Let's Do The Time Warp Again: Monbiot and May vs Lomberg and Lawson


Toronto Star

It is the battle of the M&Ms; vs the L&Ls; the Munk debate in Toronto about the statement "Climate change is mankind's defining crisis, and demands a commensurate international response" with Bjorn Lomberg and Nigel Lawson duking it out against George Monbiot and Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May. I thought May would be outclassed and was just there for obligatory Canadian content, but I was wrong; she came out swinging with the point that "We should be arguing how do we reach the targets, not if we should do it."

Had they debated the question, it might have been interesting. Alas, it degenerated into debate not about "commensurate international response" but, courtesy of the inclusion of Nigel Lawson, a tiresome time warp about whether climate change is happening at all. As Richard Littlemore put it at Desmogblog, (strangely deleted this morning):

For anyone who is tired of the phony debate that has been running on this topic for two decades, it is tedious even to imagine that such an event is being staged. By stepping onto the stage with the likes of Lawson and Lomborg, May and Monbiot give credence to the view that there IS a legitimate debate.

Bjorn Lomberg didn't think much of this either, coming in his gym clothes. Please, if you are showing up at a debate, look like a grownup. And he had a problem for a partner, a guy who says that the only way to lift the developing world out of poverty is to burn more coal. It compromised Lomberg's argument about priorities to be tied to someone who denies that there is any climate change at all.

That is why the skeptics invented the term AGW or Anthropogenic Global Warming, acknowledging that something is happening and now arguing about what is causing it. Not Lawson; it is all a big hoax to him.

Elizabeth May was the surprise of the evening; tough, funny, just shredding Lomberg; she concluded with an analogy about sitting in a theater that is on fire; if there is smoke coming through the floorboards, don't sit in your seat listening to soothing words from the management.

The framing of the question was a gift to Lomberg, debating the scale of the "commensurate international response", right up his alley in his talk about priorities. He didn't manage to rise to it. Lawson never even addressed the question and the moderator let him get away with it; I thought that was a rule in debates, discuss the statement, not your own silly tangent. George Monbiot was surprisingly disappointing, resorting to cheap rhetorical tricks like pulling out a blank sheet of paper to describe all of the scientific writings of Nigel Lawson; while he writes a lot, he is no scientist either. Elizabeth May exceeded expectations and I think stole the show, what little of it there was to steal.

It all seemed terribly out of date; we did this years ago. People aren't going to Copenhagen to debate whether climate change is happening; they are going to decide if they have the guts to do anything about it. I watched it on a live-feed, but Tyler Hamilton of Clean Break was there, and at the cocktails after, so I will give him the last word:

I'm happy it was a sold-out event and that so many people expressed an interest in this issue. I only wish, as May pointed out, the debate was around what to do, not whether to do. I also got the sense that many of the people who attended were simply out of touch with the realities facing the world outside our own privileged lives. When the debate ended we all walked out of the theatre, grabbed a glass of wine, chatted, laughed, then on the way out were handed a box of chocolates. Have a nice evening... so spoiled we are, and far too content.

Related Content on Treehugger.com