Posted by: eengelh | December 7, 2007

A Skeptic on the Side in Bali

monckton-presentation.jpg

Filed by Erika Engelhaupt

This morning as I sat bleary-eyed in the press room, a flyer landed on my desk with the provocative title, “The IPCC’s Scientific Fraud.” The IPCC is the scientific body that informs the UN on climate change, and they were scheduled hours later to present their comprehensive 2007 climate report to be entered into official record for consideration during the Bali negotiations.

The flyer went on to request the pleasure of my company at a briefing by The Viscount Christopher Monckton of Brenchley (photo, above), a British climate skeptic who was involved in the recent court case which attempted to ban Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” from UK schools. Lord Monckton, as he is known formally, vigorously denies that humans are changing the climate.

Curious, I headed to Monckton’s talk to see what he would say at a conference filled with thousands of professionals devoted to stopping climate change. He spoke in a small conference room outside the official meeting venue. A handful of fellow skeptics (some scientists prefer to call them deniers) had gathered with several scientists and journalists.

Monckton introduced himself as a mathematician, saying “I don’t have any special knowledge of climate science, but it has been my job in the past to investigate scientific fraud on the part of Her Majesty’s government.” He went on to charge the IPCC with blatantly moving decimal points and changing numbers to make global climate change appear more alarming. He said the IPCC exaggerated sea level rise by tenfold and the effect of CO2 on global temperature by 20-fold. His rationale for these statements involves details of climate science that are difficult to follow at best, so for now I will provide this copy of his presentation (monckton_cop13.ppt) and refer interested readers to the blog RealClimate.org for more information from climate scientists on sea level rise and climate sensitivity to CO2.

Many of his scientific arguments will be familiar to those who follow climate science closely; for example, he says that Greenland is gaining ice overall and attributes any melting of ice there to natural changes in ocean currents. He also claimed that global temperatures “have remained static for 7 years.” Asked what temperature data sets he examined, he cited the National Climatic Data Center and the Hadley Centre.

richard-betts_blog.jpgRichard Betts, a climate scientist at the Met Office of the Hadley Centre, happened to be in the room (photo, right). Betts was a lead author on the IPCC’s chapter on radiative forcing of CO2 (its warming effect, in essence) and replied to Monckton that he was misusing Hadley’s data. Climate is influenced by both natural variability and by rising greenhouse gases produced by human activity, he said, and the important trend is the long-term rise in global average temperature, not short-scale fluctuations.

I asked Monckton what motivation scientists would have to perpetuate a fraud as he claims they are doing. He replied that he cannot judge their motives, but implied that they may be protecting their careers. I also asked him about his own funding, and he said that he “has no financial stake” in climate change and accepted no money to speak today. He did note, though, that he would normally charge 20,000 pounds sterling to speak and has spoken before for fossil fuel industry groups, which “pay handsomely.”

Monckton said he came to Bali to say that the UN is wasting resources on climate change. “The correct solution to a non-problem is to do nothing about it,” he said.

Betts told me later, “I thought it was important to come [to the talk] because I knew he’d make scandalous statements [about IPCC] and I needed to refute them.” He said Monckton was recycling tactics of “half-truths, old data, and quotes taken out of context” and was relieved to see nothing new for scientists to refute. The IPCC received many criticisms from Monckton during an open review process, Betts said. “We’ve gone through all of them and responded,” he added. “It’s frustrating, because we know we’ve done a very thorough job.”

Back at the conference center, scientists presented the major elements of the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment. Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the UN FCCC, said of the report that it “paves the way for decision making.” He added, “It has a clear message for politicians: first, that climate change is happening.” Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC, finished the session by saying, “There is no key uncertainty that would keep us from moving forward,” and that “the findings are strong enough for us to take actions for the future.”

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Responses

  1. It is unfortunate that skeptics such as this person can get so much press and have so much influence, but this is human nature I think. This guy and Micheal Crichton are rich, famous, and have no background in climate science, yet can successfully sell themselves as legitimate experts to the public.
    Overall, I think we do need to respond continuously to these same, old “arguements” and counter claims. I am glad that Betts was there to do so.
    I wish I could have given you a list of non-science questions for him, such as why does he support banning Al Gore’s movie? What would that accomplish?
    Who were the skeptic scientists present? Do they publish in peer reviewed journals in the field of climate science?

  2. Lord Monckton of Brenchley has annointed himself as a climate expert who knows better than hundreds of scientists who subject their work to the scrutiny of peer review. Unfortunately, there are those here in the U.S. who will pay attention to his “half truths, old data, and quotes taken out of context,” as Betts put it, and conclude that there is nothing to worry about.

    Your blog is a good venue to cover what he has to say. But I’m glad that we’ve moved past the phase in regular coverage of this subject when journalists reporting on climate change were forced by their editors to find the likes of Lord Monckton of Brenchley to add “balance” — false balance, of course — to their stories. In the context of this blog, however, the story gives us a flavor of what’s happening in Bali. And I appreciate it. (So tell us who’s next: A Powerpoint by Rush Limbaugh perhaps? Now that would be REALLY amusing.)

  3. I have reviewed Monckton’s “critique” of the IPCC report. He isn’t simply rehashing old arguments and half truths. He is also creating a new standard of incompetence in straightforward mathmatical analyses that are far worse than other contrarians have done. Simple math mistakes and utter ignorance of the most basic concepts of climatology are added to the more clever tactics of half truths and spinning cherry-picked data. To review his work is to understand immediately why he eschews the peer-review route.

  4. Criticism from the Environmental Scientist is welcome but from a non environmentalist like Lord Monckton,leads us to sheer confusion. Actually the riches not only want to sell their factories products but also they try to encash the green future of their comming generations just to increase their cash balances. Betts rightly said that the conference should ignore it and go ahead. If the people like Mr.Monckton dont really believe environmental change towards worse, he is invited by to the north of Pakistan where the changes in environment occured,never witnessed by the elders to a memorable past. Did he not witness Catrina and Sonamy. Can he assure Bangladeshi not to move out of their southern part by the year2025? The IPCC must continue effectively to save the planet. Regards.

  5. Rose in Comment #1,

    Do you realize that right after you complained about people who “…are rich, famous, and have no background in climate science, yet can successfully sell themselves as legitimate experts to the public.” you mentioned Al Gore and his movie?

  6. Great point John.

    Global Warming believers, which day is hotter?

    Day 1: High 46 degrees, Low 27 degrees.

    Day 2: High 47 degrees, Low 22 degrees.


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