This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

Debate: Be it resolved that global warning is anthropogenic, not natural

This activity was developed during the Teaching Climate Change Using Ice Core Data workshop, held in June 2008.
Contributed by David J. Meltzer Department of Anthropology, SMU, Dallas
Constantin Cranganu, Department of Geology, Brooklyn College, CUNY
R. Laurence Davis, Department of Biology and Environmental Sciences, University of New Haven
Vincent Devlahovich, Department of Geology, College of the Canyons, CA

Topic: Global Warming, torn between myth and facts

Course Type: introductory level or upper level


This activity is a debate that will require students to defend strongly, their position, for or against, and be prepared to criticize the opposing view. The activity should come toward the end of the appropriate course and might be organized as follows:

  1. Choose the two sides by drawing straws. Defend position to the best of your ability, no ducking.
  2. Students will be expected to gather scientific data (e.g.from NOAA Paleoclimatology webpages) and read the appropriate texts (instructor may wish to restrict this to the last 400K years).
  3. Students will also be expected to read the major books of the skeptics and to make as strong an effort as possible to improve the skeptic's arguments.
  4. Proponents must behave according to the highest scientific principles and must admit what they do not know.
  5. Skeptics must use data published at any time in reputable journals but are allowed to lie by omission, but not in any other manner.
  6. Proponents do not know the rules that the skeptics are following. Skeptics do know the rules that the proponents are following.
  7. The debate will run as follows (for a 55 minute class; increase segments for longer classes or as needed; the instructor may or may not wish to arrange an audience)
    • Instructor gives overview and describes purpose.
    • Each group gives 2 minute summary of their position.
    • Each group gives 6 minute detailed presentation of their evidence and arguments proponents go first.
    • Each group gives 5 minutes for rebuttal.
    • Each group has 4 minutes for response.
    • Each group has 2 minutes for summary.
  8. During the next class session, the class as a whole, without taking sides, will discuss the outcomes of the debate. At this point, the instructor will reveal the hidden rules and discuss the debate.
  9. If possible, arrange for a real scientist and a skeptic to have a similar debate in front of the class.


  • Familiarizes students with the evidence for and against global warming and with the arguments of skeptics.
  • Illustrates scientific complexities and uncertainties of global warming.
  • Hones student debating skills and enables them to better respond to skeptics. In addition, it will identify for them, areas of specific scientific research they may wish to pursue.
  • Identifies the malleability of scientific data in the hands of people with specific agendas.


  • Prior to the debate, the students will be polled for their opinion anonymously.
  • After the debate, the students will be asked whether and how the debate changed their opinions and what specific lessons they learned from it. These will then be matched against the activity goals.


Teaching Controversial Topics - from Student Motivations and Attitudes: The Role of the Affective Domain in Geoscience Learning
Structured academic controversy - from Student Motivations and Attitudes: The Role of the Affective Domain in Geoscience Learning
Role playing exercises - from Starting Point - Teaching Entry Level Geoscience
Mock environmental summit - from Starting Point - Teaching Entry Level Geoscience
The Heartland Institute
Scholars and rougues
Skeptical science: examining the science of global warming skepticism
New Scientist
NOAA Paleoclimatology home page (more info)
Competitive Enterprise Institute