Wednesday, September 19, 2012

PF 2012 Climate Change Mitigation Frameworks

For part 1 of this topic analysis click here.
For more on Public Forum topics, click here.


In response to a request made in a comment I am posting this as a service for novice debaters.  It is hastily thrown together but hopefully it is useful despite the fact some of my ideas may not be well supported in the literature or may be half-baked.  Please do not expect me to do this for each new topic.

About PF Frameworks

There are two principle kinds of framework in PF, interpretative and comparative (this is my terminology). They are very useful and work for novices as well as varsity debaters.  Interpretative framework is a kind of 'topicality' argument in which the debater establishes definitions or interpretations of the resolution which become the basis for establishing a case.  Comparative frameworks contrast the points of view and explain why one point of view should be preferred.  The comparative framework attempts to assign value to different arguments but in reality both kinds of framework are evaluative because not only do they provide a justification for the approach you take in your case, they also in most instances, provide criteria by which the judge can weigh the Pro and Con cases.

Some may claim there are theory frameworks in PF debate.  These kinds of arguments would tend to address "a priori" issues relative to the resolution or the opponent's case mainly as a check against abuse.  I don't want to discuss these at this point. First, theory is never required to win debates in Public Forum, second it is very, very rare in most districts to find judges and opponents that can deal with theory so without a viable debate, the educational purpose of debate is not fulfilled and thus counterproductive.  Perhaps in a few years, the category will evolve a little more and tolerate critical or theory arguments.  If you see it becoming the next 'big' thing in Public Forum, let me know.  For now let's just move on.

These ideas are only ideas.  They are not in final form and are only to get you thinking in a particular way.  Your framework will make claims and like all claims you should back them with evidence and I have decided NOT to find that evidence for you because it is important you take from this the concepts of how a framework is built. It is sort of along the lines of the adage, "Give a person a fish and they will eat once.  Teach them to fish and they will eat a lifetime."  So, happy fishing.

Interpretive Frameworks

Duties of Developed Countries

This debate demands a good interpretive framework because, as I have already pointed out in part one of my analysis, the resolution is very imprecise.  For example, the term "developed countries" has no accepted definition except one we can construct from the two individual words.  Nevertheless we are forced to assume, that whomever wrote this resolution had in mind that the developed countries are richer and developed countries contribute the most to global warming and so developed countries have a moral obligation to help those most impacted by the effects of global warming who by extension are unable to help themselves because they are not rich.  All of this is merely assumption based on perhaps, a "newspaper reporter" assessment of the issues.  Nevertheless, if we look to current lists of countries more or less defined as developed according to the U.N., it excludes nations like Brazil, Russia, India and China.  You may recall this is the BRIC block of countries defined as some of the fasted growing economies in the world.  Yet, remarkably, they are not considered developed countries.

It seems intuitive to me, Con can create a significant reaction in the judge by arguing that under the definitions of the resolution, developed countries like the E.U and U.S. have a moral obligation to shoulder the responsibility and pay whatever price is needed whereas nations like BRIC are not under any moral obligation to do anything.  Even if they volunteer to reduce GHG emissions, they do so out of a spirit of international cooperation but not necessarily out of a sense of moral duty.  Given the emotional impact this may generate, Con could argue the term "developed countries" is too exclusive and that is reason enough to reject the Pro position.  It is better to lift the burden of obligation and let each country act with common sense and compassion according to their own abilities to contribute to the solution.  This interpretation is preferable because it allows each nation to guard their sovereignty by internally establishing measures without being forced to comply to mandates and without putting blame on those most able to help.

Pro may be able to create a sense of compassion in the judge by characterising the actions of the developed nations, whoever they are, as irresponsible and gluttonous; wantonly consuming fossil fuels and belching pollution to the peril of the earth and its inhabitants.  The resulting climate change impacts are most likely to harm those who are least able to help themselves and who are the least responsible for the current state of the climate.  Because, the developed nations, whoever they are, have thus acted, they have a moral duty to reduce the impacts of their reckless activities.  Therefore, preference should be given to the interpretation which recognizes the duties of nations since developed nations have been self-serving in rejecting, over the last three decades, the obvious conclusion their actions are harmful to the biosphere.


Mitigation can be a very ambiguous term.  We don't know with any precision how much 'mitigation' is sufficient for the Pro to win therefore it is a lousy standard by which to judge a debate.  If only one person in the U.S. sold his car and bought a bicycle, would the reduction in GHG emissions constitute mitigation?  Many researchers and organizations propose standards while at the same time, most admit that while emissions can be reduced, global warming will likely continue, perhaps just a little slower.  The U.N. definition of mitigation is very vague, simply limited to reducing sources and enhancing sinks of GHG.

Mitigation also opens the 'timeframe' hole.  How long can we wait before we declare success for the Pro.  If the mitigation plan was, one person per month sells their car and buys a bicycle, eventually we would see a reduction in the level of emissions so would Pro win?

The Con side can take several approaches to leverage the ambiguity of the verb mitigate, in the context of global warming.  The most obvious, is find a definition which requires a certain level of reduction that places a very high probability of failure on the Pro.  Maybe an even better approach is define mitigation as a target level of reduction, and then if Pro offers their own definition, stick to your standard and if possible prove they can not meet their own standard.  My advice to Con, no matter what, do not leave mitigation undefined.  Con will also do well to address the timeframe issue and urge the mitigation standard must be met in the smallest possible amount of time.  Again, this will enable the use of evidence which characterizes mitigation as a long-term process which should not be dealt with under compulsion, but with a deliberate plan in full cooperation of all the nations.

Pro has the most to gain by the ambiguous definition of mitigate and obviously should reject any attempt by Con to pin them down.  In fact, it may be to Pro's advantage, depending on the case, to urge a definition which emphasizes the obligation of nations to mitigate the effects, not the causes of global warming.  This approach is favorable to cases which more or less accept the inevitability that global warming will continue, so developed nations should provide assistance to those nations which will be affected to either help protect them or help them deal with the aftermath.  Taking this approach, reduces timeframe pressure since the timeframe will be dictated by nature and not the Con team.

Global Warming

Yes, even the definition of global warming is - uh - debatable.  Clearly global warming is the long term trend of rising average temperature of the earth but what is disputable to either small or great degree depending on one's sources, is does this debate focus on global warming in general which includes significant contributions from natural cycles or does it deal with only anthropogenic global warming? Either way, I can't think of a lot of framework mileage to be gained by favoring any particular interpretation.  Its pretty hard to build a framework around this terminology although one can possibly make a Con argument, that even if all anthropogenic contributions to global warming suddenly ceased, global warming would continue. Would Pro still consider there is a moral obligation to mitigate the effects?  I am not really sure what that buys anyone.  It is an interesting thought but not really a framework upon which to evaluate a debate.

Resolution Interpretation

There is a thing in some debate circles known as "framer's intent" meaning what was intended by the person who crafted the resolution?  There is a strong presumption, developed countries ought to mitigate the effects which will impact the least developed countries.  Assumptions are the framework (and theory) debater's friend.  There is nothing which specifies who should receive the benefits of the mitigation efforts.

If Con were to interpret the resolution to mean mitigation of effects with no specified or implied beneficiary, it could create a convenient framework from which to argue that developed countries will take steps to mitigate the effects of global warming upon their own people, not out a a sense of moral obligation but in keeping with the social contract and the duty of nations to protect their citizens.  Picture, for example, the scope of humanitarian disaster looming in a place like New Orleans or Southern Florida when the sea-levels rise.  The U.S. will take steps to mitigate these impacts because it is the duty of government.

The presumption the framer intended developed countries ought to help least-developed countries already lies in favor the Pro so there is no need to extend that framework.  Even if Con does offer an alternate interpretation, Pro can still make a convincing argument, social contracts notwithstanding, there is a moral obligation to help the world's unfortunate as well.

Comparative Frameworks

The basic idea behind all comparative frameworks is give the judge a mechanism to compare the cases presented in the round and favor one particular approach over another.  The framework can be very broad comparing, for example, the broad objectives or points of view of each side and urging a preference for one.  It can also be much narrower, focusing on particular aspects of methodology such as comparing the solvency, harms or advantages of the two approaches and urging that one side should be preferred.  There are two ways to urge preference.  The first is straightforward.  Contrast both approaches to the case or its construction and explain why your approach is best or theirs is worse.  The second way would be to agree with their idea or concept but then show how their approach or implementation is flawed.

Conceptual Framework

In my opinion, the concept of moral obligation for countries can present some opportunities to construct weighing mechanisms.  I have already posted information which provides evidence that countries are not moral agents which obviously favors Con. But, no matter which side of the debate one finds themselves on, a framework built around the concept of moral obligation can help clarify your position for the judge.

Several broad ideas are possible for Con.  A country is a sovereign state managed by a political body we call the government.  The governments of the developed countries are democratic and can do nothing apart from the will of the citizens.  In fact the only duty of the state is to serve the will of the people.  Preference should be given to the case which correctly assigns responsibility for mitigation to individuals rather than governments.  The interests of the globe are best served by individuals or collectives of concerned citizens acting out of a sense of duty to their fellow human beings.  One can not expect governments to agree and work together effectively and efficiently since governments have no independent will nor possess the human emotions of guilt and remorse.

The government is a sovereign state and state is a social body acting from the collective will of the individuals which comprise it.  In so far as the state is the embodiment of the people, state morality is the embodiment of the collective morality of its people.  So preference should be given to the case which recognizes the moral duties of a country are an extension of the moral duties of its people.

Solvency Framework Ideas

It should be considered that any actions which ultimately harm people can be not considered moral actions.  Any country which acts thinking it is doing the right thing but ends up harming people is not acting morally.  Instead, one should consider that states must sometimes do things that do cause harms because it is their duty to serve the best interests of the majority of their citizens.  While we agree there is a need to mitigate the effects of global warming, we believe it is improper to characterize any actions as a moral obligation since there will inevitably be harms arising from the actions we take.  Nevertheless, we must still act from necessity, not moral duty. (Note, this is a very generalized framework which will allow the Con to expose potential harms in the Pro solvency and thus show, Pro is acting immorally.)

Any and all actions we take which lessen the effects of global warming should be considered as positive steps which fulfil the moral obligation of developed countries.  The biggest impact in this debate arises from inaction and thus the most immoral thing we can do, is sit back and do nothing.


  1. In regard to framework arguments I have previously argued, I have had my opponents sometimes call abuse on my framework. Is that a possible thing to do? Also, the judge sided with my opponent in the round saying my framework was abusive? Is this a legitimate call because he never argued my framework, but just said that it is abusively because there would be no point of debating.

    1. Of course the opponent will claim your framework is abusive since they do not like being restricted to criteria you establish. But, when the judge rejects your framework, that is a problem. Probably some judges will see burdens ( ...our opponents have to prove... ) and standards ( ...judge, you should vote for... ) frameworks as abusive depending on your judge. (Often judges reject being told how to evaluate a round.) You can still create a framework, but the language you use needs to be carefully chosen. Perhaps all that is required is to use impersonal pronouns ( should consider... instead of should consider... ). Another idea is assume the role of an authority and present your framework as an interpretation of the resolution ( ... Our analysis of the resolution indicates Con must advocate... and Pro must argue for ... ). And one can always simply make observations which can come across as fairly neutral but still sufficient for framing your case (...We observe the definition of ... limits Con's scope ... blah, blah ...).

      One way or another, it should be possible to setup the framework and never mention the word framework and hopefully, never come across as abusive.

      Finally, I will say if the opponent claims abuse, such a remark will tend to poison the well so you may be able to mitigate that by asking in cross-fire ( ... Our standards are based on our interpretation of the resolution. What alternatives do you propose? ... ) or in rebuttal ( ... you have claimed our standard is abusive but you have not offered any alternatives ... ) At least that way you will look more fair by giving them a chance to drop abuse and answer with counter-claims.

      Just for the record, I also have commented I found certain burdens or definitions to be abusive but usually, unless the other team offers an alternative, I will note abuse on the ballot but it is almost never a voting issue unless I see it as breaking an NFL rule or somehow an ad-hominem attack.


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