NOAH’S RAINBOW SERPENT – observations by Ian MacDougall

Plimer’s Climatology 106: His Lordship’s List

His Lordship’s List:  A critique of Monckton’s litany.

(If you want Monckton’s litany without having to buy Plimer’s book, it is at [1]. Below, it is as downloaded pure and fresh from that linked site, sullied only by my added comments below each item.)

I might begin by confessing that anyone who signs himself ‘Monckton of Brenchley’ [2] , instead of say, ‘Christopher Monckton’, especially when writing a four-part open letter to then US presidential candidate John McCain, instantly alerts my crap detector, however seriously he takes his inherited title.  But I will be fair. From here on, I shall refer to Christopher Walter Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley [3] as His Lordship.

Double-barreled names like his have a social function analogous to that of triangulation in topographic mapping: two points on a social baseline ensure pinpoint identification of the signed party, and thus minimal or zero confusion with say, Monckton of Eastcheap, or for that matter Honckton of Brenchley or Plonckton or Bonckton of the same locality. Aristocracy has long assumed that privilege implies inherent superiority, and has put up a long fight against those who would rid the world of the high tribal lot of it. But its British end none the less may at last be in sight. The unelected House of Lords had better choose the occasion well for its next attempt to frustrate the British House of Commons, because it is sure to be its last. So in anticipation of that, I will change all ‘His Lordships’ to lower case.

At the end of his book, Ian Plimer hands over the keyboard to his lordship to deal with the question ‘What if I am wrong?’ In Plimer’s view Monckton (previously an economic adviser to Margaret Thatcher) had already dealt with it splendidly in a speech to the Local Government Association at Bournemouth, on 3 July 2008. So Plimer reproduces the speech in its entirety (with his lordship’s permission) on pages 489-493 of Heaven+Earth. We can take as noted the usual ‘ITS?’ (is that so?) in the margin against each one of the following points as they occur, and as well a ‘WIIFY?’ –  an abbreviated form of ‘what’s in it for you?’

His lordship’s points are in suitably bold type. I have taken the liberty to add comments of my own in normal type.

Canute couldn’t stop sea level rising. Officials can’t stop it either.

Read ‘sparks don’t start prairie fires, so spark arrestors are useless.’

Even if global temperature has risen, it has risen in a straight line at a natural 0.5 °C/century for 300 years since the Sun recovered from the Maunder Minimum, long before we could have had any influence (Akasofu, 2008).

As James Lovelock has pointed out, sea level is the best guide to planetary solar heat retention. And those levels are going up, and yes more or less in a straight line going by the University of Colorado data, and from the satellite altimetry since August 1992, [4]. However this sea level rise is due to a combination of ice melt and oceanic thermal expansion; which leaves room for the expansion to perhaps start accelerating as the ice diminishes or disappears. This means that If CO2 emissions have caused this, as is most likely the case, then a decline in them is the best bet to reverse it.

Even if warming had sped up, now temperature is 7C below most of the past 500m yrs; 5C below all 4 recent inter-glacials; and up to 3C below the Bronze Age, Roman & mediaeval optima (Petit et al., 1999; IPCC, 1990).  

If his lordship says so, and as he may wish; but it is the rate of change rather than the magnitude of temperature at the height of a given period of warmth that is of concern now. In past geological periods, such sudden changes in mean temperature have been accompanied by mass extinctions, and for reasons fairly well understood. The present rate is probably unprecedented, and beyond the capacity of ecosystems in terms of adjustment.  If the risk of such extinctions is of no concern to his lordship, then the rest of us will just have to live with that fact; even if in the mean time we do not refrain from action over it, contrary to his own inclinations.

Even if today’s warming were unprecedented, the Sun is the probable cause. It was more active in the past 70 years than in the previous 11,400 (Usoskin et al., 2003; Hathaway et al., 2004; IAU, 2004; Solanki et al., 2005).

 Firstly, let us remind his lordship that our concern is global warming by whatever cause, and of course the Sun will be involved. The danger we face is a succession of falling dominoes: CO2 > increased water vapour > CH4 > H2S > goodnight, sweet ladies. Just like the unseen threat posed by the supervolcanoes beneath Yellowstone National Park and Sumatra (Koba), there is a huge volume of H2S under the sea and ocean floors from the anaerobic decay of organic matter, built up over millions of years. Sufficient oceanic warming could trigger its rapid release. Minor releases are already regular off the coast of Namibia because of local upwellings, which could become more general or even catastrophic with continual ocean warming. [5]

H2S is classed as a chemical asphyxiant, similar to carbon monoxide and cyanide gases. It inhibits cellular respiration and uptake of oxygen, causing biochemical suffocation. Typical exposure symptoms include:

at 0 – 10 ppm: Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat

at 10 – 50 ppm: Dizziness Headache Coughing and breathing difficulty; Nausea and vomiting

 at 50 – 200 ppm Severe respratory tract irritation; Eye irritation / acute conjunctivitis; Shock ;Convulsions ; Coma ; Death

Prolonged exposures at lower levels can lead to bronchitis, pneumonia, migraine headaches, pulmonary edema, and loss of motor coordination.

See [6]

His lordship’s ‘probable cause’ also admits ‘possible non-cause’. Let us also remind his lordship at this point that everyone knows that without the Sun so near, the Earth would be a lonely frozen ball of brittle frost in the unimaginable cold and darkness of empty space. But the rate of solar energy output is remarkably even, in comparison with terrestrial fluctuations of weather and climate. Plimer’s cycles again are:

Variable Tectonc
143 million year Galacic
100,000 years Orbital
41,000 years Orbital
23,000 years Orbital
1,500 years Solar
210 years Solar
87 years Solar
22 years Solar
18.7 years Lunar
11 years solar

Globally, sea level rises do not match any of these, but show continual rise since the start of satellite records, with proxies taking this back to the mid 18th C.

Even if the sun were not to blame, the UN’s climate panel has not shown that humanity is to blame. CO2 occupies only one-ten-thousandth more of the atmosphere today than it did in 1750 (Keeling & Whorf, 2004).

 CFCs and tobacco smoke make up even less of the entire atmosphere. Plimer agrees that CO2 has saved the world from an ice-house fate, but does not want to allow that it can plunge it on to a hot-house, comparably Venusian one. CO2 concentration has now increased to 27% above its calculated pre-industrial atmospheric level. Put into that context, it is no trifle. From NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS):

Previously published research shows that a dangerous level of global warming will occur if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeds a concentration of about 450 parts per million. That’s equivalent to about a 61 percent increase from the pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million, but only 17 percent more than the current level of 385 parts per million. The carbon dioxide cap is related to a global temperature rise of about 1.8°F [1.0 degree C – IM] above the 2000 global temperature, at or beyond which point the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet and Arctic sea ice could set in motion feedbacks and lead to accelerated melting.


Even if CO2 were to blame, no “runaway greenhouse” catastrophe occurred in the Cambrian era, when there was ~20 times today’s concentration in the air. Temperature was just 7 C warmer than today (IPCC, 2001).

No. The Earth had to wait for the end-Permian for the classic runaway greenhouse (geologically speaking, either causing or close on the heels of, the end of the Permian glaciation). Civilisation in the Cambrian did not depend on glacier-fed rivers and there was no ice at either pole.[8] Such port cities as there were had not been founded on the assumption of stable sea levels; likewise lowland agriculture. The continents were mainly flat and in the Southern Hemisphere.  There was little in the way of mountains. Nor plants on land. Nor animals there to eat them either. All life was marine. It was a vastly different world. Seven degrees warmer than today appears to have been the maximum temperature reached in the various geological periods, indicating the operation of a negative feedback system on climate, probably due to water vapour kicking in as a response to CO2 rise, as already outlined

Even if CO2 levels had set a record, there has been no warming since 1998. For 7 years, temperatures have fallen. The Jan 2007-Jan 2008 fall was the steepest since 1880 (GISS; Hadley; NCDC; RSS; UAH: all 2008).

As his lordship wishes on this point, but so what? Global heat gain ultimately shows up as rising sea level, which is continuous, as explained above.

 Even if the planet were not cooling, the rate of warming is far less than the UN imagines. It would be too small to cause harm. There may well be no new warming until 2015, if then (Keenlyside et al., 2008).

At this point I would urge his lordship to look yet again to the level of the global sea, as His Majesty Canute did.

Even if warming were harmful, humankind’s effect is minuscule. “The observed changes may be natural” (IPCC, 2001; cf. Chylek et al., 2008; Lindzen, 2007; Spencer, 2007; Wentz et al., 2007; Zichichi, 2007; etc.).

 The HIV virus may not be responsible for AIDS, nor tobacco smoke for lung cancer, nor CFCs for loss of stratospheric ozone: all being claims likewise made by deniers in those areas of concern. ‘May be’ still admits ‘may not be’. So which is worse, in the policy sense?

Even if our effect were significant, the UN’s projected human fingerprint – tropical mid-troposphere warming at thrice the surface rate – is absent (Douglass et al., 2004, 2007; Lindzen, 2001, 2007; Spencer, 2007).

This allows for ‘our effect is significant, but it is not signed.’ So which of those two is the more important? As for the signature, there is dispute about that. See [8.1]

 Even if the human fingerprint were present, climate models cannot predict the future of the complex, chaotic climate unless we know its initial state to an unattainable precision (Lorenz, 1963; Giorgi, 2005; IPCC, 2001).

Agreed. But this is an argument for voluntary paralysis. As with crossing a busy road blindfolded, the results of our actions are by their very nature unknowable. But that does not mean we are committed to that way of crossing the road. If we don’t know precisely at what point we will be hit, that is false security for charging across regardless, and amounts to a fool’s paradise.

How do we actually cross a busy road – a place where, by definition and human experience it is more dangerous than walking on a footpath? Well, we look for a handy overpass, underpass or set of operable traffic lights. Failing that, we first cross to the centre (preferably centre island), so we don’t have to deal with two oppositely moving traffic streams simultaneously. Normal precaution. Moreover, we first rid ourselves of any blindfolds we might be inadvertently or deliberately wearing.

Even if computer models could work, they cannot predict future rates of warming. Temperature response to atmospheric greenhouse-gas enrichment is an input to the computers, not an output from them (Akasofu, 2008).

I would urge his lordship not to bet the estate on this. They are getting better by the day.

But whatever prediction the models made, if his lordship did not like them he would always be able to find reason to object. Despite what Plimer says about ‘activists’, most of them are just like the deniers in that they have a stake in business-as-usual. Moving to a new energy economy is going to cost them, but that they see as less of a priority than reducing planetary risk. Deniers also have such a stake in business-as-usual, and frequently quite a substantial one. Their priorities are the opposite, for whatever reasons.

Even if the UN’s imagined high “climate sensitivity” to CO2 were right, disaster would not be likely to follow. The peer-reviewed literature is near-unanimous in not predicting climate catastrophe (Schulte, 2008).

Not predicting climate catastrophe is not the same as actively predicting climate non-catastrophe, which decreasing numbers of climatologists are inclined to do as time goes by. What probability of a win does disaster have to have in order to justify a precautionary approach on his lordship’s part?

Even if Al Gore were right that harm might occur, “the Armageddon scenario he depicts is not based on any scientific view”. Sea level may rise 1 ft to 2100, not 20 ft (Burton, J., 2007; IPCC, 2007; Moerner, 2004).

Catastrophic sea-level rises have occurred in the past as tipping points have been passed: for example, sudden release of massive volumes of glacial meltwater due to collapse of ice dams. Plimer himself acknowledges this.

Even if Armageddon were likely, scientifically-unsound precautions are already starving millions as biofuels, a “crime against humanity”, pre-empt agricultural land, doubling staple cereal prices in a year. (UNFAO, 2008).

At last his lordship and I agree on something. Except that those making and hawking biofuels have not been doing so for any reason nobler than the chase after good old-fashioned gold. They grabbed the opportunity during the recent hikes of crude oil prices to get into that business. Since oil prices have come down in the global recession, the biofuel rush has slowed. But using grain to make biofuel should be banned, and the free market ruled out of order on this matter. I am sure as a former economic adviser to Margaret Thatcher, his lordship would agree. In any case, advances in biodiesel production from algae look like shifting his lordship’s objection to the redundancy bin in short order. [9]

Even if precautions were not killing the poor, they would work no better than the “precautionary” ban on DDT, which killed 40 million children before the UN at last ended it (Dr. Arata Kochi, UN malaria program, 2006).

Read here: precaution is always ill-advised. Nay, counter-productive. Well, if his lordship says so. [10] No need to wear a helmet when out riding to the hounds, then. Tally-ho, tan-tivvy, and all that.

Even if precautions might work, the strategic harm done to humanity by killing the world’s poor and destroying the economic prosperity of the West would outweigh any climate benefit (Henderson, 2007; UNFAO, 2008).

It is truly wonderful to see privilege show such Christ-like concern for the poor of the world. It is as if the all the colonialism, black slavery and multinational extractive activities that founded its collective fortunes after Henry VIII started his navy were motivated by pure altruism. However, buried in the above is the assumption that business-as-usual, even if it leads to increasing drought in India, China, Brazil and Africa, is absolutely essential for the economic prosperity of the world’s poor; except  that business-as-usual, based on fossil fuels is going to run down rapidly anyway, and faster than its proponents may care to think. The technology is there to give everyone in the world safe, clean, renewable and abundant energy. But climate change is the real threat to the world’s poor.

Even if the climatic benefits of mitigation could outweigh the millions of deaths it is causing, adaptation as and if necessary would be far more cost-effective and less harmful (all economists except Stern, 2006).

We do not agree on the millions of deaths bit. If a warmer world promises to be one of altered coastlines but more bountiful agricultural production (as in Plimer’s forecast) then there may be something in this. Except we have no precedent in history or geology for such a world. The present arrangement of continents, mountain ranges and icecaps is unique in the Earth’s geological history, and has only been in position for the last 2.5 million years, during which humans as a species have risen to significant populations, and agriculture and civilization have appeared. A warmer world with glaciated mountains is either a non-sequiteur or a contradiction in terms. As for the rest of it, I suggest his lordship try to sell it to the Dutch, and the villagers of all the river deltas and floodplains of the world.

Even if mitigation were as cost-effective as adaptation, the public sector – which emits twice as much carbon to do a given thing as the private sector – must cut its own size by half before it preaches to us (Friedman, 1993).

Let’s see: Hospitals, schools, police departments, utilities; all spewing carbon dioxide like so many fleets of Rolls-Royces off to a garden party at Windsor Castle. I could not agree more.

Therefore, extravagant, futile schemes by the State and its organs to mitigate imagined “global warming” will have no more effect than King Canute’s command to the tide not to come in and wet the Royal feet.

This is a conclusion which flows more readily from his lordship’s litany than from my suggestions regarding it.

We must get the science right or we shall get the policy wrong. There is no manmade “climate crisis”. It is a non-problem. The correct policy approach to a non-problem is to have the courage to do nothing.

I could not agree more with his lordship’s first sentence, or with the last for that matter; except to add that science is never final on anything. However, his second and third sentences do not follow logically from the first, and they are looking ever more dodgy by the day.

Rescue from overprecaution is one hell of a lot easier than from runaway climate change. Surely his lordship would agree with that.


Notes & Links:


[2] ,