19 October 2008

Viscount Monckton's Rebuttal of my Rebuttal

The 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley is a well known and entertaining figure in the climate change blogsphere. For example, Deltoid has an entire category on this self-proclaimed climate expert. Obviously, the Viscount has published a lot of controversial texts (NOT scientific, peer-reviewed papers, though) on the climate change issue. The one that I am most interested in is of course his rebuttal of my rebuttal of the Khilyuk and Chilingar piece in Environmental Geology, published on the SPPI website.

As Deltoid has rightfully pointed out, defending Khilyuk and Chilingar is not exactly a proof of being a true climate expert. But of course, Christopher Monckton has other credentials, such as being an aristocrat and having served as an advisor to Margaret Thatcher, Baroness herself. Quite impressive, indeed. Ok, as a Swiss I have to admit that I have no real sense for the British love of such titles, as in our country we happily got rid of foreign lords some 700 years ago. But that's another story...

So did the honorable Viscount provide a convincing rejection of my arguments? Not really, it seems to me. In his rebuttal, he shows an amazing unwillingness to discuss the issues in any detail or with any precision. He rather adds to the confusion that Khilyuk and Chilingar have initiated. Some examples:

When I tried to explain that Khilyuk and Chilingar's statement about the insignificant (less than 0.1 °C) warming caused by humanity's energy production was misleading, because the warming is not due to direct heating by energy use but to the indirect effect of CO2, Monckton just claims that the 0.1 °C are not that far from the scientific consensus, completely missing the point.

By the way, there recently was an interesting paper in AGU's journal Eos, where the direct warming resulting from releasing the energy of fossil fuels and other non-renewables was extrapolated into the future to show that it represents an ultimate limit to our ever-growing energy use. Of course, it is more than questionable whether such an enormous growth of fossil fuel use is at all possible, but it is an interesting conclusion nevertheless. Even if there was no peak oil and no greenhouse effect, the simple energy balance will eventually put an ultimate limit to growth. Unfortunately, we will see the other limits closing in much earlier, I suppose.

But back to Monckton. He also challenges my statement about the very small global mean insolation changes due to variations of Earth's orbital parameters, by asking how then the large glacial - interglacial temperature changes could be explained. Of course, it is the point of the Milankovitch theory that changes in the latitudinal distribution of insolation can drive glacial cycles even in the absence of changes in the total mean irradiation, but this argument seems to be too subtle for Monckton as well as Khilyuk and Chilingar.

Next, Monckton suggests that the indeed surprising current pause in the rise of methane in the atmosphere is linked to a recent stabilization of tectonic activity - apparently backing Khilyuk and Chilingar's claim that volcanism rather than human emissions is the cause of the rise in greenhouse gases. Interesting point, but where is the evidence that tectonic activity has changed over the past centuries or even just decades? Is there any scientific reference for this?

Monckton also does not like my argument that it may be misleading to compare the total CO2 degassing over Earth's history with the anthropogenic release over the past 250 years or so. Again, the argument that the time scale matters seems too subtle.

Similarly, Monckton just stirs up the confusion about the role of the ocean's warming in causing the atmospheric CO2 increase. Of course, Henry's law requires that a warming ocean release CO2. However, if at the same time the CO2 partial pressure in the atmosphere (due to fossil fuel combustion) increases even more strongly than that in the water (due to warming), the net effect is still an uptake of CO2 by the ocean, as has been observed for the 20th century.

Monckton seems to like simple arguments, even if they are demonstrably wrong. He also prefers the simplistic temperature history of the past 1000 years shown by Khilyuk and Chilingar over the much more detailed records of other authors (not only the much criticized hockey stick of Mann et al., by the way).

Unfortunately, reality is not always simple. And sometimes not the way we would like it to be. Even a Viscount of Brenchley cannot change this.

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