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Hear ye, hear ye – Monckton’s medieval warming tale is climate heresy

It is a thankless task to track the frequent mistakes Christopher Monckton makes as he misinterprets science, as his statements are frequently at odds with the very scientists whose work he cites. It is…

Monckton is leading the public on a merry dance with his claims. Jeff Hardcastle

It is a thankless task to track the frequent mistakes Christopher Monckton makes as he misinterprets science, as his statements are frequently at odds with the very scientists whose work he cites.

It is, however, necessary.

In a recent lecture given at the University of Notre Dame in Australia (June 2011) represented by his document “The Climate of Freedom”, Monckton claims, “Dr. Craig Idso has collected papers by almost 1000 scientists worldwide, nearly all of which demonstrate the influence of the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and show it was at least as warm as, and in most instances warmer than, the present.”

This claim by Monckton has two parts that are important to the discussion of climate change:

  1. Was the MWP global in extent and warmer than today?
  2. Does the presence of the MWP call into question human-caused global warming?

To be clear, the prevailing view amongst scientists is that the MWP was neither global nor warmer than present times.

In fact, the National Academy of Sciences thoroughly investigated this issue and concluded, “the late 20th century warmth in the northern hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1000 years."

Other studies reinforce the view that when considered either by hemisphere or globally, the temperatures we are experiencing now are truly unprecedented.

In the past, I have found Monckton’s claims on this topic sorely lacking.

Specifically, he referenced authors whose work he used to either answer “yes” or infer “yes” to questions one or two.

Last year, I embarked on the task of actually reading the papers he referenced, and they all disagreed with Monckton’s interpretation.

To confirm, I wrote to the authors and they assured me that my understanding of their work was more correct.

Was this latest list of “1000” authors different from the list I had previously debunked? Had Monckton finally, after many missteps, put a nail in the coffin of human-caused climate change? Well, let’s find out …

What about this list? Well, if you go to the Science and Public Policy website (of which Monckton is the Chief Policy Advisor), you will find a link to a Craig Idso article which is, in turn, linked to a denialist website CO2Science. Once at CO2Science, you’ll learn that they have a MWP Project which lists many articles that reportedly dispute recent warming. So I think I have the correct list.

I’ll begin with the following trivial assumption: the authors know more about their own work than Monckton does.

With this as a starting point, I selected a number of papers in the list and I sent inquiries which asked the two questions I’ve posed here. Now, since this is a list that Monckton is using, you’d think the deck would be stacked in his favor. That is, you’d expect that most or all of these papers to support his view. The problem is … that is not what I found.

Dr. Raymond Bradley responded, “No, I do not think there is evidence that the world was warmer than today in Medieval times.”

Dr. Jessica Tierney also had her work cited in this “study” yet she wrote to me, “No. The MWP is seen in many proxy archives, but it is not yet certain how global in extent it was. Whether or not it was warmer than today’s temperatures depends on the proxy and the place. Most global temperature reconstructions suggest that on average, the MWP was not warmer than today. Regardless, a warm MWP doesn’t disprove the fact that humans are changing climate presently.”

Dr. Lowell Stott reported, “the studies that are currently available for MWP temperature estimates have little to say about global warming in the context of anthropogenic contribution to Earth’s radiative balance. Even if the MWP was as warm or even warmer than the late 20th century, the cause would be completely different because we have very good constraints on the quantities of greenhouse gases that were present in the atmosphere during the MWP.”

Dr. Andrew Lorrey told me that his paper “certainly does not disprove AGW, and it does nothing to approach that particular subject of climate science.”

Dr. Rosanne D’Arrigo stated, “We do not believe that our work disproves” human-induced global warming.

Dr. Robert Wilson added, “It really does not matter if the MWP was warmer or slightly cooler than present. Ultimately, it is the underlying causes of these warms periods that we need to worry about.”

Now, was I surprised by these results? Not really.

You see, I had performed a similar investigation of claims made by Monckton in 2009 with similar results.

I live in Minnesota where baseball is a popular sport. To borrow a baseball analogy, Monckton does not have a very good batting average. Perhaps it is time he was benched.

So where does all this leave us?

First, the existence of the MWP is not in serious doubt; but whether it was global in extent or warmer than today is. In addition, the presence of a MWP does not call into question whether humans are now causing the Earth to warm.

Second, it is very dangerous to rely upon the interpretation of a non-scientist to real science work.

Monckton has never published any peer-reviewed scientific article, let alone anything on climate or energy. Despite this, we are supposed to trust his interpretation of science? Not only that, but his interpretation disagrees with the very scientists who did the work.

When I go to my next family reunion, I’m not going to let my Uncle Jed fix my car because he knows nothing about cars.

I won’t allow my Aunt Betty to teach my daughters calculus (she isn’t a mathematician).

In the same way, I won’t listen to Monckton when it comes to climate science. He has been shown to be incapable of understanding even the most basic subjects of climate science – this would be humorous if it wasn’t so serious.

Monckton is a one-man wrecking crew for the credibility of climate-change deniers.

So now a challenge to Monckton … I have provided you with responses from people whose research you have used. I have shown they do not agree with your interpretation. To a person, they agree with me.

Why don’t you write to them yourselves and see what you find? This was your own list and yet, it doesn’t support your view.

What can I expect from this letter? Well first, the hate mail will start immediately; how can I have the audacity to criticize the “Lord”. Second, Christopher will probably claim that his interpretation of the science is more accurate than the scientists themselves … that they are mistaken. I’ll leave it to the public to judge.

My position is that we need accurate information if we are to make wise choices in confronting the problem of climate change. In addition, we need to shift focus from whether there is a problem to what can be done about it.

If we are wise, the solutions to the climate problem will create jobs, improve our energy diversity, and better our national security.

Who can be against that?

Finally, we need to be more civil and respectful in our discourse.

We still must be candid, particularly when someone has difficulty interpreting the science or when someone gives inferences that are not in accordance with the science.

But when we disagree, we must not be disagreeable.