There’s a proverb which goes if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, which basically means that it’s useless to simply hope that everything will be fine, it’s better to actually take action. If it isn’t already, it really should be the Ridley family motto.
The reason I thought I’d mention this is that Matt Ridley has another article, this time in Scientific American. I genuinely don’t understand why people think he is someone who should be given a platform to pontificate on this topic, especially in sources that aim for scientific credibility. It’s a free world, I guess, but his record isn’t exactly stellar. I was, however, going to comment on only one thing he says in his article:
If sensitivity is low and climate change continues at the same rate as it has over the past 50 years, then dangerous warming—usually defined as starting at 2 degrees C above preindustrial levels—is about a century away. So we do not need to rush into subsidizing inefficient and land-hungry technologies, such as wind and solar or risk depriving poor people access to the beneficial effects of cheap electricity via fossil fuels.
Firstly, if climate sensitivity is low, then we will have more time. However, maybe it isn’t. Climate change is probably irreversible on human timescales. Arguing that we shouldn’t be doing anything yet, because it could be low, ignores the possibility that it might not be. If it isn’t low (and there are plenty of arguments for why it probably isn’t) we don’t get to go back and make a different decision.
However, in my view, there is a more fundamental problem with the above comment by Ridley. On average, our past warming has largely depended on our emissions. The rate over the last 50 years, probably depends – on average – on the rate of our emissions over the last 50 years or so. Since pre-industrial times we’ve warmed by about 1oC. Our total emissions are about 550GtC. If Matt Ridley is arguing that it will take about 100 years to get to 2oC (about double what we’ve had so far) he’s essentially arguing that it will take about 100 years to double our emissions (i.e., emit another 550GtC). To be clear, though, taking other factors into account suggests that the budget might only be 300 GtC.
Currently we’re emitting about 10GtC per year, and this has been increasing at about 2-3% per year. So, we could double our emissions in less than 50 years. So, Matt Ridley is effectively arguing for continued (and presumably increasing) use of fossils fuels, which means we could double our total emissions well within the next 50 years, while somehow thinking that doubling our warming will take about 100 years. Well, this simply ignores swathes of evidence suggesting that warming depends largely on cumulative/total emissions.
So, either Ridley disagrees with swathes of actual evidence, in which case he should probably own his science denial, or he somehow thinks we can increase our emissions, while not doubling our total emissions for another 100 years. This, however, doesn’t make logical sense. The basic point is that Ridley is arguing that it will take a long time to reach a level of warming that could be dangerous, while – at the same time – arguing for policies that make it much more likely that we’ll do so pretty quickly. I assumed that this sort of logical inconsistency would be obvious, but clearly it isn’t to everyone. If wishes were horses,…..