The Monthly Argument strikes again!

By skepticlawyer

Renewable Energy: Should we make the switch?

With the tussle over Legal Eagle’s climate change post here, at Larvatus Prodeo and at Tim Blair, it’s probably worth mentioning that the good folks at The Monthly Argument are keeping abreast of all the issues to do with climate change and sustainability with another debate this Thursday at 6:30 for 7:00 pm at the Function Room, Dan O’Connell Hotel, 225 Canning Street, Carlton. A google map is here. (Very cheap) food and drink are available.

For those unfamiliar with The Monthly Argument, I covered their immigration debate here (it featured, among others, Catallaxy’s Sinclair Davidson and Australian activist legend Albert Langer a.k.a Arthur Dent). Quite a bit of video from the event has been posted at their site, which will give you a good idea of how things progress during the evening.

This month’s topic is: Renewable Energy: Should we make the switch?

Lead speakers:

John Daley (from the Grattan Institute) (“yes, we should switch”)


Alan Moran (from the Institute of Public Affairs) (“no, we shouldn’t switch”)

Battle of the think-tanks predicted; it should be lively.


Arthur Dent (aka Albert Langer)
Matthew Wright (Beyond Zero Emissions)
Austin Williams (Director of the Future Cities Project, (UK)
Cam Walker (Friends of the Earth)

The Monthly Argument organisers believe in the importance of real debate: that’s why the topic concerns energy use, not climate change per se. They use the byline “raising the political temperature” and try to get away from both the “ABC conversation” mode and gatherings of like-minded people who just want to hear some “guru” reinforce their views. A number of the organisers have had experiences where they’ve attended “a talk” and been told that they shouldn’t be there if they don’t agree.

The starting point for the speakers is the recently released Zero Carbon Australia, Stationary Energy Plan which argues that it’s affordable for Australia to make a complete switch to renewables within 10 years. That plan was released to great applause a month or so ago, at a function hosted by Melbourne University. Moran (one of the two lead speakers) described the function (attended by 1400 people) as a “revivalist session”; more of his comments are available here.

The response to Legal Eagle’s post on climate change has convinced me that more debate, especially on energy, is of vital importance. Unlike LE, I’m not a climate change sceptic, but after that thread, I have grave doubts about letting anyone who puts their case the way both believers and sceptics do anywhere near the levers of power. There is a strong regulatory and planning impulse in even the best of the policy responses to climate change, and we all know where planned economies finish up (not to mention what happens to the environment in them). Letting these people direct the legislative process would be like letting a lunatic with a sledgehammer loose in the boiler room of an ocean-going liner.

In other words, the core principle of government should be the same as the core principle of medicine: ‘first, do no harm’. This requires that you not only be right, but rational, civil and fair.

With all that in mind, I strongly recommend heading along to the debate. You’re very likely to learn something, and it sure as shit won’t be an echo-chamber.

And another thing: the debate is at the Dan O’Connell on Thursday, not on this blog. Any attempt to conduct the debate here will lead to me closing comments, something I am very reluctant to do.


  1. Patrick
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    In summary, you have grave doubts about letting anyone anywhere near the levers of power…

    Me too.

  2. Posted September 6, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    If there were a ‘like’ button on blogs, Patrick, I would click it. Well said.

  3. Posted September 6, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    It strikes me reading this post SL that you may fall into the same category as I do on this front: “Climate Fatalist” ie persuaded by the scientific view but pessimistic about the ability of our institutions to do anything about it….

    And exasperated by the standard of discussion about it.


  4. Posted September 6, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Tim, I haven’t heard it called that before, but I have a strong suspicion that’s what I am. I can’t say I like the name (‘climate fatalist’), but the cap does seem to fit.

  5. Posted September 6, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the publicity! And thanks also for stressing the *purpose* of the Monthly Arguments – something that is more important than any specific debate topic.

    We’re very serious about trying to raise the political temperature and getting away from “ABC conversation ” mode. And at the same time we’re opposed to the “false heat” generated by …. well an excellent example is the furore on LP in response to Legal Eagle’s recent post “Climate change, scepticism and elitism”.

    We want to encourage open, intense debate and challenge the current atmosphere in which it’s regarded as well, just outrageous, for certain things to be said.

    At this moment I’m thinking of George Orwell’s words “if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. ”

    I hope the Melbourne people reading this thread will consider coming along on Thursday evening. We’d like to attract a large non-homogenous audience which is keen to promote the idea of real debate which crosses tribal lines.

  6. Posted September 6, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for dropping in, Kerry — I hope the extra visitors here and at Catallaxy mean you get a large and lively crowd.

  7. Posted September 6, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    The problem I have with the climate debate is that it is a climate debate. It should be an ecological debate. Coal fired power stations are held by some to be responsible for the increasing mercury concentrations in the environment. This is now a significant problem. For example, a recent study in the USA found 8% of women had unacceptable mercury levels. Coal fired stations also release lead, cadmium, and radioactive compounds into the environment. In my view irrespective of AGW we have to stop burning coal.

    People who complain that the models lack accuracy might want to consider what happens in medicine. Arguing that the science is not complete therefore we should not worry about it is like a doctor refusing to treat an obviously sick patient until he gets the lab results back. A doctor who waits for “scientific proof” before doing anything isn’t going to be a doctor for very long.

    In the blog world one interesting aspect of climate debates is the absence of referencing the relevant literature. It quickly descends into “you say, I say” type arguments. Waste of time. If these debates were to have any validity then the comments should be peppered with references to the literature. That isn’t happening and suggests the people making the arguments are not doing their homework. There is no excuse for that, there are loads of interesting papers coming out every week. So I’m not particularly interested in public debates about climate change because these are not scientific debates. For example, compare AGW debates when you look at a site like Scientific Blogging and Catallaxy. On the former people are polite, on the latter you are abused within 5 minutes of proffering support for AGW. If I want to learn about something I prefer not to be continually abused in the process. So on Sci. blogging I will enter into AGW discussions, but on political sites I don’t even see the point.

  8. Posted September 6, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    John H, may I suggest you head along to the Dan O’Connell on Thurs? Just sayin.

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