Matt Ridley, you seem a little too certain!

I thought I might add a new chapter to my series, which I’ve called helpful tips for the Global Warming Policy Foundation. The first was a quick science lesson for Lord Lawson. The second was the cheerfully titled Come on Andrew, you can get this. My new installment is an attempt to explain, to Matt Ridley, the significance of an uncertainty interval, something that someone with a science PhD should understand, but appears not to. I actually get paid to teach this kind stuff, so you’d think they might appreciate the free and friendly advice. I get the impression, though, that they don’t 🙂

It relates to a recent article that Matt has written for the Wall Street Journal, in which he says

As a “lukewarmer,” I’ve long thought that man-made carbon-dioxide emissions will raise global temperatures, but that this effect will not be amplified much by feedbacks from extra water vapor and clouds, so the world will probably be only a bit more than one degree Celsius warmer in 2100 than today.

When I asked Matt on what basis he was making this claim, he directed me to the GWPF report OverSensitive, written by Nic Lewis and Marcel Crok, and – in particular – to Table 3 (below).
So, here’s the basic problem, the values that Matt appears to think justify his claim are based on a single value for the Transient Climate Response (TCR). In fact, this appears to be based on the work of Otto et al. which uses observations (plus forcings from models) to estimate the TCR, and concludes that it has a 5 – 95% range of between 1 and 2 degrees (with a best estimate of 1.35 degrees). He also argues that the RCP8.5 emission pathway is completely unrealistic and so should be ignored. Therefore he’s concluding that the worst case scenario is RCP6.0 with a probable TCR of 1.35 degrees. However, the point is Matt, that you can’t just pick a single number; you should really consider the range.

I thought I would illustrate this using a basic one-box model

C \frac{dT(t)}{dt} = F(t) - \lambda T(t)

where F is the change in anthropogenic forcing, C is the heat capacity of the system, and \lambda is the climate sensitivity. I determined \lambda values that resulted in TCR values of 1, 1.35, and 2 degrees (in which the forcing was assumed to change because of a 1% per year rise in CO2). The main reason for this TCR range is uncertainties in the aerosol forcing, so I then adjusted the anthropogenic forcing from the RCP11 dataset so that my model results over the period 1880 – 2010 roughly matched the instrumental temperature record. I then extended the forcing dataset to 2100 along an RCP6.0 pathway (i.e., reaching a change in anthropogenic forcing of 6 Wm-2 by 2100). The basic result is in the figure below.
So, indeed, if the TCR is 1.35 degrees it would be a bit over 1 degree warmer than today in 2100 (the y-axis in the figure is relative to 1880, so take away about 0.8 degrees to get relative to today). However, the work that Matt is basing his views on suggests that the TCR is as likely to be above 1.35 degrees as below. Hence the warming is as likely to be higher than suggested by Matt as it is to be lower. Also, there is a non-negligible chance that it could be as much as 2 degrees higher than today in 2100. I should add that this is more like a 95% range, rather than the 66% range presented by the IPCC. Anyway, the point is, Matt, that this is roughly what everyone was getting at on Twitter; basing your estimate for future warming on a single TCR value from a single study is not very scientific. Some might call it a cherry-pick.

There are also some additional points, that scientists should really be willing to acknowledge. The range for the TCR from the study used by Matt (1 – 2 degrees) is lower than the IPCC estimate (1 – 2.5 degrees). However, the study used by Matt is an observationally-based approach that suffers from a number of possible issues. In addition to the uncertainty in the aerosol forcing, it’s also sensitive to variability in the surface temperature, cannot capture possible non-linearities in the feedback response, and cannot easily compensate for inhomogeneities in the forcings. This doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, but this is evidence that it might be underestimating the TCR. So, not only could we warm more than Matt suggests (using exactly the same evidence as he’s using), there’s additional evidence suggesting that even this could be an underestimate.

So, I hope this helps Matt to understand what people where getting at when they were questioning him on Twitter. I should add that I did this all rather quickly, so I’m not claiming that the range I’ve got for the warming by 2100 is exactly right, but I think it’s reasonable. This was just meant to be an illustration, rather than being exact. Of course, if anyone has any thoughts or corrections, feel free to make them through the comments.

This entry was posted in Climate change, Climate sensitivity, ClimateBall, Comedy, Global warming, IPCC, Science and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

86 Responses to Matt Ridley, you seem a little too certain!

  1. I’ve just realised that I’ve done something very poor. I forgot to put axis labels on my figure. It should be temperature on the y-axis and year on the x-axis. I may fix that tomorrow if I remember and can be bothered 🙂

  2. hvw says:

    Referring to your 1-box model, should that not be 1 / \lambda instead of \lambda, if \lambda is climate sensitivity? Also it could be confusing to the quick reader that T(t) denotes the change of temperature with time.

  3. Tom Curtis says:

    Otto et al state:

    “Both equations (1) [ECS] and (2) [TCR] assume constant linear feedbacks and (2) further assumes that the ratio of ΔQ to ΔT for the observed period is the same as that at year 70 of a simulation in which atmospheric CO2 levels increase at 1% per year, which is approximately
    the case over the past few decades if we exclude periods strongly affected by volcanic eruptions (see Supplementary Fig. S2). Equation (1) provides a lower bound to the fully equilibrated sensitivity, because delayed ocean warming at high latitudes can mask the impact of local positive feedbacks.”

    However, the period used in the study was strongly affected by volcanic forcings so that the essential assumption is false. Further, the effect of such forcings is to make the estimate of TCR also a lower bound for the same reasons as stated for ECS.

    Further, a 1% increase in CO2 per annum represents a 0.05 W/m^2 increase in forcing per annum, a 3.44 W/m^2 increase in effective forcing over 70 years, and a 6.88 W/m^2 increase over a 140 year period such as 1870-2010 (ie, approximately the duration of Otto et al’s longest period). For their shortest period of assessment, they give an increase in effective radiative forcing of 0.75 W/m^2, not the 5.2 W/m^2 to be expected from an equivalent 1% increase experiment, and for their longest they give 1.95 W/m^2 rather than the 6.7 W/m^2 of the 1% experiment. Therefore the assumption about the ratio of ΔQ to ΔT looks strained at best. (The slow increase in forcing would bias the results high.)

  4. Tom Curtis says:

    hvw, λ is used both for the climate sensitivity factor (units of W/m^2/degree K) and its inverse by different researchers in climate science. I believe Anders is using the correct value in his equation (but only he can confirm it). A more interesting technical point is whether he used radiative forcing, or effective radiative forcing in his model. To model Otto et al he should use the later, which would reduce the indicated temperatures by a factor of 0.93.

  5. anoilman says:

    And… What was Matt suggesting we do about the acidic oceans? Starve?

  6. Tom and hvw,
    Indeed, I was using \lambda with units of W/m^2/K. I was also, I think, using radiative forcing, rather than effective radiative forcing, so a reduction by a factor of 0.93 may be in order.

  7. hvw,

    Also it could be confusing to the quick reader that T(t) denotes the change of temperature with time.

    Do you mean that the quick reader might not realise that T(t) denotes the change of temperature with time?

  8. Andrew Dodds says:

    The essence of lukewarmerism.. take the lowest estimate possible of anything harmful and use the result to show that the next item is also not harmful, chaining the results together. Except when it comes to mitigation costs, where you take the highest published estimate.

    So you assume that sensitivity is at the bottom of the estimates, impacts are at the lower end of estimates (for a given temperature rise), costs for impacts are at the lower end of estimates.. every step appears reasonable but the result is highly unreasonable.

    A simpler analogy is the claim ‘My opinion is that the next roll of a die will be below 3’, which is reasonable enough, you’ll be correct 1 in 3 times. However, if you chain the results together to ‘The next 5 rolls of the die will ALL be below 3’ your chances of being correct drop dramatically, even though the individual steps still appear reasonable.

  9. Andrew,
    Indeed. I was trying to think about whether or not Matt could get away with claiming that he said “probably”, but I don’t think you can. For these observationally-based estimates a TCR of 1.35 may well be the mode/median, but that doesn’t mean that that is what it will probably be. If it’s the mode then it means that it is more likely than any other single number. If it’s the median, it means that it’s as likely to be above than below. It’s a bit like having a die with seven sides and with the numbers 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6. The number 3 will come up more often than any other number but on a single throw it is more likely to be a number other than 3, than 3. Since we only have one planet with one reality, the TCR will probably not be the best estimate (although it will be more likely to be within 1σ of the best estimate than outside that range).

  10. verytallguy says:

    What Andrew Dodds said, but with a little more detail:

    1) RCP6.0 is not a worst case scenario. It’s middle of the road without mitigation.

    The RCP8.5 is representative of the high range of non-climate policy scenarios. Most non-climate policy scenarios, in fact, predict emissions of the order of 15 to 20 GtC by the end of the century, which is close to the emission level of the RCP6. The forcing pathway of the RCP4.5 scenario is comparable to a number of climate policy scenarios and several low-emissions reference scenarios in the literature, such as the SRES B1 scenario. The RCP2.6 represents the range of lowest scenarios, which requires stringent climate policies to limit emissions (1)

    2) As ATTP points out, TCR of 1.35 is a straightforward cherrypick, rhetorically preented as middle of the road. The IPPC range is 1-2.5

    3) Temperature change from today is a good way to make the impact of climate change sound less. Change from pre-industrial is the actual total impact.

    4) Imposing a cut off at 2100 and not considering the trajectory at that point means blithely ignoring massive future impacts which would be a locked in certainty at 2100. Under RCP 6, IPCC have temperature rising about 0.25 degrees/decade at 2075 (2)

    So, what would an honest appraisal be? Here’s mine (3):

    Without mitigation, it is unlikely that temperature rises will be limited to two degrees by 2100 (RCP6).

    Our best estimate is that that temperature will be have risen by around 3.5 degrees, and will still be rising by 0.25 degrees/decade, locking in substantial future warming beyond 2100 (midpoint sensitivity, RCP6.0).

    A best case (low sensitivity, RCP6) gives a temperature rise of 2.1 degrees at 2100.

    A worst case (high sensitivity, RCP8.5) would be cataclysmic, with a temperature rise averaging nearly 8 degrees by the end of this century, and continuing to rise at nearly 0.5 degrees/decade.

    (1) See Beginners guide to RCPs
    (2)Interpolated from AR5 WG1 Table SPM.2
    (3) All figures from Table SPM.1 AR5 WG3

  11. Tom Curtis says:

    Anders, you wrote that the GWPF article appeared to have based its estimates on Otto et al. In fact, the article states:

    “One of us (Lewis) has written a critical analysis of many of these TCR studies.39 It finds serious fault with most of them. The exceptions – Gillett et al. (2013), Otto et al. (2013) and Schwartz (2012) – all had relatively low TCRs, the best estimates from each being in the range 1.3–1.4◦C.40 As mentioned earlier in this report, an observationally-based best estimate for TCR of 1.3◦C can also be derived from data in AR5 (see page 16).”

    I note that this approach of simply excluding results that they don’t like means their article can be reduced to two claims:
    1) Sufficiently cherry picked results give a low TCR; and
    2) The IPCC is to be condemned for not cherry picking results in the manner that we desire.

    However, as regards your article it means we also have to consider Gillett et al (2013), and Schwartz (2012). The later gives a TCR of 1.34 +/- 0.14 using RCP 1.6 forcings from 1900-1990, but a range from 0.8 +/-0.07 to 1.75 +/- 0.28 depending on which of five forcing histories are used. The mean of all five is 1.22, for what it is worth.

    Schwartz is interesting in that he determines the expected transient climate response per trillion tonnes of carbon emitted, and gives an empirical value of 0.7-2 K per trillion tonnes. A trillion tonnes of carbon, given a retained fraction of 45% amounts to an increase of 210 ppmv of CO2, or an effective forcing of 2.8 W/m^2 so that the “empirical value” amounts to a TCR of 0.87 to 2.47 W/m^2. That is not a low estimate, and given the methodology the uncertainty is likely symmetrically ,indeed, normally distributed so that it corresponds to a mean (or median, or modal) estimate of 1.67 C per doubling.

    Otto et al is interesting in that it has multiple estimates, of which the two most important are the estimate from the 2000s of 1.3 C (0.9-2.0 C, considered the headline result) and that for the 1970-2000s of 1.4 C (0.7-2.4 C). The central estimates given are modal values, and the uncertainty is asymmetric so the median value is higher than the central estimate given in both cases.

    Combining the three estimates, we therefore have a median estimated TCR greater than 1.45 C per doubling of CO2, with a large uncertainty. The additional constraints consist of Nic Lewis’ “look only under lamp-posts” (ie Jeffrey’s) priors which are unsound and biased low by design. Of course, we could take advantage of the fact that 1950-2010 coincides with one cycle length for the putative main causes of internal variability at decadal scales and use the ratio between 1950-2010 temperature increase to forcing to directly estimate TCR. Doing so yields an estimated TCR of 1.64 C per doubling. So, in all, the low estimate given by the Lewis and Crok is based on cherry picking, is not supported even by their cherry picked studies taken in aggregate.

  12. Tom,
    Indeed, it seems clear that the preferred TCR is simply a cherry-pick that – as you indicate – isn’t even really a fair reflection of the literature that they claim to be using.

  13. Nobodyknows says:

    A question: If you have data for the period 1850 -1900, why can`t you just calculate the (T)CR? Is it not possible to find a best estimate, within an uncertainty range? I think the models are often more mystifying than claryfying.

  14. Nobodyknows says:

    And if you have not got the data for the period 1850 – 1900, what value can there be to estimate it? There will be no validation.

  15. Nobodyknows,

    If you have data for the period 1850 -1900, why can`t you just calculate the (T)CR? Is it not possible to find a best estimate, within an uncertainty range? I think the models are often more mystifying than claryfying.

    That’s essentially what the energy budget estimates do. They use the change in temperature and the change in forcings to estimate the TCR. However, the forcings come from models, so it’s not model-independent. Also, we don’t know if internal variability has produced some cooling, or some warming in the last decade. Similarly, these estimates cannot capture future non-linearities in the feedbacks (i.e., we haven’t doubled CO2 yet) and are sensitive to inhomogeneities in the forcings (for example, the aerosol forcing in the NH is thought to be bigger than in the SH, but the warming should be faster in the NH than in the SH because of more land).

    So, yes this can be done, but it does have its own issues. However, these estimates give a TCR range of between 1 and 2 degrees. The IPCC range is from 1 to 2.5 degrees. Not the same, but similar. In my view, the energy budget estimates are broadly consistent with the IPCC estimates.

  16. Tom Curtis says:


    First, your name strongly suggests that you are so strongly of the opinion that “nobody knows” that you cannot foresee any need to revise that statement under any reasonably circumstance. That is, it merely advertises a dogmatic bias towards rejecting science on your behalf. I can hope that is incorrect, but I would be a fool to be optimistic.

    Second, although the TCR is often used as a rough indicator or the contemporary response to a given forcing, it is strictly defined as the temperature difference between the initial time and the time at seventy years when in each of the seventy years CO2 concentrations are increased by 1% compounding and no other changes are made. To strictly determine that by empirical methods we would need to perform just that experiment on each of several tens of parallel worlds that are otherwise identical. The multiple worlds would be needed to determine the relevant statistics, with any one world probably producing a value different from the mean (and hence true) result due to random factors.

    Clearly we cannot do that – but we can approximate. In doing so, however, we should recognize that different rates of growth of forcing and fluctuations in the net forcing will materially change the outcome, and hence are major sources of uncertainty. Further, any internal variability in temperatures adds a further dimension of uncertainty (such that assuming a small error in a empirical TCR estimate is equivalent to assuming little or no internal variability). These sources of error compound on error in observing temperature changes and in estimating forcings.

    The upshot is that there is no such thing as a best empirical estimate of TCR. There are a variety of reasonable estimates using different techniques and different periods. It is foolish to attempt to eliminate different methods from consideration unless you can demonstrate major flaws, because all methods will have their own biases. However, a synthesis from the results of the various methods will give a very reasonable estimate of TCR, such as that from the IPCC – ie, 1-2.5 C likely range for a doubling of CO2.

  17. Nobodyknows says:

    “But in the full period since the industrial revolution began, global warming is only about half of that expected due to the principal forcing, increasing greenhouse gases.”
    So we have an estimate of TCR, and we have some observations, and it does not fit. So what do we do then?

  18. Raff says:

    Anders, my feeling is that Ridley is uninterested in being correct on anything so your lesson will be wasted on him. His article serves a purpose and once out there it has done its job. Same as McKitrick with his recent paper, no need to correct what was misleading or wrong; misinformation payload delivered, job done. If he did, he and friends like Montford would publish opinions pieces that pointed out that their earlier articles proclaiming Tol’s famously demon-written study were in fact wrong and that things might not be a rosy as they wanted people to think. I’ve never seen either make any mention of the corrections to Tol’s work. However, I don’t follow them closely – too stomach turning for me – so maybe they have; anyone know? Maybe you could ask them why not?

  19. Steve Bloom says:

    Unsurprisingly, Nobodyknows persists at not knowing.

  20. Nobodyknows,

    So we have an estimate of TCR, and we have some observations, and it does not fit. So what do we do then?

    This doesn’t make sense. The TCR values we’re talking about are based on observations, therefore they fit by definition.

    Indeed, I don’t expect Montford or Ridley to accept any corrections. No harm in pointing out their errors, though.

  21. Michael 2 says:

    ATTP wrote “I was trying to think about whether or not Matt could get away with claiming that he said ‘probably’ ”

    Yes with some, not with others. Whether it matters depends on whether specifying exact TCR along with its probability profile was his purpose.

    As I understand it, he was explaining that inasmuch as long-term global warming is a certainty whatever has flatlined global warming must be of similar magnitude but opposite sign. It could still be man-made of course, large quantities of sulfur dioxide and other particulates from Chinese coal burning, or various other natural phenomenon; many suggestions seem to be on the table.

    When I travel a long distance, I call my buddy and say, “I’ll see you in two hours”. The resulting probability function clusters around 2 hours, with essentially zero probability up to nearly 2 hours, but with a very long tail depending on traffic conditions, construction and other impediments. Quantifying the exact probability function is impossible when forecasting road conditions although I do log onto the state website and look for known hazards and include that in my prediction. But even if I did manage to quantify my travel prediction, my buddy’s attention span is such that his mind would have wandered off long before I get to the part of telling him what time of day to probably expect me.

  22. M2,
    The supposed flatlining of global surface temperatures doesn’t really change the the TCR has a range. Ignoring that and choosing a TCR that is lower than almost all other estimates, is a cherry-pick.

  23. markus says:

    Sceptics don’t do uncertainty. That’s how they know there has been no global warming since 1995, because the trend is zero plus or minus zero.

  24. Tom Curtis says:

    Michael 2, you are possibly making the false assumption that global warming has been flatlined for a number of years. Here are the HadCRUT4 running 12 month means from 1970 along with various trends of interest. It is very plain from that graph that the global mean surface temperature does not fall persistently below trend until after circa 2007. It is equally plain that from 1997-2007 it is persistently above trend.

    The idea that global warming has “flatlined” for 15 or 20 years (or whatever your preferred period is) assumes that 1998 is lay on the trend, not above it, which is demonstrably false. Absent that false assumption, we have the coincidence of two phenomena, ie, the very high temperature in 1998, and the reduced temperatures in 2011-12 which coincide with a record breaking La Nina event. We are then looking at two consequences of short term (ENSO driven) variability, and it is well known that short term temperature variability is large relative to long term anthropogenic trends.

  25. verytallguy says:

    So, ad hominems are generally discouraged, but I do think there are some particulars about Matt Ridley which inform this piece. Also, I have the excuse of having posted already on the (lack of) technical merit above.

    1. Ridley is a member of the House of Lords and is entitled to vote on the laws of my country through a nepotistic hangover from feudal times.

    He was “elected” to do this by dint of the extraordinary process of a by-election of hereditary peers belonging to the conservative party. This is perhaps the most openly gerrymandered electoral process in the world and can result in a legislator being elected by as few as three people. Britain claims to be a democracy.

    2. Ridley was Chairman of Northern Rock, the UK bank which suffered the first run of the financial crisis and the first on a UK bank for 150 years. Ridley gained this position through nepotism, his father having held the position before him.

    Under Ridley, Northern Rock pursued an aggressive business model, taking more risks than other similar institutions with disastrous consequences.

    3. His sister is married to Owen Paterson, climate change denier recently removed as environment minister for the UK and shortly to give the annual lecture to the denier PR organisation the GWPF. He went to Eton school along with David Cameron and several other current cabinet ministers.

    4. Ridley’s political philosophy appears to be the very epitome of laissez faire economics: I believe that economic liberty leads to greater opportunities for the poor to become less poor, which is why I am in favour of it. Market liberalism and social liberalism go hand in hand in my view. These opinions have famously been shown to be associated with climate change denial by Lewandowsky endorsement of a laissez-faire conception of free-market economics predicts rejection of climate science

    In summary, Ridley gained his position through nepotism and gerrymandering. His social network includes other prominent climate change deniers and right wing politicians. Political conviction rather than facts appear to drive his views on climate change. Despite being disgraced when in a position of power in charge of risk management he continues with amazing chutzpah to lecture others on the greatest risk management issue of our age.

    He does indeed, seem a little too certain.

    His books on evolution are good though.

  26. Tom Curtis says:

    VTG, being fair, Riddley gained his fame through some very well written popular books on evolution; albeit books which I believe overinterpret the darwinian mechanism. That, of course, makes him well qualified to hold opinions on evolutionary biology. It in no way qualifies him to hold opinions on climate science (or the management of banks).

  27. Tom Curtis says:

    Sorry, vtg, didn’t read the last line of your comment.

  28. izen says:

    @-Tom Curtis
    … Riddley gained his fame through some very well written popular books on evolution; albeit books which I believe overinterpret the darwinian mechanism. That, of course, makes him well qualified to hold opinions on evolutionary biology.

    To add a little nuance to noting the success of Matt Ridley’s books on genetics and evolution, it was said of another that his popular-science books were admired more by those who were unfamiliar with the subject than by scientists within the field.

    There is a branch of the field which has gone by various name like evolutionary sociobiology which provides logical explanations for various aspects of human biology and behaviour in a social context.
    Humans favour a clear, coherent explanatory narrative over uncertainty, or worse the sure knowledge that a certain specific cause-effect relationship is inherently indeterminate. Sociobiology has been happy to provide such narratives for a wide range of supposed puzzles about human nature.

    They are the sciencey version of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So’ stories.
    Only they claim to explain not how the leopard got his spots, but why the ‘Macho’ style of social order is common in some cultures. Or how altruism evolved.

    He is no worse than many in the field, and better than most, and the idea is seductive. cultural memes compete in a social ecology and the successful ones are encoded in genes. There is some evidence to support rather limited instances of these ideas, but with caveats about the complexity that rarely make it to the layman’s version.

    But it is biological determinism underneath.
    Evolutionary explanations for reified concepts like altruism/greed and ascribed genetic determinates that can specify human behaviour traits within the short (biologically speaking) duration of human society?

    Consider how… serendipitous it is that the very ideological and political concepts that shape his view of how the world works are supported, confirmed even, by the inescapable power of our genetic inheritance to enforce the optimal social solution of free market trade in a liberal society. With all those genetic predispositions to form power hierarchies and enforce social rules.

    This by no means the first time biology has been Procrustinated into supporting the status quo, or justifying the dominance of one group over another. It is not even the first time evolutionary theory has been re-messaged in this way. It is certainly much more sophisticated, and probably a lot more scientifically accurate than the first incantation, eugenics.

    But the question remains, when the biology for which you have gained some repute as a serious author also happens to prop up the ideological stance you take on the optimal social system, which came first the chicken or the egg?

  29. Tom Curtis says:

    Izen, eugenics wasn’t the first attempt to co-opt darwinism to a sociological agenda. That crown goes to Herbert Spencer in 1860.

    I suspect that “it was said of another that his popular-science books were admired more by those who were unfamiliar with the subject than by scientists within the field” by somebody who took Gould’s side in the dispute between him and Dawkins. I believe Dawkins regarded Ridley’s books highly. Further, the criticism of the results of mathematical ethology as “just so stories” (drawn, I believe, from Gould himself) is unfair. Such biological extravagances as altruism, peacock’s tails and the size of bull elephant seals are oddities in need of explanation, and purportedly are not explicable in a darwinian framework. The mathematical ethologists explore the detailed maths of what is actually predicted by darwinism in these (and other) cases. Granted the explanation is not verifiable, but knowing that there is a darwinian explanation removes the motive from a number of “addendums” to darwinism that were motivated by a purported inability of darwinism to explain this or that feature.

    I don’t know whether or not Ridley road mathematical ethology to the conclusion of biological determinism. I do know that it is not necessary to do so, and that (for instance) Dawkins did not.

  30. anoilman says:

    Tom Curtis: Alberta Canada implemented eugenics with enforced sterilization until 1972.

    The government was sued (surprise surprise);

    Seriously, if its weird politics… it comes from the land of tar and sand.

  31. Tom Curtis says:

    anoilman, the policy was implemented in Alberta in 1928. Similar policies were implemented in several US states, also in the 1920s/30s. However, the point I raised was not that eugenics was not an attempt to co-opt darwinism for a sociological agenda. Rather, only that it was not the first attempt to do so. The first attempt to do so, given the name of “social-darwinism” is particularly germane in that it was an attempted defence of the ethics of victorian era capitalism, ie, of political and economic theories not dissimilar to those supported by Ridley.

  32. Joshua says:

    VTG –

    ==> “So, ad hominems are generally discouraged…”


    Not saying that the information you provided wasn’t interesting, or perhaps relevant, but what is a theoretical distinction for when man playing is justifiable or useful or beneficial? You know, what with slopes being slippery and all?

  33. Joshua,
    I sometimes think the Ad Hominem argument is overplayed. To me, it is more than simply pointing out things that are true. It’s using things that might be true to entirely invalidate someones argument. What VTG posted about Ridley seems relevant and would seem to be something that Ridley wouldn’t dispute. He very clearly appears to approach this topic from a perspective in which any attempt at a global/government-lead process would be extremely damaging. If he can make an argument for that that doesn’t require undermining, or cherry-picking, the scientific evidence, that would be impressive. However, as with many who have similar views, the arguments appears to require a selective use of the evidence.

  34. Orson Olson says:

    There is a much simpler basis for Ridley’s claim. mind you, it forgoes all the supercomputers and teams of programmer-analysts and physicists. So nobody here will like it. But time and time again it has been show to be more accurate over multiple decades and, of course, heretically cheap (which might explain why no one has volunteered this rationale before).

    Namely, linear estimation. And therefore 1.3C degrees for CO2 doubling.

    Simple. Fast. Cheap – and more accurate than the complex alternatives. (And also this technique is understandable by the non-physics trained as well as those lacking calculus – thus, it is an estimated value that can be sold to policy-makers.)

    These advantages are numerous and hefty in the public marketplace of ideas, unlike “Trust me, we’re scientists.” But my bias detrends a linear estimate because of the known log function of the CO2 emissivity. And thus even Ridley is too generous.

  35. Orson,
    I doubt this is going to go well, but I’ll give it a try.

    Simple. Fast. Cheap – and more accurate than the complex alternatives.

    Firstly, what do you mean by “linear estimation”? Secondly, how do you know it is more accurate? Thirdly, how do you do this without forcing estimates that come from models?

    But my bias detrends a linear estimate because of the known log function of the CO2 emissivity. And thus even Ridley is too generous.

    Here, I think you’re forgetting (or don’t know) that CO2 is not the only factor that contributes to anthropogenic forcings and that there are other important external forcings (the Sun, Volcanoes).

  36. verytallguy says:


    yes, indeed it was a hypocritical post, as I implied at the start. It would probably be better had I not posted it.

    What Ridley wrote is factually wrong, or at least highly misleading, and I posted earlier for what I think is an honest interpretation of the facts.

    The later post is really about wider societal and political issues, and not climate change directly at all.

    Nepotism pisses me off massively. Bought privilege pisses me off massively. The attempt to remove regulation of markets and return us to Victorian exploitative capitalism pisses me off massively. The justification of stratification of society and reduction of social mobility that goes with that pisses me off massively.

    Ridley epitomises all these things.

    Currently, the slavish and blinkered following of libertarian economics ends up with its adherents needing to build a dishonest evaluation of the facts of climate change because their ideology cannot cope with the implications of the truth. If they were not ideologically blinkered, they would show how their philosophy can be used to reduce CO2, rather than torturing the science to attempt to pretend that CO2 doesn’t matter. Either that or honestly argue that the consequences of 6 degrees of warming are less than that of moderating their ideology.

    The relevance to climate change is that the nepotistic and wealth skewed political, media and business environment in the UK enables these people to prosper.

    That said, he’s a gifted writer and his books are good 🙂

  37. Joshua says:

    ATTP –

    I dunno,. I agree that the “That’s an ad hom” argument is over-played, but then again, I tend to think that playing the man is always suboptimal because it necessarily focuses on identification and identity. The tendency towards focusing on the man is one of the reason that I put quotation marks around skeptics.

    If a “skeptic” argues that “climate scientists promoted a global cooling scare in the ’70s,” I criticize that argument on two principles. The first is I don’t think that the argument is true. The second, is that even if it were true, it would have very little relevance to what climate scientists argue today – given the vast changes in methodology and the vast increase in evidence.

    So if I look at what VTG wrote, then I have to also question what relevance is there to Ridley’s past in bank management, or how he was elected, or who his sister is married to.

    Ideally, Ridley’s arguments about the science and economics would be evaluated by a critique of the arguments on scientific or economic grounds. But maybe at some point it is important to view his arguments in the context of who it is that is making the arguments. Yes, understanding how his biases might affect his reasoning is important for evaluating his arguments, and to understand his biases you have to consider evidence that might speak to how he’s likely to be biased.

    So what I’m wondering is whether there is some theoretical construct for evaluating when playing the man might be justifiable – or perhaps when personalizing someone’s arguments is actually not playing the man but fairly evaluating an argument.

  38. Joshua,

    I tend to think that playing the man is always suboptimal because it necessarily focuses on identification and identity.

    In general, I agree. I tend to think, however, that anyone who was Chairman of the first bank in over 100 years to have a run on its finances should really be keeping their head down and not doing any more damage to the society in which they live. That he feels comfortable now writing about how he somehow knows more than 1000s of climate scientists is, in my opinion, quite remarkable. In a sense, I’m impressed. It shows remarkable confidence. On the other hand, it appears to suggest that he’s quite happy holding views that are inconsistent with the best evidence available and he may well go down in history as one of the few people to have contributed to damaging society in more than one area.

  39. izen says:

    @-“That said, he’s a gifted writer and his books are good :-)”

    An alternative review might state he is a pedestrian stylist and the science is at best overstated and often just wrong.

  40. verytallguy says:


    “It shows remarkable confidence.”

    Meaning overweening arrogance and loathsome sense of entitlement?


    Well, I know far too little to critique the science in it but I enjoyed “Genome”.

  41. Joshua says:

    ATTP –

    ==> ” In a sense, I’m impressed. It shows remarkable confidence.”

    Consider how Cheney and other neocons are now placing themselves front and center in recommending policy for dealing with Iraq, ISIS, etc. It’s clear that strong ideological orientation can be very “motivating.” I assume you’re aware of my tribe’s term – Chutzpah?

    So if I’m evaluating Cheney’s current recommendations, should it be irrelevant that he was instrumental in crafting one of the most ill-advised foreign policies in the history of the country (IMO)? It’s hard for me to convince myself that it should be. But I also know that at the moment that I focus on Cheney’s identity, there will be no real discussion of his policies, and subsequent discussion will be only an extension of how I and other discussants identify Cheney in relation to our own political/world views. People of a certain political orientation will look at what I consider to be obviously failed policies and explain how they weren’t really failed policies but in fact the appropriate policies that were simply undermined by their political adversaries. Any evidence considered will be filtered so as to confirm biases.

    Not saying I have any answers.

  42. vtg,

    Meaning overweening arrogance and loathsome sense of entitlement?

    Yes, that might be another way of putting it. Without wanting to open another can of worms – and acknowledging that this may be a huge generalisation and very biased – I have wondered what kind of role public education in the UK plays in teaching people to be far more confident in their abilities than may be warranted.

  43. Joshua,
    I guess my view is that there should be certain things that disqualify someone from ever being taken seriously again. Of course defining what those things are (or getting everyone to agree on what they are) is probably impossible.

  44. Very tall,

    An ad hominem is fallacious when it carries “you are an X, therefore you’re wrong”. Looking for explanations as to why Matt is lukewarmingly wrong is not. It informs readers as to where Matt comes from. If this was ad hominem, any kind of social network analysis would be fallacious.

    It also tells indirectly readers where *you* come from.

    Also, the idea to play the ball works best for scientific questions. There’s no real science behind Matt’s veneer, it’s mostly a façade for his social engineering. It would be a mistake to fall for this lukewarm decoy.

    ClimateBall ™ — forget the head fakes, mind the hip moves.

  45. BBD says:


    As a grammar school boy I can only agree. Thus Willard can confirm that he is also correct.

  46. Orson said:

    Namely, linear estimation. And therefore 1.3C degrees for CO2 doubling.

    Simple. Fast. Cheap – and more accurate than the complex alternatives. (And also this technique is understandable by the non-physics trained as well as those lacking calculus – thus, it is an estimated value that can be sold to policy-makers.)

    I agree, but the only thing is — they did it wrong.

    If you do it right, the TCR is much closer to 2.0C for CO2 doubling.

    The real problem is to figure out how they messed up. Like I have said before, it is much more difficult to figure out why somebody did a calculation incorrectly, than to show them how to do it right.

  47. Ian Forrester says:

    Here is a quote from Ridley’s Genome (p.151):

    It is the hardest thing for human beings to get used to, but the world is full of intricate, cleverly designed and interconnected systems that do not have control systems. The economy is such a system. The illusion that economies run better if someone is put in charge of them … has done devastating harm to the wealth and health of people all over the world, not just in the former Soviet Union, but in the west as well.

    The problem is that people were put in charge, Ridley being one of them and he and others did do “devastating harm to the wealth and health of people”.

    We do need people in charge but we must be very careful to select the right ones, maybe a DNA test is in order.

  48. Tom Curtis says:

    Ian Forrestor, a centrifugal governor is not “in charge” of the steam engine. It does not determine whether the boiler will be charged up, the wheels engaged (either forward or reverse), nor whether or not the brakes will be applied – still less the choice of track. Without it, however, nobody is “in charge” of the steam engine, which will be somewhat of a smoking ruin.

    In the same manner, regulators (and regulations) are not “in charge” of the economy. Good regulators (and regulations), however, do help prevent the economy also becoming a smoking ruin. What ever the merits of people not being “in charge” of the economy, that has no bearing on the appropriate form and extent of regulation in the economy.

  49. Tom,
    Indeed, and this is where I have a problem with the kind of view expressed in what Ian quotes. It may well be that via some metric, a totally free economy would be optimal. The problem comes in when you add constraints such as that it should provide employment for most of the adult population, education for children, universal healthcare, a justice system, the ability to go out at night with fearing for your life,…… I guess it is theoretically possible that a totally free economy could satisfy all these constraints, it just seems much more likely that without good regulation it won’t.

    Similarly, whatever we do to our climate, it will eventually settle into an new, approximately steady, state. If the only constraint on our climate is that it should be in some kind of long-term equilibrium and should be suitable for life, then we can stop worrying now. On the other hand, if we add additional constraints such as it must be in a state that allows us to provide food for a population of 5 – 10 billion people, allows most people to live in areas where extreme weather events will rarely influence their lives, and that it should not change so rapidly and so significantly that we face the risk of the mass extinction of many species, then maybe we should be using our massive intellect to avoid these potentially risky outcomes.

  50. Tom Curtis says:

    Anders, I don’t like the term “free market” because it is actually the key to a subtle subterfuge.

    First, political economists “prove” that a free market is Pareto optimal. I am not sure why anybody should care that it is Pareto optimal, ie, that nobody can be made better off without somebody being made worse off, but it has that word “optimal” in it which can be segued by appropriate equivocation into meaning that it is the best economic system. Of course, an economy in which one person receives 99% of all income and the remaining 99.999999% receive just 1% can be Pareto optimal. We cannot make the starving millions better of without making that one person worse off – and so much the worse for that one person IMO.

    That is a side track, however. The key point is that in order to prove Pareto optimality, you have to assume that there are zero transaction costs, that all members of the market are perfectly informed, that no member of the market be coerced, and that all members of the market act economically rational agents. In proving that the previously undefined “free markets” are Pareto optimal using these premises, these premises become a de facto definition of “free market”. That is, a “free market” is any market in which, there are zero transaction costs, all agents are perfectly informed, no agent is coerced, and all agents act as economically rational agents.

    Of course, all four suppositions are false in the real world. No matter, we employ another little equivocation and use “free market” to mean “a completely unregulated market”. So, now having proved that “free markets (definition 1) are Pareto optimal, elided our way to suggesting that Pareto optimal just means optimal, we thereby have our justification for “free markets (definition 2)”.

    Ironically, this legerdemaine is then used to argue against regulations that require informing consumers of the real abilities of products, and against deliberately misinforming consumers about the same. Ie, having assumed that “all agents are perfectly informed” to prove the worth of a “free market”, they then use that presumed worth to ensure that many agents are as poorly informed as possible.

  51. BBD says:

    What Tom C says is pretty much Ha-Joon Chang’s very interesting book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.

    See: Thing 1: There’s no such thing as a free market.

    Someone should tell all those think tank people that they’ve missed the trick.

  52. BBD says:

    Sorry: “What Tom C says is pretty much in line with Ha-Joon Chang’s very interesting book…”

  53. anoilman says:

    Anders/Tom/Ian… All of that starts with the obviously false notion that no one is in charge in the first place. That is never the case. As wealth flows to those in dominant positions their ability to assert control over the economy is simply obvious. Its called a plutocracy, and its the natural enemy of a free market.

  54. izen says:

    @-“It is the hardest thing for human beings to get used to, but the world is full of intricate, cleverly designed and interconnected systems that do not have control systems. The economy is such a system. ”

    A prime example of the sort of specious nonsense I was alluding to above. It manages to traduce and misrepresent two sciences, the natural and the dismal.

    Humans do prefer to assume an intentional controlling agency when observing organised complexity. Most of the natural world, evolution being the paradigm, show intricate and interconnected systems from which organised complexity arises without any requirement for a sentient intentional agency.

    The problem with the assertion, “The economy is such a system” is that it makes no effort to justify the claim that natural systems are directly homologous to human economic systems. Once you actually try to compare two such systems, say the mammalian immune system and the Hanseatic league, it becomes clear that any similarities that can be constructed are largely metaphorical or refer to reified qualia that theorists might apply to both.

    As other posters have pointed out, natural, and engineered, systems do have regulation even if it is not central control.
    And there are inconsistent analogies made between private businesses which are compared with simple rule-constrained participants in a natural system, but government is characterised as an intentional agent with a qualitative difference to the other agents in a economic system. Economics is slowly grappling with the fact that economic that that that economic agency is neither rational nor optimal in its decisions. systems driven by ideological belief may be neither optimal or logistically rational. Biological systems are not automatically optimal either of course. Advocating economics should evolve without any intelligent design seems to assume the invisible hand will not result in the food and air intake sharing an orifice with the regular morbidity this causes.
    Not to mention other plumbing infelicities!

    This not to deny that emergent properties independent of the properties of the participants can emerge in human social systems including economics. But to make direct comparisons with biological systems is seldom justified, and highly suspect when it always turns out that such comparisons provide confirmation for the ideological preferences of the writer.
    The naturalistic fallacy strikes again.

    It occurs to me that the credit Ridley gets for his biological writing from those unaware of its problems might parallel those who are unaware of the problems with his climate science commentary.

  55. Tom,

    You win the Internet. That is all.

  56. afeman says:

    ….he may well go down in history as one of the few people to have contributed to damaging society in more than one area.

    If the lead-crime rate hypothesis works out it will be hard to top this guy:,_Jr.

  57. Ian Forrester says:

    As the Industrial Revolution grew and spread during the 18th and 19th centuries it was largely unregulated (there were exceptions when some factory owners succumbed to neighbours complaints and invented simple technology to reduce their unpleasant emissions). Things got so bad in some places that Robert Blatchford had this to say about one particular town in NW England:

    St Helens is a sordid, ugly town. The sky is a low-hanging roof of smeary smoke and the atmosphere is a blend of railway tunnel, hospital ward, gasworks and open sewer. The ‘features’ of the place are chimneys, furnaces, steam jets, smoke clouds and coal mines. The products are pills, coals, glass, chemicals, cripples, millionaires and paupers.

    Robert Blatchford, Dismal England p.115

    It is the last three items he describes, cripples, millionaires and paupers that regulation effects. Lack of regulation or improper regulation benefits the owners who can become even richer. Proper regulation reduces the number of cripples and paupers.

    What Blatchford observed in the 19th century is still going on in the fossil fuel industry, the financial industry and the agricultural biotechnology industry, all three of which Ridley supports even though he is lacking in a basic understanding of all 3.

  58. Tom Curtis says:

    anoilman, nobody is in charge of the economy, either global or national. It is true that the the very wealthy have a commonality of interest which will often result in their cooperating to further that common interest. Such cooperation is not, however, universal either in scope or time. Framing global or national economic and political action as an oligopoly can be informative, but will misguide was well if taken too literally. (It is, perhaps, less misleading in the US than in the UK or Australia.)

  59. BBD says:


    I have to agree with Tom again here.

  60. afeman,
    Is the Thomas Midgley of physics Thomas Gold ? Not particularly damaging to mankind, but he may have prevented the moon landing (soft deep dust theory), sent us on a wild good chase for crude oil (abiotic oil hypothesis), and other goose chases in the origins of the life and universe (accidental panspermia and steady state theory).

    Apart from that he was highly regarded and an amiable chap apparently.

  61. GregH says:

    Ian Forrester’s Ridley quote again:

    It is the hardest thing for human beings to get used to, but the world is full of intricate, cleverly designed and interconnected systems that do not have control systems. The economy is such a system. The illusion that economies run better if someone is put in charge of them … has done devastating harm to the wealth and health of people all over the world, not just in the former Soviet Union, but in the west as well.

    This is simply Neoliberal propaganda masquerading as popular science, and has little or nothing to do with evolution. It’s a repackaging of the Neoliberal claim that economies are some sort of infallible information-processing systems, as described by Philip Mirowski in several places:

    What this meant in practice was that there grew to be a mandate that natural science metaphors must be integrated into the neoliberal narrative. It is noteworthy that MPS [Mont Pelerin Society] members began to explore the portrayal of the market as an evolutionary phenomenon long before biology displaced physics as the premier science in the modern world-picture. If the market was just an elaborate information processor, so too was the gene in its ecological niche. Poor, unwitting animals turn out to maximize everything under the sun just like neoclassical economic agents, and cognitive science “neuroeconomics” models treat neurons as market participants. “Biopower” is deployed to render nature and our bodies more responsive to market signals. Because of this early commitment, neoliberalism was able to make appreciable inroads into such areas as “evolutionary psychology,” network sociology, ecology, animal ethology, linguistics, cybernetics, and even science studies. Neoliberalism has therefore expanded to become a comprehensive worldview, and has not been just a doctrine solely confined to economists.

    (from The Thirteen Commandments of Neoliberalism

  62. BBD says:

    Let’s not forget that Ridley’s love letter to neoliberal economics The Rational Optimist won the Hayek Prize in 2011.

    ‘Nuff said.

  63. ATTP: “It may well be that via some metric, a totally free economy would be optimal.”

    Oh boy, you hit a raw nerve on this one. The most relevant facts strongly suggest otherwise.

    First, look at the per capita nominal GDP comparison of all the countries in the world over the past few decades or so. It shows that if there is a relation between per capita nominal GDP and the percentage of GDP comprised of total government revenues and spending, it would be that the closer we get to 50% of GDP comprised of total government revenues and spending, the higher the per capita nominal GDP, and the further away in both directions towards the communist and third world countries, the lower the per capita nominal GDP, even if the correlation were weak. For a start, note that at

    we generally see that except for a couple of city-states and a Middle Eastern country, the Scandinavian countries outside the Eurozone have had the highest levels of per capita nominal GDP over this time. (Presently, Norway, the most socially democratic country in history, is at $100,000, and the US is only at $50,000.) See

    for more as to why they are so prosperous.

    This sort of correlation shows itself here in the US as well:

    This above shows that per capita, going by the political make-up of the state legislatures, the richest states are the most progressive, and the poorest are the most conservative. And to top it off: Conservatives say they are against redistribution, but they are its biggest beneficiaries. There has for decades in the US been redistribution through the federal government from the richer and more progressive states to the poorer and more conservative states, which would collapse without this redistribution. So much for conservative economics being the way to go.

    The countries in Europe with the higher per capita GDPs have via government control with the proper laws maintained strong unions and strong enough control of their financial systems to promote business activity.

    Here in the US, the 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall (enacted in 1933) was the biggie of a lot of financial deregulation that has now resulted in it being much more difficult for those not already rich to get a loan to start or improve or expand a small or medium sized business. The percentage of the US that owns a business is now only half what it was when Reagan took over. This is very bad for an economy. (The banks said that if they were allowed to make more money via repeal of the law, they would do more to help the main economy via such loans. Of course, they lied – they did the exact opposite since low interest business loans for all sizes of businesses are the slowest and hardest way for them to make money, never mind that it is what the economy needs the most from banks.) For more, see this:
    “Since 1980, the top 1% has sucked up 80% of all the new wealth created. And, in 2010, the richest one percent of Americans received 93% of all of the new income earned that year. [In 1993-2000 we saw 45% of all new income go to the top 1%, and in 2002-2007 we saw 65% of all new income go to the top 1%.]…the number of entrepreneurs per capita in America has dropped by 53% since 1977. And since 1991, the number of Americans who are self-employed has dropped by more than 20%. Americans who use to be able to start their own businesses are increasingly being forced to join the ranks of the working poor – crowded out of the market by the billionaires’ corporate domination.”

    And this recent study
    Union Strength, Neoliberalism, and Inequality
    Contingent Political Analyses of U.S. Income Differences since 1950
    Could Politics Trump Economics As Reason for Growing Income Inequality?
    Study finds decline in union strength played key role

    shows that starting with Reagan, getting rid of so many of those laws friendly to unions we in the US used to have is the main reason (not lack of education – more than ever are college educated) why an ever increasing percentage of US jobs (including starting pay for newly created jobs) pay ever closer to the poverty line.

    I could provide much more, but this should do for now.

  64. KeefeandAmanda,
    I agree with you. I think I’ve used the GDP per capita versus public spending argument myself. In fact I don’t see how one can have a viable economy without about 40 – 50% of GDP being associated with education, healthcare, a military, police, justice, …. Of course, some would argue that these would be better provided through the private sector than the public. I think a comparison of UK healthcare with US healthcare would show this to be untrue.

    I was simply suggesting that there might be some chance of a true free market being optimal, but I haven’t really see any actual evidence to support this.

  65. AnOilMan says:

    KeefAndAmanda, I’ve run similar discussions here with union workers making more than non-union, and the non-union guys are pretty vehement that they are better off with lower pay, and less benefits. They are very insistent.

    The only way you can rationalize that is that many workers don’t want someone else messing around in their lives or regulating their behaviour. There are procedures to doing anything when a union is involved.

    I have to admit that I’d make more money in a large organization, but I can’t stand large scale corporate stupidity. I thrive with little oversight, and greater autonomy.

    There may be something to North American culture driving the need to freedom of choice versus being wealthier and happier.

  66. Andrew Dodds says:

    aTTP –

    The problem is that a True Free Market ™ is optimal..

    But it’s a bit like pointing at a particular car and saying that ‘If we ignore friction, material imperfections, the possibility of driver error, and the mass of moving components, then this car is optimal..’ Basically, the number of idealistic preconditions required for a market to be optimal is large, yet rarely stated or fulfilled.

    Problem is, whilst the problems of a car engine designed without regard to friction emerge quickly and obviously, the problems of economic systems designed without regard to, for instance, different levels of information are slower to emerge. Not only that, the response to these problems seems to be more ‘try and make the world fit the ideal model’ then ‘Try and make the model fit the world’.

    AOM –

    I honestly think it’s just straight propaganda. When was the last time you saw a positive portrayal of unions in any mainstream media outlet, especially in the US?

  67. AnOilMan: “…the non-union guys are pretty vehement that they are better off with lower pay, and less benefits. They are very insistent.

    The only way you can rationalize that is that many workers don’t want someone else messing around in their lives or regulating their behaviour.”

    Yes, there are those who really do choose to be poorer because of political or religious ideology. But it is false that there is only one explanation for why non-union workers say what you say they say. There is another explanation. I live in the US, and in a “right to work” state. I know what’s going on here. The US is one of those few countries in the world that have “at-will” employment:

    Except for federal anti-bias statutes and some other exceptions in federal law and except for some mild laws in some states, this essentially means your boss can fire you at will at any time for any or even no reason. The US Supreme Court has made it very difficult to prove that these legal exceptions were violated in a firing, and therefore the only real protection in the US against arbitrary firing is collective bargaining under union contracts.

    That is, many non-union workers here in the US will of course say that they are against unions because they damn well know that if they say otherwise, they can find themselves being targets for termination – before the firing, they know they’re targets because they start getting written up by their bosses for every last little thing when before, everything was fine. (This is how US employers set things up so that if the former employee or some rich relative of said former employee who can afford the 400 dollar per hour lawyers tries to sue under some aforementioned exception to at-will law, the employer can try to say in court with documentation that the employee became a bad employee.)

    And here

    is a decent introduction to the “right to work” movement in the US, the anti-union laws springing from this movement being the main reason private unions have essentially almost died in the US in comparison to say in the 1960s when roughly 1/3 of all jobs in the US were union jobs. The reasons given by conservatives are bogus – consider that the richest countries in Europe kept their unions and are still competing internationally just fine.

    Side note: In 1980, 100,000 companies offered pensions (this is in addition to Social Security), and after the Big Lie of conservatism sold by Reagan was bought by the American public, by 2000 only 10,000 did, a 90% drop.

    The richest generations in American history in terms of more being further above the poverty line were the WWII generation and the one immediately following, and they were the richest because they were the most pro-union generations in American history – don’t forget that because of pro-union laws back then making it easy to form unions and hard to kill them, many of those non-union employers giving 2/3 of the jobs treated their employees well to keep them from going union. If the current trends that started with Reagan continue of higher paying jobs being replaced by lower paying jobs, then we will see the richest generation replaced by one of the poorest generations in American history. The best standards of living in the world are less and less in the US and more and more in the richest European nations. This trend started with the creation of conservative-inspired anti-union laws in US making it easy to kill existing private unions and difficult to form them.

    In my prior post above, I cited a study showing that the decline of the unions is the main reason the US middle class is dying. For more on the destruction of the US middle class via anti-union conservatism:

    For more on Reagan:

    Another side note: Labor co-determinism
    “Economic Effects of Codetermination”

    is a way to have powerful union movements and the strong middle classes they create without having lots of crippling strikes. So if you want to try to argue that union movements are bad, then you must not overlook this.

  68. anoilman says:

    Folks… I’m not trying to start a food fight, but I did start with an anti union perspective. I’m repeating to you what construction workers told me directly. I think the desire to avoid unions goes beyond just religious or political ideology. (Factoid: My grandfather broke a union… by winning the hearts and minds of his workers. I aspire to be like him.)

    I’m also not arguing well established facts… union workers make more money.

    KeefeAndAmanda: I think hiring and firing is he same in Canada. Here, they simply pay about 2 weeks, and walk away. I recall an article in the Economist that heavy labor laws (or union presence) only slowed down the hiring/firing process. It didn’t make a net change in level of employment.

    Since this is an international forum, you might be surprised that the labor laws in the UK are equivalent to union regulations in Canada/US. Firing is almost impossible, and there is considerable complexity to even lay off someone.

    I used to work at GE in a division with feet in the US, Canada, and UK. One fellow told the director that he “wasn’t interested in doing his waste of time paper work, as he was too busy making GE money”. The best the director could do was reduce his hours. When lay offs hit, GE had to reorganize the UK division,, axe different sections whole sale, which offered the workers a 6 month grieving process. In Canada, we had sand bagged ourselves with a lot of cheap Chinese labor They were the first to go, no questions asked.

  69. Andrew Dodds says:

    anoilman –

    Actually, it’s always easy to fire someone, you simply offer a sufficient payoff.

    Interesting paradox is this: For a competent union, the interests of the union – that the company steadily grows over time offering secure employment – are far better correlated with shareholder interests than the interests of the management are. Especially for large companies where shareholder representatives and senior managers may effectively collude against both small shareholders and workers.

  70. anoilman says:


    I’ve also experienced that kind of collusion in the private sector. One company I worked at was suffering such severe brain drain that they went around and asked all the other local companies to not to hire their employees. You can imagine what it would be like to be the employee in that case. Moral was incredibly low and the company was essentially clueless as to what the disconnects were. (Turnover… 50% per year.)

    One friend was refused interviews, so I literally barged into meetings to explain to them that it was OK to talk to my friend. It was some time later that I found out what the real problem was.

    Closer to what you are saying.. those employees in both organizations are actually taking on considerable legal risks. Its arguable that they were price fixing costs.

  71. Bwana_mkubwa says:

    Not content with being an Irrational Optimist, Matt Ridley seems to be heading into conspiracy territory. In today’s Times he has a piece that echoes one of the madder posts on WUWT insinuating that the Ozone Hole was a prototype hoax by UN scientists before the big one. He even gives kudos to “diligent blogger Anthony Watts.” As usual, most of this article is found here:

    Spot how many inaccuracies he peddles direct from the WUWT post. Some were even corrected by posters on WUWT. The Times is supposed to be a paper of record for God’s sake.

  72. Bwana_mkubwa,
    That’s just remarkable.

  73. Pingback: The 97% v the 3% – just how much global warming are humans causing?

  74. anoilman wrote: “KeefeAndAmanda: I think hiring and firing is he same in Canada.”

    Hiring might be similar, but by the further below, firing is quite different, and more, the further below shows that Canada is not far from a socially democratic paradise compared to the US in terms of worker rights and benefits in labor law, especially with respect to retirement, on which I will I amplify shortly. This following must be added to the discussion so the readers understand just how bad workers have it the US now compared to workers in the richer parts of the rest of the first world in Europe, Canada, and the Western Pacific.

    In addition to the reasons already explored, there could be a couple of other reasons why those particular non-union workers in Canada are against unions, and again see the further below for justifications.

    One is that because it’s easier to form unions in Canada than it now is in the US, employers who want to stay nonunion will probably treat their employees better to keep them from going union, much as it was in the US before the late 1960s when because of the growing conservative movement culminating in Reagan’s election, pro-union laws like “card check” were slowly but surely beginning to be repealed.

    Another is what is shown below: Because of Canadian employment law and government provided benefits in Canada, in many ways nonunion workers in Canada actually have it better than even a lot of union workers in the US now do.

    This is especially true with respect to retirement. I pointed out in an earlier post that we have seen the essential end of pensions for non-government workers in the US – and this includes more and more union workers because of weakened unions – created by the anti-union conservative political movement in the US over the past half century. Because of this, in a generation or two the median retiree in the US will have a lower income than the median retiree in all or almost all the rest of the first world. Almost every retiree by then in the US will have nothing or almost nothing but Social Security – which is similar to Old Age Security in Canada – as an income. Personal savings from average-paying and below-average-paying jobs will provide little extra. Do the math. Imagine what would happen in Canada if the Canada Pension Plan and private pension plans were almost entirely scrapped and almost everyone then had nothing to retire on except income from Old Age Security and their personal savings. Do the math.

    Because of more and more ever-lower wages and ever-poorer retirees in the US, again brought about by the US public buying into the conservative line that laws and regulations protecting and benefitting workers are bad, the demand side of the US economy will continue its downward slide and become weaker and weaker until the US is no longer a first world country – unless the US public re-embraces the liberal progressivism it embraced in the middle of the 20th century.

  75. BBD says:


    The Times is supposed to be a paper of record for God’s sake

    The Times records what Murdoch wants it to record.

  76. anoilman says:

    KeefeAndAmanda: I’m not really wanting to go into us versus them. Most of what you say there is wrong. It looks good on paper, but that’s it. I know Canadian employment law like the back of my hand, since I’ve had to sue a few employees, and discipline others.

    I can (and have) fire anyone I want, any time I want in Canada. I pay them 2 weeks severance, and say, bye. Its done. No mess.. no union grievance process. Nothing. General practice is +1 week per year, but that is only if you don’t have anything specific in the contract. The usual way around most paper work is to simply write it into a contract. Something like, “If I feel like it, I can fire you.”

    If you do knowledge work, you’d be over joyed to hear that you have a right to work. Non-competes are unenforceable unless you are in a key position within the company (an officer).

    Canada Pension only kicks in if you have no other income. If you save, you will not have the CPP to draw on, unless you drop below the poverty line when your savings run out. 🙂 If you have a pension, you won’t be collecting CPP. Near as I can tell our only real benefit is health care.

  77. Anoilman said: “Most of what you say there is wrong…..Canada Pension only kicks in if you have no other income. If you save, you will not have the CPP to draw on, unless you drop below the poverty line when your savings run out. 🙂 If you have a pension, you won’t be collecting CPP. Near as I can tell our only real benefit is health care.”

    Everything I said about Canada directly or in comparison to the US is simply a reflection of the information in the sources I cited. Anyone can claim anything without backing it up with citations, so I try to avoid that. In that spirit, here are some more citations:

    You said that Canada Pension is only for those who have no other income? But:

    Financial Security – Retirement Income


    “Canadian seniors drew their retirement income from multiple sources in 2011.

    In terms of public pensions, almost all seniors (96.6%) received OAS benefits in 2011 and 92.1% of seniors had Canada or Quebec Pension Plan benefits (CPP/QPP)…In terms of private sources of income, a majority of Canadian seniors received income from investments (54.3%) and from private pensions and RRSPs (63.6%) in 2011. One-fifth of seniors (22.6%) had earnings from employment.”

    This above link provides plenty of informative charts. Enjoy.

    You said that the only real benefit for Canadians vs. Americans is healthcare? But:

    I already cited sources showing that Canadian labor law is not “at-will”. And with respect to retirement? Here are some citations that say that Canadian retirees are better off than US retirees, never mind the fact I established in the prior post that in one or two generations, the vast majority of US retirees will be much poorer than today’s, meaning that this gap shown below will explode over time:

    The Canadian Safety Net for the Elderly

    This above link shows much data. For example, at roughly year 2000, there is a chart showing the percentage of the population aged 65 or older with income less than 50 percent of adjusted national median disposable income for all persons. Here are those percentages:

    United States 24.7%
    United Kingdom 20.9%
    Germany 10.1%
    Canada 7.8%
    Sweden 7.7%
    Italy 13.7%
    Finland 8.5%

    Wow! It is as I said in a prior post: Canada is not far from a socially democratic paradise in terms of how it treats its workers at least in terms of retirement – Canada is as good as the social democracies of Scandinavia by this metric in terms of retirement income! There is a massive, massive difference here between Canada and the US, and it is in Canada’s favor. Three times the percentage. And as I said above, this massive gap will explode over time to become super-massive. Healthcare is the only benefit Canadian workers have over US workers? Nonsense.

    (This above link also says the same thing as the further above source, which is that most seniors get multiple sources of income, including OAS as well as CPP/QPP.)

    In addition:

    “…across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades….The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans…. most American families are paying a steep price for high and rising income inequality…. The struggles of the poor in the United States are even starker than those of the middle class. A family at the 20th percentile of the income distribution in this country makes significantly less money than a similar family in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland or the Netherlands. ”

    Yet again, Canada is as good as socially democratic Scandinavia. The US is falling behind because it has turned its back on the progressive, union-friendly economics that creates middle classes in the first place, while these other countries have not. Now combine this with that study I cited before that shows that it’s not lack of education or anything causing this, but the lack of unions – which includes the lack of union-friendly labor law creating the real threat of union formation if workers are not treated well. Here again is that study:

    Union Strength, Neoliberalism, and Inequality
    Contingent Political Analyses of U.S. Income Differences since 1950

    Could Politics Trump Economics As Reason for Growing Income Inequality?
    Study finds decline in union strength played key role

    The upshot? To be in favor of anti-union, conservative economics is to be in favor of public policy that as we see happening in the US will inevitably lead to the destruction of the middle class in the country in which one lives.

  78. anoilman says:

    KeefeAndAmanda: You are quibbling, and its going no where. I hire and fire people. Factory worker = $3k and my best wishes. Buh Bye. I don’t even have to fill out paper work if I do that. I just change the name on the form letter. Not at will? OK… what ever. I’m sure there there’s a huge major difference between 15 seconds and standing at the printer, and “At Will”. (PS… that’s a layoff or termination. I likely need to hire lawyers to fire. Its so hard, that companies never ever ever fire in Canada.)

    You cited $9000 a year Old Age Income that gets clawed back. That’s below the poverty line. That doesn’t sound like a worker’s paradise to me.

    Social regulations vary hugely by province. Alberta, where I live, is the most backward.

    I have also steadfastly supported claims that you are financially better off with union representation. You randomly from thin air, claimed that people who don’t want unions do so for political and religious reasons. I’m sure you will diligently find a citation that does not explain, me, or people I’ve spoken too. I fit neither category.

    So what I’m telling you is that I think its more complicated than simple citations. Money won’t make you happy. 🙂

    I do think people need choice and freedom. However often where I see that kind of thinking, I see nefarious individuals and organizations clawing back collective rights. I believe that is inappropriate.

  79. Okay, as fascinating as this is, can we maybe avoid a fight about Canadian labour law 🙂

  80. ATTP: “Okay, as fascinating as this is, can we maybe avoid a fight about Canadian labour law”

    Although the exchange was over much more, including the income distribution of American senior citizens comparing very badly in the recent past but especially in the expected future to the income distribution of Canadian senior citizens, okay, but if I may be allowed to end my part in this exchange with anoilman with the following point about the quality of argumentation in general:

    Suppose the average person in the general public encounters the following exchange on TV or the Internet or even in a court of law while sitting in a jury box, the subject matter being anything, but let’s say it’s about climate science or evolution or economics or law: One side argues his/her point such that he/she backs up his/her claims with factual documentation from many sources, many of them authoritative, public sources like the federal government and private sources like the American Geophysical Union or the American Bar, but the argument of the other side is to deny this factual documentation as well as misconstrue it via various informal logical fallacies, and to claim that these authorities don’t know what they’re talking about, these denials accompanied by not even a single bit of documentation, factual or otherwise. What should – and what should we want – that average person to conclude from that exchange? Go with the denier’s claims? Or go with the claims of the one providing all the factual documentation, especially when it’s from said authoritative sources, or at least go with the factual documentation itself?

    This is just a suggestion, nothing more: Perhaps a standard that could at least be encouraged is that if one is to argue a point, then one should be expected to provide documentation to back up his/her claims, *especially* if one denies factual documentation and *most especially* when said documentation is from authoritative sources. It is objectionable – and this objection is proper – when science deniers use the bad argumentation in question. But in general shouldn’t it always be objectionable when one uses it regardless of who uses it?

  81. KeefeAndAmanda,
    Yes, you make a fair point. This is just not a topic about which I have much understanding, making moderating a discussion particularly difficult 🙂

  82. Pingback: Really, Benny Peiser, really? | …and Then There's Physics

  83. Pingback: Rude and touchy | …and Then There's Physics

  84. Pingback: Some advice for the Global Warming Policy Foundation | …and Then There's Physics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s