Debate vs. Denniss, Part 1, By Dana

By Dana, a regular author at Skeptical Science, who kindly agreed for his review of the Monckton and Denniss debate to be reposted New Anthro (originally found here and here’s my look at the fist 20mins of the debate).

On 19 July 2011, Monckton debated Richard Denniss, a prominent Australian economist, author and public policy commentator.

Not being a climate scientist (and knowing Monckton isn’t either), Denniss wisely focused on deferring to the consensus of climate science experts, and the risk management perspective regarding climate change:

“In Australia we have just voted to spend $50 billion (billion with a “B”) to build 12 new submarines to replace the 6 older ones that we haven’t used yet. And no one is quite certain who we need these to protect us from, and no one is sure what day we will need them, and no one is quite certain where we should park them on that day, and if you listen to the Navy we aren’t certain if we’ll have enough crew to staff them. But whenever it comes to making decisions about national defense, whenever the decision comes up about our health, whenever the consequences are catastrophic, what sensible people do is take the conservative path.”

“We have to decide whether we bet the house on the hope that Chris Monckton is correct, or we choose to insure the house on the chance that the scientists are right.”

Nevertheless, Monckton delivered his usual Gish Gallop, repeating a number of long-debunked myths, which we will examine in this post.

Chaotic Climate

Monckton launched his Gish Gallop by arguing that climate cannot be predicted in the long-term because it’s too chaotic:

“because the climate is chaotic…it is not predictable in the long-term…they [the IPCC] say that the climate is a coupled, non-linear, chaotic object, and that therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”

Considering that each IPCC report has developed projections as to how the climate will change in response to various human greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, it’s really quite self-evident that Monckton’s statement here is incorrect.  Climate scientists can predict how future climate will change based on the main climate drivers – primarily CO2.  We’re even running a series of posts examining some of those past climate change predictions, and the IPCC reports will be the next projections evaluated in the series.

“The Royal Society – in a complete re-write of its original disastrously unscientific statement about the climate – now says we do not know how much the planet will warm as a result of our activities.”

In September 2010, the Royal Society issued a Climate Change Guide.  The Guide discusses the various levels of certainty of important climate issues.  Regarding future warming projections, the Guide states (emphasis added):

“Current understanding of the physics (and increasingly the chemistry and biology) of the climate system is represented in a mathematical form in climate models, which are used to simulate past climate and provide projections of possible future climate change….The underlying uncertainties in climate science and the inability to predict precisely the size of future natural climate forcing mechanisms mean that projections must be made which take into account the range of uncertainties across these different areas.”

Thus we find that what the IPCC report and Royal Society Guide actually say is very different than what Monckton claims they say.  But it’s really nothing new for Monckton to misrepresent scientific sources.  In fact, as John Abraham discovered, it’s the norm.

Consensus Confusion

Monckton proceeds to demonstrate his confusion about the causal relationship between science and consensus:

“the idea that you decide any scientific question by mere consensus…”

Let’s just stop Monckton right there.  He suggests that somehow climate science is done by first creating a consensus, when in reality, the consensus exists because the scientific evidence supporting the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory is so strong.  The scientific evidence was gathered and evaluated first, and the consensus formed as a result of that evidence overwhelmingly supporting the AGW theory.  Monckton has cause and effect completely backwards.

Now, many people will suggest deferring to that consensus of scientific experts, because individuals can’t be experts on every subject.  We defer to experts all the time – doctors, mechanics, engineers, etc.  Climate science is a highly technical field, and most people have neither the time nor the scientific background to evaluate the accuracy of the AGW theory by themselves.  For those people, the wise course of action is to defer to the experts, as Denniss suggests.  But the science itself is decided by the evidence, and the consensus follows.

Medieval Warm Period

Monckton proceeds to weave together a couple of myths regarding the Medieval Warm Period (MWP):

“Why does official climate science still pretend the Middle Ages were  not warmer than the present, when the fabricators of the 2001 UN report – preported abolition of the Medieval Warm Period – are now under criminal investigation for defrauding taxpayers by tampering with data and results?”

Monckton has managed to jam 3 myths into one sentence – an impressive Gish Gallop rate.

Mangling History

Monckton then decides to drag us 16 years back in time to a disagreement during the drafting of the IPCC Second Assessment Report.  How this debate is relevant to climate science today, I don’t know, but Monckton manages to mangle the truth once again.

“I wonder why the published version of the 1995 report – written by just one man – stated the exact oppostie of the scientists’ final draft, which had said five times that no human influence on global temperature was either discernible or immediately forseeable.”

The scientists who actually participated in the development of the IPCC report chapter in question tell a very different story than Monckton does here.  Citizen’s Challenge has documented the events, as did the late Stephen Schneider in his excellent book Science as a Contact Sport.

What actually happened is that the scientific literature at the time clearly demonstrated a number of ‘fingerprints’ of human-caused global warming, as Dr. Ben Santer (undoubtedly the “one man” Monckton refers to) showed during his work on the chapter in question.  The Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti delegations – for obvious reasons – claimed this was ‘bad science’, and were joined by a few delegates from other small countries like Kenya.  As a result of the disagreement, a Contact Group was held to negotiate the language that would eventually go into the report.

The Saudis and Kuwaitis did not even send representatives to the Contact Group – they were uninterested in discussing the science.  A Kenyan scientist joined the group, which discussed the scientific evidence, and eventually all parties agreed that a clear human signal could be found in the observational data.  When the Kenyan joined the group calling for this language to be included in the report, the Saudis and Kuwaitis finally dropped their opposition.

It was not a matter of one scientist re-writing the IPCC report.  That’s not how the organization functions; the IPCC report is a consensus document.  As the link above discusses, there are now many clear fingerprints of global warming, so why this argument 16 years ago is relevant to the science today is a mystery.  Regardless, Monckton  has grossly misrepresented reality yet again.

Bizarre Claims

Monckton proceeds to make another bizarre claim about the IPCC reports which we’ve never heard before – that they use “a fraudulent statistical technique” to inflate global warming.  This is the problem with public debates, and why “skeptics” like Monckton enjoy them so much – in a public debate, the participants can say anything they want without needing to provide any supporting evidence.  As long as the claim sounds like it could be true, the audience likely cannot determine the difference between a fact and a lie.  Monckton takes advantage of this advantage yet again when discussing climate sensitivity.

Climate Sensitivity

“Why do we think that we’re going to suddenly get 3.3 Celsius for a doubling of CO2 concentration this century – that’s the IPCC’s central estimate – or 5.1 – which is your [Australia’s] government’s central estimate – when all the science done by measurement and observation rather than by models, suggests just one Celsius degree?”

Where Monckton gets this claim that the Australian government’s central climate sensitivity estimate to doubled CO2 is 5.1°C is a complete mystery.  The Australian government would undoubtedly defer to the IPCC, which determined that equilibrium climate sensitivity is unlikely to be above 4.5°C.  5.1°C is outside the likely range, let alone being anywhere near its central estimate.

Monckton also repeats a myth similar to one that we previously examined in Christy Crock #6 – that most climate sensitivity estimates are based on models, and those few which are based on observations arrive at lower estimates.  The only study which matches Monckton’s description is the immensely-flawed Lindzen and Choi (2009).  [Note – Lindzen and Choi recently published an update to their 2009 study in an obscure journal after two prominent journals (of AGU and PNAS) rejected the paper in its submitted state because it failed to address the substantive criticisms of the 2009 version.]

It’s true that most climate sensitivity research involves some level of modeling, but one exception was Forster et al. (2006), which examined the climate response to recent large volcanic eruptions, and found a central climate sensitivity estimate of 2.3°C to doubled atmospheric CO2.  This study alone completely refutes Monckton’s claim that “all the science done by measurement and observation” suggests a climate sensitivity of 1°C.  Moreover, even the climate sensitivity studies which include modeling also include data obtained through measuement and observation.

Monckton – Specialist at Mangling Climate Sensitivity Calculations

It’s also worth noting that, as a prior Peter Hadfield video found, Monckton at various times has claimed that climate sensitivity to doubled CO2 is anywhere between 0.2 and 1.6°C.  And as the Hadfield video shows, many of Monckton’s low climate sensitivity calculations were based on obvious blatant errors (such as arbitrarily and erroneously dividing the CO2 radiative forcing by three).  Yet twice during the debate, Monckton claimed to be “a specialist in the field of the determination of climate sensitivity”, on which he “lectures at faculty level”.  Of course, as the British House of Lords would tell you, Monckton has a habit of inflating and falsifying his credentials.


4 thoughts on “Debate vs. Denniss, Part 1, By Dana

  1. For the last hour I’ve been searching for, but cannot find, a post someplace on this fine innerwebz thingy that suggests that the Prevaricating Peer has fallen out of favour with the merchants of doubt, including such factlets as:

    he used to feature prominently on the Heritage Foundation’s website, but was removed fairly recently. (Meanwhile, on the Heritage Foundation’s ‘Staff’ page their ‘Search By Name’ function appears to be… curiously non-functional. Coincidence?)
    he used to be regularly invited to speak at the [oh damn I can’t recall the name of the regular denier-funded “climate conference” and I really can’t be arsed to search for it] but, this year, he wasn’t

    Particularly in the light of Professor John Abrahams’ spectacular debunking of his Lordship, perhaps it’s time to stop feeding this particularly troublesome troll?


    1. Heartland? If so, I don’t know why they’d worry about Prof. Abraham’s work on Monckton – the truth has never stood in their way.. Just look at their laughable NIPCC reports! The last of which had a huge chunk which was no more than padding – a ridiculous petition (the same time of people who spit foam of the word “consensus” – go figure)…

      Indeed feeding trolls of any sort really is a waste of energy.. I think leaving them well alone to their little contrarian meetings exposes their view for what it is; ideological in every possible way. That they ignore the evidence to preserve belief and have these sit-ins to boost their beliefs simply turns it into a cult of conspiracy theorists. If the creation debate has done anything it has demonstrated that reason fails to convince such people – leave them to their hopes…


      1. I agree that the cynics backing Heartland (gotta love deniers’ choices of names that appeal to knee-jerkers) aren’t interested in the facts. But they are interested in at least some credibility. I think the point is that Lord Moran no longer has any. Nuff said 🙂


  2. Thanks for the re-post.

    Pedantry, it is indeed the Heartland conference you refer to. Monckton was on his Australian tour at the time, so that may be why he didn’t attend. It does seem to be true that he’s losing sway with many of his fellow denialists, however, particularly with his Nazi comments during the tour in question. Nevertheless, we still feel that his scientific claims are worth refuting.


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