Leading the way with an unbiased climate panel

Guest essay by Tom Harris

Last month, U.S. Rep. David McKinley (R.-WV) hosted an unbiased climate change panel discussion in Fairmont, West Virginia. Experts from both sides of the climate debate participated without restrictions of any kind.

McKinley’s open-minded approach is one that should be copied across the United States. Considering what’s at stake—a human-induced eco-collapse if former Vice-President Al Gore and his allies are correct, or, if skeptics are right, a waste of billions of dollars and the loss of millions of jobs as we experiment with a switch away from coal and other hydrocarbon fuels to alternative energy sources—the risks are too high to do anything less.

No matter what Gore and 350.org founder Bill McKibben tell us, experts in the field know that climate science is highly immature. We are in a period of “negative discovery,” in that the more we learn about climate, the more we realize we do not know. Rather than “remove the doubt,” as Gore tells us should be done, we must recognize the doubt in this, arguably the most complex science ever tackled.

The confidence expressed by Gore, McKibben, and President Barack Obama that mankind is definitely causing dangerous climate change is a consequence of a belief in what professors Chris Essex (University of Western Ontario) and Ross McKitrick (University of Guelph, Ontario) call the “Doctrine of Certainty”. This doctrine is “a collection of now familiar assertions about climate that are to be accepted without question” (Taken by Storm, 2007).

Essex and McKitrick explain, “But the Doctrine is not true. Each assertion is either manifestly false or the claim to know is false. Climate is one of the most challenging open problems in modern science. Some knowledgeable scientists believe that the climate problem can never be solved.”

Creating rational public policy in the face of such uncertainty is challenging. It is therefore important that America’s climate and energy experts are able to speak out without fear of retribution regardless of their points of view. We want climate and energy policies to be based on rigorous science, economics and engineering, coupled with common sense and compassion for our fellow man, not political ideology or vested interests.

Sadly, the exact opposite is the case today. Emotions run high as the climate debate has become intensely polarized—alarmist versus skeptic, conservative versus liberal, capitalist versus socialist. Implications of bias and vested financial interests, as well as logical fallacies (errors in reasoning), have taken the place of considering the facts. Many leading scientists therefore remain silent if their views are not politically correct.

We must clean up the climate change debate to make it easier for experts to participate. In particular, media and politicians should strive to avoid the logical fallacies that are distracting the public from thinking about the issue constructively. Here are some of the fallacies that must be purged from the discussion:

  • Ad Hominem (discredit the man, instead of the idea): By calling those with whom he disagrees “climate deniers”, Gore commits a logical fallacy often used to equate those who question the causes of climate change with Holocaust deniers. It is also wrong because no one is denying that climate changes; only the causes are in dispute.
  • “Climate change denier” is also a thought-terminating cliché. This logical fallacy appears when a phrase is used to suppress an audience’s critical thinking and to allow the presenter to move, uncontested, to other topics.
  • Guilt by association: That a specific viewpoint is promoted by the ‘religious right’ or the ‘loony left’ is irrelevant. A position is either correct or not, or unknown, independent of the affiliations of the presenter.
  • Straw man (arguments based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position): Republicans are not “anti-science”. Neither are Democrats. If they were, they would never fly in an airplane, use cell phones or take vitamins. They simply disagree with each other about the causes of climate change. It is also a straw man argument to imply that anyone doubts that ‘climate change is real’. Neither side actually says this. They know that climate always changes on planets with atmospheres.
  • Red Herring/false analogy: Canada’s leading climate activist David Suzuki tried to associate Tennessee’s approach to the teaching of evolution with their approach to climate change education. Red Herrings like this are usually introduced to divert debate to an issue the speaker believes is easier to defend.

We need politicians and media to help set the stage for an effective discussion of this important issue by avoiding these logical traps. Rep. McKinley has led the way. Let’s hope other leaders soon follow.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition.

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MattN

For the record, I’m all for switching away from coal and to other sources (nat gas, nuclear). The total cost of coal is just too high. Sludge lagoons from mining, the cost to the landscape, the human cost. It’s way more than just installing high-tech scrubbers and calling it a day. Nat gas is significantly cleaner in every way, way easier to get to without risking someone’s life and we have a $#!t-ton of it that will easily carry us until we figure fusion out….

Admad

Very well-stated view of the balance that “should” occur in discussions about climate. It is such a shame that the obvious has to be stated in this way, though.

Sweet Old Bob

Yes. Common sense. What 97% of vested intrests fear!

more soylent green

Rational, fact-based public policy? Dream on!
BTW: They climate mongers claim their proposals are rational and fact-based.

Alan the Brit

@MattN
It’s lovely stuff to put on an open fire just under the logs, helps keep me warm in the winter months!!!!! 😉

Mike M

MattN : “Sludge lagoons from mining, the cost to the landscape, the human cost.”
Just try to put a damn “price” on it – you cannot. When you look at how coal thoroughly transformed US economy over the last 150 years and can easily be cited as the key factor for more than doubling average life expectancy as well as making our lives MUCH easier over that time, your assertions are completely vacuous. Not only that.. coal is what saved our forests from being stripped to the bone for heat and building materials, (crude oil saved the whales too BTW). Coal enabled mass production of steel, (mining iron ore and making coke for blast furnaces), without which we would have lost WW2 and no one but no one would be talking about ‘saving the planet’ right now – we’d all be busy enough trying to save our children.

Alarmists have to use the tools described because the science does not support their position. Indeed most of the skeptics are in the “do not know” camp. As we learn more, the more we learn we do not know. It is the hard questions that evoke the name calling, straw men, and red herrings because those who pretend to know it all, do not have answers.

David in Michigan

Good essay. I copied your bullet points to my desktop as they apply to all disagreements. Sometimes I need to remind myself of the various methods that are used to argue.

Txomin

Yep. At the core of the problem remains the fact that we have not yet been able to free ourselves from the inanity of political correctness.

Gavin Hetherington

All completely true and as Admad said, shouldn’t need to be stated. The problem is the one identified in “Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks” – I’ve forgotten the author’s name but it’s a novel dealing with belief in spiritualism – and succinctly expressed by the mother of the UK doctor who started the MMR vaccine/autism scare; “He’ll go to any lengths to carry on believing what he already believes”. Applies to both sides of the climate debate and all other controversies.

johnmarshall

MattN, I am afraid you live in a dream world and I wonder from what you intend to get energy? it is only those who deny reality who want to remove fossil fuel use from the energy mix. Since there is no empirical data showing CO2 causing climate change there is no need not to use fossil fuels. It is possible for the coal mining companies to clean up the mess caused by open cast mining leaving an area for wildlife to flourish it just needs forethought and a few cents on the tonne.

C.M. Carmichael

The shift from attempting to base policy on rational science, to rationalizing science to fit policy is the most disturbing. Typical students today upon hearing something they don’t ( won’t, can’t ) believe react by shouting about ” haters”, “denier” or the all encompassing “hate speech”. Most have no idea of how rights are acheived through obligation. They see rights as a chance to voice their opinions freely, instead of the obligation to allow your worst enemy to do the same.

SCheesman

johnmarshall : Did you read MattN’s comment carefully? He is not against the use of fossil fuels in general, and made no mention of CO2. All he said was he thought switching to natural gas was a good idea. Call off the dogs!

Rod Everson

“Just try to put a damn “price” on it (coal) – you cannot. ”
I share your sentiments on coal (let’s use it – if it’s priced right), but in fact you can put a price on coal, and we’ve done so for decades.
And, in spite of EPA rulings that have required cleaner and cleaner coal burning plants, and complete reclamation of coal mining sites, coal remained so economically feasible, i.e., competitively-priced, that it has remained one of our main fuel sources. Until recently, that is, when the present administration raised the regulatory hurdles so far and so fast that coal plants are now being decommissioned. This had nothing to do with the price of coal, but rather is due to the fact that regulators anywhere are capable of changing the rules to destroy any enterprise by making the rules too expensive to abide by.
The environmental movement starts from the assumption that coal usage is bad, period. While the usage isn’t bad per se, the individual effects of mining, transporting, and burning it can of course have injurious effects. In the middle of the 20th century businessmen in coal-fueled cities would sometimes keep a clean white shirt at work to change into due to all the coal ash that had settled on their shirt while getting to work.
Over the years we cleaned up coal to the point at which no one could reasonably argue with its usage. That’s one reason the CO2 issue is so important to the rabid environmentalist; as long as CO2 production is “bad,” coal can continue to be condemned (and the regulatory burden can continue to be raised, as it has been.)

Ryan

Haha look at the names. Unbiased? Are you joking, Anthony?
[Perhaps you would be better employed pointing out how the panel exhibited bias. Or are you just a troll? . . mod]

Richard M

Very nice summary of what should be going on in the debate.
Of course, once you think about it the reason this isn’t happening is obvious. The debate would have been over years ago. The alarmists have nothing that supports their position. The recent warming could have been caused by many factors. The clams it is CO2 are pure conjecture. If this knowledge reached enough people the alarmists would have been laughed out of town. There’s a reason they don’t use logic … and it’s only getting worse for them as time marches on.

Jimbo

The fact that Dr. Paul Jones of CRU was worried about what his colleagues might say about him says volumes about climate scientists with hidden doubts who remain silent. Here is Dr. Jones in private:

Dr. Phil Jones – Hacked / leaked CRU emails – 5th July, 2005
“The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998. OK it has but it is only 7 years of data and it isn’t statistically significant….”
Dr. Phil Jones – Hacked / leaked CRU emails – 7th May, 2009
‘Bottom line: the ‘no upward trend’ has to continue for a total of 15 years before we get worried.’

More openness and honesty is long overdue. The press has started and now it’s down to the scientists who should have lead from the beginning.

sailboarder

Mike M…
I agree entirely with your counter arguement. We have been (and are) very very lucky to have use of coal to power our prosperity. The enviromental issues have been contained imo.
With $12 per lb uranium in Kazakhstan now supplying 33% of the worlds U.. and much more available, there is an alternate future staring us in the face once we get over our willies about nuclear power. Talk about cheap, limitless power…

Jim Cripwell

Tom, along with many others I agree with the sentiments of your article. But is faces enormous hurdles in order to be implemented. One of these is the statements by the learned scientific societies; all of which overwhelmingly claim that CAGW is a scientific fact. Until these learned bodies, led by the American Physical Society, and the Royal Society, change their positions to ones that are properly scientific, what you propose is quite simply impractical.
On a similar issue, the GWPF invited the RS to set a date for a talk on CAGW on 20 th May 2013. So far there has been no response from the RS so far as I can make out. One wonders what excuse the RS is thinking up, so they can wiggle out of this meeting, and save themselves from have their team, led by Prof. Mitchell, being absolutley humiliated.

beng

***
MattN says:
June 14, 2013 at 4:33 am
***
Your post indicates useful-idiot-level understanding, as Rod Everson’s post above demonstrates.

GoneWithTheWind

You don’t understand! This problem is too serious to wait to see if it even exists. We must tax, tax, tax and spend, spend, spend in the vain hope that the warming gods are appeased. We must give up or rights and live hungry in the cold and dark so that Al Gore can fly his corporate jets around the world to save us. Don’t wait! Give up everything now and avoid the rush.

The meeting referred to in this post is another indication of a slow return to reason on this debate.
As Winston Churchill said: “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” Maybe it will be thus with climate change, too.

It’s a great idea on an individual basis to improve our rhetorical and argumentative abilities. But we need collective well-financed media PR / advertising actions to compete with the hideous and insidious Goliath that we face. Put together good ad / PR campaigns, and financing would largely take care of itself, as conservatives would contribute en masse. Think about it. And this (an effective pro-skeptic ad campaign) could have a big impact on elections across the board, aiding conservatives.
We need something bigger an better than the likes of the laudable Heartland Institute, which isn’t making enough of an impact. We need something new, innovative, and big. We need to get the message out through paid media, the one area where the liberal MSM can’t taint our message. The key is that the issues are on our side, we can win.
And don’t think we can’t lose otherwise. The issues are on our side, but the MSM and the educational system is on their side, and they can easily twist the truth, and the next thing you know we could be going down the road of Europe, or worse, with a draconian cap & trade or carbon tax or what not. We need to start shaking things up, thinking bigger. Our little skeptic blogs are outstanding for forming arguments, but we are not effectively reaching the majority of voters. Conservatives, yes, the rest, not so much.

cwon14

What the article is guilty of is equalizing the truly irrational, Joe Romm or Al Gore for example with those who oppose them of many stripes. There is no amount of “discussion” with bought-in advocates of AGW that is going to change reality. AGW is an existential threat to a free individual society at the core. If there are an assorted army of fools and opportunists around the core function that doesn’t matter much.
If the price for skeptics to “being at the table” is accepting basic AGW talking points as “reasonable” the current censorship and political correctness system might be better.

Barry Cullen

The eco-collapse that we ARE going to see is not ecological, but economic! Printing fiat money (this time $s) has always, i.e. 100%, in the history of civilizations, led to eco-collapse! Albore and his cronies know this, thus their frantic promotion of this scam to make lots of cash now, The bandwagon riders like McKibben et al haven’t a clue what is really meant by eco-collapse.
Socialism is great, until other peoples money dries up.

jayhd

The big mistake Mr. Harris is making here is believing we can reason with unreasonable people. And the CAGW/man-made climate change crowd are as unreasonable as they come. I don’t give a d*** how good intentioned some may seem to be (remember, the road to hell is paved with good intentions), the CAGW crowd absolutely cannot be reasoned with. They must be defeated at the ballot box, or the U.S. and the rest of the civilized western world will perish.

more soylent green!

I’m not sure what needs to be discussed. There’s no evidence that “carbon” is causing any harmful climate change. There’s no shortage of fossil fuels and we have enough oil and gas resources in the USA that the “stop funding terrorists” with our oil dollars is completely invalid as we can produce enough oil to not buy any foreign oil.
So I guess a panel would simply use facts to refute the alarmists arguments, and present the position that we really don’t need to do anything, except rollback many of the harmful laws and regulations that are in effect today.

Don

Jim Cripwell says:
June 14, 2013 at 6:54 am
“…Until these learned bodies, led by the American Physical Society, and the Royal Society, change their positions to ones that are properly scientific, what you propose is quite simply impractical….”
Totally agree, Jim. Damaging as it is, CAGW is merely a spot fire of the inferno that is the postmodern politicization of science and education. Extinguish the spot fire only, and seven more will spring up in its stead. Indeed, as reason finally suppresses this particular hot spot (assuming that real science indeed proves it to be a nonissue as appears likely), WUWT and the skeptical blogosphere should broaden their regular coverage to other politiscience hot spots in medicine, agriculture, nutrition, energy, etc. as well as whatever new global crisis is being prepared to replace CAGW, the retreat of which is IMO being managed strategically so as to give time for the new crisis to be set up.

Chris

Check out Drudge. New article on how Obama is coming out with new climate change regs in July. The people quoted are full of hysteria over the climate. Not one sense of balance or context of what is actually happening (no warming for 17 years), or that China has steamed past the US or Europe in terms of emissions.

JimF

According to a Bloomberg article linked by Drudge today, Obama plans to unleash his “global warming initiatives” in July. With the markets already perceiving a coming recession, with that he should be able to continue to do what he does best: wreck the country.

R. de Haan
cwon14

more soylent green! says:
June 14, 2013 at 8:35 am
I think the “stop funding terrorist” argument suffers from serious irony, to say the least, when the Obama administration decides to fund 9-11 Terrorists in Syria and is potentially offering a no-fly protection plan up to 50 million dollars a day.
How’s that for global real politic?

Ryan

Perhaps you would be better employed pointing out how the panel exhibited bias
Because it has Marc Morano in it? Even the bulk of the mainstream view is represented by outliers with ties to environmental groups. If you want an actual report on the state of the climate question then commission one-done by climate scientists. It’s not hard, it’s just that he wouldn’t like the results. If you want a publicity stunt that further embarasses a nation plagued with pseudoscientific creationists, anti-vaxxers and GMO-alarmists, then this is a great idea.

cwon14

R. de Haan says:
June 14, 2013 at 8:52 am
It’s a “foot in the door” bill and is DOA but still represents social decline and the wimpy and conflicted nature of the skeptical community doesn’t help. You think you that bill is going to be stopped with spaghetti graphs and science?
Not likely.

cwon14

Ryan says:
June 14, 2013 at 8:53 am
What should really be done is a full political expose of “climate science” and its natural ties to statist authority, its agenda as well as traditional left-wing academic culture. It is embarrassing but it’s also reality.

Rob Dawg

As a “skeptic” I am insulted by the very premise of the panel. Bringing together unbiased skeptics and highly biased proponents of CAGW does not create an unbiased panel.

MarkW

I”d call the panel balanced rather than unbiased. Unfortunately, when it comes to this issue, everybody is biased. The best you can hope for is to balance the biases.

R. de Haan

@cwon14 says:
June 14, 2013 at 8:56 am
R. de Haan says:
June 14, 2013 at 8:52 am
It’s a “foot in the door” bill and is DOA but still represents social decline and the wimpy and conflicted nature of the skeptical community doesn’t help. You think you that bill is going to be stopped with spaghetti graphs and science?
Not likely.
You could be right but they said the same about the “Migration Bill”.
These people will never, ever give up. Insanity Rules.

Toto

Add FUD to the list, using fear as a tactic. Fear of frying, fear of nuke power, fear of fracking, and so on. People do not make rational decisions when they are panicked. People are not rational when they are afraid. Inciting the mob, it’s not pretty.

“Some knowledgeable scientists believe that the climate problem can never be solved.” –McKitrick & Essex
Those scientists must be wrong. What will James Hansen do in his retirement if the problem can’t be reduced to y = mx + b, where m is a scary number? Must all the carbon-loathing sheep abandon their dreams of becoming his little assistant messiahs? The answer is a resounding ‘NO!’ All they need is much bigger computers and more of your dollars. Lots more.
/sarc

MattN – made a very reasonable comment on Natural Gas and some folks trashed it. Guess there are short fused biased people in all walks of society. I live where I can choose coal, natural gas, wind, solar and diesel. I take that which costs me less and is readily available. But I use both propane and gasoline backup generator sets on the farm. Guess what. They all emit H20 and CO2 so I guess for some I am a “polluter” but I grow hay and trees to offset – oh but my animals defecate and pass flatulance so I go back to the polluting side. Farming is clearly bad for the environment so we should stop it and starve all the people in the cities … then there won’t be anyone to notice what we do in the country./sarc off
And Ryan, why don’t you join me out here on the farm hauling water and feed to the field at 40 below? No sarcasm Ryan. Come see how people work on the land for little or no return just because it is better than living in a smoggy city.
LOL
Any debate is better than no debate especially since the issue was long ago declared “settled”
Nothing is as we wish it, but nothing is as it seems.

tommoriarty

“Considering what’s at stake—a human-induced eco-collapse if former Vice-President Al Gore and his allies are correct, or, if skeptics are right” human-induced EGO-collapse FOR former Vice-President Al Gore and his allies.

MattN

Johnmarshall said: “MattN, I am afraid you live in a dream world and I wonder from what you intend to get energy? it is only those who deny reality who want to remove fossil fuel use from the energy mix. Since there is no empirical data showing CO2 causing climate change there is no need not to use fossil fuels.”
It’s obvious you did not read my post at all. If you had, you would have noticed that at NO TIME in my post did I mention CO2 as a reason to get off coal. No, you just read PART of sentence #1, shut the brain down and ASS-U-MEd I was some sort of left wing nutjob. “From what (do I) intend to get energy?” You very obviously didn’t read where I clearly spelled out natural gas and nuclear. Some left wing nut job I am, huh? Stop putting words in my posts that don’t exist.
My family’s North Carolina organic beef farm is downwind in the same county as the Cliffside steam plant, so you’ll have to forgive me if I’d prefer they power that thing with significantly cleaner natural gas instead of coal….

Bruce Cobb

Mr. Harris is being unreasonable here. Without the logical fallacies he gave, along with the biggie – the bogus as well as illogical “consensus” argument, the Warmists have got nothing but a wild conjecture with practically no evidence to support it whatsoever. That wouldn’t be fair, would it?

Chris D.

Bravo for this honest appeal for civil discourse!
I recently came across this video which evoked much thought:

When you get down to it, whether “left” or “right”, what we’re really talking about is bigotry.

Stephen Richards

Mike M says:
June 14, 2013 at 5:19 am
MattN : “Sludge lagoons from mining, the cost to the landscape, the human cost.”
I think this may be the worst comment of the decade and the life of this blog. The comment to which you made this reply was a perfectly reasonable one laying out that persons opinion and wish. He was right about everything he said and so were you BUT you failed to understand that in giving us all those benefits, coal gave us the time to improve our lives and spend time thinking of better ways to power them. We are at the next stage of those better ways and MattN is correct in what he said.
I’ve been down the redundant pits of wales, I saw the news when many children were buried alive by their waste. Yes it was a price to be payed but not the right price. Take your “vacuous” and stuff it where it cannot be reused.

Rob

Guest Blogger posted: “Guest essay by Tom Harris
Last month, U.S. Rep. David McKinley (R.-WV) hosted an unbiased climate change panel discussion in Fairmont, West Virginia. Experts from both sides of the climate debate participated without restrictions of any kind.”

Ryan

“And Ryan, why don’t you join me out here on the farm hauling water and feed to the field at 40 below? No sarcasm Ryan. Come see how people work on the land for little or no return just because it is better than living in a smoggy city.”
Grew up in a farm town with summers in the 110’s, thanks. I have a good handle on what work feels like.

Ryan

“I”d call the panel balanced rather than unbiased. Unfortunately, when it comes to this issue, everybody is biased. The best you can hope for is to balance the biases.”
Balanced? Maybe. So would a debate between Richard Dawkins and Henry Morris. It still wouldn’t accomplish much or reveal much detailed truth. Real scientific truth requires details, lots of them.

Reg Nelson

Ryan says:
June 14, 2013 at 11:18 am
“I”d call the panel balanced rather than unbiased. Unfortunately, when it comes to this issue, everybody is biased. The best you can hope for is to balance the biases.”
Balanced? Maybe. So would a debate between Richard Dawkins and Henry Morris. It still wouldn’t accomplish much or reveal much detailed truth. Real scientific truth requires details, lots of them.
——-
And unfortunately the only way, it seems, to try and obtain details is through FOIA requests and lawsuits. That alone should be telling.
If you read the Climategate emails you would know why they hide behind curtains and closed doors. Climate Scientists have no stomach for the truth — it doesn’t fit their agenda.