Yes, indeed they are. Everyone is entitled to hold their own particular opinion. In this democracy of ideas, every longshot, wingnut, bonehead, rogue, charlatan, conspiracy theorist, crank, crony and astroturfer should be permitted access to the microphone on the stage. If we hold a public meeting about immigration, we should, of course, invite a white supremicist, a member of the British National Party, and a Daily Mail journalist to offer us their wise words. If we hold a sociological symposium on the Second World War, we should of course invite a Holocaust-denier. If an engineering conference, a cold fusion-in-a-test-tube enthusiast. Of course we should provide balance, as much balance as possible, and offer wisdom, insight and rant from all ends of all spectra. It’s only reasonable.
It therefore goes without question that somebody from the Global Warming Policy Foundation “think tank”, so copiously and generously sponsored by a person or persons unknown, should be invited to speak on the platform, or in a panel, at a well-funded quasi-establishment meeting on Climate Change. Regardless of a complete lack of training in atmospheric physics, or even knowledge of the span of the last five years in the science of global warming, naturally, a GWPF man must be invited by GovToday to a presitigious conference to be held on 29th November 2011 in the City of London grandly entitled “2011 Carbon Reduction : The Transition to a Low Carbon Economy”.
Jennifer Elson telephoned me on 18th November 2011, to proudly inform me that she could offer a funded place at this conference, and that GovToday was keen to reach senior decision makers in my network. GovToday, she assured me, has access to the Carbon Trust (cue the name-dropping), the UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Cange and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She excitedly offered the GovToday strategy – to build long-term strategic relationships, from Ministerial level right through to the Third Sector. My goodness, in the last few days, literally, she had been talking to organisations about hydropower, local produce, timber framing – a third of the cost of building with brick. Was I not impressed ?
Yes, on 29th November, 2011 Carbon Reduction would be chaired and ably facilitated by Krishnan Guru Murthy. “Ah”, I said, “Channel 4”, realising finally that this was to be a media-friendly event. Stefaan Vergote, she said, would be there – big in Europe he is, and they would also have Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
“What gives him the right to speak at this event ?”, I asked, incredulous. “He has no relevant academic expertise”. The young thing on the other end of the phone was a tad flummoxed. “I’m relatively new to this organisation”, she rushed, “his view is controversial. There are a minority who share his opinion. We want to get everyone’s perspective.”
“You’re putting him on a platform”, I said. “Everyone’s entitled to their view”, she reasoned. “You need research to back it up”, I replied.
“He’s very passionate”, she claimed. “But does he know anything ?”, I countered. “The GWPF do not have the credentials, according to a large number of experts. I find it absolutely astonishing that you should invite him.”
“We’re putting him on the panel to question the policymakers”, she offered, “…cause a bit of controversy. Without someone posing these sorts of questions [there would be no debate]. He’s the voice of the sceptics.”
“Why should he be there ?” I asked. “It’s important that all views be represented”, she responded. I started to pick up my voluminous carpet bag of umbrage, “Not all views are important. Not all views are relevant. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but everyone is not entitled to their own facts. Opinions are different from academic [and practical] expertise…”
She sounded miffed, “We have many people attending with expertise.” “But apparently he doesn’t”, I asserted, “why do you need to offer a balance when it’s a minority view and he doesn’t possess a relevant academic or professional qualification ? I mean, would you have to invite a member of the English Defence League to a public debate on border controls ?”
At this, she put me on to her line manager, the ebullient Ron Pusey, Head of Delegates. He was truculent, “You haven’t got an argument.” Au contraire, Ronny boy, “The events we put forward are balanced. To balance the argument we must include climate change denial. The Global Warming Policy Foundation have a [track record]. The worst thing would be a political vacuum – where [there’s only one point of view expressed]…”, he rattled on, probably not quite believing what he was spewing.
“You’re welcome to put forward who you like”, he offered, and I thought, my network doesn’t have the kind of funding and available staff to take on climate change deniers in public debate.
“Why do you respect that organisation ?” I asked. “I respect their right to get involved”, he replied, which would have actually been quite a fair argument, had the playing field been level, “I would restrict some people…[but it’s] essential that people be able to express themselves.” Yeah, right, it would be great if more people could get to express themselves in public debate, but not everybody has the time, funding or presentational skills.
Ronny challenged me to come out from hiding behind the telephone. “You’ve got an opportunity to get engaged”, he raised. “I’m not going to waste my time”, I volunteered. I mean, if they are going to invite Benny Peiser to speak at a climate change meeting, they clearly have no idea about the issue.
The real frontline, the significant debates in climate change, are not about whether it’s happening (it is), or even how bad it’s going to get (it will). And the technologies to mitigate climate change are the same as they ever were – no debate required : energy conservation, carbon displacement and renewable energy. The central debate, in actual fact, is about whether policy sticks or policy carrots will have the greatest effect. Most people seem to think that carbon taxation, carbon pricing, carbon trading and carbon penalties are the way to go. Others think that paying for the things we want is more productive than charging for the things we don’t want.
“We’ve spent an extra quarter of a million pounds in putting on events”, he levelled. Clearly, the money has not been well-spent, when they cannot even collect the know-how together to work out who is best to invite to a climate change policy event.
I said I wasn’t interested in joining in with a fixed fight. He should know, but perhaps he doesn’t, that climate change deniers use public debating methods like the Gish Gallop, basically filibustering people with nonsense. “You can’t bring 200 years of science to a 15 minute debate”, I said. You can’t even properly present two “sides” in an hour-long panel discussion. “It’s an artificial debate that you have set up. Why should I get involved in your event when you invite Benny Peiser to the platform ? You’re on the wrong track.”
Ron tried one last fake conciliatory gesture, “It’s really lovely that you care enough…”. I interrupted, “If you knew more you wouldn’t invite unhelpful participants. You don’t care. Do you have a public relations background ?”
Ron did not. He said he had worked in media, and been a volunteer on a carbon project, building stuff out in Sri Lanka. Then he got huffy. “You’re an academic, right ? What do you know about actually doing stuff ?” and he threw the phone down.
Ron, Ron, Ron. Academics are the people who have been collecting your global warming and climate change data. They are the people who really know what’s happening, not some pseudo-experts with undeclared financing.