Debate vs. Denniss, Part 2. 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 the New Anthro’s look at the fist 20mins of the debate).

Carbon Pricing Economics

Once Monckton has finished warping climate science in his opening remarks, he moves on to warping climate economics.

“in the London insurance market we have a saying, and that is that ‘if the cost of the premium exceeds the cost of the risk, don’t insure’.  And that brings me to the carbon tax and the mineral resources rent tax.  Now both of these taxes are going to cost more than the cost of letting global warming happen in the first place…andF how much will it cost?  Around AU$127 billion over the next 10 years”.

Here Monckton employs the common “skeptic” trick of focusing on the costs of carbon pricing while completely ignoring the benefits.  Real world examples of carbon pricing have shown that the benefits exceed the costs several times over.  In order to argue that carbon pricing will be costly, tricksters like Monckton, the Heritage Foundation, and the Republican National Committee have to pretend that the funds from the carbon pricing system will disappear into a black hole.  That is not reality, and economic studies consistently predict that the benefits will outweigh the costs several times over.  However, Monckton claims otherwise:

“it is clearly cheaper to do nothing about global warming and to adapt in a focused way to any consequences that are adverse that may occur from any warming that may occur than to spend any money whatsoever now on it.  And that…is the overwhelming consensus in the peer-reviewed economic literature…a majority, in fact a near unanimity among economists show that it is greatly more expensive to try and intervene…than simply to sit back, enjoy the sunshine, and adapt in a focused way, as and if and only when necessary.”

This claim is completely backwards.  There is a consensus among economists with expertise in the climate that we should reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because doing so would benefit the economy.

should US reduce emissions

2009 NYU IPI survey results of economists with climate expertise when asked under what circumstances the USA should reduce its emissions

Abrupt Warming

Monckton proceeds to claim that abrupt climate change simply does not happen:

“Ask the question how in science there could be any chance that the rate of just roughly 1 Celsius per century of warming that has been occurring could suddenly become roughly 5 Celsius per century as it were overnight.  There is no physical basis in science for any such sudden lurch in what has proven to be an immensely stable climate.”

First of all, the central estimates for warming over the next century – depending on the CO2 emissions scenario of course – are in the ballpark of 2 to 4°C.  5°C is possible, but only in the highest emission scenarios.  But more important is Monckton’s claim that the climate is inherently stable.  The paleoclimate record begs to differ.  A stable climate is the exception, not the norm, at least over long timeframes.

ice core data

Moreover, there has never before been a large human influence on the climate, so why should we expect it to behave exactly as it has in the past when only natural effects were at work?

Earth Has Warmed as Expected

Monckton also repeats one of Richard Lindzen’s favorite myths, that Earth hasn’t warmed as much as expected based on the IPCC climate sensitivity:

“if we go back to 1750…using the Central England Temperature record as a proxy for global temperatures…we’ve had 0.9°C of warming in response to an addition of greenhouse gases to atmosphere by us which is almost equivalent to a doubling of CO2 concentration.  That’s going to give you around 1°C of warming per doubling of CO2 concentration. Over the last 60 years we again see 1°C of warming per century.  All of the evidence points to 1°C of warming for a doubling of CO2”

It should go without saying that the temperature record for a single geographic location cannot be an accurate proxy for average global temperature.  We know that over the past century, the average global temperature has warmed approximately 0.8°C, and over this period, the atmospheric CO2 equivalent concentration (including the added greenhouse effect from other greenhouse gases like methane) has almost doubled, as Monckton suggests.

However, human aerosol emissions, which have a cooling effect, have also increased over this period.  And while 3°C is the IPCC best estimate for equilibrium climate sensitivity, the climate system is not yet in equilibrium.  Neglecting these two factors (aerosols and thermal inertia of the global climate), as Monckton and Lindzen have done, will certainly give you an underestimate of equilibrium sensitivity, by a large margin.  This is how Monckton supports his lowball climate sensitivity claim – by neglecting two important climate factors.

As we have previously shown, the warming over the past 60 years is consistent with the IPCC climate sensitivity range, and inconsistent with Lindzen and Monckton’s lowball climate sensitivity claims.  Monckton claims the observational data supports his low sensitivity claims – reality is that observational data contradicts them.

International Action

Monckton proceeds to make false claims about why a few countries pulled out of a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol:

“there is no need to take any action about carbon dioxide at all.  That is why Canada has announced that she is not going to participate in a Kyoto 2, Japan has announced the same, even America has announced the same”

Suggesting that these countries pulled out of Kyoto because they believe no action on carbon emissions must be taken is completely false.  Japan, for example, is fighting for a broader deal to reduce emissions.  The vice minister for global environmental affairs at Japan’s environment ministry argued that extending Kyoto, which excludes two largest emitters (China and the USA), would be “meaningless and inappropriate”.  Japan is trying increase global emissions cuts by including the largest emitters – Monckton’s claim could not be further from the truth.  And although the USA and Canada have not taken serious action to reduce emissions, both governments do agree that action must be taken.  If Monckton were correct and these countries did not believe emissions reductions were necessary, they would not participate in international climate conferences at all.

Runaway Warming

Monckton argued that the IPCC climate sensitivity range is:

“a near impossibility physically speaking, because in any object on which feedbacks operate, if the feedback loop gain is great than somewhere in a range of 0.01 to 0.1, the object becomes terminally unstable, and under conditions which might quite easily occur, the loop gain would reach 1, and the system would blow itself apart.”

However, as we have previously discussed, Monckton’s argument doesn’t apply to the greenhouse gas situation, because the equation behind its feedback is different.  As usual, Monckton oversimplifies the situation, and as a result, arrives at the wrong conclusion.

Carbon Pollution

Speaking of oversimplifying, Monckton finishes out the debate by intertwining two more myths, arguing that CO2 isn’t a pollutant because it’s plant food.

“let us distinguish between pollution – which usually means particulate pollution such as soot – or the emission of carbon dioxide, which on any view, is not a pollutant.  It is plant and tree food.”

However, as Denniss pointed out, CO2 is by definition a pollutant because its emissions are an unintended byproduct of burning fossil fuels, which endanger public health and welfare through their impacts on climate change.  And the ‘CO2 is plant food‘ argument is, once again, a gross oversimplification of the issue.

Lesson Learned – Verbal Debates are a Mistake

For the most part, Monckton came out of this debate looking pretty good for one simple reason – you win a verbal debate not by being right, but by sounding right.  Monckton spent almost the entire debate misrepresenting the scientific (and economic) literature at best, lying at worst.

But in a debate, you don’t lose anything by being dishonest or wrong.  The most your opponent can do is say you’re lying, and then it’s a case of he-said, she-said.  And Monckton is certainly an eloquent and charming speaker who plays to a crowd very well.  Reality, facts, and science aren’t on his side, but in a public debate, that hardly matters.  Thus debating a  “skeptic” like Monckton is doing him a favor.  If Monckton wants to debate climate science, he should do so in the peer-reviewed literature like a real scientist (and no Monckton, the APS newsletter is not peer-reviewed).

Or alternatively, if Monckton challenges you to a debate, follow Barry Bickmore’s advice and offer a written debate where facts can be checked.  Not surprisingly, Monckton declined Dr. Bickmore’s offer.


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