So I'm just returned back here to Manhattan from the 9th International Conference On Climate Change, put on by the Heartland Institute in Las Vegas over the past three days. It was a very impressive program, and Heartland deserves great credit for the tremendous organizational effort, let alone raising the money to mount the event.
Two things stand out as remarkable about this conference. First, there was the high quality and great expertise of the presenters. To a person, they were serious people making serious points. And second, there was the fact that not one single scientist from the alarmist camp showed up to defend his or her position before this highly informed skeptical audience. The second is really the more remarkable. The event sponsors from Heartland stated repeatedly that they had invited numerous scientists from the alarmist side of the debate, but not one had agreed to show up.
Here's why I find that second fact so remarkable. Being in the litigation business, I have had the chance to spend a lot of time thinking about how it is that juries of lay people get entrusted to decide disputes over complex matters about which they have little knowledge and no expertise. But in fact this process of decision by lay people, if very imperfect, works remarkably well. And here is the view I've come to: A lay person with no knowledge about a complex subject can get a very good idea of who's closer to right by asking himself one simple question -- Which side has the better answers to the other side's best points? That proposition can then be extended outside the courtroom to arguments generally, including arguments about public policy. The side that won't or can't answer the other side's best points, or that refuses to show up for debate, is demonstrating that its position has serious problems, even without saying anything. If the answers were clear and obviously correct, someone would show up and give them. So when one side refuses to do that, it is conceding that it has lost.
Another organization that I am associated with, the Federalist Society, long ago recognized the importance of being willing to go head to head with the very best that the other side has to offer, at least if you want your own ideas to advance and ultimately prevail in the public sphere. For those who don't know much about it, the Federalist Society was founded in the 1980s with the idea of getting a hearing in the public sphere for conservative and libertarian legal thought. From the beginning, the model of the Federalist Society has been to host debates where prominent speakers from the liberal or statist side are always given their full say. For what I would say are obvious reasons, the Federalist Society, through its model of open and robust debate, has been remarkably successful in its goal of advancing conservative and libertarian legal thought.
The alarmist climate science community has adopted exactly the opposite strategy. Indeed that community has not been shy about using every method available to enforce strict orthodoxy and avoid debate. Here is a small roundup I wrote in March. Some of the techniques used by the climate community have included getting important media outlets to refuse to publish any work of dissenters, using positions as peer reviewers at prominent science journals to prevent publication of dissenting articles, bringing libel suits against dissenters, threatening criminal prosecution against dissenters, and launching ad hominem attacks against those who don't toe the line. Well, I guess it's no surprise that anyone hoping to be in with this crowd would not show up at a conference put on by dissenters -- the orthodoxy-enforcers will end your career in a heartbeat.
The Heartland's conference website, linked above, has streaming video of all the presentations. To highlight just a few of the more important points:
- Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace and now apostate, gave a keynote address on the morning of July 8. Among the illustrations used in his talk were charts showing the lack of correlation of atmospheric CO2 with measured temperatures (1) on geologic time scales (600 million years), where periods of CO2 concentrations many times higher than today have also had ice ages, (2) during the thermometer era of about 1880 to present, where the first run-up from about 1910 to 1940 preceded the extensive use of fossil fuels, and (3) for the last approximately 18 years, when temperatures have flatlined while CO2 continues to increase.
- On the morning of July 8, a panel on Climate Change and the Hydrosphere addressed the influences of ocean on the climate. Speakers included William Gray, William Kininmonth and Roy Spencer. A point that was implicit in all the presentations was finally stated explicitly in the question and answer period: If world temperatures (as measured by the highly accurate satellites) have remained flat for the last 18 years, and if you believe that CO2 exerts a strong warming influence on temperatures, and if CO2 has increased substantially during that period, then don't you have to concede that there is some natural, non-anthropogenic force that is sufficient to completely offset the warming effect of the CO2?
- Patrick Michaels of the Cato Institute gave the luncheon keynote address on July 8. He reviewed the tremendous corrupting influence resulting from the fact that one source, government, provides essentially all funding for climate science research, while at the same time having its own agenda of expanding its own power. In a situation where all climate models that predicted large warming over the last 18 years have now been falsified by observational data, he called upon climate scientists to reject the hypotheses represented by these models, as a matter of basic scientific ethics.
- In a panel later in the day on July 8, the blogger Tony Heller (nom de blog Steven Goddard) presented some of his data showing adjustments of the observation record from land-based thermometers being adjusted by the government in recent years to lower earlier temperatures and raise more recent ones.
And there was lots more. I highly recommend to all to view as much of the material from this conference as you have time for. For anyone on the alarmist side of the debate, I ask you, what are the answers to any of these points?