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Monckton watch: interrogating the Lord’s science

We’re putting Christopher Monckton’s scientific claims to the test. Don Irvine/flickr

Christoper Monckton has returned to Australia where his unique brand of climate contrarianism is expected to get another good run in the media.

At The Conversation, we’re giving him a run too, but of a different nature. Every time he makes a climate change claim, we’ll test its validity with one of the many atmospheric and marine scientists, geologists, physicists, engineers and economists working in Australia.

What follows is a rolling blog, which we’ll update as Monckton’s Australian talkfest unfolds.

In Europe we have already got a carbon trading scheme, which in the last two days has now collapsed for the third time in its history with prices heading right down to rock bottom so it makes no difference to anyone as to how much carbon dioxide they emit. If you look at the current economic state of Europe, that’s a pointer to what could happen to Australia if you adopt policies as extravagantly expensive and entirely pointless as far as the climate is concerned.
         - 2UE, Thursday 30 June.

Judith McNeill: ‘Extravagantly expensive’ fiscal policies, whether they arise because banks are rescued or for any other reason, may indeed lead to debt levels that cannot be repaid without economic disruption. But such difficulties have very little do with climate policies.

Far from being pointless, raising the cost of carbon-intensive production will improve the competitiveness of less harmful economic processes. Appropriately designed and compensated, a price signal will work its way through markets, stimulating new ideas and business innovations that will gradually reduce the emissions intensity of the economy. There is also a strong ethical case for Australia not to free ride.

How much of an immediate economic impact will introducing a price on carbon have? Economic modelling suggests it will be manageable.

Judith McNeill is Research Programme Director at the Institute for Rural Futures, University of New England.

One of the things I’ve costed is windmills. They are just about the least cost-effective ways of spending taxpayers’ money, except solar panels. They don’t actually solve anything. Solar will have a future as the panels become more efficient. The problem now is they degenerate very quickly in the sunlight.
         - 6PR, Thursday 30 June.

Patrick Hearps: Wind power is the cheapest form of large-scale renewable energy, and as coal and gas prices increase, can be directly competitive with fossil power in Australia as it already is in some parts of the world. The global wind energy market has just reached 200 gigawatts of installed wind power capacity – if it “didn’t work” I doubt the electricity utilities would be buying the electricity the turbines produce. Companies like General Electric, Siemens and AREVA wouldn’t be rapidly expanding their wind power sectors, not to mention the booming Chinese wind industry.

Denmark and South Australia already produce more than 20% of their electricity from wind, Denmark has learned how to integrate it so effectively they have plans to reach 50% wind power by 2025. The Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan showed with detailed modelling that wind power could supply at least 40% of the energy in a 100% renewable energy grid.

Standard silicon-based solar panels usually come with a lifetime guarantee of 20-30 years. The technology is dropping in price rapidly and is widely expected to hit grid parity within 3-5 years, after which point it will be cheaper to get electricity from the sun than from the fossil fuel grid.

Patrick Hearps is a Research Fellow for Energy & Transport Systems at the University of Melbourne.

Scientists are weighing in because it is politically expedient, socially expedient and above all, financially profitable.
         - 6PR, Thursday 30 June.

Stephan Lewandowsky: Mr Monckton’s pronouncements from the topsy-turvy zone are, as usual, the inverse of actual reality.

In the place called reality, there is a long and documented history of pressure being put to bear on scientists to downplay the truth about global warming. For example, NASA’s Inspector General has found that during the reign of George W. Bush, political appointees within the agency engaged in active censorship that “reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized climate change science.” Likewise, Bush White House staffers replaced assessments of the National Academy of Sciences with a discredited paper by two individuals with no expertise in climatology, while hundreds of scientists within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have indicated that they were subject to pressure to downplay the risks from global warming. In Australia, similar events likely occurred under John Howard but have so far largely escaped the public’s attention.

In the place called reality, scientists do not make a profit from their research. Mr Monckton’s contention of “profitability” is perhaps the most laughable of his utterances from the twilight zone. Unlike share holders of fossil-fuel corporations, scientists and public granting agencies do not have a vested interest in the outcome of research.

Unlike a mining corporation whose profits are tied to the discovery and sale of coal, a scientist’s reputation, promotion, and further funding is tied to the discovery of something interesting that advances knowledge, whatever that may be.

Public funding is for research in the public’s interest.

If there were a scientific case against climate change and its human causes, the world’s granting agencies and climate scientists would fall all over themselves to make it – for humanity’s sake.

The global situation requires engagement by mature adults and Mr. Monckton’s vaudeville act is best left for the circus.

Stephan Lewandsowsky is a Professorial Fellow at the University of Western Australia.

So-called renewable technologies actually emit more carbon dioxide than simply burning coal would do.
         - 2UE, Monday 27 June.

Dylan McConnell: Monckton’s claim that renewable energy sources emit more carbon that fossil fuels is completely ludicrous and nonsensical. Even when considering a full life-cycle analysis, the emissions from renewable technologies are a skerrick of those generated from burning coal, gas and oil. How someone can honestly claim that the carbon intensity of renewables is higher than the direct burning of carbon fuels defies belief.

Dylan McConnell is a Zero Carbon Fellow at the University of Melbourne Energy Research Institute.

Prediction of future climate states is not possible.
         - 2UE, Monday 27 June.

Professor Steve Sherwood: I think I can predict than in six months It’s going to be much warmer than it is now in Australia! Seasonal and greenhouse warming are both predictable, for similar reasons. You have an added heat input and it causes the temperature to rise. In one case it’s the change in the tilting of the earth ‘s axis relative to the sun, in the other, its a strengthening of the atmospheric greenhouse effect. In both cases we can measure and compare the heat inputs, and compare the predicted and observed warming rates. It is really not rocket science.

Steve Sherwood is co-director of the Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW.

Communists and socialist are profiting everywhere from action on climate change.
         - 2UE, Monday 27 June.

Doctor Rick Kuhn: The real profiteers are the carbon-intensive corporations which are generating climate change. The skepticism of Monckton and like-minded Australian Liberals and Nationals serves their interests. He is also a beneficiary. His Australian tour in early 2010 ostensibly netted him $20,000.

Market oriented responses to climate change, like the one operating in Europe, can also generate massive corporate profits through speculative trading in carbon credits, without doing anything to promote the scale of investment in renewable energy that the planet and its inhabitants need. The logic behind the Labor/Greens carbon tax in Australia, also a market oriented non-solution, is similar.

Socialists deserve a hearing precisely because they identify the connection between climate change and capitalism, a system that puts profits before human needs, including our need for a healthy environment.

Rick Kuhn is a Reader in Politics at ANU.

The planet is not warming at anything like the rate predicted.
         - The Bolt Report, Sunday 26 June.

Professor Steve Sherwood: You have to look at time scales of at least 2-3 decades to make any meaningful test of climate predictions. If you look at those time scales it’s clear that warming has matched predictions. There has been a slight warming slowdown over the last 10 years, likely due to the unusual solar minimum or other temporary influences. This has not been enough to change the big picture.

Steve Sherwood is co-director of the Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW.

It’s economically more sensible to let climate change happen and adapt to any consequences where and when they occur.
         - The Bolt Report, Sunday 26 June.

Anna Skarbek: A recent report found that if we delay reducing our emissions until 2015, we will lose $1.5 billion of energy savings that are currently available, and the cost of meeting the bipartisan 5% reduction target would rise by $5.5 billion per year.

The Stern Review found that if we don’t act on climate change, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever.

If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more. In contrast, the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.

Anna Skarbek is Executive Director at Climate Works Australia, Monash University.

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