When Christopher Monckton, who served as a special adviser to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, ponders the current political push to curb greenhouse gases linked to climate change, he thinks of King Canute.
According to Monckton, Canute - the Viking who ruled England along with much of Scandinavia nearly a thousand years ago - took his courtiers to the ocean's edge one day, set down his throne and ordered the tide not to come in. The tide, of course, came in, and the king got his feet wet.
The lesson? The king taught his advisers "humility," Monckton said, by showing them that even he, a king, could not control nature. In the same way, he argued, modern-day politicians should not fool themselves into thinking that humanity is having a big impact on climate.
Monckton, along with other high-profile global warming skeptics such as University of Virginia professor emeritus S. Fred Singer and Virginia state climatologist Patrick J. Michaels, are gathered in New York this week for a conference aimed at challenging the idea that a scientific consensus exists on climate change.
Sponsored by the Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank funded by energy and health-care corporations as well as conservative foundations and individuals, the 2 1/2-day session poses a stark contrast to the near-unanimous chorus of concern expressed by top U.S. politicians and most of the scientific mainstream.
While the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared a Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore last year, this cadre of critics has formed a counter-group called the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), which issued a report this week arguing that recent climate change stems from natural causes.