A Challenge to Bill McKibben — Update

Update on my challenge to Bill McKibben to debate me on the morality of fossil fuels after he wrote an article on catastrophic global warming concluding “this is, at bottom, a moral issue; we have met the enemy and they is Shell.” Here is the original challenge.

@billmckibben Duke will host a debate between you+anyone and me+Dr.-Eric-Dennis on the morality of fossil fuels. You’ll get $10K. Deal?

McKibben has not yet accepted, though he has responded.

@Alexepstein happy to debate $10k to 350.org, you and me 1 on 1, “Resolved: Humans are causing risky warming,” neutral audience

This is a complete switch in topic–and the topic he proposes is not a valid topic at all. In our video criticizing McKibben’s Rolling Stone article, Dr. Eric Dennis and I said a prerequisite of valid scientific discussion is precision, and we specifically warned against vague statements like “Humans are causing risky warming,” which could mean any number of things, from McKibben’s science fiction projections to more reasonable possibilities we don’t rule out.

Further, for me to accept such a debate would mean arguing the proposition “Humans are not causing risky warming.” That is proving a negative, which is impossible–that’s Logical Fallacies 101.

Dr. Dennis and I spent an hour and a half explaining why we wanted to debate McKibben and a scientist of his choice on the morality of fossil fuels and the associated scientific issues. If McKibben wants to just debate me (which would mean two non-scientists debating) I am happy to oblige.

But the core of the original offer stands, and that is the topic that led me to challenge McKibben: the morality of fossil fuels. A man who says “we have met the enemy and they is Shell” and calls the fossil fuel industry “Public Enemy Number One” should be more than willing to debate this issue.

I hope he accepts.