pointed out that many scientists believe changes in solar output are the primary driver of recent temperature changes. Stott said while he personally has not come to a conclusion whether this theory is accurate or not, it is worth considering.

Lindzen added that it is misleading for alarmists to claim a scientific consensus exists regarding global warming, and “to pretend that this is settled is bizarre.”

Costs, Benefits Weighed

In response to a question regarding whether the economic costs, estimated in the hundreds of trillions of dollars just to meet the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, are worth the targeted outcome, Ekwurzel asserted no economic cost is too high.

“Everything, everything that we can throw at solving this climate crisis–well, this climate problem, is important,” said Ekwurzel.

Crichton responded that such money could be far better spent addressing real, undeniable problems that are killing thousands of real people every day.

“As we’re talking tonight, we’re all getting very heated about something that may or may not happen 100 years from now. And while we’re doing this, 3,000, 5,000, 10,000 people are dead” from poverty and lack of access to modern technology, Crichton said.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

Podcast of the Intelligence Squared debate, “Global Warming Is Not a Crisis,” National Public Radio Web site,

Transcript and podcast of the Intelligence Squared debate, “The Official Site of Michael Crichton,”