As if deconstructing the Codebatemmittee on Climate Change (CCC) singlehanded wasn’t enough to keep us busy, Alex Cull and I have just completed the transcription of the 98-minute Guardian Climategate Debate held on July 14th last year. It can be found here.

There were many detailed and interesting accounts of the debate on the net, including those by Alex and Robin Guenier here, Maurizio Morabito here, and Atomic Hairdryer here.

In addition to the audio recording of the debate, the Guardian put up a five minute video extract, and an report by  Damian Carrington here, in which he said:

Something remarkable happened last night in the polarised world of "warmists" versus "sceptics": a candid but not rancorous public debate… to my knowledge, never before have all sides of this frequently poisonous debate shared a stage. The outcome was illuminating.

and asked:

Will the friendliness that broke out at the Guardian debate prove a mere holiday romance? Or will it be the start of a new way of conducting and communicating the science, especially online, that will shape how the world lives for centuries, as demanded by many? I’m cautiously optimistic.

A year on, it’s safe to say that the cautious optimism of the Guardian’s environment editor was misplaced. While a small number of scientists, led by Judith Curry, have accepted discussion with sceptics, the mainstream media haven’t budged an inch, while the government moves to ever more extreme positions, egged on by the Greenpeace/IPCC complex of government-financed non-governmental organisations, paid to lobby governments to persuade them to do what governments want to do anyway.

I don’t intend to analyse the debate. The point of our transcription is to enable everyone to make up their own mind. The main impression I took away from the transcription was that no true debate took place, which makes me wonder whether a debate is even possible, or could ever have the desired result of opening up discussion of the numerous weaknesses in the warmist case – weaknesses which are currently known only to a tiny number of sceptics, and to a slightly larger number of warmist activists who monitor sceptic activity.

I do invite anyone who is interested in the question of how to “win” the argument to read the transcript, looking at the structure of the debate, as well as the content, and ask themselves, how could the debate have been “won”? How could anyone make a well-constructed case, given the constraints of time and circumstance?

To show what I mean, here is just one example of the way the argument was never engaged:

To Trevor Davies’ defence of Jones’s two papers on the insignificance of urban heat island effect, (the only time, I think, that anyone on the warmist side engaged with “the science”) Doug Keenan replied that the second one showed UHI effect accounting for 40% of warming. Davies interrupted him, objecting that it was “in one small area of China” and that he didn’t have “that level of detail”, whereupon Chairman George Monbiot put an end to the discussion, by turning to his colleague, fellow Guardian journalist Fred Pearce, and saying:

Fred, we’ve run very soon into an issue which is incredibly detailed, it involves, when you get into it, even further an awful lot of complicated science. The great majority of people who’ve tuned into this debate don’t have the scientific expertise to be able to judge – how do we navigate ourselves, navigate our way, through issues like that?

Note that most of the debate consisted of well-meaning assertions of the need for discussion, an exchange of views, openness and candour etc. Yet the moment detailed science was introduced – science of the most elementary kind which anyone could understand – the chairman moved to close it down, and, from the tone of questions that followed, Monbiot was only reflecting the mood of the questioners. They wanted to know what the panellists were going to do about warming, or what effect the Climategate emails might have on their movement. They were not interested in temperatures in Eastern China, or what Jones wrote to Warwick Hughes. They were not interested in hearing what was wrong with the science.

It was clear to me that the warmists were not interested in hearing the sceptic case, just as it is clear to warmist journalists like Monbiot that we sceptics are unwilling to listen to reason (i.e. “the science”). In these conditions no debate is possible.

Robin Guenier had an interesting article here in which he discussed the theory of Cass Sunstein, a member of the Obama admiration, explaining how “groupthink” results from associating with people who share the same ideas, reinforcing those ideas and carrying them toward extreme positions.

Sunstein says:

The most important reason for group polarisation, which is key to extremism in all its forms, involves the exchange of new information. Group polarisation often occurs because people are telling one another what they know, and what they know is skewed in a predictable direction […] If people are worried about climate change, the arguments they offer will incline them toward greater worry. If people start with the belief that climate change is a hoax and a myth, their discussions will amplify and intensify that belief. And indeed, a form of ‘environmental tribalism’ is an important part of modern political life. Some groups are indifferent to environmental problems that greatly concern and even terrify others. The key reason is the information to which group members are exposed.

Sunstein applies this theory to global warming, the Rwandan genocide, and the Barack Obama’s election campaign, without explaining why groupthink took off in these particular cases, and not others. After all, Obama’s campaign was not the first to mobilise grassroots activists; Rwanda is not the only African country with inter-tribal tensions; global warming is not the only fashionable idea whose proponents tend to gather together in order to reinforce their beliefs. Psycho-social theories of the way people adopt and transmit their beliefs can only take us so far.

One of the basic mistakes sceptics have made in framing the sceptic/warmist “debate”, I think, is in seeing it as a sporting event, a match between two “teams”. Our democratic tradition leads us to frame any social or political question in these terms, and attempts by opinion polls to measure the relative strength of “warmists” and “sceptics” reinforce this tendency.

Any attempt at a coherent explanatory description of the social groups who confront each other on the climate change question reveals, not two “sides”, but a number of interlocking groups, which differ in size by orders of magnitude. Here is one such possible breakdown, with approximate sizes of the groups involved. It is by no means definitive, and no doubt one could produce more sophisticated versions:

  1. numbered in tens of millions: the mass of electors who couldn’t care less about the technical arguments around climate change, but may well be made to care by rising fuel prices, or attempts to limit their air travel, or to punish them for putting stuff in the wrong bin.
  2. numbered in millions: those who “care about the environment”. Surveys tend to find about 10% of the population who place “the environment / pollution” among their top worries. They tend to be more middle class, and more educated.
  3. numbered in hundreds of thousands: those who have the motivation and education necessary to make intelligent judgements on climate science
  4. numbered in tens of thousands: the deciders; the politicians, editors, programme makers, professional activists, academics, who have decided that climate change is the defining problem of our century.
  5. numbered in thousands: climate sceptics, who have emerged, or been ejected by some mysterious force, from groups 2) and 3) above.

I have deliberately chosen the sizes of the groups to emphasise my point: that there is no possibility of them meeting and discussing the subject on a level playing field. In a random group of ten citizens (a focus group, for example, of which political parties are so fond) just one person, on average, will be concerned about the environment. In a group of ten environmentally concerned citizens, just one will be intellectually equipped to discuss the subject. In a group of ten who are scientifically savvy, one will be in a position of influence, and there is a one in ten chance of finding a sceptic.

Even if my figures for the relative sizes of the groups are out by a wide margin, the general point still holds; the conditions for a useful debate do not exist.

Of course, a similar situation arises with respect to other social / political questions, and is a fundamental problem for the working of democracy. It is solved by the formation of opposing factions parties, in other words. People do not form their opinions, or act politically, as isolated individuals. Their beliefs are mediated and transformed into political action via their membership of coherent groups, defined by class, age, geography, religion, etc. We define ourselves as liberal or conservative, nationalist or internationalist, etc., and gravitate towards the group or party which best embodies our beliefs.

What distinguishes climate change is the way it has been adopted as a fundamental belief by the entire political and intellectual élite in western democracies. Scientific and political consensus means that there is nowhere for sceptics to go, no reputable journal in which (for example) criticism of the IPCC can be expressed, no mainstream political party to vote for, and (what is dangerous for democracy itself) no way to stop a Chris Huhne from leading the country to economic disaster in the name of scientific truth.

If you think I’m exaggerating, read the contribution of Bob Watson to the Guardian debate. NASA, the White House, the World Bank, Chairman of the IPCC, and now DEFRA – he’s been everywhere, advised everyone. He’s the archetypal establishment figure. I don’t want to be rude, but he can’t debate. He doesn’t understand the concept. Like Sir Paul Nurse in the recent Horizon documentary, he can’t hear what his interlocutor is saying. A lifetime of handing down scientific truth to elected leaders has removed him from the realm of normal human discourse. He’s probably a nice bloke, but he’s an awful warning of what can happen when intelligent people think they’ve discovered some unassailable truth.

10 Responses to “Questions the Guardian climate debate didn’t answer”

  1. Real formal debate is a process that has been honed over centuries and workd. Speakers, usually 3 per side, speaking alternately and given long enough to put a case without getting boring (5 mins +). In this process it is clear when parties are woffling and refusing to answer the other side’s argument.

    Wghen the media say “debate” they are misusing the term – Moonbat and 3 friends against 2 sceptics with George acting as referee is not a real debate.

    That the media steadfastly refuse to debate on this or almost any other subject shows how corrupt our “democracy” is.

  2. Just to say all of the transcript is there now (thanks, Geoff!)

  3. Spending hours transcribing this stuff makes you realise how difficult it is to conduct a reasoned assessment of a complex subject on the basis of oral evidence. You’re necessarily judging the person, not the text, which is fine in a court of law, when you’re judging a person’s innocence or guilt, but less fine when you’re trying to ascertain the truth about a scientific hypothesis.
    Here’s an example which I only noticed on a third reading.

    At about 1:20 Roger Harrabin asks Bob Watson:

    Are you happy with the system of accountability of science, not just for this issue, but for other ones, and if not, what sort of system would you in future envisage, and recommend to ministers?

    Bob Watson’s reply starts:

    As most people, I would not trust any single scientific paper, whoever writes it, whether they’ve all been through peer review, whether in Science, Nature, or some of the other academic journals. I do believe the national and international assessment process, where you bring together scientists, with different perspectives, different views – hopefully all based on evidence, not on ideology, and that’s critical – is probably the best system one could apply.

    And then he goes off into a defence of the IPCC.

    Two sentences, two points, neither of them relevant to the question. I assumed it was standard Watson waffle, till I noticed that the first sentence was in fact a reply to a earlier point by Keenan, who cited a scientific paper in support of his view, to which Watson replies “I would not trust any single scientific paper, whoever writes it”.

    It was typical of the whole debate that all Keenan and McIntyre’s detailed points were simply ignored, or dismissed as too complicated to treat. Watson’s position is clearly untenable, but there was no way that anyone could point this out, in the context of an adversarial debate, given the time available. You’d need days or weeks of debate, as happens in a court of law, or very occasionally in politics (the Putney Debates at the end of the English Civil War, or the Council of Nicaea under the Emperor Constantine).

    I’m very conscious of Tonyb’s warning on the CCC thread about getting bogged down in detail, of “spreading ourselves too thinly”. I’m tempted to conclude that our constant demand for a debate is a terrible mistake. It makes us feel good, since we’re the ones who are confident of our position, while the warmists are clearly afraid. But, on the evidence of the Guardian debate I don’t see how any such debate can work in our favour.

    What does anyone else think?

  4. Geoff

    I thought the analysis here was most interesting;

    “Any attempt at a coherent explanatory description of the social groups who confront each other on the climate change question reveals, not two “sides”, but a number of interlocking groups, which differ in size by orders of magnitude. Here is one such possible breakdown, with approximate sizes of the groups involved. It is by no means definitive, and no doubt one could produce more sophisticated versions:

    1) numbered in tens of millions: the mass of electors who couldn’t care less about the technical arguments around climate change, but may well be made to care by rising fuel prices, or attempts to limit their air travel, or to punish them for putting stuff in the wrong bin.
    2) numbered in millions: those who “care about the environment”. Surveys tend to find about 10% of the population who place “the environment / pollution” among their top worries. They tend to be more middle class, and more educated.”

    As I think I have said previously to you, it is the economic argument (mainly) that will win the day and one we have not been very good at making. The second grouping of those concerned with the environment is also interesting, because not only will they be motivated by the economics, but also about how they are personally affected by green issues. We have no better example of this than with rural power stations aka known as ‘wind farms,’ (We need a new name for wind farms-it sounds much too bucolic)

    Not only are we being asked to subsidise these monsters which will have a big impact on our pockets -the economic argument -but many middle class people from group 2) live in precisely the locations most threatened-in attractive upland areas. They surely understand that you don’t save the environment by trashing the countryside.

    To me wind farms represent a very useful high profile battle ground, as the absurdity of building expensive, inefficient and unsightly turbines which don’t work when you need them most, can be coupled to their mind bendingly useless impact on reducing teperatures-the prime purpose of carbon reduction. A 50mw wind farm will reduce temperatures by ten millionths of a degree.

    These arguments need to be put at public enquiries and are likely to persuade all but the most blinkered and so we will gain good publicity.

    See this report below concerning a wind farm in North Devon opposed by none other than the daughter of James Lovelock. Pure Gold!

    Incidentally, I know I have asked it before, but I’m still hoping someone will provide the answer as to what is meant when an application states the wind farm will supply 30000 homes with domestic electricity. Does that mean EVERYTHING including cooking or just selected low power selected items? I haven’t come across the answer in any of the links previously supplied to me.


  5. TonyB, re the calculations, for instance, the online brochure for the London Array states that “London Array’s turbines will generate enough electricity for around 750,000 homes” and, according to the footnote, this is based on “an average annual household energy consumption of 4,478 kWh and site specific data indicating a load factor of at least 39%”. The Array will “be capable of generating up to 1,000 megawatts.”

    Looking for confirmation of the 4,478 kWh figure, I’ve found several websites (such as E.ON’s) which display similar figures (e.g., 4,700 kWh) and which point to DECC as their source. And here’s a downloadable spreadsheet from DECC, which has the 4,478 kWh mentioned by London Array – it’s on the page for year 2008 and is at the bottom of column M (Sales per household, average domestic consumption kWh, for all of GB.) So yes, I’m assuming, based on this, that it would mean everything – all cooking, heating, appliances, etc.

    Re the load factor, “at least 39%” seems to be at the optimistic end of the scale (though they say that the data is “site specific” and perhaps the Thames Estuary is exceptionally windy), if the range depicted in this wiki is accurate (25 – 40%):

    My engineering knowledge is practically zero, but it does seem misleading – stating that the Array will “generate enough electricity for around 750,000 homes” gives an impression of these turbines spinning constantly away and a great block of 750,000 homes in the London area (maybe even mine!) being completely powered 24/7 by them. I can imagine people thinking “Now there are 750,000 homes with enough power, let’s build more turbines to supply the rest of the country”. Which of course doesn’t take into account intermittency and the need for spinning reserve, etc.

    Geoff, re the efficacy of debate, I tend to agree with TonyB that it’s the economic argument that has the most hope of succeeding, and it will be the local impact of wind turbines and the new pylons for high-voltage power lines that will motivate people to oppose the government’s low-carbon energy policy, plus when a portion of everyone’s skyrocketing utility bills is unequivocally shown to relate to spending on such projects.

    But regarding debating the science, yes it’s interesting indeed to follow the transcript and notice, as you say, that there is no real meeting of minds going on, and that people are talking at cross purposes. On that note, I’m trying to understand what point Tammy Boyce is trying to make to Doug Keenan (just after the 1 hour 30 min mark.) She says “policy doesn’t get developed based on evidence” – does she mean there’s no point to gathering evidence (if I’m correct, she was a research fellow at the King’s Fund, so this would be an odd thing to imply) or that policymakers don’t look at the evidence? I’ve read this quite a few times now, but can’t work out exactly what she’s trying to assert.

  6. Alex

    Thanks for the calculations.The load factor of wind and other renewables is here.

    It seems that even if the 39% is correct-and its right at the very top of the estimates-its way below every other form of fossil fuel as can be seen in the chart

    The actual real world example seems even lower

    The average household consumption quoted also seens very much on the low side


  7. TonyB, thanks for the BWEA link, and yes, the average household consumption rate used by DECC seems on the low side – when I get a moment, I’ll have a look at how they arrive at that figure. Also, will have a go at putting the “number of houses” formula into Excel to have a handy and quick way of checking these against the numbers relating to conventional power stations (on another thread, I worked out that Drax power station produces enough energy to supply over seven times the number that the London Array will eventually supply (according to its brochure, and according to the formula.) Incidentally, the future of Phase 2 of the London Array seems to have a slight question mark over it, as per this document (see page 8, where they discuss funding up to 2016):

  8. tonyb, One of the things that is always missed in the calculation of how many houses will be powered by a wind-farm are transmission losses and conversion costs.

    As far as I can tell, and I’m not able to get any definitive figures, all output figures given in the sales blurbs are gross outputs. When we see what a farm actually contributes and is paid for the figures are much lower.

    Where does the Power go? For a start the wind is not as reliable or regular as was first envisaged. Its not so much that the wind has been that much less recently, but that the actual power it contains is as always the case when commercial sense is pushed aside less that the theoretical figure. Remember it is a cube law with the power directly proportional to the cube of the wind speed. I think they have over estimated either the efficiency of the blades or the actual power delivery of variable wind speed as opposed to a continuous wind speed.

    Next they don’t account for the power needed to keep the turbines turning when the wind drops below 10mph or to control it when the wind is too high. Depending on the type of turbine, and some of the technical arguments about who has the best turbines are true classics, the power is produced as either DC or AC, then converted to the other to be transmitted, then converted at a local substation for domestic use. This process can waste up to between 30% and 50%.

    I’m not privy to all the actual operational figures so no doubt someone somewhere will have an example to prove me wrong, but it is my contention that we are not being given the truth. If you factor in the losses then you see 39% become 19.5 % which is closer to what we see in the real world. Now factor in a further 30% loss as to what domestic users would actually be able to use and I think you will then come closer to working out how many houses these useless monstrosities can support; not all that many given the gross installed capacity. We need an electrical engineer to be able to work all the figures out accurately.

    Now to my favourite and another classic of miss information. Carbon Capture and Sequestration. You may have seen the article on WUWT about a power utility in the US that has ditched CCS because of the need to charge its customer 50% for the power.

    Now what struck me was that this 30% increase in generating costs was to harvest just 1.4% of the CO2 output. This pilot system would have captured just 110,000 tons of CO2 of the 7.9 to 9.8 million tons that it would output. Now some have tried to work out how much that 110,000 tones would cool the earth but I think we all agree that that is not the issue. Even if the project was harvesting 100% of the CO2 it is a bone headed idea to burn so much extra fuel as we would end up using up our coal at a much faster rate. But if just over 1% is going to cost 30% then this technology as I have stated many times is just another piece of green fiction.

  9. Here is a simple analogy. A motorist wants to drive 10,000 miles in a year (about the average). A car with a top speed of 2mph would easily do the trick in Greenyland.

    2 x 24 x 365 = 17,520 miles in a year

  10. Frostbite in one lag and the other’s on fire. On average you’re doin’ fine…

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