“Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”
In this case, climate debates are wasting everyone’s time and amusing the deniers. In an earlier post, I blasted the environmental groups for having failed at their central mission – protecting the environment. Many readers thought I was being unnecessarily harsh, but the cold, hard fact is that all these groups generally agree that climate change is a deadly hazard to all, yet there is virtually no collaboration. Worse, some environmentalists continue to do stupid things that primarily benefit deniers, like debate them.
One reason the environmental movement has failed is because the other side is much more politically astute. They know how to win – and they do, even when that’s bad for everyone in the long run. The deniers know how to make themselves appear legitimate when they are far from it, and to suck the credibility right out of their enemy.
Some very well-meaning people who should know better regularly help the deniers boost their credibility by debating them in public. This is dumb. Debating someone lends credence to their view. Liars are only destroyed in debate in TV courtroom dramas and in the mind of the self-righteous (Boy, I sure told him!). In reality, deniers have made a career of evasion, of conning others, of lying for dollars, and they’re very good at lying. It’s what they do for a living.
They know you would never debate someone with a truly crazy view, so a public debate means there must be at least some truth in what each debater says. Would a legitimate politician or human rights leader debate a Holocaust denier? A flat-earth group? Would medical doctors debate quacks? No. It lends some legitimacy to their position, especially to the millions of people who weren’t at the debate but heard a third-hand, opinionated version.
So when Elizabeth May and George Monbiot decided to debate two deniers, my radio partner Rick Habgood and I boycotted the debates and refused to promote them – even though Elizabeth May was coming on our show the following week. And sure enough May and Monbiot, two very intelligent people, two of the people most knowledgeable about climate change on the planet – lost.
Technically, the outcome of the debate was 53% in favour of the resolution: Be it resolved climate change is mankind’s defining crisis, and demands a commensurate response. However, before May and Monbiot screwed it up, 61% of the audience held that view. Their combined persuasive brilliance helped 8% of the audience switch to the denier side. No wonder the ‘environmental movement’ is such a failure.
If we want to win on climate, and we must, then egos must be set aside and people must develop some political astuteness. I was a Green Party candidate under Elizabeth May and I know she is not very politically astute. I don’t know much about George Monbiot, but entering a debate with deniers certainly indicates his advice on political strategy should be avoided.