Duelling Lords

Miranda Devine’s Lord is Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley. Mine is Robert May, Baron May of Oxford. Now let it be said that Miranda Devine and I have something in common: neither of us has any authority whatsoever when it comes to the science of climate change. Our opinions, as such, are not worth a rat’s arse.

But what about our respective Lords?

Lord One

Christopher Monckton is the third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley and a former advisor to the policy unit of the British government during the 1980s. He is a climate skeptic and is employed as Chief Policy Adviser for the Science and Public Policy Institute. He has had articles published in The Guardian, and the American Physical Society claiming that global warming is neither man-made nor likely to be catastrophic.

His critics, including The Guardian writer George Monbiot, point out that Monckton has only a "degree in classics and a diploma in journalism and…no further qualifications."

Lord Two

Robert McCredie May, Baron May of Oxford, OM, AC, Kt, FRS (born 8 January 1936, Australia) has been Chief Scientific Adviser to HM Government, President of the Royal Society, and a Professor at Sydney, Princeton, Oxford, and Imperial College London. He is a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford and crossbencher in the House of Lords and an appointed member of the council of the British Science Association.

May was educated at Sydney Boys High School and then the University of Sydney, having studied Chemical Engineering and Theoretical Physics (BSc 1956) and receiving a PhD in Theoretical Physics in 1959…

From 1973 until 1988 he was Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology at Princeton University, serving as Chairman of the University Research Board 1977-88. From 1988 until 1995 he held a Royal Society Research Professorship jointly at Imperial College London and the University of Oxford, where became a Fellow of Merton College and a Master of Arts. He was Chief Scientific Adviser to HM Government and head of the Office of Science and Technology (1995-2000) and President of the Royal Society (2000-5).

In terms of the duel, then, Lord Monckton is a pop-gun to Lord May’s intercontinental ballistic missile. There simply is no comparison.

Some of the arguments floated by people in Monckton’s camp – that those who assert that IPCC conclusions are motivated by commercial interest in that they get funding by toeing the party line – have always reminded me of similar accusations that bedevilled HIV/AIDS research: all those weird HIV deniers (who also were published in Quadrant) from whom South African AIDS policy is only just recovering as Mbeke was taken in by their arguments. Lord Monckton ventured into this area too, but not as an HIV denier; rather he advocated “there is only one way to stop AIDS. That is to screen the entire population regularly and to quarantine all carriers of the disease for life. Every member of the population should be blood-tested every month … all those found to be infected with the virus, even if only as carriers, should be isolated compulsorily, immediately, and permanently.” That was in 1987, and he now thinks it is too late for this, but what a whacko idea in the first place!

But he has a bit of a track record as an eccentric.

The mendacity of the IPCC

The words are Miranda’s.

We have Climategate and we have Himalayan glaciers. Apparently that is all that is needed to show everything the IPCC has ever published or endorsed is wrong.

Actually this is totally daft, but you shouldn’t take the word of one whose views are not worth a rat’s arse, should you?

Instead see:

1. A wholesale climate fraud? Not here The Australian January 16, 2010.

As part of the AP review, summaries of the emails that raised issues from the potential manipulation of data to intensely personal attacks were sent to seven experts in research ethics, climate science and science policy.

"This is normal science politics, but on the extreme end, though still within bounds," says Dan Sarewitz, a science policy professor at Arizona State University. "We talk about science as this pure ideal and the scientific method as if it is something out of a cookbook, but research is a social and human activity full of all the failings of society and humans, and this reality gets totally magnified by the high political stakes here."

In the three weeks after the emails were posted, longtime opponents of mainstream climate science repeatedly quoted excerpts of about a dozen emails. Republican congressmen and former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin called for either independent investigations, a delay in US Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gases or outright boycotts of the Copenhagen international climate talks. They alleged a "culture of corruption" existed.

That is not what AP found. There were signs of trying to present the data as convincingly as possible…

But in the end, global warming didn’t go away.

None of the emails flagged by AP and sent to three climate scientists viewed as moderates in the field changed their view that global warming is man-made and a threat. Nor did it alter their support of the conclusions of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which some of the scientists helped write.

"My overall interpretation of the scientific basis for (man-made) global warming is unaltered by the contents of these emails," says Gabriel Vecchi, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist…

One person singled out for criticism in the emails is Steve McIntyre, who maintains Climate Audit, a blog that focuses on statistical issues with scientists’ attempts to recreate the climate of ancient times.

"We find that the authors are overreaching in the conclusions that they’re trying to draw from the data that they have," he says.

Some emails said McIntyre’s attempts to get original data from scientists are frivolous and meant more for harassment than doing good science. There are allegations that he would distort and misuse data given to him. McIntyre disagrees with how he is portrayed. "Everything that I’ve done in this, I’ve done in good faith," he says. The sceptics started the name-calling, says Mann, who called McIntyre a "bozo", a "fraud" and a "moron" in various emails. "We’re human," Mann says. "We’ve been under attack unfairly by these people who have been attempting to dismiss us as frauds."

2. The IPCC is not infallible (shock!) – Real Climate 19 January 2010

Like all human endeavours, the IPCC is not perfect. Despite the enormous efforts devoted to producing its reports with the multiple levels of peer review, some errors will sneak through. Most of these will be minor and inconsequential, but sometimes they might be more substantive. As many people are aware (and as John Nieslen-Gammon outlined in a post last month and Rick Piltz goes over today), there is a statement in the second volume of the IPCC (WG2), concerning the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are receding that is not correct and not properly referenced.

The statement, in a chapter on climate impacts in Asia, was that the likelihood of the Himalayan glaciers “disappearing by the year 2035″ was “very high” if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate (WG 2, Ch. 10, p493), and was referenced to a World Wildlife Fund 2005 report. Examining the drafts and comments (available here), indicates that the statement was barely commented in the reviews, and that the WWF (2005) reference seems to have been a last minute addition (it does not appear in the First- or Second- Order Drafts). This claim did not make it into the summary for policy makers, nor the overall synthesis report, and so cannot be described as a ‘central claim’ of the IPCC. However, the statement has had some press attention since the report particularly in the Indian press, at least according to Google News, even though it was not familiar to us before last month.

It is therefore obvious that this error should be corrected (via some kind of corrigendum to the WG2 report perhaps), but it is important to realise that this doesn’t mean that Himalayan glaciers are doing just fine. They aren’t, and there may be serious consequences for water resources as the retreat continues. See also this review paper (Ren et al, 2006) on a subset of these glaciers…

I note too that one of the best books for the layperson I know on climate change — Robert Henson, The Rough Guide to Climate Change 2 ed. – is appropriately circumspect about Himalayan glaciers, and that post the fourth IPCC report and long before the latest “revelation”.

For more visit the climate change category on Floating Life. There are 62 posts there.In Homework done is a YouTube of Lord May.

Update 29 January

See a fascinating post I have just discovered: Left, Right and Climate Change.

In the wake of the singularly unproductive COP15 Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, I have been reflecting on the polarisation of views on climate change along political lines. Whether or not human activity is leading to climate change is a question of scientific fact: it is either happening or it is not. So knowing someone’s politics should not help to predict their attitudes towards climate change, and yet it does.

It is not conclusive of course. Most people do believe that climate change is occurring and this includes people of a full range of political views. But, climate change skeptics seem to sit overwhelmingly on the right side of the political spectrum, while those most concerned about the effects of climate change are largely left of centre. Why is this? …


4 thoughts on “Duelling Lords

  1. Thanks for the link to my post…glad you found it interesting!

    Miranda may think that climate change is a beat up but, since she describes Monckton as a “mathematician” I would say her copy of his CV is a beat up too!

  2. Pingback: Duelling lords 2 — duelling videos « Neil's second decade

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