'The "climate-change" scare is less about saving the planet than, in Jacques Chirac's chilling phrase, "creating world government"...'
November 5, 2006 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Climate change denial gets a sort of semi-mainstream platform in the UK. The author, Christopher Monckton, seems to be a colourful figure. Now that all the major political parties accept that it's time to do something about climate change, is this a last ditch effort by 1980s right wing relics to stave off the inevitable? Or are we going to be hearing a lot more of this kind of stuff, post-Stern Review (previous)?
posted by Mocata (17 comments total)
Hopefully the Telegraph'll be dead soon anyway. To put it in context, getting nonsense into a paper that's lost its way and currently has huge numbers of journalists jumping ship is hardly indicative of anything.
posted by reklaw at 1:23 PM on November 5, 2006

In other news, Catholic magazine The Tablet believes the Pope is infallible. Now here's Bill with the sport.
posted by imperium at 1:36 PM on November 5, 2006

Christopher Monckton is the 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley. He is not a scientist.
posted by Arcaz Ino at 2:00 PM on November 5, 2006

I don't think we'll see much more of it. It's wishful-thinking populism by the right wing, and Christopher Monckton is the upper-class twit version (with Jeremy Clarkson being the tabloid version).
posted by athenian at 2:42 PM on November 5, 2006

I wonder if any of you have actually read it, and his pdf with evidence sources? Hardly as dismissable as these casual responses indicate. If anything it reveals the wishful thinking of the "climate Left"
posted by A189Nut at 4:06 PM on November 5, 2006

Who is this guy? I started to read his "supplementary materials" linked to from the original article, and gave up in frustration after a page or so of completely misrepresenting a piece of the science (the critique of Mann et. al.'s temperature reconstruction by MacIntrye and McKitrick).

They used a computer model to draw the graph from the data, but scientists later found that the model almost always drew hockey-sticks even if they fed in random, electronic "red noise".

Where "scientists" stands for MacIntyre and McKitrick: an economist and a consultant for the mining industry. Neither of which is a crime, mind you, but I read their papers (only one of which made its way into peer review), and the responses to it, and its pretty clear they were way out of their depth.

Of course, the case for CO2 forced, anthropogenic climate change does not rely on one graph or piece of evidence alone. But still, the one part of the story that I'm most familiar, this fella Monckton completely misrepresents.

So... who is this guy? What's his background?
posted by bumpkin at 8:39 PM on November 5, 2006

I'm not sure which I find more disturbing: the growing evidence (this is not isolated, by any means) that even respectable climate-change scientists have been tampering with the evidence; or the unwillingness of some to evven consider the evidence that it may be so.

On the face of it, the possibility that the theory of climate change as an agent of mass destruction carries no more substance than Y2K, powerlines or overpopulation of the planet did should be good news. I can't help thinking its reception as bad news by climate-change laypeople says more about the theory's appeal to eschatologists than it does about its merits.

As someone previously convinced of the possibility of global warming, Michael Crichton's speech, Fear, Complexity, & Environmental Management in the 21st Century, is quite interesting.
"And for that matter, who believes that the complex system of our atmosphere behaves in such a simple and predictable way that if we reduce one component, carbon dioxide, we will therefore reliably reduce temperature? ... We’re like the blonde who returned the scarf because it was too tight. We don’t get it."
posted by RichLyon at 4:25 AM on November 6, 2006

I'd love it if he was right. But I get the feeling that quite a few well-informed people could easily blow his arguments out of the water. Even without being a scientist, you sense sleight-of-hand and special pleading jumping off the page.
posted by Mocata at 6:23 AM on November 6, 2006

you sense sleight-of-hand and special pleading jumping off the page

... making it different from the scientists in what way?
posted by RichLyon at 8:22 AM on November 6, 2006

... making it different from the scientists in what way?

Well, I suppose scientific sleight-of-hand and special pleading would only jump off the page to a scientist, because it would be buried in the methodological small print. (Guessing here - I repeat, I'm not a scientist. And obviously I'm talking about serious research stuff, not popular science journalism or green polemics or whatever.)

Whereas it's obvious even to a lay reader that this Monckton character is leaning heavily on rhetoric: anecdotes ('They thought I was one of them...'), conspiracy theory overtones ('in Jacques Chirac's chilling phrase'), insinuations of quasi-religious fanaticism ('a Bible-length document presenting apocalyptic conclusions'), appeals to authority (all the 'FRS' stuff) and so on.

I'm not saying you don't get similar moves in overheated (so to speak) environmentalist writings. But I've rarely seen manmade-global-warming-is-all-a-myth type arguments made without this kind of rhetoric.
posted by Mocata at 9:13 AM on November 6, 2006

RichLyon, if you find Michael Crichton more credible on the science of climate change than, say, these guys or these guys, then you're using a very loose definition of the word "evidence."

Turf your copy of State of Fear and pick up The Weather Makers or Field Notes from a Catastrophe. Seriously. I don't mean to be condescending, but you've really lost the plot if Crichton's your benchmark for unbiased scholarship on the issue.
posted by gompa at 10:02 AM on November 6, 2006

Bjorn Lomborg (yes him) writes about the Stern report in the WSJ (yes, them).

The sad fact is that none of these people are 'Scientists' in the traditional sense - not servants of the Scientific Method setting themselves up for triumph or despair based on isolation of factors, manipulation and experiment. Rather they are forecasters of various different stripes, a strange mix of economists and climatologists (Geography at A-Level?), bound together by ever more complex computer models and surrounded by the 'Scientific' apparatus of peer-reviewed journals, University departments and funding bodies. What they don't have is a method with any proven track record. On the basis of this they claim that the future will not be like the past. We should be careful.

By way of example, the core process underlying these models, the Carbon Cycle is not understood - fully half of our output of Carbon Dioxide just disappears, we don't know where it goes (maybe?). How anyone imagines we can build an economic argument of such importance on these foundations is beyond me.
posted by grahamwell at 1:36 PM on November 6, 2006

gompa re. if you find Michael Crichton more credible etc.

I distinguish between his opinions on the matter, and the facts and opinions of other experts which he brings to my attention. His identity regarding the former is important. His identity regarding the latter, providing I check the facts and opinions for myself, is surely irrelevant. It's your apparent assumption that I wouldn't recognise an ad hominem fallacy when I saw one that I find slightly condescending!

Examples: The statement "Sea levels have been rising throughout the period of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission" is true, one made routinely by the IPCC, etc., and one which I swallowed for years as the whole truth. So too, apparently, is the statement "Sea levels have been rising at the same rate throughout the Holocene period". You don't need to subscribe to the conspiracy theory that the IPCC suppressed the latter fact to be troubled by their elevation, without warrant, of their observation into a causal factor.

Yet this is only one of a series of critical flaws in data and reasoning which, Crichton observes, are being pointed out by a number of experts (i.e. not him), each of whom are as well qualified as the climate-change experts.

I think that is relevant to a discussion on the merits of the Stern report.

(I've read all those, BTW. I am talking from the position of someone who has recently discovered the shakiness of the foundations of the argument he has taken for granted and stood on for years).
posted by RichLyon at 8:46 PM on November 6, 2006

Rich: I haven't read Stern, but re Crichton here are some takedowns - this (pdf) and this. (Links from here.)
posted by Mocata at 6:37 AM on November 7, 2006

Thanks Mocata. I think the most telling argument that Crichton (and others like him) makes is that (i) environmentalism as a science is largely pursued by those who believe it to be true, (ii) environmentalism is an inherently emotionally charged subject therefore (iii) environmentalism is unusually prone to gross unconscious biases of the kind that double-blind methods seek to mitigate.

I see nothing contentious about that statement. However, while I enjoyed the links, I note that there isn't one that avoids the ad-hominem attacks of the "he's a novelist and we are scientists, nya-ne-nya-ne-nya-nya" variety, and the rich selection of biases they contain. "Fascinating", says one believer, relieved of the discomfort of having his beliefs challenged, "So glad that now I won't have to read Crichton's loopy book." Yet all Crichton is suggesting is for him to double check the work of precisely the person who has just talked him out of doing so!

I smell the (so far, successful) actions of a group who sense danger to their generous sources of funding.

I would be fascinated to read a rebuttal of the Lomborg piece that grahamwell provides.
posted by RichLyon at 4:34 AM on November 12, 2006

Is this because they hired Al Gore?
posted by tehloki at 3:37 AM on November 13, 2006

George Monbiot and RealClimate respond to Monckton.

RichLyon, here's a couple graphs you may want to take a look at. And here's what the Economist has to say about economists' views of the Stern Report:
... Sir Nicholas has tried to assess the future costs of climate change--drought in Africa, floods in Europe, hurricanes in America, rising sea levels around the world--and has set them against the costs of cutting fossil-fuel usage enough to stabilise carbon-dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. His answer to the second part of this calculation is fairly uncontroversial. The costs of switching away from carbon should not be huge because of the rise in fossil-fuel prices and the fall in alternative energy prices. Sir Nicholas reckons that the world could stabilise concentrations at a reasonable level at a cost of 1% of GDP by 2050. Many other economists have looked at the matter, and most agree with Sir Nicholas.

But Sir Nicholas dissents from the general view on the costs of climate change itself. Most economists who have looked at the matter up to now reckon that, if greenhouse-gas emissions continue on their current path, the costs of climate change would be between zero (where the benefits of warming to cold countries balances out the costs) and 3% of global output over the next 100 years. Sir Nicholas thinks they would be a massive 5-20% over the next century or two: in other words, world output could be up to a fifth lower, as a result of climate change, than it otherwise would have been.

He justifies these high numbers on two main grounds. First, he says, the earlier estimates were based on temperature increases of 2-3°C by the end of this century. But the science has moved on. A better understanding of feedback loops in the climate, such as the melting of Arctic ice, which increases the region's tendency to absorb sunlight and therefore reinforces warming, means that, although 2-3°C remains the likeliest increase, scientists now think that warming of 5-6°C is a real possibility. That would be a massive jump: 5°C is the difference between the temperature now and in the last ice age. Second, he points out, most economists have fed only the likeliest climate-change scenario into their models and ignored the outlying possibilities of catastrophe.

Sir Nicholas has received plenty of support from economists (four Nobel prize-winners have endorsed the report) and a certain amount of criticism. One complaint is that he has selected the most pessimistic research and ignored more conservative work. Richard Tol, a professor at Hamburg University and a big noise in this field, describes the report as “alarmist and incompetent”. Another criticism is that figures on the economic costs of climate change are bound to be nonsense because they are based on a cascade of uncertainties. Nobody knows just how much carbon dioxide the world is going to produce in future. Nobody knows just what it will do to the temperature. Nobody knows just how temperature rises will affect the world economy. These numbers are therefore too uncertain to act on.

Sir Nicholas may well err on the gloomy side. And it is certainly impossible to predict precisely what effect climate change will have had on the world economy in a century's time. But neither point invalidates Sir Nicholas's central perception--that governments should act not on the basis of the likeliest outcome from climate change but on the risk of something really catastrophic (such as the melting of Greenland's ice sheet, which would raise sea levels by six to seven metres). Just as people spend a small slice of their incomes on buying insurance on the off-chance that their house might burn down, and nations use a slice of taxpayers' money to pay for standing armies just in case a rival power might try to invade them, so the world should invest a small proportion of its resources in trying to avert the risk of boiling the planet. The costs are not huge. The dangers are.
posted by russilwvong at 3:30 PM on November 14, 2006

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