My last blog post brings me nicely to a recent debate on climate change on RTE Prime Time (an Irish current affairs programme).

On the panel were Kevin Humphreys (Junior Minister in the Dept of Social Protection), Ray Bates (Adjunct Professor at the Meteorology and Climate Centre in UCD), Oisin Coughlan (Friends of the Earth) and Eamon Ryan (Green Party).

While, I think, two of the panelists (Humphreys and Coughlan) did creditably well to represent their positions, the other two, Bates and Ryan, were awful, and for two different reasons.

Maybe I should get the worst of them out of the way first. Eamon Ryan came across as shrill, ill-tempered and preachy. He butted straight into other people’s talk time, listened to no-one, waved his hands and acted like a small boy in a sweetshop whose parents wouldn’t buy him a pack of bonbons. He might feel really, really, really strong about this issue (and I don’t blame him for that), but his style completely overruled content on the night. Humphreys only had to roll his eyes a few times, and Miriam O’Callaghan to politely reprimand him, for us all to realise that Ryan’s emotions had let him down badly. He should be long enough in this business by now to realise that dogmatism and rudeness does you no favours in a TV debate, nor does it help the credibility of your party.

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Eamon Ryan in full flight

On the opposite side, Ray Bates was a model of civility and patience. He was considered. He didn’t lose his temper. Which was unfortunate, because Ray Bates was, by far, the most problematic person on the panel.

Now, to be fair to Bates, he is not what I would call a First Degree Denier. He accepts anthropogenic climate change (ie. we’re responsible for it), but he disputes how bad it’s going to be and how long it will take.

Bates took pains to advertise his scientific credentials. Indeed, He mentioned them a few times. But what I heard was something slightly different than what I might expect most scientists to say. He spent his time picking some IPCC findings that suited his argument: that the margin of error was greater in 2013 than in 2007, or that 2015’s warming was less in the higher atmosphere than the lower atmosphere, or that climate models were out by a factor of 3. Pick, pick, pick. It’s like he was reading all the data, then looking for a small number of anomalies that he could use for the purposes of spreading uncertainty. That’s curious.

So here’s the thing. If you are fairly clueless on the details of global warming like most of us are, you would be left with the impression that all scientists have the same viewpoint as Ray: that they think it’s serious, but it’s not something to worry about too much. He was the only person on the panel with real scientific credentials – others were political and activism based – so that lent his view a certain amount of gravitas in the circumstances.

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Prof. Ray Bates – climate models are the best we have, but sure, we can pick and choose.

But the fact is that he is very much out of step with most of his peers around the world. It’s not because they are all have some chip on their shoulder, or he’s not invited to the right parties; it’s because they are reading the data differently to him. The issue really is more urgent than he is making it out to be. After reading John Gibbons’ article about him, I tend to concur with the view that he is somewhat more protective of the Irish agricultural position than a totally independent actor should really be. I think he has an ideological position in this matter – otherwise why such a pro-agri stance? Why use the airtime to water down the findings in favour of the status quo?

I’m unhappy that Bates was the only scientist that RTE could find on this subject, because he badly misrepresented the scientific position on this. RTE needs to start getting away from the climate denier spokespeople – who are always available to talk – and start hearing more from other scientists who can better speak to the likely downstream issues caused by a rapidly warming world.