Australia prepares to swallow Monckton yet again

GRAHAM READFEARN from the ABC Drum Unleashed; May 6 2011

Graham Readfearn

Denial of the seriousness of human-caused climate change or the reliability of the science comes in many guises but none are more eccentric, more rhetorical or more consistently wrong than that manifested in the human form of Lord Christopher Monckton.

English hereditary peer Lord Monckton, the Third Viscount of Brenchley, is one of the world’s most charismatic and omnipresent climate change deniers, despite having no science qualifications.

He’s coming to Australia. Again.

Among other things, Lord Monckton argues that attempts by Governments and the United Nations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation and burning fossil fuels are part of a conspiracy to install a world government. In Lord Monckton’s eyes it’s all a socialist plot. Climate change is not caused by burning fossil fuels and, even if it was, the impact is negligible. No action is required.

Over the last few years as he has toured Australia, the UK and America, working climate scientists have examined and roundly debunked his unique interpretation of climate change science. The Australian science-based blog Skeptical Science currently lists some 75 “Monckton Myths“- each showing how Lord Monckton has misrepresented, misunderstood or misinterpreted the peer-reviewed science.

But as Lord Monckton’s credibility among working climate scientists continues to hover somewhere between zero and the negatives, plans are afoot to fly him to Australia for a repeat of his 2010 nationwide speaking tour, which received much media attention.

In a barely disguised fundraising advertisement, journalist James Massola wrote in his Capital Circle column for The Australian earlier this week how “funds are needed” to finance the tour. Massola helpfully linked to a website with account details for people to deposit money.

But even before the tour’s schedule is established, Lord Monckton has secured his first engagement with a spot at the annual convention of the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies in Perth at the end of June, which includes the CSIRO among its official supporters.  His presentation is titled “Maths Lessons for Climate-Crazed Lawmakers”.

But support for Lord Monckton’s unique brand of climate denial is nothing new for the Australian mining community. At key stages in Lord Monckton’s 2010 tour of Australia, wealthy and respected mining figures were there to lend a hand, provide a forum and, in some cases, to give cash support.

In Queensland, the Brisbane Institute hosted a debate which was filmed and later broadcast by the ABC’s Big Ideas program and was covered in newspapers and on television news (I was on the debating panel).

But the Brisbane Institute ‘debate’ would likely not have gone ahead had it not been for the intervention of mining entrepreneur Bob Bryan. As one organiser stated in an email obtained by this writer, Mr Bryan underwrote the event to cover the $16,000 deposit required by the venue, the Hilton Brisbane.

Mr Bryan is as close to mining royalty as miners can get in Queensland. In 2009, he was inducted into the Queensland Government’s Business Leaders Hall of Fame for “outstanding entrepreneurship in the mining industry significantly contributing to Queensland’s economic development”.

Mr Bryan is also the inaugural “Honorary Life Member” of Queensland’s peak mining industry body, the Queensland Resources Council. He has a successful career as a director of mining companies and co-founded and chaired coal seam gas company Queensland Gas Company until it was sold in 2008 to UK-based BG Group for $5.6 billion.

In Perth, it was the turn of another of Australia’s mining elite to back Monckton’s climate denial tour. Mining magnate and Australia’s richest person Gina Rinehart, chairman of Hancock Prospecting, offered a donation to the cause. She also made available a member of her own Hancock Prospecting staff to help co-ordinate the event, held at the Parmelia Hilton.

Accompanying Lord Monckton as a speaker at many of the venues, including Perth and Brisbane, was the University of Adelaide mining geologist Professor Ian Plimer, who is also non-executive director at CBH Resources and Ivanhoe Australia, a director of UK-listed Kefi Minerals, a director of Australia-based coal gas company Ormil Energy and chairman of tin mining company TNT Limited.

Appearing on several online lists of contacts and supporters of Lord Monckton’s 2010 tour was Ian Runge, a director of the Brisbane Institute. Mr Runge is a founder of Runge Limited, which the Brisbane Institute says is “one of Australia’s leading mining technology services organisations” working with 18 offices in 10 countries “with sales to major resource companies worldwide”.

Whatever the motivations of climate change deniers, the result of their activities is to generate doubt in the minds of the public, whether that be doubt about the greenhouse properties of carbon dioxide or doubt about the need or impact of legislation to try and reduce fossil fuel burning.

The idea that anyone should take Lord Monckton seriously is treated with puzzlement in his native UK. Former Conservative MP John Gummer, who was Mrs Thatcher’s environment minister, commented to the ABC in March that Lord Monckton “isn’t taken seriously by anybody.” He added: “I mean he was a bag carrier in Mrs Thatcher’s office. And the idea that he advised her on climate change is laughable. The fact of the matter is, he’s not a figure of importance and has made no difference to the debate. We always find it rather surprising that he should come (to Australia).”

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, says a recent claim by Lord Monckton that Europe’s emissions trading scheme had doubled the cost of electricity was “utter rubbish”. Analysis by the UK’s electricity regulator ofgem in March showed that environmental costs amounted to just eight per cent of energy costs for consumers.

“I am amazed that anybody in Australia takes Monckton seriously,’’ says Mr Ward. “He is not a scientist, but the deputy leader of a fringe UK political party. Frankly his credibility in the UK has sunk to near-zero since the broadcast of a documentary on the BBC earlier this year, during which Monckton was filmed on his last hilarious visit to Australia.”

So what is the motivation of the mining industry in Australia to support climate change denial of any kind? Do they fear that climate legislation such as a carbon price will simply hurt their bottom line? Do they see a public confused or apathetic about climate change as a potent part of their lobbying efforts in Canberra?

Who knows? But as the donation plate for the Lord Monckton 2011 Denial Tour is passed around their offices they should ask themselves this: Can we fool the Australian public a second time?

Graham Readfearn is a freelance journalist and writer covering the environment and sustainability.





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