Harold Ambler’s Debate Challenge

Harold Ambler, a local musician and freelance journalist, is also the author of naysayer book called “Don’t Sell Your Coat: Surprising Truths About Climate Change”, which has positive reviews by the likes of Joe Bastardi and Freeman Dyson. I haven’t read it, but it’s just finding its way to my Kindle now.

Peculiarly, Ambler challenged Revkin to a debate on climate change. Despite his background in journalism, Ambler totally misconstrues Revkin. (He ought to brush up on his Jay Rosen “view from nowhere” reading.)

Regardless, I’ve been thinking that SOMEBODY ought to take up all these calls for debate. And while I may “lose” a couple, I’m interested in sharpening my debating skills and catching up on the latest denier memes. So…

Harold Ambler, since we are neighbors, I am interested in making your acquaintance, say over coffee at Spider House, and discussing what an informative and constructive public debate would look like. Based only on where your book is advertised, I am confident that we would have a lot of points of disagreement to discuss. I am interested to determine whether there is a debate format on which we could agree. This site will give you some idea of my perspective.


  1. He won't be a pushover, that's clear. In fact, at first glance he may well be the strongest naysayer I've seen.

    As such you could argue that it may do harm for me to bring attention to him.

    But I think it's true that you should contest the strongest of your opponents. It's more in the spirit of inquiry than just ragging on the weakest ones. The question is whether he accepts the Julia Galef principle. My acceptance of it means that the fact that he is well-informed means I should seek him out.

  2. I don't follow you. His work looks like a multi-year extended Gish Gallop, which isn't so much strong as intractable in a live debate. The sheer blithe self-satisfaction is the opposite of Galef -- you can see why Dyson would approve.

    I don't understand what potential you see here.

  3. Probably none. His site looks better informed than, say, Watts's. Just at a quick glance.

    But hey, he is a musician and an Austinite. Maybe he is a decent soul at heart. Not all deniers have terrible intentions. Some of them quite the contrary.

    And I do need to start getting myself out in public if I'm ever going to go pro with this stuff.

  4. Good intentions aren't worth much in the absence of insight.

    Why not try talking him down out of the tree in private first? I've chatted up impervious types just to study their habits, and this one looks pretty impervious.

    Do consider the commonweal.

  5. Mischaracterization. I have written a book, with a lengthy bibliography, on climate science. My ideas on the subject are presented, carefully, in the book's main text, and the support is contained in the bibliography. You brought questions that revealed a lack of willingness to (a) use Google and other research tools on your own and (b) read my book.

    I said you should do your own homework, and I stand by my statement.

  6. Dear Michael,

    Thank you for buying my book. If you find any factual errors in it about the science of climate change, I thank you in advance for bringing them to my attention.

    Regarding your idea that we debate: I no longer live in Austin. My five years there were very nice, I must say! That doesn't mean that I won't occasionally return, however. In theory, I am open to having a public debate. I had the good fortune to debate a St. Edward's professor on climate change as part of the Alamo Drafthouse's Dionysium Debate series a few years back. If you've never been to the debates Alamo hosts, you're missing out.

    One comment you made to a fellow-skeptic of mine does give me pause:

    To Steven Mosher you once wrote the following:

    The scientific community pisses me off regularly and substantially. I feel like paraphrasing Einstein and saying, “Do not worry about your problems with the scientific community. I assure you mine are far greater.” I understand you want to air the dirty laundry. You understand that I don’t, but you don’t seem to understand why I don’t.

    Let me explain why. It is not because I am a pusillanimous chickenshit, Mosher. It is because the fucking survival of the fucking planet is at fucking stake. And if we narrowly fucking miss pulling this out, it may well end up being your, your own fucking personal individual fucking self-satisfied mischief and disrespect for authority that tips the balance. You have a lot of fucking nerve saying you are on my “side”.

    I guess I would like to start by asking: Are you comfortable with the statement you made? Would you like to amend it in any way, or say anything different to Mosher today?

    Finally, if warmer temps than now during the Holocene Optimum, the Eemian interglacial, and the three interglacials before that didn't drive the planet off a cliff, why is today's mild warming so worrisome?

  7. I appreciate you quoting the entire rant. I promise you I don't write that way as a habit, and I very rarely speak that way.

    Mosher and I have some admiration for each other. To some extent, it would be wonderful if we were friends.

    But it is time somebody stood up and said how very very very angry the climate science community is about being misrepresented and slandered in the CRU hacking. Anybody who had a hand in it is not a friend of mine and not a friend of humanity. Whatever their intention.

    Scientists are trained to be so cool and frontal-lobed that sometimes their anger and pain is invisible. Dukakis lost an election almost entirely because he seemed so cold-blooded and indifferent to what to an academic seemed an intellectual query but to the public was an invitation to express emotional outrage toward the questioner. I think it was worthwhile to issue this rant. I think it was worthwhile for some member (however peripheral) of the community under attack to say "what's more, we are almost inexpressibly angry about all this, and make no mistake about it".

    We are almost inexpressibly angry about all this, and make no mistake about it. I stand by my rant.

    The whole "debate" question. like so much else that is more political than scientific, has been mishandled by the scientific community. Of course, science is not settled in "debates" in that way. And I understand that a debate can give credence to positions that don't deserve it. "Debates" about evolution are indicative of this. But I do think some of us should rise to the challenge, again because of how it looks to people if we don't, and also, if we don't, you'll get some patsy like Bill Nye up there and the truth will lose ground even more.

    Drop me a line a couple of weeks ahead of time next time you are headed this way and we can pick it up if you like. (Or let me know whereabouts you are currently located and I will do likewise.) By the way, your comment at Revkin's did say "Austin Texas" on it, whence my picking up the gauntlet. You may wish to fix that.

  8. "Finally, if warmer temps than now during the Holocene Optimum, the Eemian interglacial, and the three interglacials before that didn’t drive the planet off a cliff, why is today’s mild warming so worrisome?"

    Hmm. A good question. How I would answer in a debate, off the cuff:

    "The mild amount of warming to date is not the concern. The concern is two-fold. First, the mild amount of warming to date is unusually rapid. Second, and more important, the mild amount of warming to date is in line with expectations from a straightforward and well-tested set of ideas about how global mean temperature responds to forcing. That set of ideas indicates that "we ain't seen nothin' yet", that the increasing global mean surface temperature is going to continue to accelerate. And before I yield the floor, let me reiterate the point that global mean temperature is a symptom of forced climate change, not the driver of it. When the temperature changes that much, we know the climate on the ground changes enormously in most locations."

    Or at least, I'd hope to have the presence of mind to say that.

  9. Pingback: The Strange World of Andy Revkin on Twitter (and an Offer to Debate from Michael Tobis) |

  10. That is odd.

    But anyway, I had a look through his site. It's quite the Gish Gallop.

    He seems utterly unable to discuss things coherently, as in his massively confused attempt to refute an article about recent results about an AGW component to Hurricane Irene.

    He's also a guy who waxes poetic about seeing the face of God in clouds. The real world is just too complicated a place for such folks, it seems.

  11. In response to Harold:

    I've asked you a specific question "Where does the estimate that glaciation could start as soon as 'ten years from now' originate ?" Your response was to modify that question : "for length of interglacials, there many sources, but the most widely cited one is Petit et al. 1999"

    You're claiming that the inevitable slide back into full glaciation could begin as soon as ten years from now. I've asked to see the science behind that assertion, that's not my homework it's discourse. If you cannot support your claims with science you have no business claiming it's a book about climate science.

    Mr Ambler I use google every day to check aspects of the climate narrative, but it's perfectly normal discourse to ask individuals to enlarge on their claims which run counter to conventional wisdom. Your possible start date for the onset of the next ice age would be one such claim.

    Well I'm not a scientist but there are plenty of real scientists reading this blog perhaps they could attest to whether Petit et al 1999 informs us of a full glaciation starting ten years from now or not? If I'm wrong I'd be delighted to make amends but until then I stand by my words that Harold Ambler is misrepresenting the work of Petit et al 1999

  12. Well, I stand corrected. Ambler does not seem to know his stuff. Yet another disappointing denier.

    It's hard to see that "within a decade" claim as even having a meaning.

    I just looked over the Petit paper in question. The paper is very concerned with the onset of deglaciation, which is relatively rapid and well-marked in the record, though I'm not sure a decadal resolution can be claimed. But the onset of glaciation is extremely gradual in the records.

    A careful reading of Figure 3 supports the claim that the long Holocene interglacial is NOT due for a natural termination, as the Milankovic forcing (not be confused with the Milosevic forcing I have seen discussed at Watts', which has something to do with Greater Serbia I think) is pretty much flat and near zero.

    So "see, I have a reference" is all he can manage. Well, Peng, Ellis, Wang, Fettinger and Power '09 to you, mate! (hint: it's not relevant either and I haven't read it and I have no background in their field nor clue what it means, which seems true of Ambler with regard to the Petit paper, too.)

    But the sudden onset ice age was in a peculiar Larry Niven science fiction novel, "Fallen Angels", which had the temerity to have a "science" appendix. As a long-time "hard SF" reader it was immensely disappointing to see a well-known hard SF writer discussing science on my turf. Completely cluelessly. Anyway, I am willing to assert that nothing in Petit supports Ambler's claim, and that Ambler is better off referring to Larry Niven.

    But my read was cursory. Maybe I missed something. It does seem like in a fair argument, Ambler would take the time to quote a paragraph or figure, not just wave vaguely at a mainstream paper.

  13. Michael, I did recast the piece primarily about Revkin's odd Twitter page, partly because the Tobis-Ambler debate concept was launched here, and I think this is a good home for it.

    If anyone believes I'm predicting a sudden-onset return to full Ice Age conditions, let me put that one to rest. I have said that it is possible that the initiation of the decline could conceivably start within a decade (which it could), which is a different matter. Any proof that you have to the contrary is arm-waving, I'm afraid. What we're likely to see for the next 40 years is mild warming, mild cooling, or more or less no change in the global mean temperature, partly due to the combined effect of negative AMO and negative PDO with a solar slowdown. Let us bear in mind that the global mean temperature as measured by satellite was below the zero-anomaly line during January. Let us also bear in mind that the zero-anomaly line is a conceit of certain climatologists and not something that the planet knows or cares about.

    @SB: The idea that Hurricane Irene, a mild barely Cat 1 storm when it made landfall, is indicative of worsening wrath on nature's part since meaningful emission of co2 in the post-WWII era is hilarious! I presented some hurricane history, and won't trouble myself to do the same again here. Ocean storms are not more intense or numerous now than pre-industrial times. Show me a modern Grote Mandrenke ...

    @MT again: I've not misinterpreted or over-extended Petit et al. Perhaps you'd like to pen a cogent book review in the prelude to any debate?

  14. - I will make the attempt to read the book, since I paid for it.

    - The ice age wasn't going to start anyway, it turns out. But even if it would have, it's been called off. Counting watts is not that hard. My handwaving is better than your handwaving because it has watts in it, not to mention a solid scientific consensus.

    - Irene was by no means an ordinary storm. (Having been named after my wife, I remember her well.) She was in the Katrina class, powerful and extraordinarily large. Nature doesn't care much about landfall, hardly more than conventional zero-anomaly lines.

  15. Harold,

    You brought up the previous Interglacial, during which it was mrginally warmer than now and it didn't drive the planet off a cliff.

    No, it didn't. But it did raise sea levels by some 6 metres.

    Whether someone calls that a slight inconvenience or a major problem is of course in the eye of the beholder. And it depends on timescales. About which there is uncertainty. Which brings up the next question: Does that uncertainty comfort you or discomfort you? Again, a difference in perception.

  16. re Irene and October storm

    Irene was not only a very large but a very slow moving storm (I watched it with apprehension for over a week), and at Category 1 it hit New Jersey, New York, and eventually New England at slightly diminished force, leaving a trail of damage, floods, and in some places weeks of electrical outages. Thanks to my mother's illness, the electric people got in quickly, but we were out of power for quite a while, and the October storm impact was much worse because of the sequence and was even more damaging in many locations. Irene held locally for the better part of 24 hours, while "normal" hurricanes pass in 4-6 hours. While bigger storms are normal further south, this was not "normal" up here.

    Family illness compels me to travel from Boston to Princeton and back, and the 10s of thousands of trees downed and still coming down evidence an environment that will take at least a generation to recover. Forests are valuable in the carbon equation, so this cannot be good, and there are other problems such as the increase in ground level ozone. Though alternating flood and drought on a smaller scale doesn't make the headlines as much, it is becoming much more common, and the size of the smaller phenomena is steadily increasing.

    For an excellent review (one of a sequence, providing lots of specifics and data), check here:

    "4 out of 5 Americans affected by weather-related disasters since 2006, study finds"

    Neither the military nor insurance companies are known for radical socialism, and they too are on board with reality.

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