Climate change debate now a one-man show
When lawmakers began touting Lord Christopher Monckton's visit to Utah a few months ago, the idea was to have a freewheeling debate on climate-change science.
That matchup never materialized, and now the Third Viscount of Benchley is set to take the stage solo, twice on Tuesday at Utah Valley University's MacKay Events Center in Orem, for a presentation he hopes will be entertaining and informative.
If you're thinking now about writing it off as another stodgy science lecture, you might want to think again.
To begin with, Monckton and his subject are provocative.
In a telephone interview Friday, he acknowledged his lack of formal training in the hard sciences but also defended his qualifications to criticize the climate-science mainstream, as well as the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Monckton said he has a solid understanding of science -- he's lectured physicists, solved complex problems for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and poked holes in the IPCC's findings.
Plus, he said, he has scientific training in architectural studies that made it possible for him to build his own home, which is still standing.
"I do have some scientific knowledge, but it would be wrong of me to claim that I am any kind of qualified climatologist," he said. "I just quietly get on with the science. Then I tell people what I think the science shows."
He said he will talk Tuesday about why global warming is not a crisis. He also will discuss what he sees as the economic and moral pitfalls society faces in trying to control it. And Monckton insists visitors won't hear any partisanship from him.
"I am no campaigner nor do I do any campaigning on either side of the issue," he said. "All I do is look at the science."
But Richard Littlemore has a very different take on Monckton's visit to Utah.
Editor of the DeSmogBlog Web site, Littlemore describes Monckton as "a shameless prevaricator" and an operative in a larger campaign underwritten by industry and carried out by "climate skeptics."
Littlemore said Monckton's goal is to flummox the public about the most pressing issue of our time.
"What you can expect is great performance art," he said of Monckton's upcoming presentation. "He will do everything he can to make it more confusing, more in doubt and less certain than it actually is."
In the book, Climate Cover-up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming , Littlemore and James Hoggan characterize climate skepticism as the latest iteration of the type of anti-science campaign originated by the tobacco industry decades ago. Industry-funded think tanks worked to discredit scientists. They also built a "denial industry" that tried to cast scientific doubt about the links between acid rain and coal-fired power plants, chlorofluorocarbons and the ozone hole, the harm caused by asbestos and secondhand tobacco.
"And now they deny climate change," he said, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that it's happening, that humans are responsible and swift action is crucial for billions of people.
"There is a whole team of nonscientists and pseudo-scientists who deny science for a living."
Littlemore counts Monckton among them, along with the Washington D.C.-based Science and Public Policy Institute, which arranged Monckton's Utah appearance.
The organization lists Monckton as its "Chief Policy Adviser" and has circulated flyers for the Tuesday event that describe it as "essential for caucus-goers" -- statewide political caucuses are Tuesday night -- and "a perfect educational opportunity." The flyer also lists a new Web site, utahclimate.org, that has a prominent link to the Science and Public Policy Institute Web page but no other information about who is behind it.
Institute President Bob Ferguson did not respond to requests for comment on the specific role his organization is playing in the Monckton visit -- or whether the institute is underwriting it.
Meanwhile, Monckton said he knew only that the organization bought his plane ticket to Utah.
"Who's paying for it?" he said. "I have no idea."
The Institute Web page says Ferguson's undergraduate degree is from Brigham Young University and adds he worked in GOP congressional offices for more than two decades.
His biographical information does not mention his past roles with the Frontiers of Freedom, an interest group underwritten partly by money from tobacco and oil industries. He also has past roles with the Center for Science and Public Policy, which together received about $1 million from the Exxon Mobil Corp. between 2002-07, according to company-published reports.
Ferguson has testified in Utah's Capitol several times during the past year against mainstream climate science and federal efforts to regulate carbon dioxide. His group also financed a visit by Roy Spencer, another prominent skeptic, last fall.
Among those who plan to attend Tuesday's debate is Rep. Mike Noel, a Kanab Republican who has kept climate on the Legislature's agenda over the past year and who championed anti-climate measures and amendments in the just-concluded session.
"It's important to hear both sides," he said, adding that too little is heard about the views of those, like Monckton, who disagree with mainstream climate scientists.
"I think it helps to have an open discussion on it," Noel concluded, pointing out that policy makers need advice about the best way to deal with climate.
A few climate activists also plan to attend, even if they have no plans for a protest. Michael Mielke of Salt Lake City said he wants to be among those standing up for the science demonstrating the threat of climate disruption.
"You've got a full-court press on the other side," he said.
There also will be several notable no-shows.
One is Ashley Anderson, one of about 50 who crashed a speech at the Americans for Prosperity "Hot Air Tour" during the Copenhagen climate talks in December. Monckton was filmed calling the protesters "crazed Hitler youth" and "Nazis."
Anderson said it would be a waste of his time to listen to Monckton, whom he called an attention-seeker and "a clown." "He is spewing total mistruths" about the threat posed by climate disruption, Anderson said.
Brigham Young University geochemist Barry Bickmore said last week he will be out of town at a professional conference. A dogged and articulate defender of mainstream climate science, Bickmore said Ferguson tried to recruit him to debate Monckton and even offered him $5,000 to do it.
But Bickmore said he was not interested in participating in "a sound-bite fest" about such a complex subject. He said he'd offered to participate in an online debate that would allow for fact-checking and detailed references but Ferguson responded with a "flat-out 'no'."
Monckton, meanwhile, countered that Bickmore and the other 17 BYU scientists who challenged state lawmakers on their handling of climate in recent months were put off by his command of the science.
"They found on looking at the data that I was right," Monckton said. "I think they found it disconcerting."
"The fact is," responded Bickmore, "he has a reputation for making up stuff. None of us wanted to get into a situation where there won't be an opportunity for fact-checking."
What » Global Warming is no crisis
Who » Lord Christopher Monckton
When » Tuesday at noon and 7 p.m.
Where » Utah Valley University, Mckay Events Center, Orem
How much » Free to the public, hosted by the Science and Public Policy Institute