A surprise invitation

I’ve just received an invitation from the Brisbane Institute to participate in a debate with Ian Plimer and Lord Monckton. Having seen Plimer’s Lateline performance, I can’t imagine that this exercise will add much to the sum of human knowledge. OTOH, the event will go ahead regardless. Any thoughts?

Clarification I should say straight off that I have no intention of attempt to debate climate science. Although I’m probably better qualified to discuss the key issues (many of which involve statistics) than either Plimer or Monckton, that’ s not saying much. In any case, discussing these issues in a debate format with dishonest antagonists is pointless, as has been shown many times.

So, the only way to approach it is to address the underlying conspiracy theory directly. If Monckton and Plimer are right, all the major scientific bodies in the world are engaged in a conspiracy to introduce communist world government by (drumroll!) auctioning tradeable carbon emissions permits. The question is, can I convince an audience sympathetic to delusionism that this is a really silly thing to believe?

Update Without advising me that my invitation had been withdrawn, the Institute made another invitation, to Barry Brook, who accepted. So, the decision has been made for me. I did, however, think about the approach I might take if I accepted.

I planned to elaborate Monckton’s conspiracy theory, announce myself as part of the global conspiracy, and conclude by pointing to Margaret Thatcher (Monckton’s former employer) as the originator of the whole thing (she has a great 1990 speech putting forward the case for urgent action based on the precautionary principle). At the end I would have played it straight for a minute or so, asking the audience whether they want to believe this black helicopter nonsense or the alternative that the scientists have it right. Would this have worked? We’ll never know.

Regardless, I certainly hope that Barry Brook and Graham Readfearn (the Courier-Mail environment blogger who will also appear on the pro-science side) stick it to Monckton and Plimer for their political axe-grinding, long track record of lies, and general nuttiness, rather than giving this deplorable event any credibility.

166 thoughts on “A surprise invitation

  1. Hmm. I just read through the IPCC AR4 Report Chapter on snow and ice cover (which includes the discussion on glacier retreat), and I also scanned through the synthesis report and the summary for policy makers. I couldn’t find any reference at all to a claim that Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2035 (nor any similarly sensational claim).

    If this claim is actually in the AR4 report, it must be buried in a pretty obscure place, and it doesn’t appear to be in any of the main sections dealing with projected climate changes, the impacts on Asia or the sections on glacier retreat more generally. In any case, if the claim even appears in an IPCC publication at all, it’s clearly not a “central claim” in a “benchmark report”.

    It looks to me like that news story is at best, misleading, and at worst, simply a lie.

  2. Update – an article in the Uk Daily Mail says that the claim appears in Chapter 10 of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. it’s not altogether clear what they mean by “Chapter Ten of the Fourth Assessment Report”, since there are several reports within the AR4 report, some of which have more than ten chapters, and a synthesis report, whichy only has six chapters. I just searched chapter ten of the Working Group I (physical science) report for ‘glacier’ and then for ‘himalaya’. There is, however, plenty of material dealing with glacial retreat, with a large number of scientific references.

    I’ll try scanning the other working group reports.

  3. And I can confirm

    @Tim Macknay

    That in the Synthesis Report 2007 where one would expect to find such a claim, if it had been made, it does not exist. This claim is total nonsense.

    At one point a claim is made (p28) that:

    Mountainous areas [in Europe … FB] will face glacier retreat, reduced snow cover and winter tourism, and extensive species losses (in some areas up to 60% under high emissions scenarios by 2080) (my insert)

    The only other possibly germane reference is at P27

    On a regional scale, mountain snow pack, glaciers and small ice caps play a crucial role in freshwater availability. Widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century, reducing water availability, hydropower potential, and changing seasonality of flows in regions supplied by meltwater from major mountain ranges (e.g. Hindu-Kush, Himalaya, Andes), where more than one-sixth of the world population currently
    lives. {WGI 4.1, 4.5; WGII 3.3, 3.4, 3.5}

    There is no reference to the year 2035 at all.

  4. I found the quote – it is in Chapter Ten of the Working Group II report. It is unfortunate, and rather embarrassing, in part because there is so much other, well referenced, information about glacier retreat in the same chapter, which contradicts it.

    By the same token, it is still not a “central claim” in the report, and in fact is not supported by the rest of the discussion of glacial retreat in the chapter, and it does not appear in the summary for policy makers. The Oz story is a beat-up based on cherry-picking a minor error.

  5. @Fran Barlow

    This may be the reference Tim …

    Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world (see Table 10.9) and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate. Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 km2 by the year 2035 (WWF, 2005).

    Significantly though they don’t say that the whole mass of the Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2035. There’s an 80% reduction. And as noted, it’s not in the Synthesis Report and much sharper which is odd.

  6. Our posts obviously crossed Tim …

    Indeed … classic cherrypicking, which does not undermine the basic science. Interestingly, the line on ABC News was that CRU showed that scientists were altering the data to strengthen the case for action on climate change.


  7. @Ken Miles

    It is indeed unfortunate that it’s there at all because that kind of forcing in the Himalayas before 2035 would imply absolute carnage in Europe by 2080. Forget 2DegC by 2100, we’d be looking at 7 to 9DegC (which for the record is not out of the question, because we still don’t know what the loss of permafrost sinks will do or when exaxtly they will go beyond the point of no return)

  8. @chrisl

    Chris, you try writing three reports, each hundreds of pages long with a very large number of co-authors and see you can get it error free. That you’ve had to go through almost five hundred pages to find an incorrect statement is actually a pretty good sign of quality.

  9. The Department of Climate Change website is always good for a laugh. Here’s their take on reports produced by the IPCC:

    …The reports are subject to an intense peer-review process involving hundreds of scientific experts and government reviewers. This unprecedented level of peer and government review makes this compendium of climate change science one of the most scrutinized documents in the history of science.

    Oh dear.

  10. @chrisl

    It is a ridiculous claim to say that the Himalaya glaciers vanishing by 2035 was a ‘central claim’. In the words of that great philosopher disputing an important metaphysical point, “You can not be serious!”

    Some minor little error in a massive report and the hysterical deniers latch on it as though it proves something. Are you a complete idiot or are you just trying to nark?

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