In attempting to cover for DPF’s embarrassing disaster of a post on climate change, in his comments section some prominent right wingers (most notably John Ansell) pointed to a recent presentation by Lord Monckton. The presentation got a lot of publicity this month, including thinly veiled advertising from Fox News’ Glenn Beck, for arguing that Al Gore, the IPCC, Barack Obama, and pretty much everyone else are conspiratorial and ‘communistic’ liars and frauds on climate change. Bold claims. Ansell wanted to know if anyone on the left had any actual, specific criticism of Lord Monckton’s presentation. Absence of such criticism, Ansell seems to believe, shows up all those convinced by the IPCC on global warming as a bunch of cowards, scared of The Truth as dictated by Monckton.
Over the break, lest anyone comes to actually be fooled by Lord Monckton, is a quick summary of the distortions, lies and other inanities that I found in his video and slide presentation. It is a long post, but I wanted to be as thorough as I could.
(Note: I am not a climate scientist, so I left most of the techie climate science alone – natural science folk: please chime in via the comments. But I do work in the social sciences, which I believe gives me some ability to talk about many other aspects of Monckton’s talk)
1. Monckton’s Big Finish on International Relations in Utterly Laughable.
Here is Monckton’s big, dramatic conclusion about the negotiations around the Treaty of Copenhagen:
“I have read that [draft Copenhagen] treaty. And what it says is this: that a world government is going to be created. The word “government” actually appears as the first of three purposes of the new entity. The second purpose is the transfer of wealth from the countries of the West to third-world countries, in satisfaction of what is called, coyly, “a climate debt” because we’ve been burning CO2 and they haven’t and we’ve been screwing up the climate. We haven’t been screwing up the climate, but that’s the line. And the third purpose of this new entity, this government, is enforcement.
How many of you think that the word “election” or “democracy” or “vote” or “ballot” occurs anywhere in the 200-pages of that treaty? Quite right, it doesn’t appear once. So, at last, the communists who piled out of the Berlin Wall and into the environmental movement, and took over Greenpeace so that my friends who funded it left within a year, because they captured it now the apotheosis as at hand. They are about to impose a communist world government on the world. You have a president who has very strong sympathies with that point of view. He’s going to sign. He’ll sign anything. He’s a Nobel Peace Prize laureate; of course he’ll sign it.
And the trouble is this; if that treaty is signed, your Constitution says that it takes precedence over your Constitution, and you can’t resile from that treaty unless you get agreement from all the other state’s parties and because you’ll be the biggest paying country, they’re not going to let you out.”
There are so many obvious errors here it is hard to fathom how even Monckton believes it. Specifically:
- There is no draft Treaty of Copenhagen;
- The closest you can get to a draft treaty (the “Reordering and consolidation of text in the revised negotiating text“) is so riddled with multiple options, bracketed portions, and so on, that nobody can discern from it what the member states may eventually agree to, if anything;
- Section 38 of this document that Monckton references does indeed mention ‘government,’ but only in relation to the agreed aims of this treaty. There is no proposal for ‘world government’ in the normal use of the term, only for any body charged with implementing parts of the Treaty on behalf of the member States. Certainly there are no references to any principles associated with communism;
- Suggesting that President Obama has any sympathy with Communism is plainly silly (unless Monckton is also willing to declare his former boss Mrs Thatcher a communist for having a progressive income tax);
- The US Constitution does not, anywhere, say that Treaties supersede the Constitution. In fact, US practice has been the precise opposite,
- The US can unilaterally pull out of any treaty it likes, whenever it likes.
These and other errors are why politifact.com invented a new category of lie, ‘britches on fire’, to describe just how profoundly silly this warning is. The fact that some right wingers, including the influential Mr Ansell, take this warning at all seriously betrays a complete lack of critical thinking on their part.
2. Worst. Economist. Ever.
The 81st (!) slide in Monckton’s presentation was sold in the discussion as ‘the end of the debate on the economics [of] climate change.’ Another bold claim. It purports to show that addressing climate change is uneconomic because it would cost $250 trillion (2009 dollars) to address a 3.4 degree increase in mean global temperature by 2100.
This analysis is garbage because:
- To decide whether a course of action is economically wise, you also need to consider the costs of **not** engaging in it, in this case the costs of not addressing a 3.4 degree temperature rise. Monckton does not even attempt that. This is the biggest economic flaw here he does a cost-benefit analysis on action to address climate change without even finding out the benefits! He is like the person who says: ‘this medicine is very expensive, and therefore you should not take it.’ Fool.
- The $250 trillion figure is the cost over the next 1,360 years. 1,360! All of a sudden the annual cost does not look so mountainous (by the by, Monckton gets upset with people who try to predict something as complex as global temperature over the next 91 years, but seems happy enough to predict something as complex as human response to the global temperature over a timeframe 15 times as long);
- The $250 trillion figure assumes that the Waxman Markey Climate Bill in the US is the only way the world will address climate change for the next 1,360 years, or alternatively that all efforts to address climate change cost the same around the world, and that there will be no relevant technological progress or economies of scale over the next 1,360 years. All of those assumptions are, of course, entirely silly.
3. Scientific Method: FAIL
Late in the presentation, Monckton says that by arguing that there are data inconsistent with the IPCC predictions, he has shown ‘there is no climate problem.’ Now I will admit that some of the evidence he raises in opposition to the IPCC’s specific predictions is interesting and, on the generous assumption that he presented it accurately, is worthy of further study.
Even if we were to believe all of his evidence wholesale, however, his conclusion is still a massive scientific overstatement because:
- Nobody in science can ever claim to conclusively prove anything, let alone the absence of something;
- If you find simple evidence inconsistent with position A, it does not automatically follow that the position [not A] is true. By that logic, the claim that ‘lower taxes cause higher growth’ would have been entirely overturned by the New Zealand experience early this decade, when tax rates went up and so did growth. We could then, by Monckton’s logic, have claimed to have conclusively proved that there is no relationship between tax rates and growth. That would be a massive overstatement, just like Monckton’s claims.
4. Distortions of Climate Science
Even as a non-expert in climate science, some of Monckton’s distortions of the evidence and of the IPCC reports are obvious:
- The biggest hit Monckton claims is that the world has been cooling since 2002. This true in as far as it goes. But Monckton commits the same logical fallacy he criticizes others for, namely picking the most advantageous starting date for his analysis. More importantly, however, he utterly misrepresents the IPCC predictions of global temperatures over the 2002-2009 period. He presents the IPCC prediction as a linear increase when it is not. And he massively understates the IPCC’s uncertainty over their predictions. According to Monckton, the IPCC claimed to predict the 2003 global average temperature with a margin for error of only plus or minus 0.02 degrees Celsius. Of course the IPCC claimed no such thing. Here are two graphs showing first Monckton’s claim of the IPCC predictions, then the predictions themselves. The graphs are from the good people at realclimate.org, who also show Monckton getting the IPCC’s projections of CO2 levels also shockingly wrong.First Monckton
Then the truth
- Monckton makes a big deal of the fact that not one of the 500 or so papers on climate change provided any evidence of the catastrophic scenarios touted by people such as Al Gore. This lack of evidence might be because said catastrophes are predicted to happen in the future, and evidence of the future is impossible to collect, to scientific standards of ‘evidence,’ in the present. So that ‘scientific’ point was nothing more than linguistic sophistry.
- Monckton also makes a big deal of the fact that the predicted anthropogenic change in CO2 levels accounts for only 1/2000th of the atmosphere, and in his discussion mocks as prima facie ridiculous the claim that 1/2000th of the atmosphere can be responsible for 1/6th of the total greenhouse effect of the atmosphere. The problem with Monckton’s argument here is that not all 2000ths of the atmosphere are created equal, just as not all fractions of, say, the human body are created equal. To illustrate: the median lethal dose of bee venom is about 3mg per kg of bodyweight. That is, by weight, one part in 300,000. Going from no bee venom in the body to 1/300,000th bee venom will likely kill you. One tiny 300,000th of the body changes the body from being 100% alive to 100% dead. Other similar examples abound.
- His discussion of the Medieval Warm Period suggests that the IPCC simply ignore it in the hope it will disappear, when in fact they discuss it openly and address it with evidence in Chapter 6 of their latest (2007) report. Oops.
5. A Delusional, Pompous Fool.
Quite apart from this (undoubtedly incomplete) list of substantive errors, Lord Monckton further undermines his own credibility as a serious commentator by:
- Claiming to be a climate scientist when he is not (nine of his publications on the topic come from his own think tank, while the tenth is from the letters section of a journal. He does not have a peer-reviewed publication in any scientific journal on any topic, let alone on climate science);
- Claiming to be a scientist when he is not (see above. Monckton’s only qualifications are in classics hence all the pretentious Latin in his presentation and journalism);
- Claiming to be a Nobel Laureate when he is not (Crazy, eh! Monckton says he ‘deserves’ a Nobel Prize because he wrote a letter pointing out a decimal point typo in one table of one IPCC report, making him a ‘contributor to the IPCC’, which won a Nobel Prize in 2007. The IPCC, however, does not list him as a contributor, and his ‘Nobel Prize Pin’ was made for him by a friend in New York rather than by anybody in Scandinavia. Hmmm )
- Claiming to be a member of the House of Lords, on multiple occasions, when he is not. (He has **run** for the House of Lords twice, but he lost both times. Perhaps he did not notice those losses?!)
- Making ridiculous claims on other topics, such as that a ban of DDT was singlehandedly responsible for all malaria deaths in the last few decades, or that the best way to have solved the AIDS crisis was to imprison all AIDS sufferers until they died.
I hope this list of shortcomings, both substantive and personal, causes at least some on the right (I’m looking at you, John Ansell) to re-evaluate their rush to buy whatever Lord Monckton is selling.
I will give Monckton this, though. His knack for theatre and deception have given him far more attention than the intellectual weight of his argument warrants. For that I congratulate you, Lord Monckton.