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Climate controversy on the eve of Copenhagen

A climate change debate that includes two prominent skeptics will only muddy the waters of public discourse on the eve of the Copenhagen climate talks, says ecologist William Rees.

The Munk debate, which will take place in Toronto on Dec. 1, poses this question: Is climate change mankind's defining crisis?

Arguing for are Green Party leader Elizabeth May and activist and writer George Monbiot; arguing against are Bjorn Lomborg and Lord Nigel Lawson, both of whom have penned books challenging the urgency of climate change and earned reputations as climate change skeptics.

When the event (which will be broadcast live at the University of Victoria) was recently posted on a climate-themed list serve, it immediately drew critical responses.

"This is comparable to evolutionary biologists (evolution is an established fact) inviting creationists to the table as if they had anything by confusion to contribute to forming public opinion," wrote Rees.

Chris Barrington-Leigh, a UBC economist and fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, called the debate a battle of rhetoric.

"The people who have been collected are all strong and persuasive speakers. . . but on what basis is that a reasonable way to educate the public?" asked Barrington-Leigh.

"I think you could get people who are more connected to the real meaningful and cutting-edge debate. Nowhere is our discourse is it really explicit that there is no way to solve [climate change] without significant wealth transfer from rich to poor."

This is just the latest climate controversy on the eve of Copenhagen.

The release of hundreds of private emails that had been hacked from the server at British university's climate research unit made news last week. The documents, which include discussions on the release of certain data and ways to combat skepticism, were used a fodder for deniers who claim that scientists are overstating the impacts of climate change and humanity's responsibility for it.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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