Under the title The Darker Side of Green, Lexus (e.g., Toyota) has chosen to host a series of “debates” on climate change as part of its roll-out of hybrid Lexus CT200h. These events are hosted by a celebrity, with an environmentalist journalist and prominent skeptic ‘debating’ climate-change issues.
To debate or not to debate: that is the question
To delude people that there is a “debate” about the fundamentals of climate-change science is a core objective of purveyors of Anti-Science Syndrome suffering Hatred Of a Livable Economic System. A common tactic, that can all too easily gain traction, is to “challenge” scientists or those aligned with science to “debate” with the aim of either of two results:
- Have the reality-based person (organization) reject the debate challenge (because they are unwilling to give credence to those peddling falsehoods) so that climate skeptics can use this in “see, they’re unwilling to debate because their arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny.
- Have the reality-based person show up (and speak with caution) to have the (falsehood spewing, gamesmanship player) skeptic run rings around them on the stage to ‘win the audience’.
As Juan Cole put it,
Media thrives on controversy, which produces ratings and advertising revenue. As a result, it is structured into an ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ binary argument. Any broadcast that pits a climate change skeptic against a serious climate scientist is automatically a win for the skeptic, since a false position is being given equal time and legitimacy.
The real target, in any event, is to foster the appearance of a substantive debate to confuse the public when that is utterly misrepresentative of the state of the science.
Let’s pause for a moment to understand “debate“.
Debate or debating is a formal method of interactive and representational argument. … in debating, one side often prevails over the other side by presenting a superior “context” and/or framework of the issue, which is far more subtle and strategic. … The major goal of the study of debate as a method or art is to develop one’s ability to play from either position with equal ease. To inexperienced debaters, some propositions appear easier to defend or to attack; to experienced debaters, any proposition can be defended or attacked after the same amount of preparation time …
While it is not to say that facts don’t matter, but this is about presentation and convincing the ‘judges’ and ‘audience’, not about truthfulness and full honesty. And, it is essentially impossible to fact check during a debate — either you come prepared (across the entire spectrum of potential debate) or not. To paraphrase, ‘there are lies, damned lies, and statistics used in debates’.
As climate change is perhaps the most complicated issue humanity has or ever will face, the door is wide-open for audience-winning misleading and deceptive arguments … if one is unconcerned about truthfulness and honest discussion. Thus, with ‘two’ sides in a public debate, the science-based side is at a disadvantage: they will strive for truthful discussion, will use terms from science that poorly translate to public discourse, and are cautious about discussing issues for which they might not have expert knowledge or substantive background. No such restraints on the anti-science side, who are willing to disseminate falsehoods, misrepresent evidence, and state things with certainty which are far from certain. No debate or debate, the skeptic / denier community wins in almost every circumstance.
Was Lexus played?
Fostering debates, creating the appearance of confusion about the science is a key target of the denier cabal(whether or not funded by fossil-foolish interests like Exxon-Mobil or Koch Industries or …).
Lexus has a new line of hybrid drive vehicles and looked for a path to gain visibility for them. You have to think that people who have at least some concern about climate change are core sales targets. (Even if this might be ‘eco-chic’ marketing and style rather than anything substantive to reduce humanity’s impact on the planet.) Thus, in seeking to gain appeal in this audience, Lexus chose to embrace and give visibility to a core tactic of the climate skeptic/denier cabal: a series of debates on climate change.
How did they arrive at this?
Marketing and PR consultant Patrick Courrielche, who has been promoting and marketing the Darker Side of Green debates for Lexus, has written extensively about “climategate” for Andrew Breitbart’s BigJournalism sites.
The key player in setting this up for Lexus is associated with the scandal-ridden Andrew Breitbart? And, has arranged for Lexus to pay for Andrew Breitbarts of the Climate Change world to get visibilty?
And, the key consultant for Lexus on this has a record of publishing quite favorable discussions on deceptive and deceitful reporting on climate issues?
And, he managed to get Lexus to move forward with promoting their new cars via one of the favored climate skeptic/deniers’ tactics?
And, what has this done? Put into the HuffPost / People magazine-type world of celebrity watching that there is some form of debate on climate change science and help foster the very confusion which is the core target of climate change skeptics and deniers.
“Lexus hybrid vehicles seamlessly brings together two different lifestyle characteristics – unabashed luxury and modern green technology,” said Andrea Lim, Lexus events marketing manager. “Expanding our debate series helps to reinforce the message embodied in the CT 200h – that two behaviors, not often found side by side, can successfully merge and become a way of life.”
Lexus wants to be making the argument to the luxury car buying world that you can have your cake and eat it too. Many knowledgeable about climate change and concerned of climate catastrophe would disagree. On the other hand, a good number would agree … including Vice President Gore, Environmental Defense Fund, and others who argue that smart moves in energy efficiency and renewable energy will enable us to enhance our way of life (have a better life and greater prosperity) while averting climate change. Rather than using their vehicles and their platform (their publicity resources) to educate Americans that there is a path toward greater prosperity and better living through technology options like hybrids, Lexus decided to contribute to Americans confusion about climate science by supporting the favored tactic of climate skeptics and deniers.
The Darker Side of Green “debates”
These events are a bit hard to get a handle on. On the positive side, they are all available on the web but there is (a) no ability to control the videos (rewind) other than pause and (b) there are no transcripts. I have watched much of the material on the web and it follows very much the traditional path.
On one side is someone striving to speak with facts and distinguish clearly what is certain from what is uncertain. On the other side, glib and amusing debating tactics with a tin ear to any requirement to remain truthful.
For example, the first “debate” featured comedian Sarah Silverman moderating between Amanda Little and Phelim McAleer.
Amanda Little merits credit for being articulate, clear, on top of her facts, and ready to engage in the discussion. And, she was ready to challenge McAleer directly.
McAleer provides multiple examples of the gamesmanship that occurs from climate “skeptics” in a debate format. For example, in a diversionary tactic, after Little noted that her belief in the science aligns with major oil companies, governments, the Vatican, McAleer sought to say ‘aren’t leftists supposed to question institutions like these, not align with them’. Amusing but, well, irrelevant to truthful discussion since her real point (of course) is that she is aligned (along with others focused on reality) with people who you would expect there to be disagreement. And, of course, there were utter falsehoods (okay, generously given, very strongly stated factual errors). Let’s take the simplest. McAleer explicitly stated that Greenpeace doesn’t have an office in China as a “fact”. Wow. The Wikipedia editors better take note of their screw-up because this must be false: “Greenpeace China is one of the largest international NGOs in China.”
Well, there isn’t any real-time fact-checking service to highlight the misrepresentations and deceptions.
NOTE: Patrick Courrielche’s Peer-to-Peer Review (Part III): How ‘Climategate’ Marks the Maturing of a New Science Movement actually makes interesting reading but, in the end, deceives on a fundamental level. First, “new science movement” misrepresents because Courrielche is discussing an international linking and interaction of individuals and groups who are, in many cases, collaborating to undermine and attack science and scientists. Secondly, reading Courrielche provides no indication of how the entire “new science movement” misrepresented science and fostered confusion when it came to Climategate … nor that every single review of the scientists conduct has resulted in reaffirming the science behind Global Warming.
NOTE: Here are excerpts from 30 March event description
On Tuesday, March 30, 2010, Lexus introduced the CT 200h premium compact hybrid with an original event - a debate between a proponent and a skeptic of climate change. Welcome to the Darker Side of Green.
The exchange, moderated by the one and only Sarah Silverman, pitted the journalist and author of Power Trip Amanda Little (the proponent) debating the director and producer of Not Evil Just Wrong Phelim McAleer (the skeptic). (30 March)
Between “a proponent and a skeptic of climate change”. A clear statement of a faux and balanced ‘two sides’ issue. To be honest, I know of no such thing as a “proponent of climate change” in terms of the people who understand the science and the implications of what scientific research is telling us: this is not a world path that anyone is a proponent of following.
The other events
- July 8: Moderated by digital shorts auteur Andy Samberg, moderator, journalist Simran Sethi focused on the science and Phelim McAleer again representing the anti-science position.
- July 20: Jamie Kenney moderating with Amanda Little providing a reality-based perspective and Christopher Horner seeking to confuse and mislead the attendees.
- July 27: Comedian Tracey Morgan moderating with Rolling Stones’ editor Eric Bates facing off against the serial deceiver The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley.
- And, the next event will be in Chicago, 5 August, as singer Mark McGrath moderates between Grist journalist David Roberts and Steve Everley (repeating a debate that Roberts/Everley held online several months ago).
Various discussions of the “debates” include:
- Randy Olsen covered the 8 July event in a knowledgeable discussion which concludes.
I’ve been to 20 years of these celebrity/alcohol driven, hipster, issue-oriented events in Hollywood (btw, just to underscore the TOTAL hipness of it all, Ashton Kucher was there). If anyone decides to take part in one, please speak to me first. The people are rude. It’s a bar, they come to drink. There’s only one sort of speaker who can be effective in such a venue, and that’s a veteran stand-up comic who knows how to deal with hecklers and proceed with mostly one-liners. Which just reverts back to my advice a couple months ago about the idea of “debating” climate skeptics in public — leave it to the professional comedians like Bill Maher. Highly educated people are at a distinct handicap. Overall, it was an utterly ridiculous event
- Lexus Takes Its Comedy-Fueled Debate Series on the Road, NY Times Wheels blog
- Lexus: The Darker Side of Green, Socially Superlative, provides an excellent example of the “socialite” type reporting that dominates when it comes to these events.
- Sarah Silverman Explores The Darker Side of Green, Tonic, provides a good example where a seemingly thoughtful commentator totally missed the darker side of the event.
- A Lively Debate on Climate Change, NYTimes Green blog, which covered the Bates-Monckton face-off and gave an excellent example of the truth-free zone of climate-skeptic debating styles:
At one point, Lord Monckton belittled concerns that rising temperatures at the poles could harm species like penguins or polar bears.
“There is no risk for the penguins,” he said. “Likewise for the polar bears. There are five times as many of them today as there were in 1940.”
This assertion – that the polar bear population has quintupled in the later half of the 20th century – has no basis in fact, according to veteran bear researchers.
“It’s not at all accurate, and this is one of the things the climate denier groups say over and over again,” said Steven C. Amstrup, senior polar bear scientist at the United States Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center. “There really isn’t any authenticated source for that information.”
Mr. Amstrup took exception, too, with Lord Monckton’s assertion that species across the globe were “perfectly capable” of coping with even extreme temperature rises. “Species are not, not, not at risk,” Lord Monckton said.
“That’s just simply not true,” Mr. Amstrup said, citing the steady decline of polar bear populations in Hudson Bay, linked directly to a sharp retreat of sea ice in the region.