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Monckton Myth #17: Debate vs. Denniss, Part 2

Posted on 29 July 2011 by dana1981

This is the second part of our examination of Monckton's scientific and economic claims in his debate with Richard Denniss.  Part 1, which also contains a video of the debate, can be viewed here.

Carbon Pricing Economics

Once Monckton has finished warping climate science in his opening remarks, he moves on to warping climate economics.

"in the London insurance market we have a saying, and that is that 'if the cost of the premium exceeds the cost of the risk, don't insure'.  And that brings me to the carbon tax and the mineral resources rent tax.  Now both of these taxes are going to cost more than the cost of letting global warming happen in the first place...andF how much will it cost?  Around AU$127 billion over the next 10 years".

Here Monckton employs the common "skeptic" trick of focusing on the costs of carbon pricing while completely ignoring the benefits.  Real world examples of carbon pricing have shown that the benefits exceed the costs several times over.  In order to argue that carbon pricing will be costly, tricksters like Monckton, the Heritage Foundation, and the Republican National Committee have to pretend that the funds from the carbon pricing system will disappear into a black hole.  That is not reality, and economic studies consistently predict that the benefits will outweigh the costs several times over.  However, Monckton claims otherwise:

"it is clearly cheaper to do nothing about global warming and to adapt in a focused way to any consequences that are adverse that may occur from any warming that may occur than to spend any money whatsoever now on it.  And the overwhelming consensus in the peer-reviewed economic literature...a majority, in fact a near unanimity among economists show that it is greatly more expensive to try and intervene...than simply to sit back, enjoy the sunshine, and adapt in a focused way, as and if and only when necessary."

This claim is completely backwards.  There is a consensus among economists with expertise in the climate that we should reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because doing so would benefit the economy.

should US reduce emissions

2009 NYU IPI survey results of economists with climate expertise when asked under what circumstances the USA should reduce its emissions

Abrupt Warming

Monckton proceeds to claim that abrupt climate change simply does not happen:

"Ask the question how in science there could be any chance that the rate of just roughly 1 Celsius per century of warming that has been occurring could suddenly become roughly 5 Celsius per century as it were overnight.  There is no physical basis in science for any such sudden lurch in what has proven to be an immensely stable climate."

First of all, the central estimates for warming over the next century - depending on the CO2 emissions scenario of course - are in the ballpark of 2 to 4°C.  5°C is possible, but only in the highest emission scenarios.  But more important is Monckton's claim that the climate is inherently stable.  The paleoclimate record begs to differ.  A stable climate is the exception, not the norm, at least over long timeframes.

ice core data

Moreover, there has never before been a large human influence on the climate, so why should we expect it to behave exactly as it has in the past when only natural effects were at work?

Earth Has Warmed as Expected

Monckton also repeats one of Richard Lindzen's favorite myths, that Earth hasn't warmed as much as expected based on the IPCC climate sensitivity:

"if we go back to 1750...using the Central England Temperature record as a proxy for global temperatures...we've had 0.9°C of warming in response to an addition of greenhouse gases to atmosphere by us which is almost equivalent to a doubling of CO2 concentration.  That's going to give you around 1°C of warming per doubling of CO2 concentration. Over the last 60 years we again see 1°C of warming per century.  All of the evidence points to 1°C of warming for a doubling of CO2"

It should go without saying that the temperature record for a single geographic location cannot be an accurate proxy for average global temperature.  We know that over the past century, the average global temperature has warmed approximately 0.8°C, and over this period, the atmospheric CO2 equivalent concentration (including the added greenhouse effect from other greenhouse gases like methane) has almost doubled, as Monckton suggests. 

However, human aerosol emissions, which have a cooling effect, have also increased over this period.  And while 3°C is the IPCC best estimate for equilibrium climate sensitivity, the climate system is not yet in equilibrium.  Neglecting these two factors (aerosols and thermal inertia of the global climate), as Monckton and Lindzen have done, will certainly give you an underestimate of equilibrium sensitivity, by a large margin.  This is how Monckton supports his lowball climate sensitivity claim - by neglecting two important climate factors.

As we have previously shown, the warming over the past 60 years is consistent with the IPCC climate sensitivity range, and inconsistent with Lindzen and Monckton's lowball climate sensitivity claims.  Monckton claims the observational data supports his low sensitivity claims - reality is that observational data contradicts them.

International Action

Monckton proceeds to make false claims about why a few countries pulled out of a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol:

"there is no need to take any action about carbon dioxide at all.  That is why Canada has announced that she is not going to participate in a Kyoto 2, Japan has announced the same, even America has announced the same"

Suggesting that these countries pulled out of Kyoto because they believe no action on carbon emissions must be taken is completely false.  Japan, for example, is fighting for a broader deal to reduce emissions.  The vice minister for global environmental affairs at Japan's environment ministry argued that extending Kyoto, which excludes two largest emitters (China and the USA), would be "meaningless and inappropriate".  Japan is trying increase global emissions cuts by including the largest emitters - Monckton's claim could not be further from the truth.  And although the USA and Canada have not taken serious action to reduce emissions, both governments do agree that action must be taken.  If Monckton were correct and these countries did not believe emissions reductions were necessary, they would not participate in international climate conferences at all.

Runaway Warming

Monckton argued that the IPCC climate sensitivity range is:

"a near impossibility physically speaking, because in any object on which feedbacks operate, if the feedback loop gain is great than somewhere in a range of 0.01 to 0.1, the object becomes terminally unstable, and under conditions which might quite easily occur, the loop gain would reach 1, and the system would blow itself apart."

However, as we have previously discussed, Monckton's argument doesn't apply to the greenhouse gas situation, because the equation behind its feedback is different.  As usual, Monckton oversimplifies the situation, and as a result, arrives at the wrong conclusion.

Carbon Pollution

Speaking of oversimplifying, Monckton finishes out the debate by intertwining two more myths, arguing that CO2 isn't a pollutant because it's plant food.

"let us distinguish between pollution - which usually means particulate pollution such as soot - or the emission of carbon dioxide, which on any view, is not a pollutant.  It is plant and tree food."

However, as Denniss pointed out, CO2 is by definition a pollutant because its emissions are an unintended byproduct of burning fossil fuels, which endanger public health and welfare through their impacts on climate change.  And the 'CO2 is plant food' argument is, once again, a gross oversimplification of the issue.

Lesson Learned - Verbal Debates are a Mistake

For the most part, Monckton came out of this debate looking pretty good for one simple reason - you win a verbal debate not by being right, but by sounding right.  Monckton spent almost the entire debate misrepresenting the scientific (and economic) literature at best, lying at worst. 

But in a debate, you don't lose anything by being dishonest or wrong.  The most your opponent can do is say you're lying, and then it's a case of he-said, she-said.  And Monckton is certainly an eloquent and charming speaker who plays to a crowd very well.  Reality, facts, and science aren't on his side, but in a public debate, that hardly matters.  Thus debating a  "skeptic" like Monckton is doing him a favor.  If Monckton wants to debate climate science, he should do so in the peer-reviewed literature like a real scientist (and no Monckton, the APS newsletter is not peer-reviewed).

Or alternatively, if Monckton challenges you to a debate, follow Barry Bickmore's advice and offer a written debate where facts can be checked.  Not surprisingly, Monckton declined Dr. Bickmore's offer.

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Comments 1 to 35:

  1. Debunking Lord Monckton is becoming a Whack-a-Moley enterprise. Boring and repetitive it is at its worst, as he has not come up with new arguments for years. However, I think the key to progress is not to back down but to persistently maintain one's ground. Many thanks to Skeptical Science for doing that, for for being such a valuable repository of information.
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  2. The Gish Gallop can be used in reverse.... In a verbal debate you present a list of statements, from being a member of the house of lords, to misquoting and interpreting the scientific literature and hammer on one point: Monckton makes things up and has no credibility, either personally or scientifically. He has no right to be on the podium because he's a serial liar. You stick to message- and if he stumbles and brings up a case where he's been damned by the authors of the paper he quotes, you pounce....and if he doesn't you keep repeating. You take it from he said/he said- because you're citing sources. Better go in with a handout with the references and a press packet. It can be done. Oh..don't use the word liar. I'm sure he'd love to sue. And you rehearse. You have someone play Monckton. and practice, practice, practice.
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  3. Where it says "in the London inurance market" it should say "in the London insurance" ;). Nice series of articles. I cannot even imagine the pain of going through this horrific Gish Gallop of nonsense!
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  4. Thanks Daneel, correction made. I transcribed the quotes myself while listening to the video of the debate, so there may be some typos in there like the one you caught. It's certainly a lot of work to respond to these Gish Gallops.
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  5. Monckton is fast becoming a kind of Kent Hovind of climate figure
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  6. Me? I'd like to see Monckton debate Potholer. Two reasons. Firstly, audiences who are superficial enough to find Monckton's accent and speaking style impressive will have to listen to both sides presented by apparently similar voices and accents. (Let's leave aside discussion about the Australian and American propensity to favour any British accent as classy and, therefore, persuasive.) Secondly, potholer is, like a few other people, expert on Monckton's version of science rather than being a scientist himself. And this is the crucial thing in this sort of endeavour. Never ever presume that he will respond appropriately, or even acknowledge, the reality of another's point. Behave as though you're a schoolteacher dealing with a smart aleck 14 year old full of self-righteous justifications for shoddy work and you're on the right track.
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  7. adelady... I wouldn't expect Peter would do that. Literally it's just a no-win to debate with someone who is so willing to tell such bald-faced lies. That's what Monckton does for a living. He is a master of telling lies with such zeal and confidence that people who don't know better just believe him. It's easy to battle this when you have the time to pull up the actual research and read through it to see where he gets it wrong. That's been a very effective tool at dealing with Monckton. John Abraham did a great job. Peter's Hatfield and Sinclair have both done excellent video series. There are lots of other articles online which Dana has now added to. The only really effect moment in a debate against Monckton was when Tim Lambert caught him out on Dr Pinker's work. And that was mostly effective just because Monckton clearly didn't even realize that Pinker was a woman. While Denniss did a good job of getting his own message out, generally I think it's not a good idea to give Monckton any kind of microphone. It's just allows him one more opportunity to project his lies.
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  8. It would help in these 'debates' if the opposition would point out the blatantly obvious inconsistencies in Monckton's polemic. At the start he says that you can't predict the climate because it is too chaotic and in the middle he says that it is immensely stable before then heading back to it being chaotic again at the end. "There is no physical basis in science for any such sudden lurch in what has proven to be an immensely stable climate." Also there was the classic idiotic statement he made in his spiel about the MWP, where he brazenly stated that the central England temperature series was "a good proxy for the global climate, it's at about the right latitude" ... wtf? These things stick out like a sore thumb, and they need to be hammered every time they do.
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  9. norandroids @5, that sort of suggestion is never welcome, and never appropriate. wingding @6, perfect analogy.
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  10. What would possibly work, but be very risky, is for someone to debate Monckton, and publicly call him a liar and a scientific fraud. Monckton would then sue, with the best lawyers the Koch brothers could buy. That would provide the opportunity to discredit Monckton in a court of law, with great publicity. Any volunteers ?
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  11. Monkcton has suggested (threatened?) that he will bring suit against several people on several occasions (Dr John Abraham comes to mind); to my knowledge he has not carried out any such suits. Perhaps for the same reason why he has declined to participate in a fact-check debate. Anyone know otherwise? Has Monckton pressed ahead with one or more of his lawsuit threats?
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  12. Monckton continues to have audiences because he tells people what they want to hear. I would also be very happy to believe he is right that climate change is not a serious problem, but I can't reconcile what he says with what I learned in college courses on physics, chemistry, and statistics, and logic, for that matter. But, I don't think I represent his audience. He survives debates by talking about science that is beyond the skill level of the audience, and laying down a series of half-truths which lead to incorrect inferences, or outright fabrications. He does not engage climate scientists in the battlefield of published research; he would loose even if he did manage to get something published. The average audience does not appreciate that peer-reviewed journals are an open battlefield. They often think it is some kind of private club. Peer-review is just a first-pass filter to keep people from bringing knives to a gunfight. He wins audiences by convincing them that he is on their side, which has an unspoken implication that his opponent must not be. You will not win an audience who doesn't know Stefan-Boltzman from the ideal gas law with more facts. Even if you provide correct information where he has not, as has been said, it will be a he-said/he(she)-said situation, and if you are telling people what they don't want to believe, you loose. I tend to agree with Rob that it is a not a good idea to give him a microphony. Monckton is far better at rhetoric than science. To beat him in front of a science-challenged audience, it is not enough be better at the science, you have to be better at the rhetoric as well. But, then the debate becomes one that only has a pretense of being about the science. Oh...I see. As far as Monckton is concerned, this has always been the case.
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  13. Chris G - yes, Monckton knows his audience and their lack of scientific comprehension well. Toward the end of the debate in the Q&A session, a reporter asked Monckton about the House of Lords controversy. He took great offense, of course, and changed the subject back to the climate. Fair enough, except he just babbled about how the IPCC climate sensitivity can't be right because the feedback loop gain would make the climate blow up (runaway warming, as discussed in the post above). It was total nonsense, but he knows his audience hasn't a clue what "feedback loop gain" is. After he made his wrong point, he sat back with a smug grin, like he had made some brilliant point, and the 'skeptics' in the audience applauded him even though they hadn't a clue what he had just said. It was quite the spectacle.
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  14. I had to smile when Monckton did a hat tip to his sponsor Gina Rinehart (of Hancock Resources and Australia's richest person) by conflating the mineral resources rent tax with our proposed action on climate change. What a dead giveaway that Monckton was only here in Australia for political shenanigans by vested interests.
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  15. In a recent press release, Lord Monckton claimed:- * "Forestalling all of the 0.24 C° global warming predicted by 2020 would demand almost $60,000 from every man, woman and child on the planet. * That cost is equivalent to almost 60% of global GDP to 2020. He repeated these figures at his National Press Club debate. Treasury modelling states that the carbon tax will reduce Australian GDP by 0.3% in 2020 ($171 per head per annum)and reduce our CO2 equivalent emissions by 25% over business as usual. Why should a global solution cost 60% of GDP? Not surprisingly, Monckton employs a number of "tricks" to exaggerate the cost of a climate change solution. Firstly he calculates the cost of implementing a solution with NO manmade CO2 emissions. This raises the cost to 0.3%*4 =1.2% of GDP. Next he uses the reduction from 2000 levels (5%) instead of the reduction from business as usual 2020 levels(25%). That multiplies the result by another factor of 5 to get to 6% of GDP. This is still not large enough, so Monckton calculates the gross value of the tax rather than the impact on GDP. Even when calculating the gross value of the scheme, he adds both the tax received and the expenditures from the tax (such as administration, renewable energy support and coal and steel support). By this means, Monckton estimates the net cost of the current scheme as $13 billion per annum or 1% of GDP instead of Treasury's figure of 0.3% This calculation brings Monckton's calculation of the global abatement cost up to 20% of GDP but Monckton has a few more "tricks" up his sleeve. Monckton assumes that the carbon pollution measures only the impact of CO2 - 51% of manmade forcings. He therefore doubles the cost again to allow for eliminating all the other manmade forcings such as methane - bringing us up to 40% of GDP. Of course the Australian carbon tax does tax methane emissions ( as the coal industry will attest to ). Monckton understands that Australia has 2% of global GDP but contributes only 1.2% of global CO2 because we have high energy efficiency. He therefore implicitly assumes that the cost of abatement in countries with low energy efficiency would be the same as Australia's. Multiplying 40% by 2%/1.2% brings Monckton up to his 60% of GDP. Just in case all the tricks haven't been enough to scare the public, Monckton has one last card to play. He calculates the cost per head over a 10 yesr period rather than a cost per year. The cost per head becomes $59,000 instead of $5,900 per head per annum. The bottom line is that Australia will reduce its emissions by 25% over business as usual levels at a cost of 0.3% of GDP per annum or $172 per head per annum. I could only conclude that Lord Monckton deliberately set out to deceive his audiences with a patently ridiculous cost for tackling climate change.
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  16. Thanks for the details spencerd. As I noted in the article, right-wing American think tanks employ the same sorts of shenanigans and Monckton does to inflate the actual costs of this proposed climate legislation. In the US, serious estimates put the costs of previously passed legislation at somewhere around $100 per average household per year as well. This of course doesn't account for the money saved by reducing the effects of climate change.
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  17. Get a recognised qualified economist to formally critique Monckton's analysis for media publication. Gotta carry weight.
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  18. Monctons response is here:
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  19. MangoChutney @ 18 You just spoiled my morning. I followed your link, partly to see what all the fuss is about concerning WUWT. I read Christopher Monckton's article and the thread of comments following it. The comments thread had very few entries challenging the article, or even asking for clarification, contrary to the case at SkS where challenging and questioning is actively encouraged. My conclusion is that following WUWT results in diminished ability to critically assess the scientific evidence. As a true sceptic, seeking evidence-based conclusions, I have found SkS to be an excellent learning resource. Several comments on the WUWT thread claimed that John Cook would not post Christopher's article on SkS, because John's arguments had been 'eviscerated' by Chris's calm and 'scientific' deconstruction. Some urged that he take John to court for slander. I am hoping that John can find the time to respond to Chris in an appropriate manner.
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  20. I stumbled on to that article this morning just by chance,and I wondered if John Cook had seen it. Despite their claim to not tolerate ad hominems in their comment policy,I noticed that one comment referred to him as John 'Crook'. Apparently that is OK there.And why are they so quick to advocate suing people?What's up with that?
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  21. @Doug H #19 I agree, John Cook should respond - perhaps the two of them could host a joint discussion to try and get AGW supporters and sceptics talking, ideally in a neutral blog, where no side can be accused of manipulating the comments? Perhaps even a live debate next time Monckton is down under. For what it's worth, I totally agree the name calling isn't necessary or desireable, from either side of the debate. I know I am sometimes guilty of this, but I do try to be civil. I do know WUWT is actively encouraging people to use "SkS" when referring to this website. It's a start.
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  22. BTW - I've just checked the WUWT page and the offending reference has been removed.
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  23. MangoChutney: Being somewhat guilty of less-than-entirely-civil comments here on SkS and elsewhere myself earlier this week, I am definitely in favour of raising the tone and will hopefully follow through in my own behaviour. However, I must strongly disagree with the notion of a live debate with Christopher Monckton. Monckton's debate & presentation style leans heavy on rhetoric and less on solid evidentiary grounds(as Peter Hadfield alias potholer54 shows ably on YouTube). IMO he tends to spout off so many incorrect claims that effectively countering them all in verbal debate is usually not possible given the time constraints involved. He also has both a superficial knowledge of a great deal of topics and an overweening confidence that comes across during presentations, which can leave others with deeper knowledge in some topics but less in others appearing to be his intellectual inferiors (Hadfield shows a video clip where Monckton gets one over an actual scientist with a few soundbites and his over-the-top assertiveness alone, and is not called to account for his poor evidentiary support due to the limits of the medium). As such, I would suggest any debate involving Monckton be strictly on a written basis, with sources clearly linked to and clear premise-conclusion chains of inference made to show how all participating parties' conclusions follow from the evidence they have brought to the table. If I recall correctly, Monkcton has refused to participate in such endeavours in the past.
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  24. @Composer #23 I'm not aware of Monckton ever refusing a debate, but, as I don't follow him or his blog often, I will happily be corrected. I feel sure that Monckton would agree to a written, evidence based debate - perhaps John Cook could do the invites and they could joint host?
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  25. MangoChutney, Barry Bickmore issued a challenge last year that wasn't taken up : The Debate Monckton Won’t Have. I wonder why ?
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Fixed URL.
  26. @JMurphy #25 Like I said, I'm wasn't aware. It does seem, however, that Monckton would be more than happy to engage in a written debate now, since he has responded to John Cook's comments over at WUWT
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  27. I completely agree with Composer99 about the problems of doing a live debate.It is always frustrating to me to watch any debate where multiple lines of argument are left unanswered because the format does not allow for comprehensive follow up and nuanced explanations. I have often dreamed about a debate forum where each argument and counter argument were dealt with one at a time with each side given all the time needed to support their position,and have objective judges vet the responses.I am not even sure that this is possible,but the idea intrigues me.
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  28. I have often dreamed about a debate forum where each argument and counter argument were dealt with one at a time with each side given all the time needed to support their position,and have objective judges vet the responses.I am not even sure that this is possible...
    Oh, it's possible - many bloggers have tried to engage denialists in specific threads to exactly this end. Brian Angliss did this just over a week ago with Burt Rutan. Angliss' approach was to put up two threads, one open and one dedicated just to his comments and Rutan's, and this would have allowed both an extented analysis and a noise-free corner. Rutan promptly ducked and weaved and high-tailed it away. And here on Skeptical Science there was a whole series of exchanges with Roger Pielke Snr intended to nut out the facts. The trouble is, denialists rarely seem to discuss things in good faith. Frankly, I would like to see how they respond in a setting more like a thesis defence, where they do not have the opportunity to prevaricate or otherwise distract from the hard facts. I think that Monckton in particular would snap under that sort of pressure - his whole glib schtick is predicated on his audience and questioners not knowing that his responses to genuinely-scientific opponents are completely bogus.
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  29. Bernard J- I read the Angliss Rutan thread,and it supports your statement that denialists rarely discuss things in good faith.Very disheartening. I would imagine an online debate with Monckton would similarly deteriorate into (at least on his side) a rhetorical smoke and mirrors presentation,rather than an exchange of science and fact.
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  30. Anybody know if John Cook is going to challenge Monckton to a written debate? TIA
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  31. MangoChutney I very much doubt that Monckton would agree to ground rules that would make it a meaningful exercise (essentially the debate could still be spoiled by responding to every criticism with a gish gallop so that no point every got discussed in any depth). Sadly politicians have the wrong idea about the purpose of a debate (it shouldn't be about winning, it ought to be about establishing the truth; if the truth is on your side, you should win a rational debate anyway) and from experience are well versed in the required techniques. Any debate that is held ought to be structured as the discussion is at SkS, with each topic discussed in a single focussed thread and independently moderated to make sure that focuss was not lost; but Monckton would be mad to agree to that. I don't know if JC is intending to challenge Monckton, but personally I'd say there are much better uses of his time.
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  32. @Dikran I think we discussed this earlier - there's no harm in Cook asking for a written debate is there? The funny thing is I'm not entirely convinced Monckton would accept either
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  33. @MangoChutney The harm would be in it being a waste of time and energy (I suspect not quite as inexaustible as it would seem) that John could be using for something more constructive. I should add that Monckton is perfectly at liberty to debate his assertions on the relevant threads at SkS already.
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  34. Why would anyone debate Monckton? He's not worth the time or energy. He's really only got his reliance on titles going for him and that only appeals to Americans (hereditary tiltes are good for getting into restaurants in the US but they're BS really) Don't give him air, he can preach to any idiot that wants to listen but most will realise its just guff from a nobody.
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  35. Nobody should debate Monckton. He needs to be debunked regularly because less-than-skeptical skeptics laud and praise him, but he is not anyone in climate science. His world is made of misrepresentation, distortion, fantasy and gamesmanship. There is no point to debating such nonsense. Debunk, and move on. Giving the man the credibility that comes with bothering to debate him is giving him far more than his due.
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