Global climate change debate continues

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By Jeffrey Corbin

If you did not follow the Concordy’s online edition during finals week and spring break, then you likely missed out on a flurry of coverage about Christopher Monckton’s visit to Union College on March 5.

Monckton’s talk, in which he presented his well-known critique of climate science, was followed by a Q&A in which the campus community was able to discuss climate science and ask questions of various professors from the geology and biology departments.

Significantly, Monckton came to the Q&A, and he had the opportunity to raise any questions and engage in discussions with students.

An understandable conclusion from reading the Concordy’s coverage of the two events would be that both were marred by discord and conflict, and that Monckton was not given the opportunity to present his views.

For example, Nick D’Angelo wrote in his opinion article, “Monckton’s Visit Shows Partisanship Over Civility,” that the opportunity for “serious conversation” was destroyed by the audience (and, he pointed out, Monckton).

Another opinion article, by Justin Pulliam, who was an outside contributor and assistant to Monckton, went even further by describing a “shrieking,” “yakking” and “shrill” audience.

Little could be further from the truth. In fact, the evening’s events highlighted the very best that Union has to offer.

Our students directly addressed inconsistencies in Monckton’s presentation, his selective use of data, and the demagoguery with which he attacked those who advocate on behalf of action to address climate change.

For many of us, seeing our students’ command of the topics they have learned in our classes and their ability to apply their critical thought in an emotionally charged arena was among our proudest moments as professionals.

Monckton, and anyone else who wished to speak in the follow-up Q&A session, was given the opportunity to make his or her case. Granted, at times Monckton was pointedly challenged on his statements and logic – as indeed he should have been.

Monckton’s intention was to muddy the waters with respect to climate change science. And – let’s be clear – there is damage to be done by such presentations. Developing our students’ scientific literacy so that they can engage with the research on the causes and consequences of global climate change is a difficult task. Presentations like Monckton’s, which distort the scientific process or attack the legitimacy of scientists such as those involved in the preparation of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Reports, have a chance to undo much of the work we have done.

Far from regretting the outcome of the evening’s events, we appreciate the opportunity they offered to involve the campus community in a discussion of climate change dialogue.

We also welcome D’Angelo’s and the College Republicans’ interest in a dialogue. There is much to debate about the responses to climate change: What policies would be best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? What are the prospects for technological or geoengineering strategies? Are resources better spent planning for mitigation?

But such discussions should start with acceptance of the scientific evidence as established by the scientific community, as 97 to 98 percent of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field have accepted them*. Denying scientific evidence serves no purpose other than to delay inevitable action and to further limit our options.

* Anderegg et al. 2010. Expert credibility in climate science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1003187107

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