How not to argue on climate change

In: Uncategorized

20 Sep 2006

I hesitate to write too much on climate change because it could easily become a full-time preoccupation. But given it is increasingly used as the ultimate argument against affluence it is difficult to avoid devoting time to it.

George Monbiot’s new book on climate change, serialised in three parts in the Guardian, provides a model of how not to conduct the debate. Yesterday there was an article on ‘the denial industry’ which focused on ExxonMobil. He made a similar film for the BBC Newsnight programme which was broadcast this evening. The main point of both was that ExxonMobil is financing “climate change deniers” – including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, the Reason Foundation and the Independent Institute – to misrepresent the truth on climate change in order to protect its profits.

There are two reasons why this argument is flawed. First, the fact that anyone receives finance from a particular source, even one with a vested interest, does not prove that an argument is wrong. I could be paid by the Devil Inc to produce this website but that does not invalidate my arguments (as it happens I am entirely self-financed). Second, it is misleading to talk to climate change “denial”. Only a lunatic would deny that the climate is changing and most specialists seem to accept that humans have played a role in warming. What needs to be debated is the character of the change (a scientific question) and how best to respond to it (a political question).

Monbiot cites a website with the sole aim of exposing Exxon . He has also set up a new website of his own , along with Mark Lynas and Joss Garman, to argue solely on climate change. There is also a speaking tour on the book.