Student protesters led by the Green Amherst Project walked out of a presentation by climate skeptic and ecologist Patrick Moore on Thursday, Oct. 9. The presentation, entitled “Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout,” was sponsored by the Amherst College Republicans.
Moore, an early member of the environmental activist network Greenpeace, quit in 1986 due to what he called the group’s increasing sensationalism and extreme positions. The presentation covered Moore’s disagreements with Greenpeace as well as his support for expanded forestry and fish farms, energy sources like hydropower and oil sands, and some genetically-modified crops. Moore also argued that current climate change trends are not particularly dangerous, even if they continue until no permanent ice remains at the North and South Poles. During his presentation, he asked rhetorically why people would “not want to be on an ice-free planet.”
The protesters, who made up about half of the audience, exited the room approximately twenty minutes after the event began. Moore had finished explaining his Greenpeace background and why he left the organization he helped co-found before he began to challenge scientific evidence of anthropogenic climate change. They left behind signs with messages such as “The Debate is Over” and “Anthropogenic Climate Change is Real.”
“They’re the real deniers,” Moore said of the student protesters as they walked out. He described the protesters as having a “Taliban mindset.”
Ned Kleiner ’16, the Green Amherst Project member who led the walkout, described the Taliban comparison as “frankly farcical.”
“Debating someone like Patrick Moore gives the impression that climate change activism and climate change denial stand on equal footing,” Kleiner said. “They do not. There is no scientific debate happening right now over the reality of anthropogenic climate change, and we refuse to give the impression that there is.”
Amherst College Republicans president Robert Lucido ’15, whose organization hosted the event, said that the student protesters were too dismissive of Moore’s arguments.
“The students who walked out left behind signs that read, ‘The debate is over,’ but they had walked out without actually hearing any of our speaker’s argument,” said Lucido.
An extended question-and-answer session followed Moore’s presentation, which consisted largely of debate between Moore and three Amherst geology faculty in the audience: professors Martin Medina Elizalde, David Jones, and Anna Martini.
“I thought it would be important for there to be at least a few people left in the room with a firm understanding of climate science who could challenge any scientific misrepresentations in Moore’s presentation,” Jones said, explaining why he did not join the walkout.
Jones and Martini debated Moore about his views on evidence for anthropogenic climate change.
Jones defended the anthropogenic explanation for climate change, saying that there are problems with the theory, but insisting that the scientific consensus is strong nonetheless.
“There are still many partially answered and unanswered questions in climate science that deserve further research,” he said. “But, as a scientist and a citizen, I see overwhelming evidence that humans are changing the climate, and I believe there is an imperative for us to act on that understanding.”
During the question-and-answer session, Medina Elizalde also asked Moore to apologize for his Taliban comment.
“Fifty people walk out, and I say that’s a pretty Taliban thing to do,” Moore said in response. ”I was characterizing their behavior.” He said the student protesters were “intolerant of other people’s views.”
Members of the Green Amherst Project argued that Moore should not have been invited to speak on campus.
“The Green Amherst Project fully supports and strives to facilitate productive discourse on environmental issues,” said Green Amherst Project president Julie Xia ’17. “Productive discourse does not include Patrick Moore or his fallacious claims. Anthropogenic climate change is real, it’s here and we don’t have time to entertain those few hangers-on to the possibility that it’s not.”
Lucido defended inviting Moore to campus, citing Moore’s credentials as an environmentalist and ecologist.
“We felt that Dr. Moore’s unique background and many years as a leading environmentalist made him not only qualified to guide such a discussion, but also deserving of the genuine consideration of even those who disagree,” Lucido said.
The Amherst College Republicans, which was reestablished two years ago, has faced protests before. According to Lucido, many recent Amherst College Republican events have been targets of protests. The organization has brought a number of high-profile figures, often with well-known and controversial viewpoints, to campus. Previous speakers include former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, Newt Gingrich, and conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Julia Xia '17 is the president of the Green Amherst Project. Julie Xia '17 is not the president of Green Amherst Project, but was the a main organizer of the walkout. The Green Amherst Project does not have a president.