Source: CNN, The Right Scoop
Date: 11/11/2013
Event: Mark Hertsgaard: A two-sided debate on climate change is journalistic "malpractice"
CreditCNN, The Right Scoop

  • George Clooney: Actor
  • Mark Hertsgaard: Environmental correspondent, The Nation
  • Piers Morgan: British journalist and television host
  • Dr. Roy Spencer: Cli
    matologist and a Principal Research Scientist for the University of Alabama in Huntsville

Piers Morgan: This is what it would look like if a storm like Haiyan struck America's East Coast - absolutely massive, so how worried should we be? Here, joining me now in a head-to-head debate, Roy Spencer, a former NASA climate studies senior scientist and Mark Hertsgaard, he's a journalist, author and environmental correspondent for The Nation. Let me start with you, Dr. Roy Spencer. They're saying that this is the biggest recorded tropical cyclone that's ever been recorded in history. What does that tell us, coming on the back of Hurricane Sandy, and other monster storms that we've seen, is it really getting worse or is this a predictable weather pattern that recurs from generation to generation?

Roy Spencer: Well, first of all, this wasn't the biggest. Probably Typhoon Tip from 1979 was the biggest, in terms of sheer size and the lowest pressure in the centre of the storm. This one was probably up near the top for the highest peak wind speeds - they really don't know, because we've suspended the flights of aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft, in typhoons many years ago, so their estimates of the wind speeds in these systems is just based on the appearance of cloud top temperatures, which are reasonably accurate for this kind of storm. But I think there's going to be a debate over exactly how strong this storm was, but it was one of the strongest. No, on the subject of: can we expect worse storms, you know, the consensus of opinion in the meteorological community and in the climate research community is still out on that one, as far as the effect on hurricanes and typhoons, because so far we really haven't seen a long-term trend. We thought we did in 2005, which was a very active year, and then since then global cyclone activity has dropped off considerably and we're near record lows, globally. I mean, the news hasn't been reporting on the fact that we only had a couple of hurricanes this year in the Atlantic.

Piers Morgan: But, Mark Hertsgaard, it's an ongoing - it's a very vocal debate on both sides as to whether climate change is playing a part in these monster storms. Many scientists believe it is. Many believe, though, that it's not, and that actually what you're seeing is no different to previous centuries. What is your view?

Mark Hertsgaard: Well, my view is that of a journalist who interviews a lot of scientists, and I would beg to differ with you when you say that many scientists believe it is not. The fact of the matter is that there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is man-made, it's real, it's happening now and it is going to produce far more powerful storms as we go forward. Now, is it too soon? We don't know yet exactly how we will - the scientists will finally come out on this particular typhoon, how much of it was caused by global warming. But at this point, in 2013, because global warming is so advanced, every weather event on the Earth has some relationship to that. And certainly all of the climate scientists and the consensus of opinion that just came out again from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change would lead us to expect exactly what we're seeing, last year with Hurricane Sandy, now with Typhoon Haiyan, and on and on and on. We have overheated the atmosphere and we're going to be seeing far stronger storms. How much of the storm was because of global warming - is it 10%, is it 90%, that's something we need more scientific research into, to find out. But to deny that there's some kind of a connection is, at this point, I think very irresponsible -

Piers Morgan: Okay - 

Mark Hertsgaard: - it does not do justice to the terrible suffering we're seeing on the air right now, on your programme.

Piers Morgan: Well, indeed, and let's play a bit from George Clooney, the actor, who was talking about this, today.

George Clooney: If you had 99% of doctors who tell you you are sick, and 1% that says "Ah, you're fine", you probably want to hang out with the - check it up [?] for the 99, you know what I mean? I [inaudible] that you ignore that we're, in some way, involved in climate change is ridiculous. What's the worst thing that can happen, you know? We clean up the Earth a little bit...

Piers Morgan: Dr. Roy Spencer, final word to you, I mean, isn't that a good point he's making? You can overcompensate, but what's the problem with that? Isn't undercompensating, underreacting, denying climate change, in the end more dangerous? 

Roy Spencer: Well, even though I'm a sceptic, I don't know of anyone that denies climate change. The climate has always changed. George Clooney's analogy to medical issues, I think, is misplaced because we have millions of examples of diseases that we've studied, that we know, when they occur, what causes them, how to cure some of them, how not to cure some of them. In the case of global warming, we have one patient - the Earth. The Earth is a little warmer right now - we're not exactly sure whether it's 100% due to mankind or 50% due to mankind, 50% due to nature. And by chance today we had a new paper [?] here -

Mark Hertsgaard: Dr. Spencer, that is not true, sir. That is not true. You are misstating the facts -

Roy Spencer: Which point is not true, Mark?

Mark Hertsgaard: You should not do that, sir. To say that we don't know? Listen to what the IPCC just said, the IPCC just said in its report that humankind's activities are now responsible for most of this. I, frankly, don't know why, Dr. Spencer, I believe that you don't even agree that climate change is man-made, last time I checked. If you've revised your position, I'd love to hear about it.

[They are now talking at the same time.]

Roy Spencer: Well, you're wrong about that. I believe that we don't know. I don't believe that we know how much is man-made or not.

Mark Hertsgaard: Listening to you talk about climate change... but the climate change you reject, 99 - so you stand against the 97% of scientists who say this. Piers, I have to tell you, as a journalist, you know, we don't talk to other scientists any more, about cigarette [?] stories - 

Roy Spencer: No, I'm part - Mark, I'm part of the 97%.

Mark Hertsgaard: I don't think that we should be talking to climate deniers about climate stories. That is journalistically irresponsible.

Roy Spencer: Mark, did you know, I'm one of the 97% you're talking about. 

Mark Hertsgaard: Correct me -

Roy SpencerBecause that 97% statistically included people who believe that some portion of climate change is man-made, and I do believe some portion of climate change is.

Mark Hertsgaard: You think it's a very small portion, so do you deny that you stand in opposition to the overwhelming scientific consensus on this? If so, you need to read more scientific papers, sir.

Roy Spencer: I've got a feeling I've read more than you have, Mark.

Mark Hertsgaard: Well, I suspect you have, but I think I've interviewed a lot more scientists than you have, sir. And it is -

Roy Spencer: I think, based on your job, I know which kind of scientists you interview, because your job depends on you interviewing [inaudible] one side of the story.

Mark Hertsgaard: Sir, sir... See this? This is the conspiracy thinking that you must retreat to, in order to say [Dr. Spencer is laughing] in the year 2013, that climate change is not man-made, happening now and causing great suffering in the Philippines, great suffering. 

[They are now talking at the same time.]

Mark Hertsgaard: And we have not tackled this for 20 years, because of this kind of nonsense, talking about how there's no human fingerprints on this. 

Roy Spencer: Then how do you explain that most of the people [inaudible] have not died in tropical storms?

Mark Hertsgaard: That is not what 97% of the scientists on this planet say -

Roy Spencer: No, no, that's not true.

Mark Hertsgaard: - and Piers, I repeat, journalistically this is malpractice to have on somebody pretending that this is 50% and 50%, when nobody in the scientific community takes the view that climate change is not related to strong storms.

Piers Morgan: Okay, well, look, it's an interesting debate. I think it's actually journalistic malpractice to not have a fair debate, actually, with all respect to you, Mark Hertsgaard. But thank you very much for the lecture on journalism. Dr. Roy Spencer and Mark Hertsgaard, thank you both very much.