Around the Pier: Crisis? What Crisis?


Is global warming a crisis? In a March 14 debate in New York City, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego climate scientist Richard Somerville was one of six participants who took on the question.

Despite the strong evidence that human-caused climate change is affecting the planet, the debate may have had an unexpected outcome, said Somerville.

With Somerville and fellow climate scientists Brenda Ekwurzel and Gavin Schmidt on one side, an opposing team including Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton and scientists Richard Lindzen and Philip Stott spoke in favor of the proposition “Global Warming is not a Crisis.”  

Lindzen, Stott, and Crichton contended that there is natural variability in climate and that not even scientists who report large-scale evidence of human-caused climate change call the current state of affairs a crisis. Somerville, Ekwurzel and Schmidt countered that the science that has led to broad consensus among climate researchers is unequivocal. They argued that the current “crisis” should be understood as a moment of decision rather than a moment of alarm.

After the debate, Somerville said he felt obligated to participate to ensure that scientific viewpoints were represented but that the selection of the topic for a debate could mislead the public into thinking there is widespread contention among scientists about global warming when in fact there is none among credible climate researchers.

“Michael Crichton is clueless about climate science, but he is a celebrity who can dazzle an audience,” said Somerville.  “This experience convinced me that formal debates are a poor way to explore complicated technical issues.  I was reminded of the standard evolution vs. creationism arguments, where solid science faces off against emotion and religion, and nobody learns anything.”

Ekwurzel is a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Schmidt is a climate modeler at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Stott is emeritus professor of bio-geography at the University of London and Lindzen is Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The IQ2US project produced the event, one of a series of Oxford-style debates covering a range of policy topics. National Public Radio aired the debate on several affiliate stations and through its website.

- Robert Monroe

To hear an audio recording of the debate, visit

To read a transcript of the debate, visit

Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.