Posted by: Barry Bickmore | July 31, 2010

The Monckton Files: Papa is a Rollin’ Stone

The New York Times reported on a “lively debate” between Lord Monckton and Eric Bates, executive editor of Rolling Stone magazine.  The reporter’s description of the event was about what one would expect from a debate involving His Lordship, and moderated by comedian Tracy Morgan.

“Well, I think we should start with what we know,” Mr. Bates said in an opening statement. “We know that global warming is happening, it’s happening now, not in some distant future, it’s caused by us and it’s worse than we expected.”

Lord Monckton, as would be expected, vociferously disagreed.

“I can quote you statistics on cold as often as he can quote you statistics for hot,” he said. “There is no global warming problem, there isn’t going to be a global warming problem. Sit back and enjoy the sunshine.”

The 30-minute debate was brisk, with questions posed by Mr. Morgan (he compared himself at one point to the actor Denzel Washington, who played a debate coach in “The Great Debaters”) and responses and rebuttals limited to a minute apiece.

Mr. Bates kept largely to the social and economic dimensions of climate change, railing against the political gridlock in Congress that has repeatedly stymied efforts to cap carbon emissions, and citing the well-documented support by polluting industries of efforts to discredit the notion that human actions were warming the planet.

Lord Monckton, on the other hand, started a full-throated assault on mainstream climate change science, citing numerous statistics and research findings to support his firm belief that humanity had nothing to fear from runaway carbon emissions.

That’s classic Monckton–dump a load of statistics and literature citations that are supposed to support his case, but usually turn out to be fabricated or badly misinterpreted.  However, the reporter was apparently wise to Monckton’s M.O., and made a few calls to scientists who are experts in the fields Monckton touched on.

Some scientists questioned the accuracy of several facts and figures, however.

At one point, Lord Monckton belittled concerns that rising temperatures at the poles could harm species like penguins or polar bears.

“There is no risk for the penguins,” he said. “Likewise for the polar bears. There are five times as many of them today as there were in 1940.”

This assertion – that the polar bear population has quintupled in the later half of the 20th century – has no basis in fact, according to veteran bear researchers.

“It’s not at all accurate, and this is one of the things the climate denier groups say over and over again,” said Steven C. Amstrup, senior polar bear scientist at the United States Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center. “There really isn’t any authenticated source for that information.”

Mr. Amstrup took exception, too, with Lord Monckton’s assertion that species across the globe were “perfectly capable” of coping with even extreme temperature rises. “Species are not, not, not at risk,” Lord Monckton said.

“That’s just simply not true,” Mr. Amstrup said, citing the steady decline of polar bear populations in Hudson Bay, linked directly to a sharp retreat of sea ice in the region.

Lord Monckton also delved into the climate record, asserting that climate reconstructions from distant eras proved that the warming being experienced now was hardly unique, and thus no cause for concern.

“It is getting warmer, but it is not warmer than it was in the Middle Ages, or in the Roman period, or in the Minoan warm period, or in the Holocene warm period, 8,500 years ago,” he said.

But Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that knowledge of the world climate during these eras remains sketchy at best.

“There’s no global reconstruction that goes back to the Roman period. There’s no reconstruction that goes back to the Minoan warm period,” Mr. Schmidt said. “These things only exist in the fevered imaginings of the skeptics.”

Is this a sign that the honeymoon is over for Lord Monckton?  Are reporters getting wise to the fact that he is a pathological liar, whose every statement should be rigorously fact-checked, rather than treated as an opinion as valid as any?  I hope so.

I also hope that my new page, Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheet, will help more reporters figure this out.  Stay tuned–I’ll add several nuggets from the Times article to the Rap Sheet as soon as I get the chance.

[UPDATE:  I forgot to mention that I have personally checked Monckton’s sources for saying the global temperature was warmer during various periods in the past, and found that he was almost uniformly using local temperature records and confusing them with global compilations, or making apples/oranges comparisons.  In other words, I have personal knowledge that Gavin Schmidt’s criticism quoted above is dead on.]


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