Matt Ridley on fossil fuels

After it being shown that Matt Ridley is benefitting from coal mines on his estate, you might think that he would take a step back and be a little more circumspect in his promotion of the use of fossil fuels. You would, of course, be wrong. His latest is an article in the Wall Street Journal arguing that fossil fuels will save the world.

It’s quite a remarkable article that essentially seems to be arguing that fossils fuels are not even close to running out, that renewables/alternatives are not going to be competitive for a long time, and that because we need energy in order to progress economically, fossil fuels are – and will be – the way forward. In some sense, he may well end up being right; fossil fuels are very efficient, produce energy very easily, and may well end up being the dominant energy source for years to come. The question is really whether or not this is the best way to proceed. To be fair, Matt Ridley does ponder this issue, saying

To throw away these immense economic, environmental and moral benefits, you would have to have a very good reason. The one most often invoked today is that we are wrecking the planet’s climate. But are we?

As you might imagine, he concludes that the answer to his question is “no”. His justification for concluding this is what I thought I might focus on here.

Matt starts with

Although the world has certainly warmed since the 19th century, the rate of warming has been slow and erratic. There has been no increase in the frequency or severity of storms or droughts, no acceleration of sea-level rise.

I don’t know how he defines “slow”. Over the last century, we’ve certainly warmed more than at any time in the last thousand years, or even longer. There’s certainly been an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme precipitation events. Sea level rise is certainly accelerating and, in fact, it was recently suggested that sea level rise is accelerating faster than we had previously thought.

Matt then goes on to say

Arctic sea ice has decreased, but Antarctic sea ice has increased.

So what? Increases in Antarctic sea ice doesn’t somehow cancel decreases in Arctic sea ice. Also, if you consider volume, rather than area, the increase in Antarctic sea ice volume is probably occuring about ten times slower than the reduction in Arctic sea ice volume. Furthermore, if you consider land ice, its losing mass at an increasing rate.

Matt then claims that

[a]t the same time, scientists are agreed that the extra carbon dioxide in the air has contributed to an improvement in crop yields and a roughly 14% increase in the amount of all types of green vegetation on the planet since 1980.

Possibly, but most scientists agree that if we continue along a high emission pathway, the impacts will likely be severe.

Matt Ridley then goes on to say

Only in the 1970s and 1980s did scientists begin to say that the mild warming expected as a direct result of burning fossil fuels—roughly a degree Celsius per doubling of carbon-dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere—might be greatly amplified by water vapor and result in dangerous warming of two to four degrees a century or more. That “feedback” assumption of high “sensitivity” remains in virtually all of the mathematical models used to this day by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.

Well, he’s wrong that there is an assumption of high sensitivity in the models. The feedbacks, and the resulting sensitivity, is an emergent property of the models, not something imposed upon them through some kind of initial assumption. It’s certainly true that there are assumptions in the models that may influence the resulting feedback effect and the resulting climate sensitivity, but that’s not the same as there being an assumption that climate sensitivity is high.

He then continues with

And yet it is increasingly possible that it is wrong. As Patrick Michaels of the libertarian Cato Institute has written, since 2000, 14 peer-reviewed papers, published by 42 authors, many of whom are key contributors to the reports of the IPCC, have concluded that climate sensitivity is low because net feedbacks are modest. They arrive at this conclusion based on observed temperature changes, ocean-heat uptake and the balance between warming and cooling emissions (mainly sulfate aerosols). On average, they find sensitivity to be 40% lower than the models on which the IPCC relies.

Well, it’s true that there have been recent papers suggesting that climate sensitivity may be lower than some other estimates suggest. However, these new estimates do not rule out that the transient response may be close to 2K and that the equilibrium repsonse may exceed 3K. It’s one thing to increase the possibility that climate sensitivity may be low, but it’s another to use that to argue that we should essentially ignore that it could still be high. Additionally, these estimates rely on assumptions that suggest that these estimates should be treated with caution and that – in fact – they can’t really be used to claim that the other estimates are somehow flawed/wrong.

Matt Ridley even says

the warming rate has never reached even two-tenths of a degree per decade and has slowed down to virtually nothing in the past 15 to 20 years.

Well, if you use the skeptical science trend calculator and consider the period 1984-1999, the trend is 0.26 ± 0.151 K/decade, so Ridley is wrong that it has never exceeded two-tenths of a degree per decade. Also, if you consider the past 20 years, it is around 0.1 K/decade. Yes, it has slowed down since then, but it is probably still warming at more than 0.05K/decade.

So, it’s one thing to argue that we should continue to drive economic growth through the dominant use of fossil fuels; it’s another, though, to justify this using arguments that are – at best – flawed and – at worst – completely wrong. There are two basic things that annoy me about the kind of argument that Matt Ridley makes. One is simply that the possibility that climate sensitivity might be low, does not mean that we shouldn’t consider the consequences of it being high. You don’t do a risk analysis by arguing that everything might be fine. The other is the issue of irreversibility. As Bart Verheggen points out

many changes in climate are not reversible on human timescales.

So, yes, fossil fuels have been an amazingly successful energy source that has done much to drive incredible economic growth. Yes, reducing our emissions and trying to change to some other kind of energy source is not going to be easy. Physical reality, however, doesn’t care if it’s difficult or inconvenient. If we make the wrong decisions now, there may be little we can do to correct this if (more likely, when) it becomes obvious that we should have chosen a different path forward.

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125 Responses to Matt Ridley on fossil fuels

  1. BBD says:

    Same old wrong ever time. Ridley’s really getting tedious, isn’t he? The triumph of ideology over native intellect.

  2. BBD,
    It’s amazing. It’s almost as if he thinks that if he says it often enough, it will somehow become true. I also found the last paragraph irritating

    The one thing that will not work is the one thing that the environmental movement insists upon: subsidizing wealthy crony capitalists to build low-density, low-output, capital-intensive, land-hungry renewable energy schemes, while telling the poor to give up the dream of getting richer through fossil fuels.

    I did point out the irony of this in a comment on BH immediately after Matt Ridley had posted a comment. Strangely enough, he didn’t respond to my comment 😀

  3. BBD says:

    Not banned at BH yet? I’m rather surprised.

    🙂

  4. Rachel M says:

    Just when I’d almost forgotten about Matt Ridley … He makes me feel disappointed with humanity.

  5. harrytwinotter says:

    More climate change denier talking points – dull.

  6. BBD,
    I keep trying, but it’s still not working 🙂

    Rachel,
    Indeed, it’s hard not to react in that way.

  7. BBD says:

    For the record, here’s one from the early days: David MacKay’s attempt to explain to Matt Ridley the errors of his ways. MacKay was then (and may still be) the chief scientific advisor to DECC. He’s also a physics prof. so obviously omniscient.

  8. BBD,
    I think you forgot the link. I keep meaning to read his book.

  9. BBD says:

    Oops. Not linked properly. MacKay Ridley letter again.

  10. BBD says:

    links – ATTP – yes, sloppy as ever. Sorry.

    The book’s very, very good.

  11. That letter is great. Although, it really does make me feel like I’m wasting my time (well, assuming that Matt Ridley is interested in listening, I guess).

  12. Marco says:

    “Only in the 1970s and 1980s did scientists begin to say that the mild warming expected as a direct result of burning fossil fuels—roughly a degree Celsius per doubling of carbon-dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere—might be greatly amplified by water vapor and result in dangerous warming of two to four degrees a century or more.”

    Matt is 80 years behind the facts. Arrhenius was already aware of the significant water vapour feedback and included it in his calculations!

  13. Marco,

    Matt is 80 years behind the facts. Arrhenius was already aware of the significant water vapour feedback and included it in his calculations!

    I did wonder about that. Matt’s claim did seem rather odd.

  14. guthrie says:

    You can tell he’s writing anti-science because of the way he ignores the fun and exciting way that science finds out how things work and ties everything together. For instance, talking about a slow and erratic rise in temperature ignores that we know what has been causing changes in temperature in the time period in question; it isn’t just a matter of a black box that puts out random numbers, we’ve got a good idea of the inputs, outputs and formulae that are doing the work. Glossing over that means he is writing anti-science.

  15. I’m just reading some of Arrhenius’s paper. Jeepers, it’s an amazing piece of work. Even more so, when you consider it was published in 1896. We’ve spend that last 120 just refining this. In section 4, it does indeed say,

    We only need to determine the absorption-coefficient for a certain place with the help of Table III. if we know the quantity of carbonic acid (K = 1 now) and water-vapour (W)…..
    ……
    As the relative humidity does not vary much, unless the distribution of land and water changes (see table 8 of my original memoir), I have supposed that this quantity remains constant, and thereby determined the new value W1 of W.

  16. russellseitz says:

    At least Matt hasn’t dragged in the Easter Bunny.

  17. > Arctic sea ice has decreased, but Antarctic sea ice has increased.

    The Sun is hot, but Pluto is cold.

  18. semyorka says:

    “Only in the 1970s and 1980s did scientists begin to say that the mild warming expected as a direct result of burning fossil fuels—”

    The Unchained Goddess 1958

    G.Plass 1956
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/qj.49708235307/abstract
    ” The results for different carbon-dioxide concentrations indicate that the average temperature at the surface of the earth would rise by 3.6°C if the carbon-dioxide concentration were doubled and would fall by 3.8°C if the carbon-dioxide concentration were halved, on the assumption that nothing else changed to affect the radiation balance.”

    Visigoth Ridley seems rather uniformed.

  19. BBD says:

    ATTP

    I’m just reading some of Arrhenius’s paper.

    Speaking of a coherent history of key climate science studies, have you got a copy of The Warming Papers (Archer & Pierrehumbert ed.) ?

  20. Richard says:

    The reality is that even the the Governor of the Bank Of England is warning of the risk of stranded fossil fuel assets, and they will produce a report on this after the general election. The ‘divest’ movement is gathering momentum. At some point the markets will panic and flip away from fossil fuels. It may take 15 years maybe 39, but it is only a matter of time. I am ensuring my pension is de-fossilised.

  21. Ridley said :


    Although the world has certainly warmed since the 19th century, the rate of warming has been slow and erratic.

    That’s great information for a scientist to ponder over! So what could be causing the erratic nature? Could it be ENSO and volcanic eruptions ?

    Let me check….

    Yes, indeed, that’s likely it. And a “slow” temperature change ratio of 2C due to CO2!

  22. The argument that we can’t do anything about global warming because our living standards would plummet as coal is so much cheaper than renewables is so last decade. THE CHEAPEST SOURCE OF ENERGY IN THE U.S. NOW IS WIND POWER: http://volewica.blogspot.com.au/2014/12/solar-and-wind-energy-plummeting-in.html

    In the US, utility-scale solar power contracts are being signed to deliver power at between 5 and 7.5 cents per kWh. This includes an investment tax credit worth roughly 2 cents per kWh, so that even BEFORE the tax credit, solar is now competitive with gas and new coal plants: http://volewica.blogspot.com.au/2014/12/utility-scale-solar-costs-plummet.html Then there’s this (from a utility company’s annual report!): http://volewica.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/cost-of-3-kw-solar-system-in-oz.html. Extraordinary.

    The coal spruikers go on and on about the “variability” of renewables. but the output of widely separated wind farms is uncorrelated, which means that two wind farms separated by 600 kms can in effect act as base-load power generators: http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/wind-energy-can-keep-american-lights-on-awea-12050

    And wind and solar power are negatively correlated if there is any correlation at all: it’s often windy when the sun isn’t shining (for example, when a cold front comes through, or during a thunderstorm) Be that as it may, there are already several places in the world where renewables provide more than 40% of electricity generation WITHOUT GRID INSTABILITY: for example, the state of South Australia, Denmark, Spain. And that’s before batteries have got cheap. But battery costs are falling by 15-20% per annum. When Tesla’s gigafactory is completed in 2017, battery costs will fall by 2/3rds. EVs will be competitive with petrol(gasoline) powered cars. Grid storage will be cheaper than installing new base-load capacity.

    Coal is finished, even without a carbon tax/cap-and-trade. Last year, for the first time in 15 years, coal demand in China fell, by 3%. This at a time when real GDP grew by 7.6%, an extraordinary decline in energy:GDP intensity of over 10%. In one year!!!!! And China is choosing renewables not just or even because it knows global warming is real and dangerous (it has no demented plutocrats funding denialist websites and political campaigns) but because renewables are clean and cheap and coal is filthy and because renewables give China energy independence. China is by far the world’s largest consumer of coal, and of course, the world’s largest emitter of CO2. Most of the world’s 10 largest solar panel and wind turbine manufacturers are Chinese.

    In India, the great hope of coal barons, 25% of the population is not even connected to the grid. And they prolly never will be, because for under $!00, small solar panels with an inbuilt battery, mobile phone charger and LED light are being sold to peasants outside the grid. In addition, India plans to install 100 gW of solar (currently 3 gW capacity is installed) . Of course, actual production from solar panels in those latitudes is only 30 – 40% of nameplate capacity, but already about 30% of India’s electricity is generated by renewables/hydro. This percentage will only rise.

    No doubt existing coal-fired power stations globally will continue to pollute until they reach the end of their safe working lives. But no one is going to build new coal power stations, because the cost of the renewables triad (wind, solar, batteries) is falling inexorably and rapidly. No prudent investor will provide funding for the 30-year life of a power station, Frankly, no prudent investor would buy or invest in a coal mine. Certainly, I hold none in the portfolios I manage.

  23. TinyCO2 says:

    “FWIW, my broad point was about the trivial, and sometimes infantile, narrative in articles like that written by Matt Ridley (and often promoted on this site). The “environmentalists bad, nasty, capitalist, don’t care about the poor”, “fossil fuels good, help the poor, wonderful, everything will be alright” type argument. The truth is almost certainly somewhere in the middle. Of course, I realise that the goal of this site and the goal of Matt’s article is not to promote any serious discussion about this topic; it’s all just politics. So, you also shouldn’t take what I’m saying as some kind of fundamental criticism, as I realise that this is just part of reality. There’s a narrative that some want to promote and it’s clear that doing so requires dismissing any alternative view point. Any recognition that some kind of alternative might be plausible would completely destroy this chosen narrative. I just assume that since everyone here is a huge fan of free speech, that you have no real problem with me pointing this out.”

    So where’s your serious discussion about this topic without the politics? Do I detect a whiff of ‘do as I say, not as I do’? Again.

  24. Tiny,

    So where’s your serious discussion about this topic without the politics? Do I detect a whiff of ‘do as I say, not as I do’? Again.

    Firstly, I haven’t ever claimed to hold some kind of moral high ground. However, maybe you could point out where I’ve actually presented some kind of simplistic “fossil fuels bad”, “renewables/alternatives good” type of argument. That was the point I was getting at, not that political arguments are necessarily inherently bad. My point was that this is a sufficiently complex issue that such simplistic narratives are almost certainly wrong enough that they don’t really achieve much, or make much sense.

  25. Although the world has certainly warmed since the 19th century, the rate of warming has been slow and erratic.

    Do you need to be a libertarian to understand why the term “erratic” makes this argument stronger? If it is erratic on the short term, it does not matter for the long term and climate change is a long term problem. If it were erratic on the long term, it would make the uncertainty larger and we would have to prepare for a wider range of climatic changes, which makes adaptation more expensive and mitigation wiser.

  26. John Hartz says:

    Ridley’s slop-ed explains some of the postings that we’re getting on the comment threads of articles on the SkS website.

    The big question: Will Dana repost ATTP’s OP, or will he author another in a long string of critiques of Ridley’s poppycock?

  27. izen says:

    @-Richard
    The reality is that even the the Governor of the Bank Of England is warning of the risk of stranded fossil fuel assets, and they will produce a report on this after the general election. The ‘divest’ movement is gathering momentum. At some point the markets will panic and flip away from fossil fuels.

    Yes.
    The first to go will be coal.
    There are diminishing situations where new coal is cheaper, and none where it is a lower emission or cleaner option than energy generation methods with comparable costs.

    China, the most notorious expanding user is already planning to phase it out. The recent smog pollution video that went viral in China, and the speed with which it was suppressed, indicates the groundswell of public opinion that can emerge on this issue.

    There was an article in the Telegraph recently which discussed the increasing likelihood that coal would be a stranded asset, with an expert suggesting that while it may not be time to divest yet, it certainly looked wise to avoid any significant new investment or exposure to coal assets.
    There was of course a predictable outpouring of anger in the comments. Complaints that it is all a hoax and why was the Telegraph publishing this nonsense from an eco-socialist… etc. Until someone pointed out that the article was in the financial section and the journalist was a stockbroker – financial advisor providing expertise on what the markets are likely to do.
    Not an environmental or scientific perspective.

    Pro-free market ideologues are going to have problems when the free markets start stranding coal. The Matt Ridley article can be seen as a defence against this emerging zeitgeist. Expect wails of dismay and demands the government support and compensate the coal industry if/when coal disinvestment kicks in.

    No new coal and shut down the old coal, at least as quickly as reasonable alternatives (including other fossil fuels) is a much easier public and market ‘sell’ than a revenue neutral carbon tax, or a cap and trade price on carbon scheme.
    All it would need is a catchy slogan to take off.

    CUT the COAL ?!

  28. Joshua says:

    Worthy of comment, IMO, is that in the entire article Ridley never mentions any aspect of negative externalities associated with fossil fuels (relative to renewables) outside of impact on climate.

    He talks about subsidies related to fossil fuels, but never even mentions the enormous geopolitical and financial resource expenditures that are at least partially attributable to keeping fossil fuels flowing.

    It does not seem to me that you can have a meaningful discussion on the costs and benefits of different energy sourcing pathways if negative externalities and geopolitical and financial resources expenditures associated with fossil fuels are even discussed along with the positive externalities.

    I want to use words like “remarkable” or “unbelievable” or “astounding” to describe the glaring inadequacies in Ridley’s approach to the topic, but I know that they would all be disingenuous, as I have seen the same slipshod treatment of this issue by “skeptics” so many, many times.

    Unfortunately, such facile treatment of these complex issues, and the related uncertainties, are sameolsameol.

  29. Joshua,

    Worthy of comment, IMO, is that in the entire article Ridley never mentions any aspect of negative externalities associated with fossil fuels (relative to renewables) outside of impact on climate.

    Yes, I noticed the same. If you ignore externalities, then fossil fuels will almost certainly continue to be more cost effective than alternatives.

  30. Joshua says:

    ==> “If you ignore externalities, then fossil fuels will almost certainly continue to be more cost effective than alternatives.”

    Funny how that works. 🙂

  31. TinyCO2 says:

    ATTP, there are many simplistic “fossil fuels bad”, “renewables/alternatives good” articles out there. Do you criticise them? Since you reserve your critique for one side, you are indirectly supporting the other. Nickthiwerspoon gave a long assessment of renewables and you didn’t contradict a word he wrote. So I’m assuming you agree with him.

    “I haven’t ever claimed to hold some kind of moral high ground.” But you act as if you’re on one on a regular basis. Matt Ridley has a stated position and seems to live up to those standards what about you guys? Seems you give your selves kudos for just signing up to cutting CO2, I see no real interest in the doing anything about it.

  32. semyorka says:

    Ignore the externalities and slavery is a pretty good economic plan.

  33. Joshua says:

    Speaking of negative externalities…

    A powerful, long, well done, and apparently banned-in-China presentation on pollution. It would be interesting to read some vetting of the science that is presented.

  34. OPatrick says:

    a roughly 14% increase in the amount of all types of green vegetation on the planet since 1980

    This seems improbable if taken at face value. What exactly is meant by ‘the amount of all types of green vegetation’?
    Even the 14% figure seems misleading, if it comes from the report by Craig Idso as this post suggests it might:

    Satellite-based analyses of net terrestrial primary productivity (NPP) reveal an increase of around 6-13% since the 1980s.

    The upper bound may have shifted up to 14% in the last couple of years, but what happened to the lower bound?

  35. Tiny,

    Nickthiwerspoon gave a long assessment of renewables and you didn’t contradict a word he wrote. So I’m assuming you agree with him.

    You shouldn’t. Again, my point is not about renewables/alternatives versus fossil fuels. My point is about simplistic arguments.

    “I haven’t ever claimed to hold some kind of moral high ground.” But you act as if you’re on one on a regular basis.

    I don’t claim to hold one, or think that I hold one.

    Matt Ridley has a stated position and seems to live up to those standards what about you guys?

    If you think that repeating things that are demonstrably incorrect, and that he has been told over and over again are wrong, is some kind of standard to live up to, then it’s not a standard to which I aspire.

  36. Joshua says:

    tiny –

    Any thoughts about Ridley’s treatment of the economics of energy sourcing w/o mentioning anything about negative externalities associated with fossil fuels?

  37. Joshua says:

    tiny –

    ==> “Matt Ridley has a stated position and seems to live up to those standards what about you guys?”

    What kind of standard does he set by not even mentioning non climate-related externalities associated with fossil fuels, in a freakin’ article on the economics of energy sources?

  38. OPatrick says:

    TinyCO2:

    there are many simplistic “fossil fuels bad”, “renewables/alternatives good” articles out there

    I know it can become a bit tedious chasing up references, but do you have an example? I’m genuinely interested in knowing if there really is an equivalence between the two sides in this debate. My experience has been that there is not, that those from the consensus side put forward far more defensible arguments (unsurprisingly – the clue is in the label I chose).

  39. Magma says:

    It’s often difficult for those used to arguing in good faith and on the basis of mutually accepted objective data to deal with shameless motivated lying.

  40. John Hartz says:

    On the good news front…

    In 2014, Tajikistan applied climate analysis to maximize investments in an aging hydropower system upon which half a million people depend. Morocco continued the phased development of a 500 MW concentrated solar power complex — the first of its kind in Morocco and one of the largest in the world, promising to bring electricity to 1.1 million Moroccans. Indigenous peoples’ groups in Brazil presented and received approval for a $6.5 million plan to advance their participation in sustainable forest management.

    These are just a few of the many progressive steps that 63 developing and middle income countries are taking to shift to low carbon, climate-resilient economies with support from the Climate Investment Funds (CIF).

    With more than $8 billion in resources expected to attract at least an additional $57 billion from other sources, the CIF is accelerating, scaling up, and influencing the design of a wide range of climate-related investments in participating countries. While this may be only a small portion of the resources needed annually to curb global warming, the CIF is showing that even a limited amount of public funding, if well placed, can deliver investments at scale to empower transformation.

    Delivering at scale, empowering transformation by Mafalda Duarte, Development of Changing Climate, The World Bsnk, Mar 9, 2015

  41. dana1981 says:

    Joshua hit on the key point – fossil fuels aren’t actually cheap! They appear cheap if we ignore the externalities associated with carbon pollution/climate change and other air pollutants, but the reality is that we have to pay those costs eventually. If solar manufacturers received silicon for free, for example, then I bet solar panels would seem cheap too!

    Drew Shindell just published a really good paper on the ‘social cost of atmospheric release’ combining the costs of carbon and other air pollutants. I’ll be writing about it next week.

    So John Hartz no, I won’t be debunking Ridley again. Frankly I’m tired of him, and of the WSJ oped page in general. I’d rather write about people who actually consider these costs, like Shindell, than people who deny them, like Ridley. But ATTP’s post could be a good candidate for an SkS re-post. It does a good job debunking him on the science.

  42. izen says:

    @-TinyCO2
    “ATTP, there are many simplistic “fossil fuels bad”, “renewables/alternatives good” articles out there. Do you criticise them?”

    I would be happy to criticise any that you can find.
    I went looking myself, suspecting that it is unlikely TinyCO2 is going to provide examples.

    There is this about a power company that wants to use more coal and keep open a mine in response to a requirement to shut an old part of a coal fired power plant. Opponents say it is not the cheapest option, it is certainly not the cleanest. This article is not simplistics, but it does suffer from the “fossil fuels bad” trope and might lean rather favourably towards the ‘Eco’ side.

    http://www.desmogblog.com/2015/03/07/will-new-mexico-double-down-dirty-energy

    Or perhaps you might find this rather glib and shallow, while also advocating a fact-free approach to ClimateBall(TM). It would seem to favour ignoring the counter-claims and just telling Matt to keep the coal in the ground.

    http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2014/10/07/scientific-consensus-loser-climate-policy-advocates

  43. Leaving aside the sweeping, “scientists are agreed”, clainm for the moment, does anyone know where Ridley gets his assertion that, “the extra carbon dioxide in the air has contributed to an improvement in crop yields and a roughly 14% increase in the amount of all types of green vegetation on the planet since 1980”. It might be true that, mainly thanks to science—breeding, machinery improvements and other technologies—crop yields have increased; but I greatly doubt that CO2 is much of a contributory factor. Indeed the signs are that increasing CO2 will significantly damage future crop yields.

    For example…
    http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110505/full/news.2011.268.html#B1
    http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v3/n12/full/ncomms2296.html
    http://www.carbonbrief.org/8206.aspx
    http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/360/1463/2139.full
    http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/365/1554/2973.full

  44. The point about my earlier post is that even without a carbon tax, fossil fuels are no longer “cheap”. Even 3 years–2 years!– ago you could have made that point and been correct. But the collapse (there is no other word) in the price of renewables is so dramatic that renewables are either cheaper or soon will be cheaper than fossil fuels. And if you add in the externalities (and you should) all the fossil fuels are MUCH more expensive than renewables. Gas is still viable, because peaking-power plant using gas can be easily started up when needed and then switched off later. Coal is no good for that (think of how long it takes you to get a coal fire going)

    The denialists are still fighting last decade’s battles. No rational and informed person doubts the reality of global warming, and given the variability in likely outcomes, with risk multiplied by cost clearly to the upside (risk alone is not the best metric: saying temps will rise 2 C plus or minus 1 C doesn’t show that 2+1 is much more costly for the world than 2-1) prudent ppl will incline towards renewables especially if they are ALREADY cheaper.

    The fall in renewables costs is so rapid that we keep on being surprised. (http://volewica.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/ever-cheaper-solar-power-part-second.html ) But the latest data show incontrovertibly that even without a carbon tax, renewables are viable. And the crackpot climate change denialists have become irrelevant (though they remain infuriating) because the drive towards replacing fossil fuels with renewables is no longer driven just by sentiment or ethics or the greens (I vote Green by the way) but by relentless economics. Hard-headed and -hearted finance and business men will choose renewables because that decision makes sense, If they can clothe themselves in virtue doing profitable things which also stop global warming they surely will.

    I am not a scientist let alone a physicist. But I have been managing money for 40 years, and I can see an emerging trend. That is how I make money for my clients and myself. I don’t understand the technicals of climate science. But the broad thrust of the argument is (a) crystal-clear and (b) borne out by the data. Equally, the march of renewables is (a) obvious, (b) inevitable and inexorable and (c) driven by a compelling economic logic.

  45. Tom Curtis says:

    johnrussell40, the IPCC AR5 shows a 2.6 PgC per annum net flux into land excluding deforestation. Assuming a constant level over the period 1981 to 2014, that works out at about 16.1% of the total carbon storage in land vegetation. Obviously to the extent that this is a consequence of CO2 in the atmosphere, the rate of uptake of CO2 by vegetation would have been slower in the past, but presumably there is an equilibrium such that excess vegetation would be given up with lower CO2 levels, so the rate would not scale directly with increase of CO2.

    This amount is distinct from LUC (-1.1 PgC per annum) which includes not only deforestation, but also increased crop and pasture yields due to fertilization. Therefore to the extent that the accounting is accurate, the land vegetation uptake is almost certainly due to CO2, though perhaps indirectly due to increased precipitation.

  46. John says:

    Reblogged this on jpratt27.

  47. austrartsua says:

    Physical reality? How about the reality of human poverty? How about the reality of ding of cancer? You want to end poverty? You need fossil fuels. You want to flight cancer? You need a society which is rich enough to pay researchers to solve the problem, which means you need fossil fuels. What you call economic progress is the foundation of all progress. Economic growth pays for progress in all other areas. So I agree with attp that some of matt’s comments on global warming are not convincing, but his central point is compelling.global warming is not a sufficiently big problem to throw away all progress

  48. izen says:

    There is a problem with the assumption that increased atmospheric CO2 levels are a factor in increased crop yields and can be seen as a net benefit. It is comparing apples and bananas.

    The chain of argument seems to be that because we know a certain amount of Carbon is sequestered by plant growth, the IPCC estimate of a net 2.6 PtG per year, and some crop plants grown in a controlled environment with extra CO2 grow more, therefore the rising CO2 will cause more food to be grown.

    There are several weak links in this argument.
    For the Carbon to be sequestered by plant growth it has to be in a form that does not get returned to the atmosphere within a year or two. That really means lignin – wood.
    Crop plants do not sequester Carbon, they are grown, harvested and almost all of the plant Carbon cycles back into the atmosphere. The estimate of increased biomass derived from the increased amount removed from the atmosphere is a measure of increased wood production. It does not automatically translate into increased crop production as this rarely involves increased lignin.

    Free air CO2 enhancement experiments where crops are grown in the open, but with extra CO2 added to the local microclimate has had mixed results. None have shown the level of crop yield gain seen in hydroponically grown crops in poly-tunnels. Corn, maize as a C4 plant shows little response, wheat and barley can show a better resilience to drought and heat, so given the likely warming and increased variability in rainfall the end result is no significant gain. Rice may benefit from higher CO2 levels, but it seems to depend on the type, and any gain in crop yield also comes with enhanced CH4 emissions.

    As already mentioned, the plant breeding, intensive fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide use are the factors that have predominantly increased crop yields to an extent that dwarfs any possible CO2 effects. The free air experiments show that. Equating the increased sequestration of CO2 by land biomass with a increased crop yield is mistaking the wood for the seeds.

  49. austrartra,

    Physical reality? How about the reality of human poverty? How about the reality of ding of cancer? You want to end poverty? You need fossil fuels.

    Prove it!

  50. Dana,

    So John Hartz no, I won’t be debunking Ridley again. Frankly I’m tired of him, and of the WSJ oped page in general.

    You’re kind of illustrating one of the problems with this topic. If people like Ridley are thick-skinned enough to just keep on repeating often debunked nonsense, eventually it gets tiring pointing this out and people just stop doing so.

  51. izen says:

    @-austrartsua
    “Physical reality? How about the reality of human poverty? How about the reality of ding of cancer? You want to end poverty? You need fossil fuels.”

    How about the physical reality that there is not enough fossil fuel to end poverty. Global average fossil fuel use results in about 4 tons of carbon per year, per person. Rich nations consume between 16 -20 tons per head. Poor nations around 2 tons per person. There is not the reserves or methods of extraction that could increase fossil fuel availability globally by 5x over, by an order of magnitude in many localities. Even coal would run out, and all the easy and cheap stuff has long gone.

    It is ridiculous to claim poverty could be ended by the exploitation of a finite resource with an increasing cost of production. The opposite is true. Fossil fuel use causes poverty because it is impossible for everyone to have enough of this limited resource. Poverty can ONLY be ended with an energy source with no fuel costs or limits.

  52. Brandon Gates says:

    ATTP,

    Prove it!

    Some wag recently wrote to me, “The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of rocks.” IIRC, I had just called someone else a luddite for balking at my suggestion that proactive adaptation might be a better idea than doing it reactively.

  53. Brandon Gates says:

    Victor,

    Do you need to be a libertarian to understand why the term “erratic” makes this argument stronger?

    Rational, nominally intelligent and not an inveterate liar really ought to be sufficient. “Sure, the models suck” I say, “all the more reason to do everything economically feasible to avoid needing to rely on them.” Doesn’t usually go over very well. Talking sense hardly ever does.

  54. BBD says:

    ATTP sez:

    You’re kind of illustrating one of the problems with this topic. If people like Ridley are thick-skinned enough to just keep on repeating often debunked nonsense, eventually it gets tiring pointing this out and people just stop doing so.

    And that is how denialism works. It is simply relentless assertion using every possible media pipeline to reach the wider public. You don’t need science or honesty or facts or logic or morality, just a megaphone mouth, the stamina of a decathlete and the soul of a salesman.

  55. John says:

    @austrartsua

    global warming is not a sufficiently big problem to throw away all progress

    I had not realized that we would be throwing away ALL progress. Thank you for showing me the light. I will now reject the global warming science, and begin burning copious amounts of fossil fuels. My understanding is that the more I burn, the richer I will become.

  56. Bwana_, says:

    He has some Nick does our Matt, here he is complaining about subsidising the NHS because it is too big to fail

    http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/scandals-don't-dent-reverence-for-the-bbc-or-nhs.aspx

    Not
    T once is Northern Rock mentioned

  57. Bwana_,mrefu says:

    Neck
    Even

  58. Rational Troll says:

    Did Ridley really claim there were environmental and moral benefits from digging gigantic holes in the ground and then burning the shit out of the remnant chunks and goop of long dead animals and plants? Using examples from over a century ago to try to justify this claim? He’s got to be kidding?

    And then to say, “The next time that somebody at a rally against fossil fuels lectures you about her concern for the fate of her grandchildren, show her a picture of an African child dying today from inhaling the dense muck of a smoky fire.”

    What an absolute Kant (of the Immanuel kind). From a guy who’s political philosophy pretty much tells that child, ‘too bad bucko, that smokey camp fire is your lot in life, while mine is to own heaps of nice things and to stomp on the people who would dare to tell me that I should have less. Maybe if you worked a bit harder, kiddo, you wouldn’t be suckin in that dense muck and you’d have a mansion, a fancy title and coal fields, Just… Like… Me.’

  59. Bwana,
    Yes, I saw that article. Not quite sure why he thinks the NHS should be allowed to fail. I’m quite happy with the idea that it can’t fail. If anything, I think we should be giving it more money. The real problem – IMO – is that it’s underfunded, not that it’s public.

    Rational,
    Sadly, I don’t think he is kidding.

  60. Catalin C says:

    I am another one of the guys that think you have given too easy a pass to Ridley on his bullshit about CO2 improving productivityin agriculture, other people have posted above good points so I will only leave a very short one, all the productivity gains that Ridley “finds” (in the last decades or so) have been from factors other than direct CO2 levels, and in countries where such factors have been already used to the max it is now very clear that the productivity is no longer growing even if CO2 jumps to higher levels – see for instance the graph from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/08/16/a-brief-history-of-u-s-corn-in-one-chart/.

  61. Catalin,

    I am another one of the guys that think you have given too easy a pass to Ridley on his bullshit about CO2 improving productivity in agriculture

    That’s what my more informed commenters are for 🙂

  62. BBD says:

    The rest of us just fill in the gaps… 🙂

  63. Catmando says:

    Ironically, an earlier Viscount Ridley had a steam loco named after him. Somewhat symbolic. Noisy, dirty and inefficient.

  64. BBD says:

    And powered by coal.

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  73. Joseph says:

    It would be nice if the Wall Street Journal would publish your response in their op ed page. I wonder if the “skeptics” are concerned about their one sided bias on this issue.

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  76. It would be nice if the Wall Street Journal would publish your response in their op ed page.

    That would be censorship. No one is allowed to attack Ridley for his perfect opinion.

  77. Andrew Dodds says:

    @nickthiwerspoon

    I’m going to have to call you on some of this, I’/m afraid.

    Wind and solar are cheap, if someone else is picking up the dispatchability tab. If that is included then even if their primary cost was zero then they would cost money. Much as there is potential in these technologies, simply pushing them as The Answer is wrong; and to some extent dangerous.

    Even if wind farms were completely uncorrelated (which your own link contradicts) you could not simply assume that two separate wind farms = baseload. Even if you had 5 separate uncorrelated windfarms with 35% capacity factors, you’d expect to have no output at all 10% of the time – and the rest of the time you’d have a range between 20% and 100% of the total. Solar may be anti correlated – but it’s also strongly seasonal, even in places like the Southern US (never mind the SW UK where I live, and yes I do have several years of data from my own array).

    It’s also disingenuous to talk about, say , Denmark as if it were an independent grid. You must know this if you’ve done the slightest bit of analysis, so why post it? Likewise – whilst a PV/Battery solution is vastly better than nothing for an indian villager, it’s not going to support cooking, hot water or air conditioning; it may just do refrigeration with a large array.

    Whilst I am in favor of making every rooftop solar, and putting wind turbines up where they will work (and that means a lot of offshore installations), the idea that this will on its own displace coal is naieve at best, and there is a huge amount of energy use – home heating and transport – that are not even touched. We need far more.

  78. Paul S says:

    Can we assume Ridley will no longer refer to RCP8.5 as ‘wildly unrealistic’ when he is in fact lobbying for it to become reality?

  79. Paul S,

    Can we assume Ridley will no longer refer to RCP8.5 as ‘wildly unrealistic’ when he is in fact lobbying for it to become reality?

    I get the feeling that some – like Ridley – think that the different RCPs are somehow all possible and that we will randomly follow one of them and that this will somehow not depend on how much we choose to emit in the future. He has – in some articles – almost implied that there are two variables are unknown – the exact climate sensitivity and the RCP that we will actually follow. He doesn’t seem to recognise that the latter is something over which we have some control and that if we follow his advice, it would be a high emission pathway by default.

  80. Sam Taylor says:

    @nickthiwerspoon

    Something that renewables enthusiasts often neglect when trumpeting the precipitous decline in solar price is just where that decline came from. It’s not all the wonders of markets and technology. Much of the decline in price has come from aggressive Chinese production, which is heavily subsidsied by the state. Production in China also implies very lax environmental regulations, and near slave-labour like conditions for the factory workers. The same shitty working conditions that keep iphones so cheap are also what has driven down the price of solar. This is something which many in the environmental/renewables group seem to choose to ignore, and frankly I find such wilful blindness quite unpleasant. All the talk of equitability and social justice goes out the window as soon as you can stick some cheap solar on your roof to rack up some green cred.

    The renewable stats you quoted are also bunk. Spain’s at around 30% renewable power generation over a year, including hydro, and frankly they made a right hash of it. Pedro Prieto, who was involved in the Spanish solar boom, is quite pessimistic about it these days: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-05-03/solar-dreams-spanish-realities

    Denmark is part of a larger european grid, and relies on Swedish nuclear and hydro to help it balance the highly variable wind load.

    Integrating large proportions of renewables into a grid archetecture is not a simple, nor necesarilly a solved problem. Moving from centralised stock based to distributed flow based power generation systems will be a huge challenge, requiring massive reengineering of the grid and potentially our lifestyle. Solar panels and wind turbines emphatically do not represent a plug n play replacement for centralised thermal plants, much as we’d like them to.

  81. Bwana_Mrefu says:

    He is at it again. In today’s Times, he has an OpEd piece entitled “Cutting emissions is going to bankrupt us”

  82. Bwana_Mrefu says:

    It is a slightly more nuanced piece, discussing CCS. But, still the kiss-off paragraph starts with the conclusion “For now, there is no way to meet our self-imposed decarbonisation target without bankrupting the country”

    He is so certain about this. Again, I reminded of the fact that he he didn’t seem worried about this kind of issue when me, and all the other UK tax payers, were left to pay the bill for the Northern Rock debacle.

  83. Rachel M says:

    In today’s Times, he has an OpEd piece entitled “Cutting emissions is going to bankrupt us”

    I’m trying very hard not to get all worked up about Matt Ridley again but it’s very, very difficult when I see what he writes. I’ve got a suggestion for Matt Ridley: pay back the compensation from Northern Rock for the three years he worked as chairman and put it towards decarbonisation costs. He could also donate the money he receives from the coal mines on his estate. This would go some way to taking responsibility for his role in the failure of Northern Rock. I’m sure Matt Ridley would agree that taking responsibility for our actions – personal responsibility – is a virtue

  84. Sam Taylor says:

    Are my posts all vanishing for a reason or something?

  85. Sam,
    It was in spam for some reason.

  86. Andrew Dodds says:

    @Bwana_Mrefu

    It’s interesting to put some numbers on this ‘bankruptcy’..

    Assuming a very high £5/W cost, 100GW of nuclear plants would cost us £500 billion.
    Add 100GW of assorted renewables for c. £200 billion.
    Add – based on refinery construction costs – £50 billion to build plant to make liquid fuels.
    Add 10 million lots of £10k subsidies for electric cars for another £100 billion.
    Add £50 bn of grid upgrades as we replace natural gas with electricity in the home

    So – without even considering things like economies of scale – a bill of £900 billion of c. 60% of GDP. But likely a fraction of that – and by definition it abolishes the ongoing cost of oil, gas and coal imports. Indeed, the ongoing costs of such an economy are very low.

    Spread those costs over a 20-year period and all you’d really see is a classic Keynesian stimulus, a whole lot of technology spin offs and a progressively reduced fuel bill. Not bankruptcy, unless you are a coal mine owner..

    (Yes, I know this is very back-of-envelope, but the core numbers don’t change their order of magnitude however you do it).

  87. verytallguy says:

    I’ve said it before, but just for the record, Matt Ridley:

    – was in charge of the UK’s bank with the worst risk management track record of all time, a position gained through nepotism
    – ignores almost all expert advice on the risk management of climate change
    – was nepotistically appointed to the UK parliament as a conservative
    – is closely politically aligned and socially aligned to leading conservative climate change deniers
    – is one of the UK’s largest owners and extractors of coal, on land he inherited
    – is paid to promote climate change denial syndicated to a political lobby group promoting climate change denial in a newspaper owned by a climate change denier

  88. Sam Taylor says:

    Oh, I wonder if it might have been the resilience link. That seems to be the bane of spam filters on some blogs, for some reason. Cheers.

  89. Tyson Adams says:

    I can’t believe Ridley said this: “It is an ironic truth that no nonrenewable resource has ever run dry, while renewable resources—whales, cod, forests, passenger pigeons—have frequently done so.”

    I just can’t even. The absurdity and ignorance of this statement is just amazing to behold. Even more amazing is that he uses it as an argument for using up our finite resources and damn the consequences (remind me why whaling was banned).

  90. Andrew Dodds says:

    @Tyson –

    Coal, oil and Gas are renewable resouces, of course. Many (not all) oil fields would refill if left alone for just a few million years; ditto for natural gas. And coal formation is pretty common in extensional basin settings; it’s going on today.

    A non-renewable resource would be something like Iron, which is simply concentrated or diluted. We cannot run out of iron – or any stable element that we don’t use in nuclear reactions – as long as we have sufficient primary energy available to concentrate it. But that’s a spectacularly useless observation if the problem is getting primary energy in the first place.

  91. anoilman says:

    Tyson Adams: I think Ridley is going for the whole, bait and switch. i.e. pigeons ran out, therefore the sun (and therefore solar) will too. Personally, I think we have bigger issues if the sun runs out. Pigeons don’t bother me so much.

    Meanwhile, back in reality it seems people may be kicking the carbon habit. It may be too early to tell, particularly with cheap oil, but the data is encouraging. On the plus side it looks like the Chinese are leading the way.
    http://grist.org/climate-energy/big-news-co2-emissions-flatlined-last-year/

  92. anotheralionel says:

    Ridley must live in a very small bubble if he believes the execrable logic on display in his last sentence taken from this paragraph in that article at his blog where he eviscerates the NHS and BBC:

    Of the 100 firms that made up the FTSE 100 in 1999 when it last peaked at the current level, 22 no longer exist at all: including Allied Domecq, BAA, Corus, Cadbury Schweppes and EMI. The possibility of extinction by takeover or bankruptcy leads businesses to seek perpetual innovation and reform. This generates improving living standards for consumers.

    On our planet take-overs and bankruptcies often lead to acquisition by hedge funds, venture capitalists or asset strippers, none being good news for the population of the area that then suffers from more unemployment or low paid, low quality jobs. Jobs without contracts, part time or temporary.

    The country as a whole suffers from lack of the taxable income that may otherwise have been generated, making it harder to finance the NHS. As it is the NHS is being subjected to a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ as more of it is privatised by stealth and thus incurring the profit motive surcharge. This slow privatisation also, naturally, opens the door to the risk, almost certainty, of bankruptcies and take overs with the tax payer taking up the slack in the remainder of the system – those parts least likely to generate profit and thus least attractive to private finance.

    I see that ‘The Warming Papers’ have been mentioned a couple of times and I endorse those recommendations. This volume can be inspected here where the Arrhenius paper is opened.

  93. Sam Taylor says:

    @anoilman

    How long do you think the cheap oil is going to last for, though? We’re clearly in a nonlinear regieme as far as price response to supply goes, and it’s looking like both conventional and shale supply is going to be gutted over the next year or two, as CAPEX compression seriously bites. Bakken production numbers already look like they’re dipping, older north sea fields are in danger of cloaing which combined with the 1mbpd jump in January consumption seen in eia data, I reckon we’ll be back in oil shock territory (circa $100) by the middle of 2016 at the latest, potentially this year. The whole oil system is just too unstable at the moment, it’s going to be a right mess over the next few years.

  94. Steven Mosher says:

    “Just when I’d almost forgotten about Matt Ridley … He makes me feel disappointed with humanity.”

    It find it weird that people who arrogate themselves the power to sit in judgment, also admit
    that others dictate how they feel. Weird. Choose to not be disappointed. you can do it.

  95. BBD says:

    Steven

    Please don’t lower yourself by acting as an apologist for Ridley, even indirectly. You can only lose thereby and Ridley will never know of your sacrifice.

  96. Joshua says:

    ===> “It find it weird that …”

    I find it to be true that when people say “I find it weird that people…” they’re using a rhetorical trick rather than expressing their view in a straight forward manner – rather like asking a rhetorical question. I find ti to be true when people say “I find it weird that people…” they’re usually describing things that they don’t actually find weird.

    ==> ” also admit that others dictate how they feel. ”

    Dictate? Did she say that Ridley “dictates” how she feels? She stated an emotional reaction. Some people have emotional reactions.

    ==> “Weird.”

    Weird to have an emotional reaction?

    ==> ” Choose to not be disappointed. you can do it.”

    Choose to not be rhetorical. You can do it.

  97. russellseitz says:

    ATTP

    Much as I appreciate your stamina, it may be time to note the hour of brain death and move on from the windy heights of Bishop Hill:

    The following poe drew not a word of protest:

    As millions left jobless by carbon taxes shiver for lack of coal, and snow buries solar cells and freezes wind turbines solid, who pays UN political operatives billions to jet to tropical Nairobi to preach the big lie of global warming? They don’t worry about spewing CO2 into the atmosphere because preading Antarctic sea ice proves climate is too complex for computers to model, and it only takes a pocket calculator to prove the consensus of 30,000 scientists that natural cycles, not plant nourishing CO2 from clean coal, are taking Earth into a new ice age which will force any surviving neanderthals who believe this sort of facile bilge to evolve into unicorns.

    will someone please sent Gavin and Matt some Havanas ?

  98. Joshua says:

    Russell – very nice indeed.

  99. Tyson Adams says:

    @Andrew Dodds Yes, for a given value of renewable and time. I think that is part of the problem with Ridley’s assertion, as it doesn’t understand the lifecycle of resources.

  100. Tyson said:


    I can’t believe Ridley said this: “It is an ironic truth that no nonrenewable resource has ever run dry, while renewable resources—whales, cod, forests, passenger pigeons—have frequently done so.”

    Dang it, passenger pigeons went EXTINCT ! Does he want cod to go extinct too ?

    #WHUT the heck is wrong with Ridley ? Does he think he is still on his boarding-school debate squad?

  101. russellseitz says:

    ‘#WHUT the heck is wrong with Ridley ? Does he think he is still on his boarding-school debate squad?’

    Why shouldn’t he– it’s still winning handily over Monckton’s.

  102. Russell,

    Much as I appreciate your stamina, it may be time to note the hour of brain death and move on from the windy heights of Bishop Hill:

    Yes, indeed.

  103. verytallguy says:

    As the passenger pigeon has been mentioned, just to say there was a rather good programme on Radio 4 last night on the sad demise of the bird.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b054qc1r

    Once the most populous animal on the planet, numbering 3-5 billion, flocks could take hours or even days to pass over and left behind droppings like snowdrifts.

    Almost unbelievably, it was driven from these numbers to extinction within a human lifespan.

    How predictable are the impacts of climate change?

    And specially for Matt, how predictable is the timing for the extraction of the last fossil fuels?

  104. Andrew Dodds says:

    WHT –

    No, he simply wants us to burn all the fossil fuels we can before we start on the question of replacing them. This is in many ways insane, unless you start from the purely ideological position that all government action is evil.

  105. Susan Anderson says:

    I just pulled this up at breakfast with my father (PW Anderson, who does what he can but at age 91 is not much of a climate activist; he feels that scientists should not pronounce outside their field) because the subject of ethics came up in another context (a NYTimes piece on the SEC making transgressors admit culpability; he was questioning the utility of this). It got quite heated, as he didn’t see that Matt Ridley was worth the trouble, as he is so obviously wrong. While I agree that we are all frustrated and not succeeding in taking this garbage down, I still think it worth the effort. He said the target should be the WSJ for printing the nonsense.

    The knotty problem (and one should also remember that the Global Warming Policy Foundation is part of the puzzle) is that these people are genuinely convinced they are right, and the more they get pushed the more they harden their positions. I would argue that Anthony Watts, for example, thinks he is right, and I also think of Judith Curry. Very few of them are acting in bad faith.

    If anyone had the answer of course it would be wonderful and miraculous. The mirror universe is convincing to people who have not encountered real science and community ethics in their formation. One could also make a case that they believe their ethics to be sounder than ours.

    Perhaps I should be presenting this – what is it, a query, a conundrum, a venting act of frustration? – in the more recent GWPF post, but since it came up in this context I’ll leave it here.

  106. Susan,

    I would argue that Anthony Watts, for example, thinks he is right, and I also think of Judith Curry. Very few of them are acting in bad faith.

    Yes, I can accept that most – if not all – believe they’re acting in good faith (although I think I may have just claimed that the norm on Bishop Hill was bad faith – although, that could still be consistent with them believing that they’re acting in good faith). My two issues, though, is that some of this stuff is so easy, that it’s hard to understand how they can promote it if they are acting in good faith. Additionally, some of the behaviour is so appalling that it’s hard to understand how people who believe their behaviour is good could say the things that they do. That’s not to say that it’s inconsistent with them believing that they’re acting in good faith, just that’s it’s hard to understand their overall position.

  107. Susan,
    Since you didn’t do it (and I hope you don’t mind me doing so) I thought I would point out to those who don’t know, that your father – who you mention in your comment – won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1977.

  108. Susan Anderson says:

    Fanks! I can believe six impossible things before breakfast, well, not really. I agree.

    Like many (all?) of us, I am desperately worried about our future, and looking for something, anything, to pierce the armor of self-righteousness. My lifetime imbed in the scientific community is rooted in understanding of scientific ethics from many different perspectives (daughter, MIT student and drawing instructor, artist, friend, employee, colleague) but it appears these people are rooted in the opposite: a rock solid suspicion and distrust.

    My years of trying to find an escape from this maze have not resulted in giving up, but what I am seeking is a route forward, finessing the impasse. I don’t think we can arrive at any more agreement about what is going on, but I do grit my metaphorical teeth when my colleagues post assumptions such as flat-earthers, evolution deniers, being paid to lie, and all, because once a “denier” has been so accused one has lost them forever, as in most cases they know within themselves this is not true.

  109. Susan Anderson says:

    oh dear, we crossed. re PWA, my appearance here this morning resulted from my frustration (poor guy, I almost yelled at him and persuaded him to read your final paragraph on the GWPF article) over his disengagement. But he does try, a bit, though his primary interest is HTC. However, I felt his comment about finding appropriate targets was on the money – he said in a battle you try to take out the guy with the best aim.

    Yes, my caregiving situation with both parents has resulted in rejoining my family part time. I would not have mentioned the connection a few years back, but now it’s in the open I do bring it up when it feels appropriate. Amorphous semiconductors, and a few other things (he started the whole Higgs business). I also got to hang out with Feynman at MIT when he was doing art there.

  110. Susan,

    (he started the whole Higgs business)

    Peter Higgs – who is an emeritus Professor in my Department – might not be pleased by that claim 🙂

  111. Susan Anderson says:

    Oh dear, my apologies, I didn’t make that clear, shoulda restrained myself. PWA knows others did the work and I was not trying to claim credit for him. The physics is beyond me, and it’s not the first time he introduced an idea that led to somebody else doing work that led to a Nobel. Here:
    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/the-curious-wavefunction/2013/10/08/nobel-complexity/
    “At least six individuals had the ideas that Higgs and Englert had. … Anderson had the general idea a few years before, as explicated in this post by mathematician Peter Woit.”
    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=3282
    (That seems a mite biased to me.)

    This recent one is behind a paywall and looks to me to address a different but related development:
    http://www.nature.com/nphys/journal/v11/n2/pdf/nphys3247.pdf

    In a way, this is a nice example of real science being done by real scientists!

  112. Susan,
    I was really just joking 🙂 . However, I was aware that there other names in the mix, but had not realised that one was your father. In fact, I’ve seen Peter Higgs give a talk on this general topic, and he’s remarkably humble about the whole thing, giving a great deal of credit to others who were working on the topic at the same time.

  113. Susan Anderson says:

    One more thought. There are few pleasures greater than sharing knowledge and learning things, being stimulated by people with treasures in their minds. Our heroes do that, and we wish to emulate them.

    So sad that this is not generally understood; the attempt to undermine real science entirely misses the point: the joy of discovery and elucidation.

  114. snarkrates says:

    As to whether the denialati are arguing in good faith, I don’t know if it even makes sense to ask that question. I think that many of them don’t understand the importance of being factually correct. I have actually had some of them say to me that if the scientists are right and the caca hits the fan, it will be the scientists fault we did not avoid the catastrophe, as they should have been better debaters. I’ve also had some argue that even if the scientists are right, we should do nothing as mitigating the problem would undermine the free market system, which they worship above all else. Then there are a few, like Dick Lindzen, who fell in love with his Iris theory and has never forgiven the field for disproving it. Dick is fundamentally a contrarian, who won’t agree with the majority simply because that won’t demonstrate he’s smarter than everyone else. Finally, you have the Ridleys and the Koch suckers, who would sell the world for scrap for a thin dime.

    I don’t think it makes sense to talk about these guys arguing in good faith, because they do not share our faith in the truth being important. We’re doing science. They’re playing Calvinball.


  115. Dick is fundamentally a contrarian, who won’t agree with the majority simply because that won’t demonstrate he’s smarter than everyone else.

    Who can forget this quote from Lindzen?


    “I’ve asked very frequently at universities: ‘Of the brightest people you know, how many people were studying climate […or meteorology or oceanography…]?’ And the answer is usually ‘No one.'”
    And – warming to his theme:
    “You look at the credentials of some of these people [on the IPCC] and you realise that the world doesn’t have that many experts, that many ‘leading climate scientists'”.
    Was Lindzen suggesting, asked Tim Yeo at this point, that scientists in the field of climate were academically inferior.
    “Oh yeah,” said Lindzen. “I don’t think there’s any question that the brightest minds went into physics, math, chemistry…”

    David Appell suggested this exchange as a paradox for the ages. Since climate scientists R-so-dum, what does that make Lindzen?

  116. victorpetri says:

    What an immensely disappointing rebuttal to Ridley’s convincing piece:

    “After it being shown that Matt Ridley is benefitting from coal mines on his estate, you might think that he would take a step back and be a little more circumspect in his promotion of the use of fossil fuels. You would, of course, be wrong.”
    Annoyingly ad hominem and suggestive, Ridley always have had put a disclaimer that he has coal mines, what’s more, he always argues against coal, in favor of gas, as he does in this article.

    “It’s quite a remarkable article that essentially seems to be arguing that fossils fuels are not even close to running out, that renewables/alternatives are not going to be competitive for a long time, and that because we need energy in order to progress economically” Well these are EIA estimates, and really that people are still, in 2015, waving the peak oil flag is ignoring every reality. I appreciate that not everyone saw this coming, but you must be really blind to think that fossil fuel are running out any time soon (but OK, you acknowledge this).

    ” There’s certainly been an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme precipitation events. ” That really doesn’t sound that dangerous, and is not comparable with the threats that were predicted, meanwhile the energy in cyclones seems to be little changed http://coaps.fsu.edu/~maue/tropical/global_running_ace.jpg (although any new cyclone is linked by many people to GW).

    “Sea level rise is certainly accelerating and, in fact, it was recently suggested that sea level rise is accelerating faster than we had previously thought.” That does sound problematic.

    “So what? Increases in Antarctic sea ice doesn’t somehow cancel decreases in Arctic sea ice. Also, if you consider volume, rather than area, the increase in Antarctic sea ice volume is probably occuring about ten times slower than the reduction in Arctic sea ice volume. Furthermore, if you consider land ice, its losing mass at an increasing rate.” So what Ridley said was basically correct (but misleading?)

    “[a]t the same time, scientists are agreed that the extra carbon dioxide in the air has contributed to an improvement in crop yields and a roughly 14% increase in the amount of all types of green vegetation on the planet since 1980.

    Possibly, but most scientists agree that if we continue along a high emission pathway, the impacts will likely be severe.” So, Ridley is basically correct.

    “Well, he’s wrong that there is an assumption of high sensitivity in the models. The feedbacks, and the resulting sensitivity, is an emergent property of the models, not something imposed upon them through some kind of initial assumption. It’s certainly true that there are assumptions in the models that may influence the resulting feedback effect and the resulting climate sensitivity, but that’s not the same as there being an assumption that climate sensitivity is high.” That’s semantics. Ridley is basically right on sensitivity as well.

    “However, these new estimates do not rule out that the transient response may be close to 2K and that the equilibrium repsonse may exceed 3K. It’s one thing to increase the possibility that climate sensitivity may be low, but it’s another to use that to argue that we should essentially ignore that it could still be high. Additionally, these estimates rely on assumptions that suggest that these estimates should be treated with caution and that – in fact – they can’t really be used to claim that the other estimates are somehow flawed/wrong.”
    Just looking at this graph, seems Ridley is right to me.
    http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21574461-climate-may-be-heating-up-less-response-greenhouse-gas-emissions

    “Well, if you use the skeptical science trend calculator and consider the period 1984-1999, the trend is 0.26 ± 0.151 K/decade, so Ridley is wrong that it has never exceeded two-tenths of a degree per decade. Also, if you consider the past 20 years, it is around 0.1 K/decade. Yes, it has slowed down since then, but it is probably still warming at more than 0.05K/decade.” You are now cherry picking a period to prove him wrong, whilst basically looking at actual decades he is correct again.

    “So, yes, fossil fuels have been an amazingly successful energy source that has done much to drive incredible economic growth.” I agree with this one.

  117. vp,
    What an immensely disappointing rebuttal to my post.

    Annoyingly ad hominem and suggestive, Ridley always have had put a disclaimer that he has coal mines, what’s more, he always argues against coal, in favor of gas, as he does in this article.

    It’s not an Ad Hom and no he doesn’t. If you’re going to state something as being true, it had better be true.

    That really doesn’t sound that dangerous

    That doesn’t make his statement correct. This isn’t a complicated concept!

    So, Ridley is basically correct.

    In what way? That it’s okay now? Sure, that may be true. That doesn’t mean that we should keep pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere. Again, not complicated.

    Just looking at this graph, seems Ridley is right to me.

    No, he’s not.

    You are now cherry picking a period to prove him wrong, whilst basically looking at actual decades he is correct again.

    I’m not cherry-picking. I’m point out that his statement (which isn’t what you claim he said) is wrong!

    Did you really think about this before you posted your comment? Saying “no” would actually gain you some credibility.

  118. victorpetri says:

    @ATTP
    You have not found out about any coal mines, he had put it in his pieces that he has a financial interest in a coal mine for years. And he has often argued against coal.

    “That doesn’t make his statement correct. This isn’t a complicated concept!”
    “There has been no increase in the frequency or severity of storms or droughts” is this not correct?

    “Just looking at this graph, seems Ridley is right to me.

    No, he’s not.”

    Looking at this image, I find it dishonest for anyone to not describe actual measurements to be at the very low end of predictions. Looking at it, I must side with Ridley.

    And Ridley said:
    “the warming rate has never reached even two-tenths of a degree per decade and has slowed down to virtually nothing in the past 15 to 20 years. ”
    Which can be interpreted as pick any decade (eighties, nineties, etc.) and it has never reached two-tenths of a degree, and his statement would be correct.
    You cherry pick a 15 year period to work out a larger increase.

  119. vp,

    You have not found out about any coal mines, he had put it in his pieces that he has a financial interest in a coal mine for years. And he has often argued against coal.

    You said “always”! If you’re going to change what you said, at least acknowledge that what you first said was wrong.

    Looking at this image, I find it dishonest for anyone to not describe actual measurements to be at the very low end of predictions. Looking at it, I must side with Ridley.

    No one said they’re not at the low end of predictions (plus, they’re projections, not predictions). What is incorrect is to claim that this means that climate sensitivity will probably be low. That is not the correct interpretation at this stage.

    Which can be interpreted as pick any decade (eighties, nineties, etc.) and it has never reached two-tenths of a degree, and his statement would be correct.

    No, if he meant that he should have said so. He said “never reached two-tenths of a degree per decade”. That is a rate, not an amount of cooling in any decade.

    You cherry pick a 15 year period to work out a larger increase.

    No, I illustrated that the rate has indeed exceeded two-tenths of a degree per decade. Yes, I had to pick a period to do that, but that doesn’t change that his statement is wrong!

  120. Willard says:

    > he had put it in his pieces that he has a financial interest in a coal mine for years

    Nowhere does the Lord states that he basically owns a third of UK’s coal.

  121. Joshua says:

    I think that anyone who fails to address the negative externalities of fossil fuels is not taking a comprehensive approach to evaluating the costs of different energy sources:

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2015/mar/18/fossil-fuels-are-way-more-expensive-than-you-think

    A new paper published in Climatic Change estimates that when we account for the pollution costs associated with our energy sources, gasoline costs an extra $3.80 per gallon, diesel an additional $4.80 per gallon, coal a further 24 cents per kilowatt-hour, and natural gas another 11 cents per kilowatt-hour that we don’t see in our fuel or energy bills.

  122. Pingback: Matt Ridley is wrong again on fossil fuels

  123. Pingback: A juvenile tactic? | …and Then There's Physics

  124. That was a good joke about improving crop yields. The blinders these people wear is amazing. Keep an eye on parched California fields, as torrential rains re-hydrate them in near future to see how much crop yields improve next growing season. I wonder how the crop yields in South Carolina are going to improve this next season. http://www.weather.com/safety/floods/news/south-carolina-flooding-columbia-charleston-myrtlebeach

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