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Matt Ridley wants to gamble the Earth’s future because he won’t learn from the past

Posted on 21 January 2015 by dana1981

Have you ever watched a zombie movie and wondered if the protagonists will grow physically tired from having to repeatedly kill zombies that inevitably rise once again from the dead? That’s how people often feel when confronted with climate change myths that were debunked years ago. These myths never seem to stay dead, inevitably being revived by climate contrarians no matter how conclusively and repeatedly they’ve been debunked.

And so we have writer Matt Ridley once again published in the London Times complaining, “Rather than attack my arguments, my critics like to attack my motives.” That’s undoubtedly because when an individual keeps repeating the same myths over and over again, people eventually grow tired of debunking those myths and naturally question the motives of the individual who keeps making them.

Let’s look at a few examples from Ridley’s latest article. He claims not to be worried about global warming for a few reasons, including,

The failure of the atmosphere to warm anywhere near as rapidly as predicted was a big reason: there has been less than half a degree of global warming in four decades - and it has slowed down, not speeded up.

This is incorrect – average global surface temperatures have warmed between 0.6 and 0.7°C over the past 40 years (lower atmospheric temperatures have also likely warmed more than 0.5°C, though the record hasn’t yet existed for 40 years). During that time, that temperature rise has temporarily both slowed down (during the 2000s, when there was a preponderance of La Niña events) and sped up (during the 1990s, when there was a preponderance of El Niño events). Climate models accurately predicted the long-term global warming trend. Ridley continues,

Sea level has risen but at a very slow rate - about a foot per century.

Given that sea level has risen faster than predicted, if you’re arguing against the dangers posed by global warming, sea level is a poor choice. Climate research projects a sea level rise in the ballpark of 1 meter (3 feet) by the year 2100 if we follow the business-as-usual path advocated by folks like Matt Ridley.

Also, I soon realised that all the mathematical models predicting rapid warming assume big amplifying feedbacks in the atmosphere, mainly from water vapour

Here Ridley is again quite wrong. We know that water vapour (as a greenhouse gas) will amplify global warming because a warmer atmosphere can hold more of it. Observations have confirmed this is exactly what’s happening in the real world. This isn’t an assumption of models – it’s based on scientists’ understanding of basic atmospheric physics.

Another thing that gave me pause was that I went back and looked at the history of past predictions of ecological apocalypse from my youth - population explosion, oil exhaustion, elephant extinction, rainforest loss, acid rain, the ozone layer, desertification, nuclear winter, the running out of resources, pandemics, falling sperm counts, cancerous pesticide pollution and so forth. There was a consistent pattern of exaggeration, followed by damp squibs: in not a single case was the problem as bad as had been widely predicted by leading scientists. That does not make every new prediction of apocalypse necessarily wrong, of course, but it should encourage scepticism.

At least Ridley admits that this is a poor excuse for dismissing the threats posed by climate change, but it’s a far poorer excuse than he realizes. The reason that the worst possible consequences from acid rain, ozone depletion, pesticide pollution, and so forth weren’t realized is that we took action to mitigate those threats. Specifically, we put a price on the pollutants that caused acid rain and ozone depletion, and regulated pesticide use. Those are precisely the solutions proposed to mitigate global warming. Ridley makes a similar error when discussing IPCC global warming projections,

My best guess would be about one degree of warming during this century, which is well within the IPCC’s range of possible outcomes.

A further 1°C global warming by 2100 is only a possibility in one of the scenarios considered by IPCC (called RCP3-PD, where ‘PD’ stands for a rapid peak and decline of carbon emissions).

IPCC AR5 WGI Figure SPM.7: CMIP5 multi-model simulated time series from 1950 to 2100 for (a) change in global annual mean surface temperature relative to 1986–2005. IPCC AR5 WGI Figure SPM.7: CMIP5 multi-model simulated time series from 1950 to 2100 for (a) change in global annual mean surface temperature relative to 1986–2005.

It’s the scenario in which there is an immediate and aggressive global effort to cut carbon pollution. Specifically, human global carbon emissions peak in 2020, after which they decline at a rate of around 3.5% per year, reaching zero in 2070 and continuing to fall as we remove carbon pollution from the atmosphere.

Matt Ridley opposes immediate aggressive efforts to cut global carbon pollution. It’s disingenuous at best for him to argue that his beliefs about modest global warming are consistent with the IPCC projections whilst advocating against the relevant pathway. It’s like arguing, “My belief that I can lose weight while eating lots of cake and ice cream is well within medical doctors’ range of my possible health outcomes.”

There are numerous other errors and zombie myths in Ridley’s piece that I won’t go into. For example, he revives long-debunked myths about the ‘hockey stick’ and ‘Climategate.’ Worst of all is the conclusion to which Ridley’s flawed arguments lead – that we needn’t take serious action to mitigate global warming because he doesn’t believe climate consequences will be serious.

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Comments 1 to 9:

  1. Matt Ridley opposes immediate aggressive efforts to cut global carbon pollution.

    Of course he does, he will see a drop in income:

    Lord Ridley: Make Mine A Large One!

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  2. Ridley: "I no longer think [Global Warming]... is likely to be dangerous and I think its slow and erratic progress so far is what we should expect in the future."  This is a prediction of future climate.  If this guy doesn't have a PhD in Climatology why is the London Times broadcasting his prediction as if he did?  The problem isn't Ridley.  The problem is the London Times.  The media are complicit in public complacency toward this topic.  The Times today has to bypass hundreds of perfectly qualified Scientists to find one science journalist to give it the prediction it wants to hear.  Who would buy it if it disserved its readership similarly in the area of economic or business prediction?  But we are now well within the 'Age of Consequences' on this topic: Climate predictions are, in fact, now economic predictions.  The Times is already disserving its readership about tomorrows economy.

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  3. @ubrew12

    The Times (of London) is wholly owned by News Corp: in other words, it is part of the Rupert Murdoch fiefdom. Matt Ridley is an attractive proposition to them as a commentator on climate change for a variety of reasons...

    a) He is part of the titled aristocracy and therefore, in the minds of some, his views carry more weight

    b) He is an advisor to the Global Warming Policy Foundation

    c) He is a lot more than a mere Fourth Estate hack. He has written extensively on science matters and his scientific credentials are vastly more impressive than mine. See either his wiki entry, or his entry on deSmogBlog. (NB The letters FRSL do not stand for Fellow of the Royal Society (of London), the most prestigious science body in the UK. That would just be FRS. The letter "L" at the end turns it into Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.)

    I hope that helps explain why the Times is eager and willing to provide a platform for Ridley's views. (Which I am sure are not in any way influenced by the fortuitous location of any coal fields - see the link provided by Lionel in #1)

    Cheers   Bill F

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  4. billthefrog@3:  Yes, I get it.  But once again, in what alternate reality is someone who has written extensively on Genetics the 'go to guy' for a Climate prediction?  Renaissance Man?  Or guy with waaay too much time on his hands?  We report, you decide.

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  5. Ridley's record as CEO of a failed bank (Northern Rock) should be a Health Warning - apparently he ignored warnings of reckless lending. Now he was re-invented himself as a commentator on climate science, as far as I can see with the help of Tory influence on the BBC and the media.

    Matt Ridley: Libertarian & Parasite


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  6. As billthefrog has pointed out the problem is not Ridley, it is News Corp and all of its fans.

    News Corp does not even try to present a one-to-one 'discussion' of this issue (and certainly not a 97 to 3 discussion). Their media is flooded with attempts to discredit climate science. When they present anything from "the other side" it is planned and presented to to ensure it is surrounded by attacks and unjustifiable attempts to discredit the valid points mentioned.

    The fact that so many people are willing to be faithful fans of such obviously crass irresponsible illigitimate unjustifiable behaviour is the problem. And that type of person is encouraged to develop their attitude by a socio-economic-politcal system that rewards and reveres those who are able to get away with illigitimate profitability and popularity.

    One way to beat such trouble-makers is to continue to increase the understanding of what is going on and ensure that all people in positions of significant responsibility and influence have no excuse to not understand it. That may enable people in the near future to compile and present solid cases of 'Evidence of a lack of the required mental capability to lead responsibly' as justification for the legal removal of such people from their illigitimately obtained positions of responsibility.

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  7. There is a piece in The Australian of January 22 from Michael Asten Professor of Geophysics at Monash University in which he makes a number of points on global warming, the pause in warming from 2000 on and the statement that 2014 was the warmest year ever (  It would be great to get some critical comments from SkS readers

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    Moderator Response:

    [Rob P] - Of course this is only one surface temperature data set, and monthly data at that, but where's the paws pause?

  8. @ryland

    A couple of things:

    1) The Australian is yet another Murdoch-owned rag. 

    2) The Australian is behind a paywall; no thinking person would ever pay good money to read something from a Murdoch-owned rag (see #1 above).

    3) Professor Asten has a long track record of climate change denialism.

    So: given that the article to which you've linked is a) in the Murdoch-owned Australian, b) was written by a fake "skeptic", and c) by your statement contains references to the non-existent "pause" (and likely many of the other debunked zombie Asten continues to use), my "critical comment" would be this:

    The article has no credibility where climate science is concerned, and therefore has no value.

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  9. Ryland,

    It is interesting to hear that Mr. Asten has changed his claim to " the pause in warming from 2000 on".  Last year the deniers claimed the pause started in 1998.

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