Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Hawthorn climate change debate and denialists

On November 19, 2008 I went to the " climate change debate" in Hawthorn, Melbourne, between Professor David Karoly (Climate Scientist and IPCC Lead Author) and William Kininmonth (former Meteorologist and head of Australia's National Climate Centre and notable climate change skeptic). The debate was organised by Leon Zembekis.

Leon Zembekis, the forum organiser

About 30% of the 200-odd audience were vocal skeptics/denialists, apparently there to hear their guru take down the brash scientist.

It seems to me that the skeptics demographic was oldish, often grey and/or balding, mostly male. They were quite affronted by much of what Karoly said. “Don’t insult our intelligence” was one taunt they shouted. They were spoiling for a shouting match.

Kininmonth basically said the earth is a bit warmer, but that it doesn’t matter, and that increasing CO2 won’t have any significant impact on climate change. He thinks were in the midst of a natural cycle, and that humans have no impact. His presentation was a wierd amalgam of unrelated observations, and contained several errors of interpretation, as David Karoly pointed out during the debate.

In question time I asked Kininmonth what he would say to his children and grand children if he was wrong on climate change, didn’t take action to address it (as he recommeneds) and in 2020 we lost the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu wetlands and snow in Australia.

There were howls and guffaws from the skeptics in the audience. He didn’t answer the question. Instead, he continued to talk about why CO2 doesn’t matter, why there really isn’t a problem, and why we cannot afford to give up our modern energy hungry lifestyles. I said he didn’t answer my question. He said he was “comfortable with talking to his children and grand children."

A Liberal Councillor present (who may also be a skeptic) later mentioned to a friend that “I had asked a leading question”. Well yes, it was hypothetical. . .

It seems to me that the skeptics are actually very scared of climate change. They have constructed their own reality in place of the one informed by scientific observation. When you challenge their alternative reality they react with fear, loathing and anger.

While there were clearly rent-a-skeptics in the crowd - word had got around they should be there - I think we will see similar reactions (albiet less extreme) in the wider community too. Our civilisation seems to be entering a time of stress and peril.

I think we need some real and effective leadership to handle this - and I don’t think the majority of our political leaders from both major parties are up to it.

Good on you Leon for organising this forum. It was very interesting to participate.

It will be interesting to see how the new Boroondara Council will take action on climate change, and whether they lead the community towards solutions.

David Karoly

William Kinninmonth

David Karoly with two forum attendees

David Karoly answering questions

Myself (2nd from left), David Karoly, Ian Enting and Leon chatting after the event.



Anonymous said...

It's funny when they get all upset; what's interesting is that Climate Change science has become so (wrongly) contentious that we actually dignify opponents of it. If it were another area of research (such as thermodynamics), there would hardly be as much debate.
I would suggest that climate change scientists cause such a stir because there are many vested interests at work.

photohodge said...

RVB - would that be vested interestes in science or in the denial community, or both? No doubt there are vested interests on both sides. But I would contend that on one side of the argument those interests are of a less selfish nature than on the other.

Peter - interesting comments on skeptics being scared of climate change. I wonder how much of that denial is related to the physical threat and how much is an assault on their beliefs.

We must continue to keep our minds open to both sides of any argument. But I just wonder how far we should take that with climate change. If (as I firmly believe) the (vast majority) of climate and other scienists are correct, then this threat is unprecedented in it scope and speed, we don't have time to try and convince every single person before we start to act. No matter what issue is debated in society, we'll never get 100% of people to agree.

By putting denalists on a stage (newspaper column, TV or radio show) on apparently equal terms with scientists when the research, effort, evidence and majority seem to be supporting the scientist and so little (as you indicate in Kininmonth's argument being so thin) is behind the skeptic seems to misrepresent the situation.

I hope there is no climate change, wouldn't that be great!? But given the science and supporting evidence we have today, the risk is far too great for us just wait around and hope. And as two eminent economists (and our Treasury) have already pointed out - the cost of acting is not great in the larger scheme of things. But for sure some vested interests see a different story.

Anonymous said...

Photohodge, from what I gathered from what Peter wrote, the denialists weren't actually using much in the way of evidence; in fact, if there was no evidence, then governments wouldn't be taking action or listening up.
You're never going to to get consensus. I would conjecture that Climate change awareness is like cigarette awareness: Both are (or were) new forms of science that obviously puts up a bit of debate.

Anonymous said...

Way to go describing Professor David Karoly as "Climate Scientist and IPCC Lead Author" while reducing William Kininmonth to "former Meteorologist and climate change skeptic".

William Kininmonth in fact is a climatologist and former head of Australia's National Climate Centre.

That's the National Climate Centre.

Why not reveal his full credible reputation & role? What's to hide?
An inconvenient truth for climate alarmists, is it?

Of course, we now from the Climategate emails from East Anglia University how climate alarmists are prepared to fudge and hide nnoying facts.

The question is, if the case is so open and shut for you climate doomsayers, if the case is so unequivocally in the favour of you climate scaremongers, then why try to hide facts, figures and reputations that don't back your view?

Peter Campbell said...

Anonymous, I have updated the post note Kininmonth's was a former head of Australia's National Climate Centre. Nothing to hide.

Is there a reason you didn't sign your post? Have you something to hide?