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The strange case of Lord Monckton

By Matin Durrani in Perth, Australia


If there’s one issue dominating Australian politics right now, it’s the proposed tax on emissions of greenhouse gases.

It seems a genuine attempt to encourage Australia – probably the world’s highest per capita emitter of carbon dioxide – to slow down or halt its growth in emissions.

Unfortunately, the climate-change debate in Australia is lagging well behind that in the rest of the world, with the media giving way too much attention to those “climate sceptics” who remain unconvinced that rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are changing the Earth’s climate.

We’re not talking about providing airspace to the relatively small band of genuine scientists who are questioning particular aspects of the scientific evidence for climate change, based on a thorough knowledge of the relevant research.

Instead, the Australian media seems to be focusing on one character in particular: a certain Lord Monckton, deputy leader of the UK Independence Party.

This is the man who, apart from claiming that global warming stopped in 2001, likened the Australian federal government’s chief climate-change adviser Ross Garnaut of the University of Melbourne to a Nazi for his views on global warming, a below-the-belt accusation for which he was forced to apologize earlier this week.

Yesterday, however, as I was nearing the end of my week-long fact-finding tour of Australian science, who else should be appearing in the Perth district than Monckton himself.

He was invited to deliver the Lang Hancock Lecture at Notre Dame University in Fremantle, just south of Perth on Thursday night. Unfortunately, the university press office declined a request to attend to the event that was put in by one of the other journalists on the tour I’m on.

Monckton’s visit had already caused a fair bit of noise, including a formal complaint from more than 50 Australian scientists, who called for the lecture to be cancelled. Despite the protests, the lecture went ahead as planned, as did a separate talk at the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies annual convention on Math Lessons for Climate-Crazed Lawmakers

To me there’s no point calling for Monckton’s views to be stifled, which only adds to his martyr status and makes it appear that climate scientists have something to hide and are too scared to see the topic out in the open.

What’s needed instead is a careful unpicking of his main points, such as those offered here

That was certainly the view taken a few years ago in the UK by the likes of former science adviser David King. It’s the path that Australia needs to go down too.

But the controversy has not reached the end of its course. Monckton is also due to speak on 4 July in the chemistry department at the University of Western Australia. However, UWA president Alan Robson, who I met for lunch today, has insisted that the talk was not endorsed by the university but that it had been organized by a local community group that merely chose to use the department as a venue.

The row looks set to go on.

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