Very sorry to have missed Thursday’s carbon tax debate, featuring the Good Guys (Paul Burns of VPIRG and UVM’s Jon Erickson) against the Death Star Duo, Rob Roper and John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute.
Oh yes, fair and balanced shall I be.
I’m sure the DSD walked away believing they’d won, because they are dyed-in-the-wool true believers whose outlook is hermetically sealed against the intrusion of actual evidence. Also, lest we forget, they’ve received hundreds of thousands of dollars from out-of-state conservative donors with ties to the Koch brothers.
The really striking thing about their presentation was the difference between Messrs. McClaughry and Roper. McClaughry is an out-and-out denier. Roper acknowledges climate change but says there’s nothing we can do about it, so we shouldn’t even try.
The best account of the debate was posted over the weekend on VTDigger, which had McClaughry in high dudgeon:
“I heard the other side say that one side of this debate will embrace science, and it clearly wasn’t intended to refer to our side,” McClaughry said. “The moderator neglects to mention I have a Bachelor’s degree in physics, with honors, and a Master’s degree in nuclear engineering, and I spent 40 years since then reading scientific magazines, scientific works, and I consider myself a staunch partisan of climate science, which is not to be confused with the kind of propaganda that seems to register with our opponents.”
Yuh-huh. Let’s unpack that, shall we?
First, he claims expertise via college degrees in fields unrelated to climate science. Kinda like our very own William Shockley. (For the kids in the audience, he was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who made a late-career detour into genetics. And loudly advocated for eugenics and the inferiority of dark-skinned folk. Moral of the story: stay in your lane.)
Then there’s the hahaha, I can’t believe he said that: McClaughry’s an expert because he’s read a bunch of magazines.
Well, hooray. Still doesn’t make him an expert, especially if he approached his reading with a predetermined agenda. Which he obviously did, because he only absorbed the scattered bits of information that support his denialism.
He claims to be “a staunch partisan of real climate science,” but he denies the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is caused by human activity. Indeed, he got angry when Burns claimed that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real, and that humans are the main cause.
“Even as skilled a propagandist as you ought to be ashamed to bring up that 97 percent of climate scientists thing,” McClaughry rejoined.
Burns interrupted McClaughry and said he was disputing figures from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
McClaughry wheeled on his opponent and fixed him with a furious glare.
“Paul you stop! You got something else you want to say now?”
I’ve been told that John McClaughry is a good guy in real life. But in public forums like this, he can be a total schmuck.
Okay, here’s the facts. A review of all peer-reviewed scientific papers published between 1991 and 2011 found that over 97 percent of the research was in agreement that climate change is real and human-caused.
Now, there are plenty of commentators out there who disagree. But with extremely rare exception, they are not climate scientists who have done actual research on climate change.
Here’s a fun example from Forbes magazine. Bear in mind that this is an attempt to “debunk” the 97 percent claim.
If you look at the literature, the specific meaning of the 97% claim is: 97 percent of climate scientists agree that there is a global warming trend and that human beings are the main cause–that is, that we are over 50% responsible.
Of course, the writer spins this completely around and concludes that climate change is somehow not a threat. But right there, he gave away the store. He conceded the 97 percent argument.
McClaughry didn’t bother to try to “rebut” the 97 percent figure; he said he’d already done so years ago, and “didn’t need to repeat his argument.”
Well, thanks John! Heaven forfend that you actually present your arguments at a debate on the issue.
Roper, on the other hand, adopted an oblique approach. He didn’t argue the reality of climate change — he just threw up his hands and said there’s nothing we can do about it.
“According to what you’re asking us to do, the most climate mitigation you’re going to get by the end of the century is a fraction of a degree,” Roper said. “Even if everybody does their part, they’re still not going to impact the things that you say are going to make a difference. The temperature is still going to affect the ski industry, it’s still going to affect the snow in Vermont. It’s not enough to stop the Tropical Irenes from happening.
“So if we can’t do this, even with everybody working together,” he said, “what’s the point?”
This is an increasingly popular argument on the right. It’s getting harder and harder to be a complete denier like McClaughry; the new-wave position is that climate change is unstoppable so we should just learn to live with it.
Roper also made a pitch for the dead-enders in the enviro community who think that renewable energy is worse than climate change.
“We’re going to see 200 miles of ridgeline with 500-foot wind towers, we’ll see between 30,000 acres and 90,000 acres with solar panels,” Roper said. “That is going to affect how the state looks, it’s going to affect how animals can travel through the state, and if there’s no benefit to how we impact the climate, why don’t we put our energy and our efforts into saving the ecology of the state so we can pass that on to our children and grandchildren?”
Okay, first, his statistics are vastly overblown. Nobody is seriously advocating anything like 200 miles of wind towers. And as for the acreage devoted to solar panels? A big scary number, until you realize that Vermont has six million acres of land.
But all those inaccuracies are trumped by his conclusion: we should devote our efforts to “saving the ecology of the state” — by ignoring climate change?
I’m so glad to be living in a state where people like that are relegated to the margins of political discourse.