A Modest Proposal: Mr. Gore, it’s time to debate your critics.

Bookmark and share IB Editor Joseph Vanden Plas takes you inside his views on politics and its effects on business — from national initiatives to local irritants and inspirations. He encourages you to post a comment and be part of a dialogue. Watch for new posts weekly!

Not long ago, climate change criers were declaring that the global warming (since recast as climate change) debate was over. In the immortal words of college football analyst Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend.”

In light of recent events, and the fact that President Obama is heading to Copenhagen next week for a climate summit, and since the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill to restrict CO2 emissions, I think the debate has really just begun.

What has changed? Well, disturbing reports about alleged scientific fraud associated with computer models that have been used to shape consensus that global warming is largely man-made. Recently, a hacker made public e-mails and other documents from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at University of East Anglia, near Norwich, England, that raises doubt about this consensus.

The CRU is a key source of data on global temperatures, but the e-mail stream indicates that its scientists have been massaging data and trying to suppress conflicting information from being published in peer reviewed scientific journals. As the Brits might say, very bad form, CRU.

I’ve had an open mind on global warming/climate change, but it is beginning to close. While conceding that before this decade, the Earth was warming — there has been no statistically significant warming since about 1998, even though CO2 levels have been steadily rising — I wasn’t convinced that human beings had as much to do with it as natural forces like more intense solar activity. I’ve always wondered how we could once have an Ice Age only to emerge from it with no help from a carbon-spewing industrial age. Hmmm. Could there be other forces at work?

That’s why the man most associated with addressing climate change, former Vice President Al Gore, should step up to the plate and debate one or more of his critics in town hall forums around the country. Gore has written books, delivered speeches, and participated in panel discussions, but I have yet to see him seriously engage any of his critics in debate on this topic.

Mr. Gore has considerable debating skills, and they have been on display in similar situations. Remember the night on Larry King’s cable show when he outfoxed former presidential candidate Ross Perot on the North American Free Trade Agreement? To say that Perot was “gored” that night is putting it mildly; without Gore’s dismantling of the irritable little Texan, NAFTA may not have passed.

Whether Gore could score such a decisive victory in town hall debates on global warming is anybody’s guess. (Remember, he also faltered when he got caught mangling the facts in his first debate with George W. Bush, and did not begin to recover until the last week of the 2000 campaign). One of the reasons I suggest a series of debates is that anyone can have an off night, and a traveling debating show could allow the participants ample opportunity to defend their positions, and probe the weakness of the other, in some depth.

It’s a debate that’s worthy of us. As many of you know, I’m not exactly a fan of the current political class, but I thought the U.S. Senate really shined in 2006 during its debate on embryonic stem cell research. The debate, the prelude to the passage of a bill that President Bush later vetoed, shed much more light than heat and served as the finest example of public discourse in recent memory.

Unfortunately, it was all too rare. The American public deserves a little high-profile jaw-jaw on the climate change debate, starring none other than Al Gore, before it commits to legislation to significantly reduce CO2 emissions and therefore energy use. The stakes for both the American economy (think cost and global competitiveness) and the environment means this debate is far from over.

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