(I wrote this as an assessment piece for a climate change science and policy course I'm taking this semester. 800 word limit so I didn't get into as much detail as I'd have liked, unfortunately).
The Gish Gallop (also known as proof by verbosity) is the fallacious debate tactic of
drowning your opponent in a flood of individually-weak arguments in order to prevent rebuttal of the
whole argument collection without great effort. (Source)
Despite being surrounded by an endlessly interconnected network of information, we still tend to trap ourselves in our own isolated web of echo chambers. Climate change
serves as an archetypal example. The wider public is fractionated between science, denialism, or somewhere in-between. But scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change is clear - there's even consensus on that consensus. Not that this has stopped the denialism “gish gallop” of popular conservative public figures like Ben Shapiro and Alex Epstein. A quick Youtube search of either figure reveals their startling popularity and influence online. Most of their arguments are blatantly false, ridden with logical fallacies, false assumptions and have thus been previously debunked ad nauseum be- fore online. So instead, we will try and coalesce their arguments to evaluate them on a broader scale, and figure out what makes them so compelling. Moreover, whilst generally false, such arguments at least serve to point out the sheer complexity of climate change. Jointly, Shapiro and Epstein almost wholly summarize the most common, conservative arguments against climate change - making them all the more important to focus on.
(I refer to points made by Shapiro throughout this video)
First, lets see what Shapiro and Epstein dispute with regards to the data and science. Here we listen to Shapiro charismatically admitting that global warming is probably happening, but continuing to spread accusations of falsified data (the hockey stick graph in particular), and that current research doesn't support the hypothesis anyway (0:00 - 0:50). Throughout the video we also hear Shapiro conflating extreme doomsday-like predictions with what climate science actually predicts. At least Shapiro prefaces his remarks with, “I’m not a scientist”. Epstein on the other hand, blatantly declares every climate model to be complete failure, and that there's no persuasive evidence linking global warming with GHGs (see: "The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, by Alex Epstein). At least with Shapiro, we may observe how most of his points are really just unapolagetically attacking the “scaremongering Left-ist ideaology”. For Epstein's brazen, ignorant claims however, there's no remedy other a review of the scientific method, and basic high school chemistry. As for dismissal of authoritative scientific sources, we can only continue to clarify the politically neutral sources of evidence from NASA, IPCC, NOAA and similar organizations. They can’t all be involved in a conspiracy, can they?
Moving on to political and economic arguments, we find both Epstein and Shapiro continually making the false equivalence between climate change action and economic doomsday. Shapiro pivots this argument to directly attack his liberal opponents. The claim is that climate action necessitates total disruption of economic growth, and will particularly impoverish the third world (6:35 - 7:40). Luckily, we have a wealth of references to draw from to rebut such arguments:
• RCP models used by the IPCC are not prescriptive on how to achieve targets
• Renewables have rapidly become economically competitive with fossil fuels
• The Deep Decarbonization Project outlines a precise, realistic set of actions for
countries to reduce emissions whilst maintaing economic growth.
• Climate treaties (Paris, Kyoto) go to huge efforts to consider equitable and fair
climate action dependent on individual country's capacity.
Epstein's thesis however, entirely revolves around worshiping fossil fuels as the source of all our modern luxuries. Unfortunately, this comes off as rather convinc- ing towards conservatives, who are likely tired of hearing the unyielding demonization from staunch environmentalists. He has a point, but fossil fuels are outdated by any measure. Instead, we should look to other energy dense fuel sources: nuclear, natural gas, compressed hydrogen etc... Ultimately, to dismantle such wide-ranging false
equivalence type arguments, we must persevere to hone in on specific details and cut through political rhetoric. Finally, we arrive at strawman arguments against climate change predictions. To
quote Ben Shapiro:
Even if sea levels rose 10ft by the next 100 years, and it puts all the low
lying areas on the coast underwater - you think people arent just gonna sell
their homes and move?
(5:30 - 6:20)
Similarly, Epstein has strong confidence in CCS technology allowing us to increase fossil fuel use, while decreasing pollution. Unfortunately, serious discussions on adaptation strategies can only be had by first having some mutual acknowledgement of reality and climate model predictions. Once we have that, maybe we can have truly productive discussions with conservatives like Shapiro and Epstein on how to tackle this problem. From a broad view, its clear that many conservative climate denialist arguments generally rely on misinterpreting and/or conflating political rhetoric with science. With a fast talking, charismatic talker like Shapiro, or a bullish figure like Epstein, its an effort to untangle their gish-gallops. Such is the nature of modern discourse. But we certainly shouldn't stop striving to change minds, and inspire people to action, through clarification of science and truth.