The recent Climate Change debate at Servite School was almost certainly a first for Anaheim, if not for all of Orange County. Sponsored by Anaheim’s economic watchdog group, CATER*, the stage line-up gave those who attended an opportunity to hear from divergent views about the significance of global warming and whether it’s affected by human activity, or could be arrested by human intervention.
The headliner was billed as Dr. Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute.
A quick preliminary internet search for Dr. Michaels soon indicated he is a climate change “skeptic” meaning, presumably, that he would be in that small percentage of scientists who are not fazed by the more alarmist concerns of the remaining 95% of scientists engaged in the study of global warming. But this would be a premature and prejudicial judgment, for everyone should be allowed to speak for themselves rather than be labeled by one-line sound-bites.
In this tightly time-controlled debate, introduced by his sister-in-law Victoria Michaels - an Anaheim resident - Dr. “Pat” pitched in with his 15 minute presentation.
He was followed by rebuttal speakers, Mark Tabbert and Dr. John Hoaglund III, after which CATER attorney, Greg Diamond, engaged him in informal conversation before the final Q&A wrap-up. So much for the outline of the 2-hour event.
In many respects the evening was a conglomeration of enlightening snippets and lengthy missed opportunities. That was largely due to three factors: presentation of material that was too complicated for a mixed grass roots audience (which includes me); a misunderstanding of the word “rebuttal”; and inability to stick to the point.
Dr. Patrick Michaels
Dr. Michaels began his segment with a clear, simple slide: Global warming is real and it is affected by human activity. There was no doubting the mastery of his subject, and he surely made every effort to pitch his message at a level we could understand. I think it came to this:
· The planet has warmed and cooled on many previous occasions over millions of years for reasons completely unconnected with human activity. Humans were not even there! The temperature variations have been far more extreme than anything we are seeing now, and the Earth survived.
· Since global temperature measurements have been recorded we have become more and more sophisticated at making those measurements, many of them by satellites.
· Graphs charting the uptick of global warming over the last 80 years (or so), while not all identical, are clear about one thing – the trend upwards is a straight line NOT a progressively upwards curve. Michaels’ red laser pointer flitted erratically over a chart showing two straight upwards trend lines, then in the space above these, an upward curving red line (purportedly Government data and projections) with NO data points, clearly wildly different from the scientific measurements. His point was that official government warming projections are demonstrably false and tending to alarmism.
· We are in a natural swing period of global warming that fundamentally has nothing to do with the huge amounts of carbon dioxide we are spewing into the atmosphere.
· This is not to discount that some warming is due to excessive CO2 production by human agencies, but that its influence on the overall warming trend is minimal and that even if the carbon producers of the world tightly reined in their excesses this would make very little difference to the overall (straight line) rise in global temperatures.
· Dr. Michaels touched on the economic implications of attempting to combat global warming much as if to say we are largely wasting our money on the effort. At least, I think that’s what he was saying. Doubtless I could clarify his message by resorting to articles and videos all available on the internet. But our job is to stay on task and cover this debate.
· In a Pew Research survey of national priorities, terrorism ranked at the top with climate change right near the bottom. He should have been challenged on his interpretation of the chart, but this never happened.
As with the Pew Research chart, his presentation begged several very important questions which may or may not have derailed Michaels’ apparent theses. But these challenges were not taken up in the so-called rebuttals, and only one of them in the closing minutes of the Q&A. These areas were missed opportunities.
I said so-called rebuttals. A rebuttal is not simply any alternative viewpoint. Rebuttals cannot be written in advance, unless one has the text of the proponent’s presentation or speech. A rebuttal is an argumentative device in which the opponent takes various statements or theses from the main proposition and attempts to refute them on the facts, showing why the conclusions were wrong. With the possible exception of a quick flash of argument between John Hoaglund and Patrick Michaels in later discussion there was no rebuttal. This was a huge missed opportunity.
Mr. Mark Tabbert
So we come to the first rebuttal, as indicated in the program, by Mr. Mark Tabbert. The unfortunate man took the stage in some discomfort, has arm in a sling, telling us he had just fallen off his bicycle and broken his arm (or was it shoulder?) and two ribs. He also declared “I am not a scientist!” As from this moment I immediately knew it would be impossible for him to say a single word that in any way whatsoever would find holes in Patrick Michael’s arguments and leave him gasping further to explain himself.
Of course, I have also Googled Mark Tabbert so now I know more about him than I did when he spoke for himself. He is a lobbyist/presenter for the Citizens Climate Lobby with a mission to educate members of Congress on the dangers of global warming and persuade them to adopt policies to stringently reduce the impact of CO2 emissions, and so forth. Well and good. But all he did was fill his time with a somewhat unprepared assortment of excessively long anecdotes - what he does, who he has met, names of Congress people who support his lobby group. It would have been to his benefit to make an impassioned appeal to us all to read up on the details of the Citizens Climate Lobby and join the fight. But he didn’t even do that. This was a completely wasted opportunity and most certainly not a rebuttal.
Dr. John Hoaglund III
John Hoaglund III is a specialist in groundwater modeling, hydrology and environmental forensics. If you can unpack the implications of these areas of expertise you will see John Hoaglund takes the view that it’s worthwhile to aim for achievable goals for sustainable groundwater usage and the management of CO2 emissions.
Once again, his presentation was not so much a rebuttal as an alternative view of aspects of Patrick’s presentation. I got the distinct feeling that when the time-keeper cut him off after 15 minutes, he had not managed to summarize his main points and clinch his argument. Others will have taken away differing memories but I think John was saying this:
· With the ability of geo-physicists to drill to huge depths to extract ice cores from both the Arctic and Antarctic we have been able to construct pictures of global climate that go back millions of years. These, as we now know, clearly show the ice-ages with which we are all familiar, and suggest reasons for the vast swings in past global climate. To this extent Michaels and Hoaglund were on the same page. But as the latter observed, every little wiggle on this graph of climate variations over the millennia, represents dozens of PhDs! There is so much science underlining an apparently simple graph that no one person can know it all. Most scientists are obliged to respond to many questions with an honest “I don’t know.”
· Many factors influence global warming and cooling, not least of which are luminosity – or the strength of energy pumped into Earth’s energy system from the sun. The sun does not emit energy at a constant rate; Earth’s orbit and tilt are sufficiently eccentric not only to produce our familiar seasons, but over longer periods, other oscillations. (The Milankovitch cycle, I subsequently found out). Albedo, or the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface, also affects warming when snow covered areas, the ice caps and other glaciers, diminish.
· Impact from asteroids, volcanic eruptions, tectonic movements, all affect climate, sometimes very radically.
· The most dramatic recent changes to earth environment have been from human causality.
· Contrary to the first speaker’s assertions we can and should attempt to reduce human impact of the current climate swing. The more that industrial agencies can be persuaded to work together rather than each pursue their own agendas, the better.
· I think John had us at a disadvantage with the use of terms with which many of us would not be familiar. He needed to explain them. It only takes 15 seconds to tell us that Holocene is the last 11,700 years of Earth’s history – since the last ice age. But maybe I missed that, just as I had to look up Milankovich and distinguish that from John Malkovitch. Hey, it takes time for ordinary people to grasp this words and treat them like bread and butter. And much of this section of John’s presentation was based on a chart so complicated, with the laser flickering around, that it was hard to know what to take away.
· Lastly Dr. Hoaglund took us to the amazing Nebraska Sand Hills – which form a massive soak area into the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest ground water supply in the United States. The point was? – the time-keeper ended his 15 minutes!
What about rebuttal? There were a number of issues raised by Patrick which he jokingly said he had lived through in spite of the “Chicken Little” scares at the time. These included the population bomb, global cooling, acid rain, ozone depletion, etc. John later admitted he would have like to taken up these issues to show that human intervention CAN in fact change environmental conditions. But at the time, the opportunity went begging.
The Conversation with Greg Diamond and Patrick Michaels was most interesting not so much for good conversation but for observing body language and quantifying the volume of words Greg can utter before he actually gets to the point, if he ever gets there at all. I’m not suggesting that Greg does not have great contributions to make but marshaling his thoughts in order to present clear, succinct argument, is a communication problem that we cannot overlook. He has the stage, and the opportunities mostly wandered off into fogginess.
It soon proved prudent to call Dr. Hoaglund to the stage to join the discussion. And we see this: Greg sits upright in his chair, head inclined upwards towards a microphone which was clearly too high, and which he could have lowered and thereby looked more comfortable. He is on edge, trying to man-up to his task. Patrick takes the microphone off its stand, moves his chair way from Greg and sits back with the mic cradled in his chest. He is a man at ease. Confident against all comers, ready to dismiss their arguments as one would swat a mosquito. John then takes the center chair over to the left lectern, sits with elbows on knees supporting his head. It is the position of undue deference, even irritation at the superior attitude of the main speaker.
The conversation revealed one crucial plank in the Michaels’ argument; that whatever we try to do to mitigate global warming it is largely useless. And he pulled intellectual rank with a lofty putdown of Greg by citing atmospheric rates of methane absorption in the upper atmosphere, inviting Greg to show how that might be changed by reducing vehicle emissions (or something like that).
We had to wait until the end of the public questions to rattle Dr. Michaels’ cage. Did he know about the effect of global warming on the melting the ice caps and the break up of ice sheets? To which he tartly replied, “Of course I do!”
And that was one of the potentially most important issues of the evening – gone in a second. (See below. )
Although (as John Hoagland said) 50% of the audience would probably not agree with him or Patrick Michaels about the age of the Earth because they were evangelical Christians, much of what came from the platform was still more than most of us could follow! The ability to take complex matters and reduce them to understandable form without undue sacrifice of technical or philosophical content is a great communication skill. At least - thank you speakers - you did not insult us with shallow rhetoric. You made us think!
The CATER organizers did a great job to organize and control this event and can only learn the lessons and build on this to go ahead and arrange yet more debates on matters of great public interest. I am not sure, apart from higher educational institutions, who else would do this.
The audience was clearly pleased to have been there. They have plenty to mull over.
Thoughts from the writer.
The matter of melting ice is very important. Michaels showed us that atmospheric warming is more straight line than the Al Gore hockey stick.
There is a huge difference between the amount of heat energy in a system as compared with the temperature of a system. Remember those schooldays experiments on melting ice and boiling water? Does the term latent heat come back to mind?
When ice melts at zero degrees Centigrade it turns into water at the same temperature. So what? It takes a large amount of heat energy to loosen up the “frozen” molecules into the more mobile “liquid” state. And even more to induce liquid water to evaporate into gaseous form. The heat that effects these transformations is called latent heat – and it has to come from somewhere. In simple terms it comes from the air – which for a while reduces air temperature.
Translate this to melting glaciers: what would otherwise be increasingly hot air in the atmosphere is cooled down by the heat transfer into the ice to melt it. Increasingly warmed air therefore remains at a more constant temperature. The implications of this are HUGH! It raises so many questions that should have been aimed at Dr. Michaels (even if he came back with replies that would have left us speechless.) Michaels focused mainly on atmospheric temperatures, and did not get to the impact of warming on our oceans.
Sure, the ocean and atmospheric system of our planet may easily be able to respond and cope with increased greenhouse gases in its own way. It has in the past. But this time we - the over–populated human race - are also here, making matters worse through industrial greed and political indifference. This time, we stand to be the major losers as nature readjusts itself to absorb the abuse we have thrown at it. Greg’s plea, joined with John’s argument, that we should at least do something rather than nothing should not easily be ignored.
Mark Tabbert would tell us that his Citizens Climate Lobby is working on it, along with many others.
· The debate took place in the Anaheim Performing Arts Center at Servite, Thursday 20th August at 7pm. CATER is Anaheim’s economic watchdog: the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility.
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From the web…
Dr. Patrick Michaels: http://www.cato.org/people/patrick-michaels
Mr. Mark Tabbert: http://presenters.climaterealityproject.org/presenter/mark-tabbert_5181
Dr. John Hoaglund III: https://www.blogger.com/profile/05447931743991013379
Mr. Greg Diamond: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/greg-diamond/5/724/9b1