Why Viscount Christopher
Monckton is Wrong

(c) 2007 by Barton Paul Levenson

On May 11th, 2006, Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Brenchley, published an editorial against the reality of human-caused global warming in an English newspaper, the Daily Telegraph.

Monckton's editorial

Ever since, he has been quoted as an authority by global warming deniers. But in reality, the viscount got just about everything he said about climate change wrong. Below I lay out just why.

Monckton: "In 1988, James Hansen, a climatologist, told the US Congress that temperature would rise 0.3C by the end of the century (it rose 0.1C), and that sea level would rise several feet (no, one inch)."

There are two lies here. First of all, Hansen actually gave three curves predicting warming by the end of the century under various scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions. Monckton is quoting Scenario A, the highest-end prediction, without even telling the readers that there were a scenario B and a scenario C, and that what actually happened was very close to Scenario B.

It's possible that Monckton was making an innocent mistake here. The lie originated with global warming denier Pat Michaels, and Monckton may just have uncritically repeated Michaels's false accusation without checking it out. But if so, that's hardly a point in his favor. Sloppy research is just as bad as malice when it comes to science.

The second lie is about that sea-level rise. Hansen at no time predicted sea level rise of several feet by the end of the century. He predicted great sea-level rise if the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps melted, which clearly was going to take a lot more than twelve years.

Monckton: "So to the scare. First, the UN implies that carbon dioxide ended the last four ice ages. It displays two 450,000-year graphs: a sawtooth curve of temperature and a sawtooth of airborne CO2 that's scaled to look similar. Usually, similar curves are superimposed for comparison. The UN didn't do that. If it had, the truth would have shown: the changes in temperature preceded the changes in CO2 levels."

The first lie is about what the UN "implied." It didn't "imply" anything. It showed that temperature and CO2 tended to change together, which is correct. In a natural deglaciation, temperature does change before CO2 rises. No one is disputing that. But if Monckton thinks the present warming is therefore natural and that temperature change must be driving the CO2 increase, he's wrong. We know what's producing the new CO2 now -- fossil fuel burning, deforestation and cement manufacture, the first factor much greater than the other two. And a simple look at the data for the past two centuries shows that CO2 is leading climate, not the other way around. Monckton's argument is like saying "people have died naturally for thousands of years, so this chap with the 20 bullet holes in him can't have been killed by a human being."

Monckton: "The UN's second assessment report, in 1996, showed a 1,000-year graph demonstrating that temperature in the Middle Ages was warmer than today. But the 2001 report contained a new graph showing no medieval warm period..."

After attacking the IPCC for improper use of graphs, Monckton now goes on to display some improper use of graphs himself. He contrasts a chart of European temperatures with one of global temperatures, clearly implying both are global, and he uses different scales on the vertical axes, so that the European changes are exaggerated relative to the world values. This is either incompetence or dishonesty, but good science it ain't.

Monckton then goes into a long explanation of why the famous "Hockey Stick" curve is wrong, and was clearly done as part of a conspiracy to suppress the "Medieval Warm Period," which he thinks was warmer than today. This has been reviewed elsewhere at great length; readers are invited to look at RealClimate for articles dealing with the subject. Suffice to say that

1. When the National Academy of Sciences reviewed Mann et al.'s 1998 paper and the attacks on it, they found that Mann et al. were right and their critics wrong, and

2. Fourteen peer-reviewed studies since then have independently come up with similar curves.

Monckton has his own take on the above two points. He says, "The US Senate asked independent statisticians to investigate. They found that the graph was meretricious, and that known associates of the scientists who had compiled it had written many of the papers supporting its conclusion."

That's not what they found at all. If anyone wants to read what the report actually said, here it is:

The NAS Report

There's a $36.00 fee to buy the book, but if you scroll down, you can read any section of it for free, or all the sections one after another if you're so inclined.

And note the ad hominem argument about "known associates of the scientists who had compiled it" finding similar results. Monckton keeps coming back to conspiracy theories. He doesn't appear to understand that every one of the papers in question passed peer review.

Monckton: "Scores of scientific papers show that the medieval warm period was real, global and up to 3C warmer than now. Then, there were no glaciers in the tropical Andes: today they're there. There were Viking farms in Greenland: now they're under permafrost. There was little ice at the North Pole: a Chinese naval squadron sailed right round the Arctic in 1421 and found none."

This is wrong from beginning to end:

1. The Medieval Warm Period was largely confined to Europe. The world was not 3 C warmer then. See Mann et al. and the 14 or so papers which confirmed their findings -- see, for instance, Yang, B. et al. 2002, "General Characteristics of Temperature Variation in China during the Last Two Millenia." Geophys. Res. Lett. 29(9), 38-1 - 38-4.

2. Andean glaciers have been there "since the late Miocene." Interested readers may want to check out C.M. Clapperton's "Quarternary Geology and Geomorphology of South America" (Elsevier 1993).

3. No Viking farms are "under permafrost." For a history of what actually happened with the Vikings in Greenland, I refer interested readers to Jared Diamond's "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" (Viking, 2005). A good review dealing with Greenland specifically can be found at The New Yorker.

4. The Chinese naval squadron Monckton refers to didn't exist. The claim is from Gavin Menzies's crackpot book, "1421: The Year China Discovered America" (Harper Collins 2003). For an interesting collection of articles about why Menzies doesn't know his you know what from a hole in the ground, check out 1421 Exposed. Monckton appears to have read the book uncritically and paid no attention to its many critics.

Monckton: "The Antarctic, which holds 90 per cent of the world's ice and nearly all its 160,000 glaciers, has cooled and gained ice-mass in the past 30 years, reversing a 6,000-year melting trend."

And yet according to the GRACE satellite, Antarctica is losing ice: BBC Article. I wonder which is right -- Monckton or empirical evidence?

Monckton: "The UN more than doubled the base forcings from greenhouse gases to allow for climate feedbacks. It didn't do the same for the base solar forcing."

Monckton is either lying here, or, more likely, doesn't understand how global climate models work. The forcing is not something fed in at the start, it's a result of the model runs. And it applies to solar energy input just like it does to greenhouse gases. It applies to any given energy input at all.

Monckton: "The entire 20th-century warming from all sources was below 2 watts. The sun could have caused just about all of it."

The sun was indeed a major factor for the Earth's warming from 1900 to 1940. It was not a major factor in the warming from 1970 to now, and it can't have been, for three reasons.

1. The Solar constant has not increased appreciably for the past 50 years. We know because we've been measuring it from satellites like Nimbus-7 and the Solar Maximum Mission.

2. If increased sunlight were the cause, the stratosphere would be warming. Instead, it's cooling, as predicted by the climate modelers on the basis of increased greenhouse gases.

3. If increased sunlight were the cause, the equator would be heating more than the poles, due to Lambert's cosine law. Instead, the poles are heating more, as again predicted by the climate modelers on the basis of increased greenhouse gases.

Monckton: "Only 30 years ago, scientists were anticipating a new Ice Age and writing books called The Cooling."

Here's an explanation of why this frequently-cited urban legend is not true:

The Global Cooling Myth

In brief, there was never a consensus of climate scientists behind global cooling the way there is now behind global warming. Any responsible climatologist in 1975 would have told you there just wasn't enough information available then to know what the long-term trend would be.

Monckton: "The UN went for 0.6C, probably distorted by urban growth near many of the world's fast-disappearing temperature stations."

The "Urban Heat Islands" argument against global warming has been thoroughly debunked elsewhere (e.g. Hansen et al. 2001). I'll just point out one obvious fact: global warming has been detected from sea-based measurements as well as land-based (Gille 2002, Levitus et al. 2000). There are very few urban heat islands on the surface of the ocean.

Gille, S.T. 2002. "Warming of the Southern Ocean Since the 1950s." Sci. 295, 1275-1277.

Hansen, J., Ruedy, R., Sato, M., Imhoff, M., Lawrence, W., Easterling, D., Peterson, T., and Karl, T. 2001. "A closer look at United States and global surface temperature change." J. Geophys. Res. 106, 2394723963.

Levitus, S., Antonov, J., Boyer, T.P., and Stephens, C. 2000. "Warming of the World Ocean." Sci. 287, 2225-2229.

Monckton: "You don't need computer models to "find" lambda. Its value is given by a century-old law..."

I had upbraided myself in a blog for charging Monckton with saying the scientists had gotten the Stefan-Boltzmann constant wrong, when he was only saying they got the climate sensitivity wrong. Looking back at Monckton's editorial, I see now why I thought that -- Monckton really does conflate the Stefan-Boltzmann constant (sigma) with the climate sensitivity (lambda). He thinks they're the same thing. Needless to say, they aren't. And it isn't just one confused sentence; he goes on saying it: "Using poor Ludwig Boltzmann's law, lambda's true value is just 0.22-0.3C per watt..."

Monckton: "On the UN's figures, the entire greenhouse-gas forcing in the 20th century was 2 watts. Multiplying by the correct value of lambda gives a temperature increase of 0.44 to 0.6C, in line with observation. But using Stern's 1.9C per watt gives 3.8C. Where did 85 per cent of his imagined 20th-century warming go?"

Monckton is wrong two ways here:

1. He is dealing with one positive forcing factor in isolation and ignoring the negative ones (e.g. sulfate aerosols and volcanic eruptions). It's the net forcing that determines the temperature change.

2. Not all the warming is instantaneous; some is still "in the pipeline" because of factors like the tremendous thermal inertia of the world's oceans.

Monckton: "The oceans, we're now told, are acting as a giant heat-sink. In these papers the well-known, central flaw (not mentioned by Stern) is that the computer models' "predictions" of past ocean temperature changes only approach reality if they are averaged over a depth of at least a mile and a quarter... Deep-ocean temperature hasn't changed at all, it's barely above freezing."

Duh. Why does he expect the change to migrate down so fast? Has he ever computed the heat capacity of the ocean? Why in the world does he think this "objection" proves anything at all? His reasoning is at its most obscure here.

Monckton: "The true rate [of CO2 increase] is 0.38 per cent year on year since records began in 1958. The models assume 1 per cent per annum, more than two and a half times too high."

Recent increases have been closer to 1% per year, just as predicted. The models -- economic ones, this time -- correctly predicted that CO2 output would speed up as third world industry, mostly in China and India, came on-line.

In short, Viscount Monckton knows not what he speaks of. Citing him as a credible source, when he A) has no training in climatology or related sciences, and B) gets most of what he says about those sciences spectacularly wrong, is just not a very clever idea.

Page created:06/27/2007
Last modified:  02/09/2011