Last night Radio New Zealand’s Nights programme — a show with a long-standing commitment to excellent coverage of science and scientists — for some strange reason decided to broadcast an interview with Christopher, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley. Quite why they bothered to give him a platform remains to be seen, but as you might expect, the discount Viscount gave a peerless performance — a veritable Gish gallop of untruths, misdirections, and straightforward misrepresentations of climate science and economics. At various points you could hear presenter Bryan Crump struggling with his disbelief at what Monckton was asserting — but Monckton is such a polished performer that he was able to brazen his way through even the most arrant nonsense.
Here’s the RNZ podcast of the interview (which can also be downloaded here):
I’ve gone through the interview with a fine tooth comb (so you don’t have to), and some of the more egregious errors, misdirections and deceptions are outlined below.
- Monckton claims that the 1995 IPCC report was rewritten by one man. It wasn’t.
- Monckton describes Mann’s 1998 hockey stick paper as “the most discredited result in the history of science”. In fact it was a seminal paper — the foundation for an explosion of paleoclimate studies, most of which directly confirm Mann’s original findings.
- Monckton states:
“Now that I am an expert reviewer I have a bit more clout than I did before – you can only become an expert reviewer if you have a reasonable publication record in the reviewed literature which I now do”.
Monckton has published no peer-reviewed papers in any credible journal.
- Monckton states:
“The only change to the atmospheric constituents which is at all long-lasting, and even then not as long lasting as the UN climate panel pretends, is that if you’re putting large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere then they will hang around – [indistinct] – the literature says typically around 7 years on average”.
Monckton is confusing — either deliberately or because he doesn’t understand what he’s talking about — the residence time for a single molecule of CO2 in the atmosphere (which is actually about 5 years) with the persistence of CO2 levels in the atmosphere, which is much longer — measured in hundreds of years. There’s a good explanation here.
- Monckton states: “I’m saying there a dozen climate scientists who have arguably committed criminal fraud.” This is utter nonsense. Presenter Bryan Crump expresses disbelief, but doesn’t challenge Monckton to justify his extreme claims.
- Monckton claims that action to mitigate carbon emissions would close down the global economy and drive us all back to mud huts. No credible economist has ever suggested that.
- Monckton states:
“The most dangerous form of electricity per terawatt hour generated turns out to be hydro electric power…”
No, it isn’t. In fact hydro is amongst the safest of generation systems. Coal and oil kill many more people per Terawatt hour. For a good discussion of the relative safety of power generation systems, see here.
- Monckton claims that 70,000 people “more than would have died in a normal winter” died in Britain’s recent cold spell. This is a gross exaggeration. The Daily Telegraph reported on March 24th that “official figures showed that there were more than 4,000 extra deaths in just five weeks as the wintry conditions persisted”.
- Monckton asserts that carbon mitigation costs account for “between 30% and 50%” of UK power prices, and that fossil fuel price increases have had little impact on recent increases. He appears to be making this up: a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report last year estimated that “electricity bills for UK consumers have risen more than 70% since 2005, largely due to increases in the cost of gas and coal feedstock for fossil-fuel generation”. Carbon mitigation policies will however increase UK power prices in the future.
- Monckton on climate feedbacks:
“The feedbacks exist, but neither their magnitude nor even their sign — which way they’re going to work on global temperature — is known by any method of measurement or discernible by any theoretical method either. Two thirds of the global warming posited by the computer models is guesswork, and uneducated guesswork at that.”
More utter nonsense. Monckton is either ignorant of the literature, or deliberately misrepresenting it. The single biggest feedback, that a warmer atmosphere will hold more water vapour is well-understood physics.
- Discussing global temperatures over the last 420,000 years Monckton states:
“If you take the global temperature as inferred from the Vostok ice cores — they take the ratios of two distinct isotopes of oxygen in air that’s been trapped layer by layer”.
Wrong. Temperatures are inferred from the oxygen isotopes in the water, not the air bubbles.
- Monckton presents the “fact” that global “temperatures have not varied by more than three Celsius or 1% in absolute terms either side of the long run median in all that time [420,00 years]” as evidence that “it’s extremely difficult to change global temperature at all”. Setting aside his idiosyncratic and misleading presentation of the temperature changes over the last few ice age cycles, in order to downplay the role of CO2 in the ice age cycles he has to play up the influence of the Milankovitch cycles, describing them as huge.
“What I’m saying is that if you have very large astronomical changes in the amount of warming we would expect to get here, you’ve got huge changes in the angle at which the sun comes in, huge changes in the distance of the earth from the sun over long periods, huge changes in the precession of the equinoxes, those are the three Milankovitch cycles […] and these cycles ought to have had, if the feedbacks are anything like as large as the UN’s climate panel imagines, ought to have been much greater than they were.”
Unfortunately for Monckton’s thesis, the Milankovitch cycles do not cause “huge” changes in the amount of warming reaching the earth from the sun — in fact climate system feedbacks have to be strong enough to induce the big changes from ice age to interglacial triggered by relatively small changes in solar radiation over parts of the earth’s surface. CO2 plays an important role in that process.
- Monckton continues to badly misrepresent the views of Myles Allen of Oxford University: “he said therefore we’re not going to see more than 2 [degrees] Celsius of warming this century, if that.” Allen, of course, said no such thing.
There’s much more that I could write about Monckton’s interview — his pomposity, verbosity, and frankly racist use of a cod Indian accent at one point [16:58] — but life really is too short. It’s taken me a couple of hours to listen to the interview and prepare this response, which illustrates the problem that Bryan Crump faced in dealing with the potty peer. He was having to interview a skilled orator, one apparently unafraid to make stuff up as he goes along, without being fully prepared either on the details of climate science being discussed or the tactics likely to be used by Monckton. The end result was the programme provided a platform for a propagandist to mislead the listening public.
As a public broadcaster, Radio New Zealand1 has a responsibility to ensure that it reflects a diversity of views, but it has an equal responsibility to ensure that it doesn’t deliberately or inadvertently promote misinformation and lies. By interviewing Monckton, RNZ Nights did the latter, and now faces the unenviable task of cleaning up the potty peer’s mess. A programme with a real commitment to science coverage — one of my personal favourites on the channel — has let itself down in a big way. At a minimum, it should provide equal time for a real scientist to counter Monckton’s misinformation. Bryan Crump should also apologise to his listeners for allowing Monckton to get away with spouting nonsense on his show.
- The local equivalent of BBC Radio Four in the UK, or perhaps NPR in the US. [↩]