April seems to have been “Beat up on Christopher Monckton” month among climate science bloggers. Why all the attention? Part of the reason is even reputable media outlets the likes of The New York Times continue to treat him as the equal of someone with genuine professional expertise in matter climatological. Also relevant is his brief candidacy for public office in the May 6 general election in the U.K. He is now just climate change spokesperson for the UK Independence Party.
I hope it’s not too late to add my own thoughts. First, it matters not one whit whether Monckton is or isn’t a member of the House of Lords (though he isn’t) or whether he has claimed to be one (he has). Misrepresenting yourself may be ethically questionable or even fraudulent, but it doesn’t make you wrong about what’s happening to the climate any more than your political office (or lack of one) means you understand a scientific subject.
It is also irrelevant that his educational o background and career has nothing to do with science of any kind, let alone climatology. Remember that Einstein worked as a patent clerk, not an academic, when he wrote the papers that revolutionized our understanding of the universe.
No, all that matters is whether he represents the science of climate change accurately. So it behooves us to take a look at his understanding of the subject. There are plenty of reliable sources of analysis of this. Peter Sinclair found enough material to devote two episodes of his Climate Crock series to Monckton’s inability to get the material correct. What is still worth looking at is how clever the man is when it comes to twisting the facts. It’s not that he has no idea of what he’s talking about. In fact, he seems quite very familiar with the science, and is able to toss out jargon that makes him appear to be the equal of a working climatologist. This makes him dangerous.
Here’s a perfect example. In anticipation of his appearance at Utah Valley University in March, the Daily Herald, a local newspaper, printed an essay of his under the title “Climate facts, not ‘consensus’.”
The central question is this: how much warming will a given increase in CO2 concentration cause? The answer? Very little.
In the Neoproterozoic Era, 750 million years ago, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere was 300,000 parts per million by volume, more than 770 times today’s 388 ppmv. Yet, at the equator and at sea level, glaciers came and went twice. If CO2 had the exaggerated warming effect that the UN’s climate panel pretends, those glaciers could not have existed.
Note how he uses the term “ppmv” instead of the less precise ppm. Parts per million as a measured by volume is preferred over the simpler parts per million by scientists and is often the sort of thing that distinguishes a professional climatologist from a layperson. And surely anyone who can date the Neoproterozoic Era is worth paying attention to, no?
But it turns out that Monckton completely confuses the issue. Yes, CO2 concentrations did reach extremely high levels back then, and glaciers did come and go. But that’s not the full story. Here’s the abstract from a paper by Paul Hoffman and colleagues, “Neoproterozoic Snowball Earth,” that appeared in Science in 1998 (emphasis is mine):
Negative carbon isotope anomalies in carbonate rocks bracketing Neoproterozoic glacial deposits in Namibia, combined with estimates of thermal subsidence history, suggest that biological productivity in the surface ocean collapsed for millions of years. This collapse can be explained by a global glaciation (that is, a snowball Earth), which ended abruptly when subaerial volcanic outgassing raised atmospheric carbon dioxide to about 350 times the modern level. The rapid termination would have resulted in a warming of the snowball Earth to extreme greenhouse conditions.
If a 12-year-old paper is too dated for you. How about this from a 2009 textbook, Paleoclimates, by Thomas Cronin:
In sum, the Earth was severely glaciate several times between 750 and 580 Ma (million years ago), each time exiting a global or near-global glacial state into warmer climate. (p. 64)
Nevermind Monckton’s comparatively minor overstating of the maximum CO2 level of the period by a factor of two. The evidence we have from the period only strengthens the case that high CO2 levels are associated with much warmer climates. Stating that “If CO2 had the exaggerated warming effect that the UN’s climate panel pretends, those glaciers could not have existed” misses the point entirely. What the science actually suggests is the glaciers disappeared because of CO2‘s warming effect.
Again, none of this is to say we should dismiss someone’s opinions just because he or she doesn’t come equipped with a pertinent PhD. But when an “outsider” claims to have an understanding superior to the vast majority of those who do have genuine expertise, it’s worth doing a little research before granting your trust. This is where Class M hopes to play a modest public service. It is my intention to provide what guidance I can in interpreting what scientists (and others with a public platform) say climate change means for the future of the planet. I can think of nothing more important.