Climate incoherence, stage right

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.

12 thoughts on “Climate incoherence, stage right

  1. Lee Russ

    John McC’s scientific expertise apparently didn’t do him much good back in 2007. For those who may have forgotten, that’s when he wrote a newspaper column denying climate change and citing a petition created & circulated by “the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine.” As many Vermonters noted in responding to McC then, that organization is pretty much a non-scientific propaganda outlet, and the signers of the petition McC cited were not climate scientists and, in many cases, not real, including such not-real scientists as MASH characters B.J. Hunicutt and Frank Burns, and Geraldine Halliwell (Ginger Spice). Check out this site:

  2. R Roper

    “Nobody is seriously advocating anything like 200 miles of wind towers.”

    Actually 200 miles of wind towers is what David Blittersdorf told an audience of Addison County Democrats he expects his company, All Earth Renewables, to install in fulfilling Vermont’s current renewable energy goals. 3000 megawatts at 15 megawatts per mile = 200 miles. His math, not mine. Here’s the video:

    Why is this serious advocacy? Because Blittersdorf, remember, helped pay for the study VPIRG is using to advocate for the Carbon Tax, from which he can expect to reap some pretty sweet subsidies to build those 200 miles worth of wind towers, and, as he mentions, another 6000 megawatts of solar. I would have thought a mega-rich guy financing studies to pass legislation that would pour millions into his own pockets would leave you outraged. How much is David Blittersdorf donating to VPIRG to advocate for this Carbon Tax? (Effectively using a so-called public advocacy organization to skirt Vermont’s lobbyist disclosure laws; pretty slick, eh?)

    And, although you are correct about the total land mass of Vermont being 6 million square miles, in order for the solar projects to be at all economically viable, they need to be on cleared, flat land near transmission lines and open to sunlight. There aren’t quite 6 million square miles of land fitting that description in Vermont, which is why farm and pastureland along Rt 7, for example, or along I-89 is filling up with these things (which, I was delighted to hear Paul Burns admit are “blight” during out debate) instead of being hidden away in areas deep and unnoticed within the Green Mountain National Forest.

    Personally, given that the science says that Vermont’s moving to 90% renewable energy sources by 2050 will have ZERO impact on climate trajectories by the end of the century, and even if we were successful in leading the entire global community in the same direction, the impact would be an estimated paltry 0.17 degrees C of mitigations in the best case scenario (not likely), the cost of wrecking our landscape to achieve nothing just isn’t worth the “benefit.”

    What do you think, based on the science, the benefit to Vermont would be from passing a Carbon Tax?

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Yeah, hiding solar arrays “deep within the Green Mountain National Forest” would surely minimize the environmental impact.

      The point is not whether Vermont, by itself, can swing the balance on climate change. The point is that we all have to do our part. Like little ol’ Uruguay, for example. If every state and nation adopted your argument, then we’d just let the planet keep on heating up until we run out of fossil fuels. Which is a teensy bit irresponsible, if you ask me.

      1. R Roper

        John, Again you miss the point (I’m beginning to think on purpose)… It’s not a matter of if Vermont does its part we can inspire others to do the same and then winter will be saved, maple sugar will flow, and the Winooski River will never flood again. The point is, even if we do our part and inspire the whole wide world to do their part too, the result will be… jack shit. Best case scenario: 0.17 degrees of mitigation by 2100 — that’s if China and India are on 100% board in addition to Uruguay. That’s what the science says. If you have scientific data that shows something different, like if we can eliminate XX amounts of CO2 by XX date, the planet will not warm or climate trends will be somehow meaningfully impacted, please share! It’s not there. To claim otherwise is to be a true science denier. Why would you waste time and other resources (like our pristine landscape, which was declared to be at one point a national treasure) on a “solution” you know won’t work? It’s asinine.

        As for your snarky comment above, you were the one who implied all 6 million square miles of VT were fair game for solar panels, not me.

  3. R Roper

    Then, provide your own figures backing up your position. Show I’m wrong! Clearly you don’t have them, and have probably never investigated them. You just drank the Kool Aid, no questions asked. Don’t blame my politics for your ignorance. As someone said during the debate, science doesn’t care if you believe in it or not. Or if you think it’s a right wing dogmatist.

    1. Faith King

      “It’s not a matter of if Vermont does its part we can inspire others to do the same and then winter will be saved, maple sugar will flow, and the Winooski River will never flood again.”

      So screw it, huh Rob? YOLA – isn’t that what the frat boys from Dartmouth say. Eddie Haskell takes off his mask and you see, voila, he’s really the Dark Lord of the Sith. Curtain down to maniacal laughter.

  4. Faith King

    Go to : for a nifty list of Koch Brother’s enterprises and then followup that up with: for a discussion of the Koch’s “environmental advocacy” (which exclusively targets renewables) and is so clearly tied to “science”. Not “money”. The Koch’s money, that is. Not enough morons out here to believe ya, Eddie (oh, I mean Rob). Then cap it with the Wharton School @ UPenn : “Experts believe that to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, a goal of the Copenhagen Accord, the world’s energy emissions have to peak by 2020 and then quickly decline, reaching near-zero by approximately 2050…One of the often-cited obstacles to achieving this goal is the world’s reliance on coal for both power and jobs. According to Charles Mann in The Atlantic, coal causes 25% more emissions than oil globally, but cleaning up the sector may not be as difficult as it first appears.”
    Polluter Watch gives us this: “CARMA reports that Koch releases about 200,000 tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide annually.” And from Rolling Stone: “One of the firm’s subsidiaries, Koch Carbon, is expanding its Chicago terminal operations to receive up to 11 million tons of petcoke for global export.” Even reading Rob Roper makes me feel sick.

  5. Faith King

    Excuse me. An accurate attribution to the afore-mentioned Frat Boys would be “YOLO”, not “YOLA” – as I believe I wrote. This cry is typically heard before said entitled youngsters (preparing to be scions of Wall Street) consume large quantities of beer and set off to lend credence to the phrase “Campus Rape Culture”…..but I digress.


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