Courting controversy: Q&A with skeptic Christopher Monckton

December 14, 2009 at 12:15pm
(N.B. This post has been edited to reflect further comments received from scientists)

It caused us, and you, some problems _ but after a furor last week in which he purportedly likened young climate activists to the "Hitler Youth," we asked Christopher Monckton to answer your questions in a Twitter Q&A, expecting you'd press him on his fringe views and denial of mainstream climate science.

Some of you said we were wrong, that we were giving Monckton a platform he didn't deserve and that inviting him to answer questions on climate change was like asking "the Flat Earth Society for comment" on an aircraft circumnavigating the globe.

But, you sent us more questions than for any of our Q&A's last week with esteemed scientists, a Nobel prize winner or a polar explorer _ and we put them to Monckton. It's for you to form a view on what his replies say about Monckton, his credibility and his views.
Christopher Monckton in November 2007. (AP Photo/Jennifer Graylock) © 2010 APChristopher Monckton in November 2007. (AP Photo/Jennifer Graylock) © 2010 AP
Monckton told us he was attending the climate change talks in Copenhagen to "learn from scientists who understand the complexities of the atmosphere." However, his views clash with those of the vast majority of climate scientists, including those who contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Monckton also claimed he hoped to persuade delegates not "to take hasty decisions" that he alleged could "shut down Western economies."

_ Via Twitter @brianmartine and @foe_us asked Monckton if he actually regards climate activists as "like Hitler youth," referring to comments made in a clash with young activists who interrupted an event he attended in Copenhagen last week caught on video here.

Monckton denied using the words and said: "It was not I who called them Hitler Youth. It was three Germans and a Dane in the audience." In the Q&A, Monckton then proceeded to compare the climate activists to Adolf Hitler's fascist army, saying the activists were attempting to stifle free speech, using tactics "last seen here when the Nazis occupied Denmark." Videos posted on YouTube appear to contradict Monckton's assertion he never described young activists as "Hitler Youth" (Video 1, Video 2).

_ Twitter follower @JeffM2001 asked whether Monckton had received any feedback on the comments that he made, particularly from Americans for Prosperity, a group that hosted the event involved. Monckton said he, and Americans for Prosperity, were considering reporting activists who disrupted the meeting to the police.

Monckton also claimed climate activists are "professional, paid troublemakers accompanied by their own mentors, media spin doctors," but offered no evidence to support his claim.

FACT CHECK: After the Q&A, Americans for Prosperity said they had not involved, and had no plans to involve, the police.

_ Via The Climate Pool Jebb Cobb asked why, when industrialized nations agree with the IPCC's conclusion that man-made climate change is "unequivocal," Monckton could argue the science is wrong. Monckton claimed that the IPCCC's 2007's Fourth Assessment Report was now "simply out of date," that "the science has moved on, and the scare is over."

He said "outgoing radiation from the Earth's surface that is supposed to be trapped" and causing warming "has been measured," claiming this opinion is supported by heat measurements done by Richard Lindzen of MIT & Young-San Choi.

FACT CHECK: Lindzen told us after the Q&A that his paper appeared last August in Geophysical Research Letters and said Monckton's summary of his work was correct. However, the study has been challenged by other scientists, including Roy W. Spencer, principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, who wrote: "I predict that Lindzen and Choi will eventually be challenged by other researchers who will do their own analysis ... and then publish conclusions that are quite divergent from the authors' conclusions."

_ Twitter user @KHayhoe asked Monckton: "What if you're wrong?" picking up the argument put forward by some that, whether you believe the mainstream scientific view on man-made warming or not, the world ought to be moving to a low carbon economy regardless. Monckton didn't directly address the question, instead he claimed that _ by using the IPCC's own calculations_ "shutting down global economy for 41 years" to prevent emissions would reduce warming by only 1 degree Celsius.

FACT CHECK: Michael A. Fortune, editor of the Web site Climate Science Forum replied: "CO2 is cumulative, and so is the warming that results, because CO2 lives for such a long time in the atmosphere (about 100 years on average). If this year's CO2 causes a warming of one-fortieth of a degree, then by 2050, the cumulative warming will be much greater than 1 degree; in fact it will be more than 2 degrees, considered by many scientists as "dangerous interference in the climate system" . . . because such a rate of warming has not occurred in more than ten thousand years."

_ @A_Siegel asked Monckton to give 3 examples of when his opinion on climate change had been altered by scientific evidence. Monckton, who claims to have once worked as a British government adviser, told us that he had previously advised ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher "there might be a problem with CO2." "But 3 years ago, when a finance house asked me to advise it on whether there was a problem, I looked at the science again, I found there was no problem," he said.

His view contradicts the overwhelming view of mainstream science, including the IPCC _ which says climate change is "very likely" caused by human activity and rising carbon dioxide emissions. Monckton also referred to a claim by a Prof. Moerner, who he claimed had said the "sea level is falling slightly and that Bangladesh has 70,000 sq. km more land than 30 years ago." He appears to have been referring to Nils-Axel Morner, a retired professor of Paleogeophysics & Geodynamic, and repeated critic of the IPCC, who claims projections about rising sea levels are exaggerated.

FACT CHECK: Neil K. Ganju, an oceanographer at the U.S. Geological Survey working on sediment transport in rivers, estuaries, and coastal seas, said it is unclear where Morner’s observations of decreasing sea-level rise or land generation in Bangladesh are coming from. "It is possible that land generation is from reclamation," Ganju said. "Environmental restrictions in developing nations on such actions are few, so it is an easy way to add land in the short-term (decade or so)." In the longer term there is concern over sea-level rise in Bangladesh for two reason, said Ganju: "trapping of sediment behind dams (Walling, 2006) which decreases sediment input, and land subsidence from groundwater extraction (Milliman et al., 1989). As population in south Asia increases, water demand may effect dam operation and groundwater withdrawal, reducing sediment input and thereby increasing relative sea-level rise.

_ Monckton said he "used to think that ocean acidification might be a problem, till Prof. Ian Plimer told me the ocean's alkalinity was guaranteed and changes in CO2 concentration can't really affect it."

FACT CHECK: A report by a global network of science academies concluded that: "If current trends in CO2 emissions continue, model projections suggest that by mid-century CO2 concentrations will be more than double pre-industrial levels and the oceans will be more acidic than they have been for tens of millions of years. The current rate of change is much more rapid than during any event over the last 65 million years. These changes in ocean chemistry are irreversible for many thousands of years, and the biological consequences could last much longer."

_ @drgrist asked Monckton about his previously published views on HIV/AIDS, asking: "Do you still believe that all AIDS patients should be quarantined & that heterosexual AIDS is a "myth"? Monckton said he had "never believed heterosexual HIV is a myth," but insisted that the correct policy at start of any epidemic is to "isolate all carriers immediately," a position he advocated in the 1980s on HIV/AIDS. Unprompted, Monckton told us he is now "working on what may prove to be a cure for HIV," but provided no further explanation or comment.

Monckton has been publicly criticized in the past for his assertion that global warming is a "scare."

Were we wrong to conduct a Q&A with Monckton? Should we focus only on mainstream opinion, and refuse to engage with those on the fringe? You tell us, by posting your comments below.

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