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The career of George Monbiot has been meteoric – coming down to earth in a shower of sparks, and leaving a charred hole where the Guardian’s top investigative journalist used to be. From Paul Foot to William Boot in a few carbon-shedding steps.

(For non-Brits: Foot was a campaigning journalist at Private Eye and the Guardian. William Boot is the journalist hero of Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Scoop”, who, after a disastrous episode in which he is sent to Africa to cover a revolution, ends up back in the office writing Nature Notes).

In February 2009 Monbiot initiated a new format blog at Guardian Environment with an attack on Telegraph journalist Christopher Booker. In the article, entitled « Booker’s work of clanger-dropping fiction » he accused his colleague of writing “complete trash, and provided a list of seven claims in an article by Booker which Monbiot attempted to refute.

A second article, two days later, entitled “Pure rubbish: Christopher Booker prize” featured  a photo captioned “Christopher Booker prize 2009 offered for producing clap-trap about climate change”. Readers were invited to nominate articles, and George explained:

“The award will go to whoever in my opinion and assisted by climate scientists and specialists manages, in the course of 2009, to cram as many misrepresentations, distortions and falsehoods into a single article, statement, lecture, film or interview about climate change”.

(Note that Monbiot hadn’t managed to finish his sentence coherently. As many as what?)

There is a note at the bottom of the first article saying “this blog has been amended”. What has been altered is the word “Bullshit” which featured in the original article, and is still visible in the photo of the “award” in the second article.

Of the supposed errors by Booker:

The first concerned the utterly trivial question of whether Dr Theon, who criticised James Hansen of NASA, was Hansen’s “supervisor” when he was head of climate research there and Hansen was working under him.

The second concerned the Hockeystick, about which Monbiot says:

“Far from being discredited, the hockey stick graph of past temperature reconstructions has been supported by a large number of further studies … Those who claimed to discredit it have been comprehensively rebuffed”.

The third was about the BBC’s reporting that Arctic summer ice might soon disappear at a time when, according to Booker, “this winter’s refreezing was about to take ice cover back to a point it was at 30 years ago”. Monbiot attempts to refute this by quoting the ice extent for December, apparently unaware that maximum ice extent is in March/April.

The other four claims were about BBC reporting of a paper by Steig et al suggesting that the Antarctic has been cooling. Booker makes two minor errors, describing the paper as being “based on a computer model run by the creator of the hockey stick (Martin Mann)”, when it was based on some peculiar statistical infilling on very sparse and badly compiled data, and Mike Mann was just one of six authors.

Overall, Monbiot scores a couple of nitpicking points, muffs an attempt to refute Booker over Arctic ice, and, naturally, disagrees about the hockeystick and the Steig paper on Antarctic warming, citing Gavin Schmidt and RealClimate as his authority throughout.

There followed a lively discussion thread, with 332 comments, only three of which were deleted, including one of mine. I seem to remember that several of us reacting vigorously to the use of the word “bullshit”, which I found genuinely shocking, but I can find no comments to that effect. I suspect that they were wiped at the same time that the title and article were amended.

Most of the remaining comments rest within the bounds of decency, except for those by Bluecloud, (a warmist commenter who has been retrospectively allotted a capital “C” for Guardian Contributor of occasional articles). Among his comments one finds:

“.. pile of shite.. Maybe you both simply cannot read.. Your arguments are getting desperate now. Go back to your masters and seek advice. But you may find they’ve taken off to tax-free havens already, so you’d better hurry.. a great deal of farting on the ClimateAudit website.. These are a small, sad bunch who couldn’t string a coherent argument together to save their lives. Some even resort to personal attacks in their desperation, while others are paid blood money to spout corporate rubbish.” etc.

Comments start at  3 February 2009 2:13PM (the article is wrongly dated to 4 February) and a number of bloggers provided point-by-point demolitions of Monbiot’s criticisms of Booker, without Monbiot replying.

At 3 February 2009 9:09PM I commented:

“Monbiot has a long history of using ad hominem arguments (…) With Booker he has changed tack, no longer appealing to peer reviewed science as the only arbiter, but quoting RealClimate – the gospel according to Gavin – just like any common-or-garden blogger. His criticisms are so feeble that one understands why he has so long avoided entering the arena of debate on the actual facts of climate change. Monbiot’s arguments against Booker have been effectively demolished by HackneyHal at 2.34pm, Hamlet4 at 3.07 and 3.13pm, me at 4.33pm, Don Basilio at 5.06pm and 5.43pm, knife at 5.44pm, and wilddonkey at 8.23pm [+ RonCram at 5.29am 4 February – added in a later comment]

Monbiot must answer these, and CheshireRed’s challenge at 7.28pm to a genuine debate, or lose all credibility”.

Monbiot finally intervened 4 February 2009 12:19PM, nearly 24 hours after the first comment, to say:

“LostTransportation: I’m amazed you cite the Wahl and Ammann study as if it helps the argument against the Mann, Bradley and Hughes palaeoclimate reconstruction (“hockey stick”) work. Here’s what the Wahl and Ammann abstract says:..”

LostTransportation had, twelve hours previously, pointed out that the Wahl and Ammann paper agreed with the findings of McIntyre & McKitrick in terms of the statistical significance of the verification r2 statistic. The key role played by this paper in kicking McIntyre & McKitrick’s criticisms into touch in IPCC AR4 is described in Bishop Hill’s “Caspar and the Jesus Paper

And that’s the end of Monbiot’s contribution to his own blog. He quotes in full the abstract to a paper which has nothing to do with the subject, and then falls silent, leaving his argument in ribbons, demolished by at least seven separate commenters. The thread continued for several days with commenters, as usual, bickering among themselves while the article was largely ignored.

Note that this was the first of a series of articles under a new heading – “George Monbiot’s Blog” – the opening salvo in what was obviously intended to be a year-long campaign – beginning with two articles trashing Booker, and a photo of the “Booker Bullshit Award” taken by George himself – and culminating in a mock presentation to some unfortunate journalist who dared to disagree with George, and the “climate scientists and specialists” who were at his side to assist him in a task which was clearly beyond his capacities.

There were several follow-up articles, (including two, equally nit-picking and tendentious, about George Will of the Washington Post) and the award was finally presented, with a minimum of fuss, to an obscure journalist from Flint, Michigan who said some silly unchecked stuff in an opinion piece for a local newspaper. In the meantime, George had to retract a further false allegation of  clanger-dropping made about Booker in a later article at The Guardian.

Blogging is an ephemeral business, and there’s little point in commenters complaining how unfair it is that their comments get ignored. There isn’t space to reproduce the arguments developed in the thread, but  anyone can go to the articles and check them out for themselves. If the exchange had occurred in print, Monbiot’s reputation as an investigative journalist would have been shattered. As it was, the most visible result was probably that, to casual browsers at Guardian Environment, for nearly a year, the words “Booker” and “Bullshit” appeared regularly in close proximity.

No print newspaper in Britain would stoop to such a level.

The thread rather petered out after Monbiot’s contribution, except for an eminently sane suggestion from Alex Cull that Monbiot might like to conduct some investigative journalism into the Steig / Antarctic warming story. I‘m ashamed to say that I made use of Monbiot’s vulgar outburst to get in a rude and possibly libellous accusation of my own against Monbiot, which remains uncensored. (Alex, I’m glad to say, continued to post in his normal intelligent and good-tempered fashion).

70 Responses to “My Affair with George Monbiot: Part2”

  1. Geoff,

    Thanks for the “playing cards” article. I must have missed that first time around.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2009/mar/06/climate-change-deniers-top-10

    Hall of Shame? Where’s your sense of humour?

    There are another 42 places to fill. 44 if you allow for a couple of Jokers in the pack and they shouldn’t be too hard to identify!

  2. Geoffchambers,

    I notice that in the comments of the George Monbiot article above you’d commented that he’s deliberately chosen 10 right-wing types who would be most “most antipathetic to Guardian readers”.

    Good to know its just not me who notices this political connection.

    But I notice you didn’t suggest anyone with more moderate opinions who could have been included?

    Have you managed to think of anyone since? I’m sure Max will help you out with the name of some obscure French Socialist, if you get stuck, but I’ve just forgotten it myself.

  3. tonyb, #21:

    If you search the NS thread you will find that Bob_FJ referred to dhogaza commenting on another blog.

  4. PeterM

    There are another 42 places to fill. 44 if you allow for a couple of Jokers in the pack and they shouldn’t be too hard to identify!

    How about “tipping point” Hansen as one of the Jokers and “drowning New York” Gore as the other?

    Max

  5. George Monbiot seems to be able to trick himself
    A fantastic comment from Cif that made it past the mods (maybe they’ve had enough – all though I still can’t get a comment on)

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2010/dec/02/cancun-climate-change-summit-monbiot?showallcomments=true#end-of-comments

    oakwood
    2 December 2010 8:30PM

    George

    I hope you have your skates sharpended and ready…

    Jan 2009: “THE SCEPTICS ARE SKATING ON THIN ICE
    I have spent the last two evenings skating. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. All of us knew that this time might be our last. With every year the chances of another skating party recedes.The thought that I might never skate outdoors again feels like a bereavement. I pray for another cold snap.”

    Oh dear…

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/09/climatechange-weather

    Jan 2010: “BRITAIN’S COLD SNAP DOES NOT PROVE CLIMATE CHANGE WRONG
    This is called weather, and, believe it or not, it is not always predictable and it changes quite often. It is not the same as climate, and single events are not the same as trends. Is this really so hard to understand?”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/jan/06/cold-snap-climate-sceptics

    Nov 2010: Earliest cold snap in years

    George says:”When heatwaves strike, climate scientists and environmentalists tend towards caution, explaining that though such events may be consistent with predictions they cannot be used as proof that climate change is taking place:” Er, yes, of course they do.

  6. Barry Woods,

    It may be worth pointing out that the area of the UK is just 0.04% of the total global area. So although the weather in the UK, which is I presume where you live, is probably more important to you than in the other 99.96% of the globe, it isn’t more important in terms of measuring the global climate.

    The simple explanation is that cold weather is just cold weather in one particular region. I believe exactly the same thing happened in January 2010. It was cold in certain regions but globally was, according to some satellite measurements, the hottest January on record.

    It is just possible that the colder winter weather in the UK is related to climate change. The latitude of the UK is similar to Hudsons Bay in Canada. The climate is, however, milder due to the influence of Atlantic currents. If these currents are slowed down due to reduced ice at the polar regions then the UK may become colder at the same time as the Earth is warming.

    Its possible, but two cold winters aren’t enough to say that with any certainty.

  7. PeterM and Barry Woods

    It’s colder than “normal” in Switzerland, as well (in fact, in Europe in general):
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-12-02/severe-winter-weather-disrupts-air-rail-travel-in-europe-for-fourth-day.html

    This is clear evidence of the “severe weather impact of anthropogenic greenhouse warming”, I’m sure.

    But hey, if we fiddle with the numbers enough, we may be able to have a “record warm 2010”, as some here projected a few months back. (Where is Phil Jones, now that the movement really needs him?)

    And the guys who jetted over to balmy Cancun got their own individual “global warming”, anyway, so all’s well.

    Max

  8. tempterrain #26, 27
    I mentioned, in a later comment on the same thread, a number of sceptics, including McIntyre and Watts, with whom one could have a uselful discussion, and I added, in answer to someone who said: “Weird, isn’t it, how they’re all significantly right-wing people”.

    “Not weird. Thats why George chose them. The whole point of the article, like the Booker bullshit award, and the denialist /creationist articles, is to keep the argument ad hominem, discuss personalities, choosing those most antipathetic to Guardian readers, ridicule them, and never, never, never discuss the science of catatrophic anthropogenic global warming”.

    Your obscure French socialist is Claude Allegre, ex-Minister of Education, an unattractive personaity in the Plimer mould, though an eminent vulcanologist.

  9. Geoffchambers,

    I don’t think A. Watts would be any different as far as Guardian readers are concerned. Doesn’t he advocate teaching creationism in Schools?

    Stephen McIntyre is certainly conscious of the political nature of much denialist argument and does take steps to keep the more extreme of them off Climate Audit, but I’m just not sure where he stands himself. He doesn’t say much that I can find, but on the other hand, even if he doesn’t think it hime he doesn’t openly come out and say that all those who think AGW is the invention of Al Gore are talking crap either.

    So that leaves your French Socialist, Monsieur Whats-his-name? And you reckon Guardian readers wouldn’t take to him either?

  10. PeterM

    A straight question requesting a straight answer.

    Is climate scientist, Dr. Judith Curry (who has been very critical of the climate “insiders” following the Climategate revelations and has criticized IPCC for defending its AGW “dogma” and understating “uncertainties” in its AR4 assessment of AGW and its consequences) a “right wing nutter” favoring teaching creationism in schools?

    A “Yes” or “NO” answer (without a long waffle) will suffice, Peter.

    Max

  11. PeterM

    Another question.

    Are you a “left wing nutter” because you endorse the IPCC view on “dangerous AGW”?

    A simple “Yes” or “No” answer is all that is needed, Peter.

    Max

  12. No. It’s difficult see how anyone who accepts modern day scientific thinking can be described as a nutter regardless of their politics.

    For instance, I don’t think Brute is a nutter because he objects to paying taxes which may in any way be used for what he considers to be the social evils of education and health care for children whose parents couldn’t afford it. I disagree, sure, but at least I can see the logic in his argument.

    Where the nuttiness comes in is when a scientific issue is decided according to political considerations. That shows a complete lack of rational thought.

  13. On the subject of climate change, religion and general nuttiness, I see that George Monbiot has now finally admitted that God is to blame.

    “God, alongside half the corporate world and many of its most powerful legislators, has declared war on the climate talks.”

  14. Alex Cull, #38:

    This is part of Monbiot’s rant is interesting:

    (I found the pages I wanted with the help of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, which is a very useful resource.)

    A kind of ‘dial-a-climate-scientist’ scheme for activists who know what’s happening but just need a bit of authentic sounding blurb to make it sound convincing. I wonder what kind of response I would get to a similar enquiry?

    But then I’m supposed to be part of a well organised and well funded conspiracy led by the fossil fuel industry, which means having to think things through for myself.

  15. tempterrain #34
    I don’t understand why you keep insisting that positions on global warming are determined by political affiliation. Of course rightwingers are more sensitive to high taxes, state interference in education, and talk of wealth distribution. So of course they are the first in with arguments against expensive mitigation schemes. The left has largely fallen for global warming, partly because it lacks ideas of its own, partly because it sees mitigation as a means of redistributing wealth. There is nothing surprising in this. People frequently decide their political positions on emotional rather than logical grounds. Of course it makes no difference to global warming theory, any more than the fact that Roy Spencer is a Baptist, or Morner believes in dowsing – both arguments I’ve seen used by pro-warmists.
    Steve McIntyre has hinted broadly that his political opinions are left of centre. He and Monbiot had private conversations in Toronto and in London, and McIntyre mentioned that they would neither of them be revealing what they talked about. A pity. I’d rather get my hands on the McIntyre/Monbiot tapes than all the lost (or destroyed) temperature data in China (and elsewhere).

  16. TonyN (I think your comment is a reply to Alex on the most recent thread. So perhaps that and this should be moved)
    I went to the Rapid response Team Site as Monbiot recommends. It says:

    For those who are not media or government contacts but have questions regarding climate, please visit Central Coast Climate Science Education or Skeptical Science. These sites can answer most questions. Only media and government officials should use this form.

    So it’s a useful resource for Monbiot, but not for us.

    [TonyN: Done! Morning was never my best time.]

  17. I am well aware that the UK is only a small portion of the globe….

    Bu to nnounce the warmest year on record – maybe – in NOVEMBER just before a climate conference smack of manipulation….

    Check the Maths here:
    http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2010/11/26/hansen-and-jones-need-to-sharpen-up-their-maths/

    should it be the second or third or even 1st – SO WHAT….

    the record is tiny in length.. and of course not proof of aything either…

    THey are having to go to 1 hundredths of a degree to make that Claim
    The error rangealone are orders of magnitude higher than that degreeof precision.

    It is a scientifc joke.

    Good News?

    The Campaign Against Climate Change are running out of money!!!

    From the Guardian – Ahead of the Campaign Against Climate Change’s march in the snow tomorrow…..(last gasp)

    Guardian:
    “Phil Thornill – Founder/National Co-ordinator.
    And he’s worried about his organisation, Campaign Against Climate Change, which is, he says frankly, “running out of money massively. I’m exhausted, we’ve been running on risible funds for years now, and to be honest I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

    Given CACC’s position as one of the very first groups campaigning straightforwardly on climate change, it is indeed worrying that they, sitting in the middle of the campaign spectrum from conservative to radical, should be going bust.”

    Makes an interesting read.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/dec/03/campaign-against-climate-change-march-thornhill

    the comments are amusing

  18. PeterM

    Again, you and I are in complete agreement, when you wrote:

    Where the nuttiness comes in is when a scientific issue is decided according to political considerations. That shows a complete lack of rational thought.

    That is precisely why I have preferred to keep the two topics: science and politics, separate, even though it is absolutely clear that they have been completely intertwined in this debate from the start.

    IPCC is by definition an “inter-governmental” (i.e. “political”) organization whose brief it is to investigate man-made changes in our climate and their possible (deleterious) effects on mankind.

    No man-made changes in our climate = no deleterious effects from man-made changes

    No deleterious effects from man-made changes to our climate = no need for IPCC to continue to exist.

    It could all have ended with a single IPCC assessment report stating that there is no empirical scientific data to support the premise of significant man-made changes to our climate so far or in the future, therefore there is no need to be concerned about deleterious effects from man-made climate changes. End of report.

    The IPCC could then have been disbanded as a political committee.

    But that is not how things work, as history has shown us. Bureaucratic committees do not normally close themselves down voluntarily (if they can avoid it).

    And when there are tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer funds at work with the promise of even greater sums of carbon tax revenues in the offing, it is clear that the politics and economics of climate science are the key drivers from the start, resulting in “agenda driven science” to support the political and economic agenda.

    Climategate, etc. has shown us what happens when “politics” gets ahead of “science”.

    But, politics aside, the “science” must be discussed separately.

    And there is where I agree with you.

    Open scientific questions and uncertainties must be settled without regard to the politics. And there are obviously many, as Dr. Judith Curry (a totally apolitical climate scientist) has pointed out.

    These scientific uncertainties go to the very core of the IPCC premise that AGW, caused principally by human CO2 emissions, have been a major cause of past warming and represent a serious potential threat for mankind.

    These scientific uncertainties must be discussed and resolved openly, unemotionally and without any regard to politics, before any political decisions can be made.

    It appears that this is now beginning to happen, and that is the good news, that I am sure you and I can agree on here, Peter.

    Max

  19. Barry #42
    I like CACC’s description of themselves as “sitting in the middle of the campaign spectrum from conservative to radical”. Their president is Monbiot, they advocate a 55mph maximum speed limit, and they campaign against us deniers by providing their supporters with a list of threads to spam. If that’s the centre ground…
    The Guardian article is well worth reading though, for the insight it gives into the green movement, since it suggests that the powers that be (i.e. the NGOs who provide the cash and the fantasy numbers behind claim of “x million supporters worldwide”) are giving up on mass action and concentrating on lobbying. Not a difficult choice, when you’ve got the EU and government departments paying you to do just that.

  20. geoffchambers and Barry Woods

    The latest Monbiot blurb (which Barry cited #30): “Cancún climate change summit: Is God determined to prevent a deal?” seems a bit wistful in a sort of “luck is against us” way.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2010/dec/02/cancun-climate-change-summit-monbiot?showallcomments=true#end-of-comments

    (But hey, George, it’s not “God” – that’s a cop-out.)

    Monbiot apparently fails to recognize:
    a) that “Climategate, etc.” has basically changed the rules of the game – the heady days of Nobel Peace Prizes, Oscars and full public trust in climate scientists (and IPCC) are gone forever – never to return again
    b) that even climate insiders (such as Dr. Judith Curry) are pointing out the high level of “uncertainty” surrounding what she has called the scientific “dogma” of IPCC
    c) that now is not “the time to act”, but “the time to get the ‘science’ straight – before deciding how to act”

    In addition, he seems to have overlooked the obvious silliness of the UN organizers to schedule “global warming” events in the winter – when the weather is highly likely to get very cold (and thus make a mockery of “global warming“ alarmism, by allowing critics to laugh about delegates escaping the cold to deliberate about alarming warming). It raises the obvious question: Don’t these climate “gurus” know anything about the weather?

    Monbiot seems to have a hard time realizing (or accepting) that the “tide has turned”.

    Max

  21. Max,

    The conference at Cancun is supposed to be discussing “Global Warming”.

    And just on a point of information: It isn’t ‘winter’ globally. In the Southern Hemisphere, which is half the globe, it’s summer – and the weather is therefore quite warm.

    I guess you’re not a cricket lover but many UK contributors to this blog will be aware there is a series of matches going on down under, and that the players and spectators are dressed for warm weather, so I’m sure they can vouch for the veracity of this statement!

  22. PeterM (I suppose “temperature” is you)

    The northern hemisphere has over three fourths of our planet’s land mass, 90% of its population and almost all of the weather stations.

    This is not to belittle the “south”: I’ve seen a lot of Australia – a beautiful land, New Zealand – my favorite and South America – also impressive, with lots of contrast.

    But the “north” is where “it’s happening”, Peter.

    (And it is very cold there right now.)

    Max

  23. Max,

    Its not cold everywhere in the NH. For instance, in Israel, high winter temperatures (over 30 degC) and drought have combined to produce high fire danger conditions.

    http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2010/s3083896.htm

    Many people were surprised, on the basis of their experience of their local weather conditions, to discover that Jan 2010 was one of the warmest Januarys ever. The figures for Nov and Dec 2010 aren’t yet available but I would expect this will turn out to be the same story.

    In science it is necessary to be objective, rather than subjective, and empirical rather than anecdotal when assessing this kind of evidence.

  24. Peter

    Still selectively quoting while i’ve been away i see.
    That paragraph in full is:

    Normally we should be heading into winter with rain and very cold temperatures at the moment and it is like a tinderbox. It is still high temperatures, even in Jerusalem we are getting, you know, high 20s, mid-20s and here towards the coast they have had temperatures over 30 degrees.

    Now, i’ve had a quick look on the bbc website to check the average conditions for a few cities in Israel. Haifa (coastal) has an average range of 16-26 (nov) and 12-20 (dec)

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/world/city_guides/results.shtml?tt=TT002430

    At the time of writing, the forecast temps for the next few days are 24,22,20,20,20

    For Jerusalem (more inland) we have ranges of 12-21 (nov) and 7-15 (dec)

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/world/city_guides/results.shtml?tt=TT002440

    At the time of writing, the forecast temps for the next few days are 21,19,14,15,16

    So the temps are a little higher than average, well inside the recorded maximums (follow the links for yourself on that one.
    No idea where ABC got the idea that they should be experiencing “very cold temperatures” from. Sounds like they’re bigging up the story as much as possible

    You seem to have fallen a little foul of your own warning

    In science it is necessary to be objective, rather than subjective, and empirical rather than anecdotal when assessing this kind of evidence.

    Using ABC to try to prove a seems a little foolhardy.

  25. last sentence should have read

    Using ABC to try to prove a point seems a little foolhardy.

    :)

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