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July 10th 2011 print

Peter Smith

Monckton in Sydney

Monckton’s credentials are that he has looked thoroughly into the science and drawn conclusions. He has done what we all should do, rather than to simply fall into line like sheep. His views stand or fall on their merits and have to be challenged on their merits.

Saw Lord Monckton in Sydney on Thursday night (7 July). It was fittingly cold. I remember my first Sydney winter many years’ ago. It was colder than I expected. Memories play tricks but my impression is that this winter is as cold as it was then. However, I am not putting this forward as evidence for the absence of global warming. Sceptics and warmists are at one in acknowledging that the earth has warmed since the end of the little ice age and, I think, most agree with the proximate extent of the warming; even if sceptics are suspicious of data fiddling and many badly-placed land temperature gauges.

Everyone also agrees that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and that more of it will warm the planet. Thus far there is agreement. It is therefore annoying (to put it mildly) at this juncture to have people (scientist and non-scientists) say that some ice is melting or that seas levels are rising as though this were additional information to bolster the case of warming. It simply isn’t. Warming is warming and it will have an effect on ice and sea level. For those whose reason has been impaired by mumbo-jumbo climate science, put some cubes of ice in a sieve over a pan of water and warm the pan. Measuring the temperature inside the pan is all that is needed to establish that the pan is warming. You can then observe that the ice cubes have melted and the water level has risen but this gives no added information on the fact of the warming.

If everyone agrees basically with what has happened (though of course not why it has happened from the late 1970’s until about 2000) then disagreement of substance must surely be restricted to what will happen in the future. Back to Lord Monckton. Let us first of all dispense with his credentials. Is he a lord? This seemed to fascinate Adam Spencer on ABC radio. Well no one disputes that he has a hereditary peerage. Does that, as he claims, entitle him to describe himself as a non-sitting member of the House of Lords? I have no idea. His explanation seems okay to me but he may be indulging in a little pedantic vanity. Is this as bad as an imaginary dodging of bullets on an airport tarmac, for example? Would Mr Spencer have quizzed Hillary Clinton about this at the start of an interview on foreign affairs? Spencer also thought it was relevant to get Monckton to concede that he was neither a climate scientist nor an economist. To what point? Surely everyone knows that neither Monckton nor Al Gore, nor anyone on the multi-party climate change committee is a scientist or economist.

Monckton’s credentials are that he has looked thoroughly into the science and drawn conclusions. He has done what we all should do, to some extent at least, rather than to simply fall into line like sheep. His views stand or fall on their merits and have to be challenged on their merits.

I rugged up and I went along to hear him talk (at the 875 seating capacity Wesley conference centre in the middle of town) to show the flag for free speech rather than thinking I would hear something new. It was respectably well-attended. Sceptics all, I think. Presumably the cold night air or their embarrassment over their ridiculous opposition to free speech had kept GetUp protesters away. Joanne Nova and David Evans provided the warm-up presentations. All decent stuff but you have to say that preceding Monckton is a preferred placement because he is too good an act to ever follow. I can’t help but feel that even the multi-party climate change committee would find him entertaining. But that will remain unexplored territory. “No alternative view will be heard or contemplated!”

Whether I learnt something new or not, I have now reformulated my own view and I recommend it to non-scientists. In contention is whether continuing to pump CO2 into the atmosphere at increasing rates will in future produce catastrophic warming. The critical factor on which this turns is whether the initial greenhouse warming being created by CO2 is being multiplied by the added greenhouse effect of water vapour in the atmosphere resulting from the initial warming. Is there, in other words, a strong and positive feedback mechanism amplifying the CO2 warming? If this were the case a hot spot of some intensity would be detected in a specific part of the atmosphere. Monckton maintains that it hasn’t been.

The alternative proposition is that negative feedback mechanisms’ come into play to moderate the warming effect of CO2 and water vapour. To put it simply. In the first case we have a serious problem. In the second case we do not. The absence of warming since around 2000 might suggest that there is no positive feedback mechanism at work because such mechanisms are rather like compound interest; gathering pace through time. However, special factors might have been at work during this period to dampen temperatures, outweighing the effects of CO2 and water vapour.

The important point is whether empirical observation of the temperature in the relevant part of the atmosphere can be used to put the whole matter to bed. I suspect that it can. I suspect that it won’t because vested interest in global warming has well surpassed critical mass. Nevertheless, I intend to write to my federal (Labor) MP and ask her to use her influence to persuade the government to commission the necessary research, under strict scrutiny, and publish the methodology and results without fear or favour.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics