Debating and Defending Global Warming

Perhaps more than most, the January/February resolution has a great deal of argument cross-over with policy debate. Discussions of economic disintegration in developing countries, population ethics, and environmental security concerns proliferate typical policy rounds and this particular LD topic. Above all, there is a consistent trend in both policy and utilitarianism affs to race to the queen impact of environment debates: global warming. Climate change is one of the most often debated impacts in policy debate. Subsequently, there exists a plethora of already tested warming strategies that have yet to reveal themselves on the development topic. 

In this article, I plan on detailing some of these strategies from both the affirmative and negative perspectives so that, in the next warming debate you have, you can out-strategize your opponents before you even have to begin trying to out-debate them.

Negative Strategy

I’ll begin the discussion of warming strategy from the negative perspective, largely because affirmative strategy is only strategy if one can first identify what negative strategies exist and are likely to be read.

The internal link portion of a case is almost always the weakest portion of any affirmative’s warming advantage. By nature of its large magnitude impact of global proportions, the single action of the plan is often the targeting point for the negative when applying defense to a case’s warming advantage. This strategy of applying pressure on the ability for the aff to spillover, is only useful to a point. If the affirmative case also has a utilitarian value criterion and pushes hard on an impact framing argument that high magnitude impacts, even with minor risk of solvency, still come first, it can be extremely difficult for you as the negative to win all of the necessary arguments to win the debate. The solution to this problem is to impact turn the aff’s internal link rather than terminal impact and to advantage counterplan with a different internal link mechanism.

There are two broad categories of internal links to warming that every aff’s internal link falls under. Warming internal links are always either reduction internal links (carbon dioxide emissions, carbon sink preservation, etc.) which entails reducing or preventing an increase in some bad thing, typically CO2, that contributes to warming, or they are adaptation internal links which entails adapting to the effects of global warming in some form or other. On this resolution, almost all affirmative internal links will be some flavor of a reduction internal link typically centralized around claims of sustainable developing reducing carbon emissions or the protection of current forest carbon sinks that are otherwise being cut down as economic growth drives deforestation in multiple developing countries across the globe.

While impact turns like ice age have been introduced, negative teams have yet to exploit impact turns to the reduction internal link. The main impact turn is known as CO2 fertilization. The thesis of this argument is that we shouldn’t attempt to reduce the carbon emissions that countries are producing because the more CO2 we produce, the more productive and plentiful crop yields will be which is vital to stave off global famine. 

Phenomenal academic articles argue that CO2 is the lifeblood of plants and increasing emissions actually boosts plant growth rates, biomass production, and subsequently overall crop yields. One particular researcher finds that “for a 300-ppm increase in the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration above the planet’s current base level…the productivity of earth’s herbaceous plants rises by something on the order of 30%… while the productivity of its woody plants rises by something on the order of 50%” (Idso, 2007). Bolstering the strategic strength of the CO2 fertilization impact turn is that the uniqueness question goes decisively negative. There are currently global shortfalls in the production of food and, with exponential global population rise, the dire need to increase crop yields will persist. “Under the most stressful of such conditions, in fact, extra CO2 sometimes is the deciding factor in determining whether a plant lives or dies” (Idso, 2003). 

With famine as your external impact, the thesis of the CO2 fertilization impact turn also grants you an incredible ability to argue that you still access the affirmative case’s warming impact. The very warrant in affirmative carbon sink internal links (such as an affirmative argument that environmental protection of Congolese rainforests preserves a critical carbon sink which offsets huge amounts of carbon dioxide) is that more plants aids the effort to combat global warming because it produces a powerful negative feedback mechanism to offset global warming. First, increases in plant growth help soak up CO2 from the atmosphere. Just like you and I breathe in oxygen, plants breathe in CO2 and exhale oxygen. Increased vegetative growth also increases the quantity of plants that emit gases to the atmosphere known as biosols which form cloud condensation nuclei which diffuse and filter solar radiation and thus cool the planet. Think about it like an plant-based aerosol vapor shield that protects the earth from the sun’s heat just enough to produce “a significant cooling effect on the planet that exerts itself by both slowing the rate of rise of the air’s CO2 content and reducing the receipt of solar radiation at the earth’s surface” (Idso, 2008). 

There are a variety of affirmative answers to this impact turn obviously, some of which will be addressed below, but researching these articles will provide you with strong, warranted, and scientifically backed answers to all of the affirmative answers, ranging from “CO2 increases weeds which hurts crops” to “warming makes droughts and plant diseases more likely.” 

This impact turn is excellently augmented by case defense arguments that challenge the validity of the aff’s internal link claim that “carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming.” There exist a wealth of academic articles and studies published on this question and many of them hold conclusions that benefit the negative. These authors argue, among other things, that solar variation and solar cycles have a much larger effect than CO2 and CO2 emission reductions are inconsequential for changing overall temperature, that water vapor and methane are larger contributors to the warming effect, and that CO2 is saturated within the atmosphere meaning that even with increases in CO2, there exists no accompanying increase in global temperature. Winning any one of these defensive claims means that the negative can short-circuit the ability for the affirmative to leverage their case’s warming impact as offense against the impact turns.

The nail in the coffin for most of these affirmative teams comes when the negative strategically reads an advantage counterplan that solves warming through the opposite internal link – in this case, any advantage counterplan that doesn’t reduce emissions to solve warming but instead adapts to global warming in some way can solve the case’s offense while still preserving the impact turns to the reduction internal link as a net benefit. 

Advantage counterplans are a strategic weapon in the negative arsenal that is underutilized in both policy and LD. Because the aff is constrained to the topic, any advantage counterplan that isn’t part of the resolution that is different than the aff’s internal link is competitive, as long as you have either a disadvantage or impact turn to the affirmative’s internal link or plan. In this case, warming advantage counterplans are competitive and net beneficial when they utilize access a different internal link to solving warming than the plan. Any permutation would still link to your net benefit of CO2 fertilization because, while your counterplan won’t reduce emissions, the plan would which triggers the link to your impact turns. Particularly when the affirmative team doesn’t have evidence about the mechanism of your counterplan, advantage counterplans are extremely lethal because they nullify the affirmative team’s ability to win on impact calculus or weighing their impact against yours. 

There are two main types of warming advantage counterplans that pair well with the CO2 fertilization impact turn strategy. 

The first type is known as an adaptation advantage counterplan. A multitude of proposals exist for how best to adapt to the effects of global warming through infrastructure hardening strategies, international coordination and planning committees for the relocation of climate refugees, etc. Adaptation advantage counterplans seek to solve the impact to global warming without trying to stop global warming and argue that even if the climate changes, in the world of the counterplan, there is no impact to that temperature increase because the counterplan enables humanity to safely adapt. 

The second type is known as a geoengineering advantage counterplan. Geoengineering is the strategy to change the climate of the earth through some means as a way of offsetting the temperature increase occurring from emissions production. Many different proposals for different geoengineering strategies exist and all are viable advantage counterplans. For a head start on research, I’ll briefly explain two of the more common geoengineering proposals. 

First, many scientists have proposed the development and deployment of global fleet of autonomous ships spraying salt water into the air as a means of altering the albedo, or reflectivity, of the earth. “It should be possible to counteract the global warming associated with a doubling of carbon dioxide levels by enhancing the reflectivity of low-lying clouds above the oceans, according to researchers in the US and UK” (Cartlidge, 2008). This advantage counterplan, by changing the reflectivity of the earth, would result in sufficient global cooling to offset the impact of carbon dioxide increases. 

Second, NASA and space engineers have tried to begin development of what are known as “sunshades.” First proposed by Roger Angel, an astronomer and optics expert at the University of Arizona, NASA could develop small reflective spacecraft similar in function to a lampshade to be deployed beyond the mesosphere to block portions of the sun’s rays. According to Dr. Angel, the sunshades would “reduce solar warming” and “scatter away sunlight in space before it enters the Earth’s atmosphere” and merely “a 1.8% reduction [in sunlight] is projected to fully reverse the warming effect of a doubling of CO2,” (Angel, 2006).

Affirmative Strategy

Affirmative responses to the above negative strategies should just center around defending carbon emissions, rather than just global warming, as being bad – not a difficult task at all. It does involve, however, tailoring your advantage to more reasonable impact scenarios like offsetting portions of carbon emission increases being good. You can still read strong impacts: here are a few examples.

First, ocean acidification is defined as the rapid increase in acidity and rapid drop in pH levels of our oceans. This effect, especially given the speed of its occurrence, is producing geochemical changes in our oceans that is devastating for marine biodiversity and lots of marine animals who can’t tolerate the lower pH levels. According to Joe Romm, a fellow at American Progress and editor of Climate Progress, “if industrial carbon emissions continue at the current pace, we may lose organisms we care about…[and] that is a recipe for mass extinction” (Romm, 2012). One specific subset of ocean life that is particularly affected by carbon emissions and ocean acidification is the coral reefs that are home to the majority of the global marine biodiversity hotspots. Providing a home for close to “33% of all marine life,” one environmental journalist notes that the “World Conservation Union (IUCN) considers coral reefs one of the life-support systems essential for human survival” (Leahy, 2006). 

Second, the Amazon rainforest and other tropical rainforests are more likely to be negatively affected by CO2 than positively affected by it. Insects on CO2-fertilized plants consume a small portion of the leaf tissue, grow more slowly, and die more often. As a result, many insect species in the Amazon rainforest are likely to be pushed “into extinction” according to Jonathan Adams, Assistant Professor in Ecology at Rutgers University. And if you think killing off the bugs in the rainforest is a good thing, think again. Without the “selective insect herbivores” that prevent each tree species from “becoming too abundant,” multiple species of tropical trees grow too much and end up killing each other off and “may go extinct because the most competitive species among them are no longer so closely density-limited and can now push the others out” (Adams, 2007). 

Third, massive carbon releases from the bottom of the ocean also become increasingly likely with unchecked carbon emissions. Carbon dioxide, absorbed by the oceans from the atmosphere as we release it, begins to accumulate on along the ocean bottom which produces increases in movement of carbonic acid concentrations. The real danger is when the “biological carbon pump” no longer remains stable and instead, a “massive carbon release (which, in an oceanic turnover, might also be accompanied by large amounts of highly toxic released hydrogen sulfide)” occurs which “could become…catastrophe on a planetary scale” (Brandenberg and Paxon, 1999). 

All of the above impact scenarios predicated solely off of the emission reduction internal link help you in against any of the above negative strategies because they are all solvency deficits to any advantage counterplan that tries to adapt to warming or geoengineer the earth and they are a direct impact turn to CO2 fertilization. 

Additionally, other specific responses to the CO2 fertilization impact turn that bolster affirmative strategy against this set of impact turns should include the following.

First, while the general thesis of CO2 fertilization might be correct, CO2 ends up helping weeds grow better and more resiliently than crops. According to Ames Hatfield, Laboratory Director at the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, “weeds, rather than crops, across several studies show the strongest relative response to rising CO2” which has the net effect of “increased competition and increased crop production losses” (Hatfield et al., 2011). 

Second, the same study finds a data-based correlation between increased CO2, increased humidity and temperature increases, and subsequent increases in droughts and plant diseases that are both more likely in a hotter climate. Hatfield also found that CO2 emissions increased the net life stages of insects which was worse for crop plants that were vulnerable to pesticide destruction. 

Third, while the qualifications of the main CO2 fertilization authors, the Idsos, are extensive and seemingly impressive, lots of indict articles exist on the internet that link the Idso professors to oil companies and fossil fuel institutions. This type of indict evidence is immensely helpful in framing the impact turn debate on the scientific validity of the Idsos’ claims as they might have an enormous financial incentive to exaggerate their claims and cherry-pick scientific data to prove their arguments. Be forewarned that you must also have a defense of your warming internal link and impact authors if you make this argument because indicts based off of financial interest and scientific confirmation bias often apply a great deal to affirmative authors as well. 

Guest Writer Information:

Nate Sawyer debated four years of policy in high school at Glenbrook North where he was a two-time Tournament of Champions finalist and champion of the National Forensic League tournament. To contact him about pre-tournament or tournament coaching and hire, or to ask him about more ideas, cites, and further strategy discussions, feel free to email him at

Editor Note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Victory Briefs.

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