Matt Ridley had an article in The Times called Africa needs to be rich – rather than green, in which he essentially argues that Africa needs fossil fuels, including coal. Admittedly, he did acknowledge his own coal interests. I realise that how we can best help the developing world is a complex issue, and I certainly don’t claim any special expertise. There are, however, two basic things that I think people who do argue for specific options – in particular fossil fuels – should recognise:
- As far as climate change is concerned, what matters is how much we emit, not how fast we do so. If there is a level of cumulative emissions that will produce severe and damaging impacts, then all that really matters is whether or not we choose to get there. If we decide that fossil fuels will dominate for the foreseeable future, then we will simply get there sooner, rather than later.
- Climate change is probably irreversible on human timescales. I guess there are potential geoengineering solutions, but they carry their own risks. So, a fossil fuel dominated future runs the risk of us reaching a point where the impact of climate change is severe, where there may not be any viable solution and – if there is – it will carry additional, and unknown, risks.
So, I’m not specifically arguing against Matt Ridley’s preferred pathway for Africa, but I do think he is ignoring a great deal of relevant information when he makes such arguments.
However, to be fair, he does attempt to justify his preferred pathway, by saying
So far, the African climate has not changed significantly, anyway: dangerous weather is no more frequent and a recent analysis by Euan Mearns found that temperatures in southern Africa, outside cities, are no higher than in the 1930s.
Well, call me confused. Below are the Berkeley Earth temperature anomaly figures for Africa and South Africa. I fail to see how these qualify as not changing significantly. Possibly, Euan Mearns has discovered something that all the experts have failed to notice. Well, he recently had a Guest post on Judith Curry’s blog. Neither Nick Stokes nor Steven Mosher seemed particularly impressed.
I actually think this is unfortunate as – from what I’ve heard – Euan Mearns seems quite knowledgeable about energy and energy policy. People like myself could learn quite a lot from people with such expertise. It is hard, however, if you can’t distinguish genuine competence from hubris.
Matt Ridley then went on to say (referring again to Euan Mearns)
(He also found evidence of “shocking, mass manipulation of temperature records”, a charge that is now to be investigated on a global level by a panel chaired by Professor Terence Kealey.)
Matt Ridley is an academic advisor to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, who are running this investigation. This would seem to suggest that their pre-conceived notion is that there has been shocking, mass manipulation of temperature records. Not a great way to start, and not a great way to convince people that the review is intended to be unbiased and objective. To be fair, noone was going to really believe this in the first place, but you’d think they might at least try to pretend.
Matt Ridley finishes his article with a quote from Andrew Montford
“Bjørn Lomborg argues that we should focus our spending on immediate problems, such as ensuring Africans have access to clean water. For this he is vilified, attacked and has his livelihood threatened. His critics wish to see money spent on climate change mitigation measures instead. A tragedy for the Africans.”
I’ve already expressed my views on this quote, but I’ll do so again. There are two issues – in my opinion – with this type of rhetoric. Firstly, it is simply intellectually juvenile. If one person claims to want to do something that they regard as a good thing to do, if someone else disagrees it’s doesn’t mean that the second person wants to do something bad, or that those who might benefit, now won’t. It’s possible that the first person’s suggestion isn’t very good, and that the second person has a point. The idea that the only person in the world who knows what’s best for Africa is Bjorn Lomborg, is clearly absurd.
Secondly, what we should do to best help the developing world is a serious and complex issue. This type of rhetoric is simply an attempt to use what is a serious issue to score some kind of point. If Montford and Ridley were actually serious about helping the developing world, they’d be encouraging dialogue, not trying to demonise those who happen to disagree with someone with whom they agree. It doesn’t instil any confidence that they’re sincere in their desire to help the developing world. If anything, it does the exact opposite.
Anyway, that’s more than I intended to say. Ridley once again developing an argument in favour of fossil fuels, that completely ignores relevant scientific evidence, requires making up new scientific evidence, and is based on the views of bloggers who’s credibility seems sorely lacking. The only good thing about this, is that if he continues in this vein, surely everyone will start to realise how ridiculous his actual position is? Okay, I know, I’m being naive again.