There's an old saying in politics – that explaining is losing. Which is why it's best to have nothing to do with Viscount Monckton's search for publicity

It's fair to say that "Lord"/"Viscount"/"Grand Wazoo" Monckton is a somewhat polarising figure. Google "Monckton lies" and you'll get some flavour of why that might be. At the moment, he's over here in New Zealand seeking a platform for his "skeptical" (read, "denialist") views on human-induced climate change.

Problem is, he hasn't been able to find one, because no-one on the "pro" human-induced climate change side of the issue will come out to play with him. In the words of Jim Salinger,

"I'm perfectly happy to discuss the science with someone who fully engages in the science and who is a scientist. But when you have someone who cherry-picks and changes the subject, it's pointless."

Over at Kiwiblog, David Farrar (whilst hastening to note that he thinks the science behind human-induced climate change is sound) bemoans this refusal on the grounds that:

You win people over by debating. If Monckton uses cherry picked facts, then you point that out. Why should anyone listen to people unwilling to debate?

I think he's wrong about this, and that the refusal to engage with Monckton is the right move to make. But by way of background, it seems to me that there's two separate questions here:

  1. Is human-induced climate change occurring and what are/will be its effects on the world's climate? That's a valid question that, while there's a large measure of consensus amongst the relevant expert community, is not fully resolved (especially the latter issue - hence the ongoing uncertainty regarding things like sea level rises, etc). However, it's a question that can only be resolved by the relevant expert community applying the tools of their discipline - which is then presented in the form of peer-reviewed research. While that research then needs to be broadly accepted in political circles (and thus, in a democracy, by the public) in order to be transmitted into policy action, the "selling" of it is a quite separate issue to whether or not it is true ... which leads to:
  2. In terms of informing the general public about the state of the research on question 1, should persons with expertise in climate science enter into public debates with Monckton? Is this likely to be an efficacious way of spreading the word about the present state of knowledge amongst the relevant expert community to an audience? Are Monckton's views on the matter sufficiently informed by a robust research platform that his counter-views pose a genuine challenge to the consensus position? Is Monckton engaged in a good-faith effort to find the best possible approximation to underlying empirical reality, or is there good reason to suspect he has other intentions in proposing the debate?

It seems to me that the mistake David Farrar makes is to elide the relevant expert community's answer to (2) with that to (1), and to somehow portray the refusal to debate Monckton as part of a false effort to pretend that the issue of human-induced climate change is "resolved". Or, at the least, to suggest that just because there remains a measure of confusion in the public's mind over the issue, the best way to combat that confusion is to accept all and every invitation to discuss the matter, irrespective of its source. I think this is wrong,

First of all, just because the public is confused or uncertain over some scientific issue is not in itself a reason to treat everyone who proclaims a view on that issue with equal respect. As Danyl McLachlin puts it:

"the belief that Earth is visited by aliens is also widespread amongst the general public – that doesn’t make it incumbent upon the Minister of Science to debate every visiting crank claiming they’ve been abducted and probed."

Second, the substance of any debate may be less important than the fact that the debate is seen to be happening at all. In this respect, I can't really see any difference between Monckton and his ilk and those "creation scientists" who claim that the refusal of evolutionary scientists to debate with them somehow is proof that the basis for the theory of evolution is weak or unsound. Richard Dawkins has pretty convincingly refuted that position:

"Winning is not what the creationists [read: Lord Monckton] realistically aspire to. For them, it is sufficient that the debate happens at all. They need the publicity. We don't. To the gullible public which is their natural constituency, it is enough that their man is seen sharing a platform with a real scientist."

So, good on those who treated Monckton and his views with the lack of respect they deserved. By all means, let's debate human-induced climate change and its foreseeable consequences - but let's do it with the seriousness and the care that it deserves, rather than treat it like a vehicle on which a clown can ride into town, peform a few verbal tricks and then ride off with a nice big appearance fee.

Oh ... one last thing. Seeing as we're discussing the merits of open and public debates on matters of great social importance, perhaps David Farrar could use any small influence his blog may have in National Party circles to help out the good people of Hampden with this little problem:

"Time is running out for a team from the National Party to front up to a debate in Hampden in September to argue in favour of asset sales.

Hampden Community Energy, which organises the popular annual debate, has been trying since early this year to get the Government to enter a team, even writing in May to Prime Minister John Key, who declined the invitation and suggested an approach to individual MPs.

Debate organiser Dugald MacTavish yesterday said Hampden Community Energy took that advice and sent individual invitations to the 40 National MPs most likely to accept, asking for a response by the end of this month.

As of late this week, about half had declined, most of the others sending acknowledgments of receipt of the invitation."

After all, as a great man once said, why should anyone listen to people unwilling to debate?

Comments (18)

by Wiseacre on August 04, 2011

Why should anyone listen to people unwilling to debate?

Such as John Key?

by Rab McDowell on August 04, 2011
Rab McDowell

That’s all well and good. How then did you regard the visit of Dr Jim Hansen last month?

He was one of the first scientists to raise the alarm about global warming when he addressed the US congress in 1988. However, rather than relying on the strength of his science, he stage managed his address by choosing the hottest day in June to address Congress then turned off the air conditioning the night before so that congressmen would be sweltering under the heat of the TV lights when he put his message across.

In 1989 he predicted that, within 40 years, a rising sea level would cause the Hudson River to flood the West Side highway in New York. That would require a rise of more than 3 metres. Twenty two years later changes in the river level are almost undetectable and there has been no significant warming for 10 years. Despite this, he has said he wouldn’t change anything that he said then.

Is his science any more credible than Monckton’s?

Perhaps all this is why a Rasmussen poll, released today,  in the United States has found that 69% of American adults believe that it’s at least somewhat likely that some global warming scientists have falsified research data in order to support their own theories and beliefs. This number is up 10 points on a similar survey in December 2009

by Andrew Geddis on August 04, 2011
Andrew Geddis

Sounds to me like Hansen is a bit of a showman who is not above a measure of rhetorical overkill/unwarranted enthusiasm in some of his claims. In other words, he is a human being who shares many of the foibles and shortcomings that bedevil us all.

However, with regards the question "Is his science any more credible than Monckton’s?", I'd say "yes".

With regards the US public's view on scientific credibility, I'm not sure what you want us to take from the figure you cite. Insofar as it means people don't trust what scientists are saying on the issue of human induced climate change, then that's a problem for mobilising widespread action to combat the issue. But then again, the public doesn't really trust anyone any more ... so perhaps it's no surprise scientists are thought to be crooks, too.

But if you take it to mean that people are seeing through scientists claims to "what is really going on", then no. After all, the same poll finds "57% of respondants believe there is significant disagreement within the scientific community on global warming, up five points from late 2009." Given that this is flat out, demonstrably false - there is no way you with a straight face claim the remaining disagreement over human induced climate change amongst scientists is "significant" - it shows that the public really don't follow such issues very closely, and so take their lead from vague memories of what they may have seen in the papers/on TV/saw in a blog. Which is precisely why Monckton wants to keep debating - if the public see "there's still an argument about all this climate change stuff", then they'll remain more doubting on the issue for longer. And so Monckton wins.

by barry on August 04, 2011

It would help your credibility Robert if you checked your sources before questioning that of others.

According to the instrumental temperature record, the last decade has been significantly hotter than any decade before it.  see e.g.

Can you find a source for the quote about the level of the Hudson that isn't at least 2nd hand?  A public speech or a newspaper article perhaps?

by Rab McDowell on August 04, 2011
Rab McDowell

Monkton is a bit of a showman who is not above a measure of rhetorical overkill/unwarranted enthusiasm in some of his claims. In other words, he is a human being who shares many of the foibles and shortcomings that bedevil us.

Sorry, couldn’t resist that. However, I would agree with you that Hansen’s science is more credible than Monckton’s.
I am not so sure it is more credible than, say, Steven McIntyre or Roy Spencer, both of whom are sceptics rather then deniers and neither , as far as I am aware, have made such outrageously exaggerated claims as Hansen’s three metre sea level rise.  Both of them though have brought a considerably greater discipline of statistical analysis to their work than many of the scientists supporting AGW such as Hansen and Mann.

What to make of the survey? That the number doubting the scientists has gone up by 10% in less than 2 years shows that, like it or not, Monkton is winning. And many of the scientists in the climategate emails have made it easier for him to win.
That will infuriate anyone who believes the science is “settled” and that the Monktons should be silenced for the good of the world.

The fact is, though, that if AGW is occurring the solution will  be political and politicians will not act without voter support. And that is disappearing fast.

Back in 1997, countries responsible for 55% of the world’s greenhouse emissions supported Kyoto. With Russia, Canada and Japan and others pulling out it is now down to 20%.

To work, a global treaty on greenhouse gasses requires

indisputable evidence that catastrophic climate change is occurring,

the treaty will have to have mechanisms that will prevent catastrophic climate change happening,

it will also have to be agreed to and complied with by all or nearly all of the world’s countries and

those proposing its adoption will have to show that there are no other more effective ways of achieving the ends.

None of these conditions have yet been met. Most of them will be impossible to meet.

You want Monkton to be ignored so that the science and scientists are not distracted. The science is the easy bit. You don’t even have to be a pessimist to realise the rest of it is not going to come together.  We would be far better off to do as Lomborg suggest and mitigate the effects rather than try to stop the tide like Canute.

Will that mean the end of the world as we know it. Possibly, but all we can do is hang on for the ride.

by Rab McDowell on August 05, 2011
Rab McDowell


Phil Jones of the East Anglia CRU,  yes, he of climategate and the IPCC, told BBC news last year that he conceded that there had been no statistically significant change in climate temperatures post 1995. More recently he has said that, with a further years data, he now believes that warming has breached statistical thresholds. There is debate amongst statisticians whether Jones has his statistics correct.

The Hansen Hudson river claim was made in an interview with Bob Reiss of “Salon”. Reiss was later embarrassed to admit that, while his report of the three metre rise was correct he subsequently reported the prediction to apply in 20 years, not the 40 years his notes of the interview recorded. Both Hansen and Reiss have acknowledged this mistake in timing without disputing the degree of rise.

by Rab McDowell on August 05, 2011
Rab McDowell


I am sorry, I negelected to include the references you asked for.The first is from Salon, the second is from Hansen's own webpage.

by barry on August 05, 2011



So your source that there is no significant warming actually says that there has been significant warming.

So the source of the quote was notes taken from an interview in 1988 or 1989 which was not published until recently and misquoted at that.  I think you are scraping the bottom of the barrel to use this to question Hansen's credibility.

I think I should take note of the title of this article and retire from the discussion.

by Andrew Geddis on August 05, 2011
Andrew Geddis


The question isn't about Monckton/Hansen/etc's underlying personalities - it is the basis from which they speak on this issue. Hansen's (along with the vast majority of people who work in this area) basis in climate science is stronger, so he (and his colleagues) has more call to be listened to. Doesn't mean everything he says will be correct on every detail, but there's a far higher chance it will be (which is, after all, the only thing that we have - relative probabilities).

With regards the role of skepticism, there seem to be a number of flavours that folks move between:

(1) That the explanatory theory for human induced climate change is wrong - the rise in greenhouse gases won't affect the climate.

(2) That the evidence for human induced climate change is not present - the climate is not actually changing.

(3) That the models predicting future climate change are flawed - things won't get as bad as they say.

(4) That there is nothing we can do about it - the public/international commitment to the issue isn't there.

For what it is worth, my view on this is:

(1) People who argue this don't get physics.

(2) Given the short data set that we are working from, the evidence is there (and is continuing to mount).

(3) The maths involved in the modelling is beyond my ken, and I suspect it deals with such a highly complex, multi-faceted subject that any model is likely to be flawed to some extent and require constant refinement. But I'd rather act on those models' predictions and find they were wrong than ignore them and find they were right.

(4) This is a counsel of despair. Humans are remarkably resiliant and adaptable animals, and looking just at failures ignores all the steps that are being taken on this issue. Witness, for example, China's move to clean tech, or UK retailers' move to measure and limit the carbon impact of their activities. Enough in itself? Maybe not - but also evidence that this issue isn't being rejected ... and that as and when it impacts on people more and more, the push factors for action will only increase.

by Rab McDowell on August 06, 2011
Rab McDowell

I am not going to debate with Barry. Godwin’s law has inevitability about it.

It always amazes/ amuses me how quickly supporters of AGW resort to ad hominem attacks. Barry thinks I am a fool. Andrew thinks Christopher Monckton is a fool.  Monckton has obvious intelligence. It may be that Andrew and many others think that his intelligence is misguided or misdirected but his intelligence and intellect shows through as being well above average.

There is a great deal of support and evidence for AGW. The great majority of scientists in the field support it. It is undeniable though that, despite this evidence, the campaign to convince the world to adopt an encompassing treaty to prevent it is not being won. Worse, for those convinced about the conclusiveness of the evidence, it is losing ground.

Rasmussen shows the American public support is declining. This appears to be mirrored in much of the world. Political support is declining. The Kyoto agreement pledges expire next year. Russia, France, Japan and Canada have confirmed they will not join a new Kyoto agreement.

Yvo de Boer, the Dutchman who was head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat and who was in charge of the Copenhagen conference, has accepted this reality. He resigned last year and took a job with KPMG. He says the Kyoto Protocol is dead and there is no political will to resuscitate it.

So what do we do next? The response so far, for those who believe AGW is a catastrophic threat, has been to become more ardent. This has been received by the public as more shrill and has, if anything, turned more against them.

My view, given the enormity of the task as outlined in my earlier post, is that Lomborg probably has it right and we need to learn to live with it. The earth has turned out to be remarkably resilient in the past.

For these views Barry is likely to consider me to be a “denier”. That approach has not been working.

So what do we do?

by Andrew Geddis on August 06, 2011
Andrew Geddis


I don't think you know what Godwin's law really involves. Further, my argument hasn't really depended on the personalities involved, but seeing as you seem determined to reduce it to that level, here's why I think Monckton isn't worth debating on this topic. He doesn't argue in good faith, as evidenced here.

That aside, from your comments you appear to be a type 4 skeptic on my typology. Which is, of course, a quite different kettle of fish to Monckton. And surely, as someone who accepts that "There is a great deal of support and evidence for AGW. The great majority of scientists in the field support it", your concern should be to turn your own mind to the "so what should we do?" problem? After all, Lomborg doesn't actually say "live with the problem" - he says "Doing too little is obvious, but let's say it anyway: If you don't do something about global warming, of course it will become a bigger problem. So obviously we need to address it and in the long term fix it."

The Kyoto protocol may not be that answer - what, then, is?

by Rab McDowell on August 06, 2011
Rab McDowell

What is the answer?

Assuming of course that there is a problem. Nice to know I am considered a type 4. Is this anything like being told one has stage 4 cancer, knowing there is no stage 5?

To determine what is the answer I think we first need to agree on what isn’t.

Probably the most important factor in the improvement in mankind’s welfare has been the harnessing and use of energy. Almost all the things that make our lives today so much better than our grandparents such as health, prosperity, technology etc would not have been possible without our increasing use of energy. We know that and the developing countries know that. China, in particular, knows that. It is reported to be building a new coal fired power station every 10 days.

An answer that requires drastic reductions in energy consumption is just not a runner. Prosperous countries are not going to turn their back on energy. They may be more than willing to use it more efficiently but they won’t do without it.
Poor countries desperately want to increase their energy use. That way prosperity, food security, everything they envy of the west lies. Energy demand has sunk Kyoto.

The answer therefore has to allow for greatly increased world energy consumption.

Energy production has to increase but change to more efficient kinds. It has been doing that for centuries anyway. Each shift from wood, to coal to oil has been to a fuel with higher calorific value and a higher ratio of hydrogen to carbon.  

That is where the AGWarmists run slap bang into other environmental disciplines. The next step is gas, with a higher ratio yet. Shale gas reserves are so large that geologists have pretty much given up on putting a number on it and now describe them as vast. China is reckoned to have 4000 years supply at present consumption. These reserves will be tapped. The world will not turn its back on energy. But the battles over fracking have only just started and they are going to get a lot more heated.
The other option is nuclear. Similar story.  Germany is shutting down its nuclear plants. They will have to increase coal fired generation to fill the gap.

So what is the answer? First decide where your energy is to come from.

by Viv Kerr on August 06, 2011
Viv Kerr

Robert. Part of the answer must be greatly reduced world energy consumption, starting with the 'low hanging fruit' eg; large tv screens in supermarkets, air curtains that blast hot air in open doorways, sending perishable fruit & veges on planes around the world............

The earth might have been "remarkably resilient:" in the past, but that's no reason to presume that our current way of life is.

by Frank Macskasy on August 06, 2011
Frank Macskasy

"What is the answer? Assuming of course that there is a problem."


Unless you have definitive data to the contrary, why would you not think there is a problem? Do you honestly think that the scientific community, NASA, et al, all woke up one morning with a cunning plan to play a global joke on us? Really?

When I asked one AGW sceptic on "The Standard" to present scientific data to back up his anti-climate change position, he posted this reply;

"No one can win any science debate without proof, but like I said, this debate is not about science it is political.…"

And there we have it.

This "debate" consists of two factions; those who collect data; assess it; and arrive at a conclusion - and those who are not interested in data whatsever. So they dismiss any and all reference to science.

For climate change sceptics, this IS political. For Sceptics, AGW is a NWO/UN/whatever global conspiracy. And as some of us have learned from debating with 9/11 or Moon Landing "Hoax" proponants - you can't debate with Conspiracy Theorists.

Why? Because CTers have a world-view that is belief-value based. Much like religion. And if you've tried debating Creation-vs-Evolution with a religious zealot, you'll understand what I mean.

Personally, I fully concur with Andrew Geddis; no scientist worth his sodium chloride should be seen within a light-year of Monckton. Any resulting "debate" would descend into a farce.

Robert, if you truly think that AGW is a myth, here is a challenge for you: find a credible science-based website (NOT a conspiracy or anti-AGW political website) and show us what data they have collected that refutes climate change. Or Gliobal Warming. Or AGW. (Sceptics seem to be in different camps on those three areas.)

We'd be interested to see it.



by Rab McDowell on August 06, 2011
Rab McDowell


Kyoto failed because we thought the answer was greatly reduced world energy consumption. It was never going to happen. That 'low hanging fruit' you mention is worth plucking but it is only a token compared to the worlds increasing demand for energy, particularly from those countries who haven't even got to the low hanging fruit stage yet.
Nor are renewables such as wind, hydro or tidal the answer. While they are increasing, their output is dwarfed by the massive increase in demand.
Our way of life has been improving for centuries. Through all that time we worried that that improvement could not continue. It has. That is good reason to be optimistic that, with some ingenuity from man,  it will continue.

by on August 07, 2011

I wonder if you think the same principle outlined in this post's title applies to Goff's refusal to attend an election debate with the minor parties? And whether that was a shrewd move to get on the 'big stage', or a lost opportunity to force Key's hand to turn up based solely on the fear of said principle?

by Ross Calverley on August 14, 2011
Ross Calverley

Andrew, before you make an assesment on someone, please check what they are saying first!

by Andrew Geddis on August 16, 2011
Andrew Geddis


Oh - but I have! See here. And here. And here.

Quite enough for me, thanks.

Post new comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.