Monckton Misrepresents Specific Situations (Part 2)
Posted on 23 February 2012 by dana1981, Alex C, Tom Curtis
On 19 July 2011, Monckton debated Richard Denniss, a prominent Australian economist, author and public policy commentator. During that debate, Monckton delivered his usual Gish Gallop, repeating a number of long-debunked myths and misrepresenting climate science research. A few days later, we at Skeptical Science detailed the various Monckton misrepresentations in the debate.
Monckton has recently responded to our comments, defending his debate arguments. However, Monckton's defense amounts to little more than additional misrepresentations. As John Cook recently alluded to, we will proceed to examine the mishmash of Monckton misrepresentations that ensued. In his response, Monckton misrepresented scientists' own work (as we saw in Part 1), specific situations (as we will see here in Part 2), and reality in general (as we will see in Part 3).
Monckton Misrepresents Garnaut and the Australian Government
In the original debate, Monckton claimed that the Australian government's central climate sensitivity estimate is 5.1°C surface warming for doubled CO2, as opposed to the IPCC's central value of 3°C. In his recent response, Monckton again repeated this claim, attributing it to Australian economist Ross Garnaut.
"The estimate is that of Professor Ross Garnaut, the Australian Government’s economic adviser on climate questions. It is on that figure that his economic analysis – accepted by the Australian Government – centres."
If true, this would be problematic, because the Australian government would be over-estimating the climate response to increasing CO2. However, Monckton's claim is flat-out false. Chapter 4 of The Garnaut Review actually states as follows (page 88-89, emphasis added).
"Projections of global mean surface air temperature for the 21st century show the increases continuing for all emissions cases. Figure 4.5 shows the projected temperature increases for the three emissions cases for the best-estimate climate sensitivity of 3ºC, with dashed lines indicating outcomes for climate sensitivities of 1.5ºC and 4.5ºC. Temperatures are projected to be slightly higher between 2020 and 2030 under the 450 case than under the 550 case, as rapid declines in aerosol emissions are associated with reductions in fossil fuel emissions, and the cooling influence decreases.
By the end of the century the global average temperature increase under the no-mitigation case is 5.1ºC, and still increasing at a high rate. The 550 and 450 cases reach 2.0ºC and 1.6ºC respectively, with the temperatures changing only minimally by 2100 in both cases."
In short, contrary to Monckton's misrepresentation of his work, Garnaut (and the Australian government) uses the IPCC climate sensitivity best estimate of 3°C for doubled CO2. The 5.1°C warming figure refers to projected warming in a business-as-usual scenario where CO2 more than doubles.
Monckton Misrepresents the Medieval Warm Period
In both the original debate and recent post, Monckton suggested that the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was warmer than Present. To support this assertion, he first slandered the scientists contributing to the IPCC report, as discussed below. More recently he referenced Craig Idso's website co2science.org, which has compiled regional records which suggest that local temperatures in certain geographic locations may have been hotter than Present at various points in time. Skeptical Science has previously discussed the misrepresentations of the scientific literature at co2science.
A key omission in Monckton's reference to the co2science compilation is that the studies in question find that different regions experienced peak MWP temperatures at different times - it was not a globally synchronous event. Hence compiling certain regional studies which find that some geographic areas were warmer than current temperatures at one point or another over a several-century period does not support the conclusion that the MWP was hotter than today.
As we noted in our original post, every peer-reviewed Northern Hemisphere and global millennial temperature reconstruction study has concluded that current average surface temperatures are hotter than at the peak of the MWP (Figure 2). Even 'skeptic' temperature reconstructions demonstrate that Monckton is wrong and current temperatures are hotter than during the MWP (see the temperature reconstruction by Craig Loehle).
Figure 2: Composite Northern Hemisphere land and land plus ocean temperature reconstructions and estimated 95% confidence intervals. Shown for comparison are published Northern Hemisphere reconstructions (Mann 2008).
Monckton has misrepresented the data by suggesting regional studies represent global temperatures. John Abraham also previously contacted some of the scientists whose work Monckton claims supports a hotter MWP. As we've come to expect, these scientists confirmed that Monckton had misrepresented their research.
Also, more important than the absolute temperature during the MWP and Present is the rate of change, for it is the rate of global warming that concerns us. The rate of warming over the past century substantially exceeds anything we've seen over the past several thousand years.
We would also be remiss not to once again note that large internal variability and a hot MWP suggests that climate sensitivity is high, which contradicts Monckton's own favored low climate sensitivity argument (discussed in Part 1).
Monckton Misrepresents Michael Mann and Colleagues
"...the fabricators of the 2001 UN report - purported abolition of the Medieval Warm Period - are now under criminal investigation for defrauding taxpayers by tampering with data and results?"
Monckton continues to defend this slander against the many contributors to the 2001 IPCC report, and the many contributors to the section discussing millennial temperature reconstruction. Only one of these scientists, Michael Mann, has been under any sort of investigation (as far as we know), and yet Monckton defames every single contributing scientist with a broad brush. Monckton owes these scientists a retraction and an apology.
As for Michael Mann, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has indeed initiated a politically-motivated investigation against him, but it is not a criminal investigation. According to the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, the baseless accusations against Mann involve a civil, not a criminal offense. Moreover, the investigation involves research funded by the State of Virginia, which does not include the Mann et. al 'hockey stick' research. The one grant in question awarded to Mann in Virginia involves research which had very little to do with climate change (Resolving the Scale-wise Sensitivities in the Dynamical Coupling Between Climate and the Biosphere) - see Cuccinelli's revised Civil Investigative Demand. The sole basis of the investigation is that Mann may have included his authorship of the 'hockey stick' research on his resume in applying for the grant, which says more about Cuccinelli than it does about Mann.
With these slanderous accusations, Monckton has grossly misrepresented reality on many different levels.
Monckton Misrepresents History
In his debate with Denniss, Monckton claimed that Ben Santer singlehandedly added a statement to the 1995 IPCC report, attributing global warming to humans. As we detailed in our response, this is simply an attempt to re-write history, and displays ignorance about the way the IPCC functions (as a consensus body). However, Monckton ignored our debunking of this myth, and simply repeated it once again. We have now created a rebuttal to the myth "Ben Santer changed the 1995 IPCC report," and we recommend that Monckton actually read it this time, rather than continuing his attempts to re-write history. We remind Monckton and his fellow "skeptics" that repeating a misrepresentation does not make it any less false.
Monckton Misrepresents the Precautionary Principle
In the original debate, Denniss argued that given the overwhelming support amongst experts for the theory of anthropogenic climate change, we should take action to address it, which Monckton criticizes as the fallacy of argumentum ad populum. As Denniss said at the beginning of his presentation, he is not a climate scientist, but an economist, and that his goal in this debate is
"to talk about the way that economists and certainly politicians as a general rule go about making decisions under uncertainty."
It is this theme that Denniss works with during his first ten-minute presentation. The underlying principle that he references for his argument is the "insurance principle," also known as the precautionary principle. This is an economic argument, and can be summed up as the idea that in the presence of suspected but yet scientifically unverified harm from a course of action, the burden of proof for a lack of harm rests on the proponent of that action. The implied result is that, in the absence of proof of no harm, the action should not be taken, and/or actions to insure against the results of that action should be taken (subject of course to their own consideration under the precautionary principle). Denniss likens this to buying insurance for your car, even though you don't have evidence that you will get into an accident. Skeptical Science had a similar discussion - Prudent Risk.
There are two critical divergences from the argumentum ad populum Monckton asserts Denniss uses, and the precautionary principle which he actually does:
1) The argumentum ad populum fallacy in this case would argue that the consensus proves the human-caused warming theory is true. Denniss does not make this argument. Instead, he asserts that the consensus view of the science is reason enough for us to take action - there is an important distinction between asserting a claim is objectively true because of consensus, and asserting that it is economically advisable to act as if it were true because of the consensus. Denniss advocated the latter, and as such did not commit the fallacy.
2) As Denniss explains when he first explicitly names the principle:
"Now, even though the scientific community leaves very little room for doubt, and very little room for uncertainty, even if there was uncertainty, most humans most of the time actually adopt the insurance [precautionary] principle when considering how to make decisions."
the precautionary principle assumes a lack of scientific consensus. It is not required for consensus to be had, if we accept the precautionary principle, to act according to it. This is not the case with argumentum ad populum, for which (at least a supposed) consensus of the proposed view is necessary to satisfy.
This is decidedly not the case with climate science, at any rate. On the contrary, if we accept the precautionary principle, then we should be compelled by the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, which is derived from the vast consensus of evidence, to take action to address it.
It is this economic argument that Denniss makes, and whether Monckton agrees with it or not does not justify his casting of it as the argumentum ad populum fallacy.
In Part 3 of this series we will examine further Monckton misrepresentations of scientific research, reports, and reality in general in his response to our critique of his factually-lacking debate performance.