Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sophistry versus Sense

So tonight the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) hosted a screening of the Munk debate on climate change going on live at the University of Toronto and because I'd been given a heads up by a woman involved in what is known as the "evening edition playgroup" (this is a group of moms getting out for a drink and a bite at a local pub on Wednesday nights sans enfants - of course, I bring my sonshine when I attend as I'm still nursing him) and because he and I were already in town, I stroll him over to hear the four speakers hash it out.

A quick aside that it literally astounds me a debate is still going on as to a need for the reduction of carbon emissions at this stage of a very real global warming crisis!

The resolution being debated, and I quote, "“Climate change is mankind's defining crisis, and demands a commensurate response.” Speaking for the PRO side of the debate were Green Party leader, Elizabeth May and environmental activist, George Monbiot. On the CON side, author and professor, Bjorn Lomborg as well as author and former politician, Lord Nigel Lawson.

Now, I've attended a few CIGI events before and it's always a distinct pleasure to walk into the former Seagram's museum that houses this organization. The building itself was part of the original distillery founded by Joseph Seagram in the mid-1800s. It's an architectural masterpiece, visually stunning, and its melding of 19th century copper piping and racks of oak barrels with 21st century technology is both fluid and cozy. It has an old-world vibe with a new-world vision.

Tonight's debate did not disappoint. It got pretty damn lively and both May and Lomberg were actually given a "time out" at one point so they could both calm down a little. May was right on the money about Lomborg's sophistry, in my opinion. He seemed all show and no substance. Of the four speakers, he was the one donning a t-shirt and jeans. No idea if this was simply an attempt to distract his audience into identifying themselves with him and what he was saying or an attempt to put the "cool" in his book, Cool It, which apparently argues a gross, global overreaction to global warming. He made some truly outlandish statements, in my view, leading me to question whether he'd smoked something before coming onstage and inspiring my new nickname for him "Bjorn Yesterday Lomborg". He actually accuses Monbiot, at one point, of wanting to embrace climate change at the expense of human lives. His solution versus focusing on cutting down CO2 emissions? Let's make the poor rich and that will help solve their problems, not focusing on climate change. Gee, why didn't we all think of that before, Lomborg? Let's eradicate poverty and just make the poor rich. Hear, hear, ol chap! Jolly good idea. Not entirely sure what kind of solution he proposes to make this happen since no one seems to have figured out how to resolve that conundrum before. Maybe it's laid out in one of his books. Too bad he came off as such a buffoon or I might have picked one up to see what he had to say. I'd make some more disparaging remarks, but he questions the meaning of the term "disparaging" at one point when he uses it during his own argument. Hmmm. Someone needs to buy a dictionary.

I will point out that I was equally disappointed at times with some of what May was saying. I have voted green the last few times I've marked an "X" so it was not that I disagreed with her, but she repeatedly seemed to verbally stick the finger to Lomborg's shoulder a few too many times, taking away, I thought, from the otherwise well-reasoned argument she was making. I just felt her repeated efforts to discredit Lomborg and single him out distracted from the real power of her statements and I would have liked her to do less fingerpointing and insulting and more focusing on the issue itself. She has style, sophistication and a great voice and she had an amazing platform to let it be heard tonight. Instead, unfortunately, the term "catty" was overheard afterwards in reference to the debate and I was disappointed she undermined herself and her message by getting a bit carried away with her focus on Lomborg as the green thorn in her side.

I found it difficult to make out many of Lawson's statements because he has this old British Establishment habit of mumbling a lot of his words followed by punching the point he wants to make. Maybe I'm biased but I find it very difficult to relate to a) an economist and b) one of his generation having much to say that is enlightened and relevant to the globe now revolving. His argument included that "oil is good and not bad" and climate change will cost too much. Blah blah boring blah. He actually claimed that there is no global warming at all and that the PRO debaters should be happy about this. At one point, he strayed completely off tangent and began to discuss China's focus on oil and where they are buying it all up and how "they're not stupid". I felt both CON speakers came off as people who didn't have their facts straight and were trying to dance a jig to distract from that fact.

Monbiot stole the show for me. He came across as the true voice of reason, never losing his cool and certainly not requiring jeans to enhance it. He made some truly effectual arguments, drawing much from his own experiences and work in Africa and how much climate change has directly affected people there. Kudos to him for a thoughtful, meaningful argument.

Of course, over the two hours the debate was screened, I was dealing with a teething baby, strolling him around the beautiful surroundings, rocking him in my arms and nursing him (not necessarily in that order) until he fell asleep and I could sit and knit (both the poncho I'm working on as a gift and my eyebrows over the points being made). All this made the debate even livelier for me! I could swear his teething outbursts were perfectly timed with what were, in my mind, absolutely ridiculous statements from both CON debaters.

What a smart, l'il Green Man I've got! As if I need another reason to support the fight against global warming and to want to slow climate change. All I have to do is gaze at him now, having safely transferred his slumbering self into his crib when we returned home at 10:00pm.

Let's hope the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen results in a move to make a real difference and an immediate one to reduce carbon emissions!

Music: It's Not Easy Bein' Green, Ray Charles on Sesame Street


Janis said...

I agree, Nancy, I can't believe that it is still even a question! And while I appreciate that there are MANY other problems in the world, so many of them are connected to/exacerbated by climate change that we need to deal with it first.
To be crass and risk being misunderstood; if they have no planet to live on, there seems to be little point in saving the children.
Anyway, it was so good to see you there. Thanks for being so articulate - as always. (bjorn yesterday haha) XOXO

Marie said...

Love the Bjorn Yesterday jibe also. I particularly liked the simplistic idea that we just hand out condoms to solve the AIDS crisis. Why didn't we think of that before??? Good thing he came to remind us if the developing world got richer, they'd protect their land better. Way cool.

the b in subtle said...

Yeah. He's brilliant, hey? Hand out condoms. Now, if we could only convince the men over there to actually WEAR them. Earth to Bjorn. George Monbiot doesn't think people in the developing world should just rot while we cut our CO2 emissions. Wow. He was truly making some comments that were just wacko. I loved that he tried to convice the audience that Elizabeth and George had come over to the CON side. Unbelievable.

the b in subtle said...
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Brian Miller said...

nice recap...half of texas is covered in snow...nope there is no climate problems...