Viscount Monckton is an embarrassment to global warming sceptics everywhere
by Tom Chivers Last updated: June 4th, 2010
Entertaining news of the week: high-profile global warming sceptic Viscount (Christopher) Monckton has been caught out in an embarrassing example of (if we’re charitable) utter scientific illiteracy, in one of the most magisterial scientific take-downs on record.
Before I start recounting it, in an effort to forestall the off-topic spleen-venting and what-abouttery that will inevitably follow this post: I am not making the case for the overall rightness or wrongness of global warmingscience (although most of you know my position). Nor is it meant to excuse the behaviour of the University of East Anglia scientists in Climategate. Those are separate and worthy discussions but I am not raising them here.
What I want to say is: if I were a climate change sceptic, or denier, or heretic or whatever your epithet of choice is, I would be desperately trying to distance myself from Lord Monckton. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, he is one of the leading lights of the movement.
Lord Monckton is an odd (and, I admit, oddly charming) figure, a bit of a Toad of Toad Hall, entirely convinced of his own genius and completely unfazed when reality fails to agree with him. His utter conviction that he, a classics graduate, has got it right when all those pesky climate scientists have got it wrong is rather endearing. Some of his Walter Mitty outbursts are just funny – see his claim to be a “member of the Upper House of the United Kingdom legislature“, when in fact most hereditary peers haven’t sat in the House of Lords since 1999, and Monckton never has. (The House of Lords’ own verdict: “Christopher Monckton is not and has never been a Member of the House of Lords. There is no such thing as a ‘non-voting’ or ‘honorary’ member.”) But others are more insidious, and now he has been caught out in a bad one. Or, rather, in dozens.
Giving a lecture at a university in Minnesota, Lord Monckton made a series of startling claims – that global warming has been “disproved”, that the Arctic ice is not melting, that projections of sea level rise are a mere 6cm and the oceans are not warming, that mediaeval times were warmer than today, that the Sun has caused what warming there is, that the whole thing is a conspiracy and a fraud. He gave impressive, scientific-sounding references for each of his statements.
Unluckily for him, an audience member – John Abraham, a professor of mechanical engineering who has published 80 papers on global warming-related topics – was sceptical of his claims. So he checked each of the references. Lord Monckton was talking absolute nonsense:
• His claim that the Arctic isn’t melting was supposedly based on research by the International Arctic Research Center [IARC]. Lord Monckton said it showed that the sea ice is “fine, steady for a decade.” It didn’t. The IARC’s chief scientist and director told Prof Abraham that this is not the case.
• His claim that the sea levels will rise just 6cm comes, allegedly, from the IPCC. The IPCC actually said 20-50cm, with a proviso that if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed that figure could rise as high as five to six metres.
• His claim that the oceans are not warming (”no ocean heat buildup for 50 years”) was based on the research of a researcher called Dr Catia Domingues. Dr Domingues said no such thing.
• His claim that medieval times were warmer than today (the wearily familiar “medieval warm period”) was based on the work of nine groups of researchers: Huang et al, Dansgaard and Schonweise, Tyson et al, Kitagawa and Matsumoto, Noon et al, Gupta et al, Wilson et al, Keigwin, and Esper and Schweingruber (see slide 25 in the slideshow). Not one of them made the claims Lord Monckton had said they did.
• His claim that the Sun has caused the 20th century warming and it would end soon was apparently based on a statement by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The president of the IAU told Prof Abraham that they had no such position.
I could go on. There are 115 slides in Prof Abraham’s presentation, which weighs in at 83 minutes and is far too long to do full justice to here (and that is the point – Lord Monckton can fire out dozens of claims of this nature in a short lecture, and it takes real scientists valuable time and effort to rebut them one by one. This is not how science works).
But we should all be aware of this: Lord Monckton is a fantasist, a blethering popinjay useful only for amusement. He can be safely ignored in all serious scientific debate. But it reflects badly on those people who want seriously to argue against the science of climate change that this capering jester is among the public figureheads of their movement. If I were, for example, m’colleagues James Delingpole or Christopher Booker, I would publically wash my hands of Lord Monckton, and soon.
Update: Lord Monckton has phoned up and, in a rather charming fashion, expressed disappointment at the contents of this post. He was very polite about it and made me feel a bit small about the “popinjay” and “jester” comments, and he pointed out that that I hadn’t phoned him for comment.
He says he is going to get in touch with me after he has prepared a response to Prof Abraham, and I have said that I am happy to revisit this topic when he does so. I have, however, refused at least for now to take the blog down, until I have spoken to my editor.
Update 2: I’ve also been told I’m not very good at the correct forms of noble address. After first mention (when he is Viscount Monckton) I have now referred throughout to Lord Monckton as Lord Monckton. Apologies there.
Link: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/to ... verywhere/
Update 3 is that the blog was taken down: Monkton evidently has resources beyond charm to get his way.
Am probably stating the obvious, but i post the above largely to reinforce which side the rich-right-wing are on: like NewsCorp & CanWest, the Telegraph (owned by billionaire Barclay brothers) is a very persistent denier of anthropogenic global warming. They're not bothered about their deniers making sense or having any credentials, to them its just another ad campaign supporting business (profiteering) as usual. What is terrifying is how many are happy to join their caravan of nonsense.
OT: In a piece by Monbiot on same, an RI-ish glimpse at the good old days..
.. Among other claims he maintains that he was the, "Author of a 1200-word article for the Daily Telegraph on the reasons in international law why the Falkland Islands are British, read out on the BBC World Service's Argentinian broadcasts every 20 minutes during the Falklands War."
I phoned the BBC World Service. They do not have an Argentinian service, and have never made specifically "Argentinian broadcasts". There was, however, an entirely separate organisation set up by Thatcher's government to beam propaganda into Argentina during the Falklands war, called Radio Atlantico del Sur. It had nothing to do with the BBC. ..