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Lord Monckton: A British Sophist in the U.S. Congress

Sophists: Originally, a sophist was someone wise or clever. With the rise of Democracy in Athens, sophists found it profitable to serve aspiring politicians. For a fee, they would argue on behalf of their patron or provide constructed arguments, or talking points, if the politician wished to appear learned. Expert Sophists claimed that, by skilled argument, they could convince an unwary citizen that black was white.

The Congressional Hearing: Recently, the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming met in Washington to decide what actions Congress should take to ensure our energy dependence and a sustainable environment.. (1) Some of the U.S.’s best scientists in atmospheric science, oceanography, environmental science, climatology, and ecology were called to testify before the committee. They testified that the Earth was indeed warming at an alarming rate, that the cause was primarily CO2 from man’s activity, and that undesirable changes were taking place in the Earth. Those observed changes were melting glaciers and ice caps, rising oceans, acidification of the oceans, invasions of undesirable species, and extinction of species. Their testimony was based on the best scientific evidence and was consistent with a statement on climate change adopted by every major scientific organization in the world. Things looked bad for the fossil fuel industry and those who received large donations from them. Clearly, some sophistry was needed.

Lord Monckton’s Credentials:
The minority party in Congress called as their only witness Lord Monckton from England. His resume says he is a member of the House of Lords, that he was a science adviser to Margaret Thatcher, and that he has a peer reviewed paper on climate sensitivity in the well respected journal of the American Physical Society (APS). He is now the Chief Policy Adviser at the Science and Public Policy Institute. Lord Monckton is extremely qualified to deliver the message he brought. It was as misleading as his resume.

Oops: Strangely, Lord Monckton is not exactly a Lord. He claims to be but, to set the matter straight, the House of Lords has stated that

“Christopher Monckton is not and has never been a Member of the House of Lords.”

And, Lord Monckton is not a scientist. He was more of an economic advisor to Margaret Thatcher. One of his main projects was a policy that contributed to the UK’s version of the recent housing bubble called by some the “Right to Buy” scheme. Lord Monckton has written no “peer reviewed article”. In response to his claim, the APS reaffirmed its position that climate change was occurring and pointed out that Monckton’s article was in a newsletter of the APS Forum that carries the disclaimer that

“This newsletter is not a journal of the APS and it is not peer reviewed.”

The APS further added a disclaimer to the top of Monckton’s article stating:

“Its conclusions are in disagreement with the overwhelming opinion of the world scientific community. The Council of the American Physical Society disagrees with this article’s conclusions.”

Finally, Lord Monckton does actually advise the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI). It is an organization critical of government actions to prevent climate change that has recently morphed from the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, an Institute that had received over $1 million in funding from Exxon/Mobil. Some of the SPPI’s members are scientists with compromised objectivity and who are affiliated with other institutes funded by the American Petroleum Institute, Exxon/Mobil, and interests happy with the inaction in Washington.

The Testimony: Lord Monckton’s testimony was consistent with his credentials and a number of articles have been written debunking his claims. (3) A few inaccuracies are listed below to give the flavor of his testimony, which was clearly sophistry:

Levels of CO2 : For instance, he compares today’s CO2 levels with those from 750 million years ago when they were 300,000ppm and then argues

” Therefore, today’s CO2 concentration, though perhaps the highest in 20 million years, is by no means exceptional or damaging. ” … “It is also known that a doubling of today’s CO2 concentration, projected to occur later this century would increase the yield of some staple crops by up to 40% (lecture by Dr. Leighton Steward).”

The problem is that 750 million years ago was about 745 million years before man and modern plants appeared on the scene. The increase in CO2 concentration from 280 ppm to 380 ppm in the last century will have an unknown effect as the Earth’s plants and animals are adapted to levels less than 300 ppm. The higher CO2 levels and warming climate seem to favor invasive species, such as Kudzu. The Dr. Leighton Steward he refers to has never done any plant research. Dr. Leighton Steward is a director at EOG Resources, an oil and gas company (formerly known as Enron), and he is an honorary director of the American Petroleum Institute.

Ocean Acidification: According to Lord Monckton:

” It has been suggested that the oceans have “acidified” – or, more correctly, become less alkaline – by 0.1 acid-base units in recent decades. However, the fact of a movement towards neutrality in ocean chemistry, if such a movement has occurred, tells us nothing of the cause, which cannot be attributed to increases in CO2 concentration.”

However, the “0.1 acid-base units” he refers to is a pH scale, which is logarithmic. A decrease of 0.1 unit means the oceans are now over 20% more acidic than a century ago and the cause is most certainly CO2. Adding CO2 to soda makes it acidic and CO2 is certainly doing the same to the oceans. If the oceans get much more acidic, the coral, the fisheries, the shellfish, and the oxygen-producing plankton that give life to the oceans are threatened.

Temperature Consensus: Again, according to Lord Monckton

“There is no consensus on how much warming a given increase in CO2 will cause.”

Not exactly. Over 50 years ago, G.N. Plass calculated that doubling the CO2 concentration would bring a 3 to 4°C rise in the Earth’s temperature. (4) There have been a number of more accurate calculations since then but they all are in agreement with the range Plass calculated. Also, those calculations are in general agreement with the rising temperatures we are now observing.

“Just Adapt”: Lord Monckton finally gets to the point he was invited to make

” First, it would be orders of magnitude more cost-effective to adapt to any ‘global warming’ that might occur than to try to prevent it from occurring by trying to tax or regulate emissions of carbon dioxide in any way.”

There we have it. Rather than reasonably addressing climate change, Lord Monckton, and some politicians, wish for us to just “adapt to it”. Not really understanding science, Lord Monckton missed one small thing that might become important to England. As the Earth’s temperature increases, the large amounts of fresh water from the melting ice sheets may cause the Gulf Stream to shut down. Without the heat being brought across the Atlantic by the Gulf Stream, England would plunge to glacial temperatures with average winter temperatures of -25°C. I hope Lord Monckton is still around so he can tell his countrymen to “just adapt”.

(2) Much of Lord Monckton’s background can be found on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Monckton,_3rd_Viscount_Monckton_of_Brenchley
(3) See, for instance: http://solveclimate.com/blog/20090327/congressional-hearings-amateurs-invited-confuse-climate-science or http://www.skepticalscience.com/Abraham-shows-Monckton-wrong-on-Arctic-sea-ice.html
(4) Plass, G.N. , “Carbon Dioxide and the Climate.” American Scientist 44: 302-16 (1956), or see the review article at: http://www.aip.org/history/climate/co2.htm#M_25_

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