Rash Brash and the potty peer’s PR pratfall

By Gareth Renowden 30/07/2011

The schedule for “potty peer” Christopher Monckton’s visit to New Zealand next week has now been finalised. He’ll be visiting Auckland, Wellington and Whangarei, but there’s no sign of any of the high-profile debates his sponsors were so keen to set up. ACT party leader Don Brash is joining in the fun, accusing the Greens of being “yellow” (geddit?) for refusing to debate with the good Lord:

Apparently the Greens are prepared to cripple our economy and condemn us all to subsistence living with dopey measures designed to stop the planet warming, but they’re not prepared to debate their reasons for doing so with a reputable opponent.

Brash considers Monckton reputable? Really? That reflects very poorly on Dr Don, unless he considers that a reputation for misrepresenting scientific research and calling his opponents Nazis or Hitler Youth is somehow respectable. Perhaps that sort of thing is now de rigueur on the extreme right…

One of the stranger aspects of Monckton’s visit is that the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRINZ) is organising two of his appearances, in Auckland and Wellington. A little digging into the background of the PRINZ events reveals tantalising hints that fossil fuel interests in New Zealand could be tacitly supporting the potty peer’s short tour.

PRINZ is organising two events: one in Auckland and the other in Wellington. The Auckland event was intended to be a showpiece debate, but they’ve ended up with one sceptic — Auckland University’s Professor Geoff Austin — feeding lines to another. In Wellington, they’re giving Monckton his head — ostensibly to talk about “Is climate change another Y2K?”. The Climate Realists’ notice for the event notes that the Wellington gig is sponsored by Four Winds Communications (a leading Wellington PR company, apparently). A little digging into FWC’s background reveals that they count the Petroleum and Exploration Association, the LPG Association of New Zealand and Gas NZ amongst their current and past clients1. You might be forgiven for thinking that Four Winds and its clients have an interest in sowing doubt and confusion about the reality of climate change, and that sponsoring a Monckton disinformation event might meet with their clients approval.

PRINZ’s involvement with Monckton caused raised eyebrows2, and moved the organisation to post a feeble defence of their position on their blog:

…our intention is to have him talk about the communications issues around climate change — given that this is a hotly debated topic that many laypeople are confused about.

Promoting presentations by a man who has devoted much of the last five years to sowing that very confusion is somehow supposed to be helpful? There is an extensive literature on the difficulties of communicating climate change (and other) issues — the cultural cognition project springs to mind. If PRINZ really is a “professional” body, than that is where it should be focussing , not pandering to a pompous peer and thereby supporting fringe right wing political positions.

And finally, I can’t resist pointing to Monckton’s Auckland interlocutor, Prof Geoff Austin of the University of Auckland, who in a Herald op-ed on climate this morning offered this insightful little pensée:

My concern about the present situation is not that we may or may not reasonably expect catastrophic global warming. It is that anyone who has the temerity to try to discuss the issue will be the recipient of ad hominem attacks designed to shut down the debate…

Prof Austin would do well to reflect on some of Monckton’s recent public statements before he takes the stage with him next Thursday. Here’s what he said about climate scientists in a recent speech in Australia3:

So to the bogus scientists who have produced the bogus science that invented this bogus scare I say, we are coming after you. We are going to prosecute you, and we are going to lock you up. [Cheering]

So much for open debate. Let’s not bother with ad hominem attacks4, lets go straight to the threats and intimidation. Monckton may be on the surface a charming and entertaining eccentric, but his words reveal him to be a dangerous and deluded individual who should have no place in public discourse.

  1. Pepanz annual report 2009, LPG Association, Gas NZ.
  2. To put it mildly.
  3. Transcript of an excellent ABC Background Briefing programme by Wendy Carlisle here.
  4. Such as describing the chairman of the ABC as “a shrimp-like wet little individual”.