Debating a sceptic – Richard’s take on the National Press Club debate

Yesterday I met my first Lord and, like the debate itself, the experience was not quite what I expected. Lord Monckton has made a career out of not listening to people. He doesn’t listen to scientists, he doesn’t listen to journal editors and yesterday he repeated that he would not listen to the House of Lords itself. But when we met before the debate he was certainly cordial and many would argue charismatic.

The rules of the debate stated that unless we could agree on the order of speaking it would be decided by the toss of a coin. Needless to say, like many other things we didn’t agree on who should speak first. He won the toss and I spoke first.

It’s interesting to think about how small changes can have big effects. Most debaters like to get the final word, and I am no different. But speaking first allowed me to help set the terms of the debate. Rather than point out all of the problems with his science which has been done better than I could by experts – see Professor John Abraham or John Cook  –  I talked instead about how big a conspiracy would be required to explain why CSIRO, NASA, John Howard, BHP’s CEO Marius Kloppers and I were all ‘warmists’ intent on bringing down capitalism.

Similarly, it allowed me ask the question ‘what if he is wrong?’ Most Australians insure their homes against the unlikely risk of fire so why wouldn’t we pay a little bit to protect us from climate change?

From the beginning of proceedings at the Press Club it was clear that the majority of the audience was there for a debate but a small, vocal cheer squad had come for a spot of vaudeville. Despite concerns raised by The Australian that we, along with GetUp, would ‘stack the audience’, the Oz needn’t have worried.

One of Lord Monckton’s signature tactics is to bamboozle his audience with a rapid succession of references to publications and statistics which he claims support his case. Often the sources or the data he cites turn out to do no such thing (indeed often they contradict his arguments – again, see Abraham and Cook for examples). Having seen him try this trick my goal was not to take the bait but to ask him, and the audience, to think about the consequences if he is wrong.

I have written another account of the debate for Crikey, which you can read here

If you are interested in reading my speech, click here

As I explained on Monday, The Australia Institute was established to inform public debate and it was in that spirit that I agreed to argue the case for action on climate change. The Institute relies on the generosity of its members and supporters to fund its research, so if you are in a position to make a donation, we will put every cent of it towards ‘research that matters’.

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