Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Mad Monckton and the media

Christopher Monckton’s mad-stare eyes should be a giveaway. As they rotate maniacally on high spin cycle, they present to the world a mirror of a tortured soul hell-bent on washing peculiarly dirty demons in public. Monckton is on a mission to show he is right and thousands of scientists are wrong. And the public and media hacks he is speaking to on his current Australian tour are desperate to hear what the “Lord” has to say.

It is no accident that those who flock to hear Monckton are white, elderly and wealthy. They like their life as it is and don’t want any inconvenient truths disturbing their repose. Nor will they be around long enough to face up to the consequences. Monckton’s shtick is a grab-bag of half-truths, innuendo and hints of world government that his troubled audience lap up. The trouble about climate change is once you know it to be true, you are compelled to act on it. Hence the importance of the soothing balm telling people "don’t worry, it doesn’t exist and there is no reason to change what you are currently doing". Monckton is an expert in this field of reassurance towards inertia. The 3rd viscount Monckton of Benchley in Kent is a slick audience operator imbued with the confidence that comes with his deep upper-class pedigree and a colourful history of his own showmanship to back it up.

Appropriately for such a quixotic character, Christopher Walter Monckton was born on St Valentine’s Day in 1952, the first son of Major-General Gilbert Walter Riversdale Monckton 2nd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, CB, OBE, MC, MA, DL. Christopher’s grandfather was a lawyer and politician born plain old Walter Monckton but was wealthy enough to be educated at Harrow and Oxford. After advising Edward VIII in the abdication crisis, and putting out propaganda for Churchill in the war, he was elected to Westminster as a Tory MP in 1951. After serving as a senior government minister for six years he blundered by opposing Eden on Suez and was put out to pasture. His reward was the viscountcy Monckton of Benchley which he held till his death in 1965.

His war hero son Gilbert inherited the honour which entitled him to a seat in the House of Lords. There he spoke up for rural and military interests and left the Tory Party when they started cutting back on military spending. When he lost his lifetime seat in Tony Blair's constitutional reforms during the Hunting Bill, his manifesto for election to the House supported the muzzling of cats to stop the torture of mice. But Gilbert failed to live up to the mad peer stereotype other than occasionally flaunting his habit of wearing Arab dress and preparing his own brew of Arab coffee.

When Gilbert died in 2006, eldest son Christopher became the 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley. Like both his forebears he was educated at Harrow but follow his father to Cambridge. Also like his father Christopher failed in his bid to be elected to the House of Lords and did not pick up a single vote in the 2007 by-election he contested. But this was not his first brush with politics. After he left Cambridge in 1974 with an MA he became a journalist and joined the pro-Conservative think tank the Centre for Policy Studies. His paper on the privatisation of council housing attracted the attention of the Thatcher Government and he worked for the Downing St policy unit for four years.

In 1986 he returned to journalism, first at Today then at the Evening Standard. In 1999 Monckton became briefly prominent for his board game called the Eternity Puzzle. 209 irregularly shaped pieces were required to fill the 12-sided puzzle and Monckton offered a prize of £1m to solve it. Although Monckton said he had to sell his £1.5m Aberdeenshire mansion to the eventual winners, he more than recouped this amount thanks to his clever marketing of the game and its reward.

Since he got his peerage in 2006, Monckton has been most closely associated with pushing the line about a global warming conspiracy. He took issue with the Stern Report, the IPCC and the British Labour government all of whom he accused of "creating world government". He claimed the changes in temperature preceded the changes in CO2 levels and said the UN ignored the medieval warm period. He said the Antarctic has cooled and gained ice-mass in the past 30 years. He said the sun caused what little global warming there was. Although there was not a single peer-reviewed scientific paper that backed any of this up, newspapers like the Daily Telegraph lapped it up and gave Monckton credibility and a wider audience.

Monckton is slowly getting the gravitas he has craved despite having a head full of crackpot ideas. Among these is that upon reading Rachel Carson’s A Silent Spring Jackie Kennedy forced her then husband President John F Kennedy to ban DDT which Monckton said “caused the death of 40 million people”. He also got away with telling many hopelessly underprepared Australian journalists he won a Nobel Peace in 2007, a lie he later laughed off as a joke.

But Monckton has turned himself into a walking joke. He revels in the role of poster boy for the far right which cannot accept the truth of global warming because that would mean accepting political opponents were correct. Monckton and his coterie are on an apparent roll. A pessimistic George Monbiot wrote in November: “There is no point in denying it: we’re losing. Climate change denial is spreading like a contagious disease.” But as his Australian trip is proving, Monckton’s contagion is limited to fellow-travellers among the media and the self-funded retirees. Not a single scientist has emerged to back him up. As even the conservative pro-farmer Fairfax publication The Land has realised, he is only preaching to the converted.


Ed Darrell said...

Monkton is still telling those lies about Jackie Kennedy and Rachel Carson?

What is it about Monckton and dead women?

David Jackmanson said...

The trouble with Monckton is that he's far too easy a target. In my more conspiratorial moments, I wonder if the ABC gives people like him a run to avoid having to find someone sane who disagrees with the current orthodoxy on the correct response to global warming. The same goes for running idiots like Bolt and Akerman on shows like Insiders. I find it hard to accept that they couldn't find some intelligent right-wingers with something of value to say instead of these reactionary twits.

I admit that on the issue of global warming I don't know who they could find. But I'd like to see someone challenge the idea that slowing our economy is the best response. I'd like to see a huge investment in R+D into all forms of non-carbon emitting energy production (including but not limited to nuclear) so that alternative sources of energy can be made as efficient as coal and gas. If the debate was on those terms it would be much better than a debate between idiots like Monckton and people who are right about the reality of global warming, but who often seem to resent human achievements and progress and who seem to think that slowing economic activity is the solution.

graphicconception said...

"Although there was not a single peer-reviewed scientific paper that backed any of this up, ..."

I beg to differ. There are many peer-reviewed papers that support the views you attribute to Monckton. Would you like a list of some of the ones I have located?

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Derek Barry said...

David - The ABC give him a run (as they do Bolt) because they both market themselves well. Constantly prominent, and constantly againt the orthodoxy.

The Aus right wing intelligentsia is out there (I'm thinking Andrew Norton, Andrew Elder, Graham Young, Chris Berg) but it is not really their thing. Capitalism is a dodgy ideology unless you a true believer like Janet Albrechtsen.

Derek Barry said...

Graphicconception - happy to see the evidence.

graphicconception said...

"... happy to see the evidence."

Note: This is not intended to be a vote of confidence in Monckton but it does suggest that some peer reviewed evidence exists.

"He claimed the changes in temperature preceded the changes in CO2 levels ..."


Indermühle et al. (GRL, vol. 27, p. 735, 2000), who find that CO2 lags behind the temperature by 1200±700 years, using Antarctic ice-cores between 60 and 20 kyr before present (see figure).
Fischer et al. (Science, vol 283, p. 1712, 1999) reported a time lag 600±400 yr during early de-glacial changes in the last 3 glacial–interglacial transitions.
Siegenthaler et al. (Science, vol. 310, p. 1313, 2005) find a best lag of 1900 years in the Antarctic data.
Monnin et al. (Science vol 291, 112, 2001) find that the start of the CO2 increase in the beginning of the last interglacial lagged the start of the temperature increase by 800 years.

"... the medieval warm period. "
(You need to click on the countries in the link to go to the references.)

"He said the Antarctic has cooled and gained ice-mass ..."

Thomas, E. R., G. J. Marshall, and J. R. McConnell (2008), A doubling in snow accumulation in the western Antarctic Peninsula since 1850, Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L01706, doi:10.1029/2007GL032529. From the abstract: "The Gomez record reveals a doubling of accumulation since the 1850s, from a decadal average of 0.49 mweq y-1 in 1855–1864 to 1.10 mweq y-1 in 1997–2006, with acceleration in recent decades."

Snowfall-Driven Growth in East Antarctic Ice Sheet Mitigates Recent Sea-Level Rise
Curt H. Davis, Yonghong Li, Joseph R. McConnell, Markus M. Frey, Edward Hanna
Science 24 June 2005: 1898-1901
DOI: 10.1126/science.1110662
"Satellite radar altimetry measurements indicate that the East Antarctic ice-sheet interior
north of 81.6°S increased in mass by 45 ± 7 billion metric tons per year from 1992 to 2003."

"He said the sun caused what little global warming there was."

Length of the Solar Cycle: An Indicator of Solar Activity Closely Associated with Climate
E. FRIIS-CHRISTENSEN and K. LASSEN (1 November 1991)
Science 254 (5032), 698. [DOI: 10.1126/science.254.5032.698]

(Also it has been suggestad that the sun has indirect effects.)
Henrik Svensmark, Jens Olaf P. Pedersen, Nigel D. Marsh, Martin B. Enghoff & Ulrik I. Uggerhøj (2007). "Experimental evidence for the role of ions in particle nucleation under atmospheric conditions". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 463 (2078): 385–396. doi:10.1098/rspa.2006.1773.