I had been struggling to find things to write about, but I listened this morning to the Today show on BBC Radio 4. It included an interview with David Hempleman-Adams, expedition leader of the Polar Ocean Challenge, which has successfully transited both the North East and North West passages; circumnavigating the North Pole in a single Arctic summer.
Even though he was clearly concerned about the reduction in Arctic sea ice, and highlighting this was clearly one reason for the expedition, he was also clear that they aren’t scientists and that you can’t infer too much from their expedition. Their intent was really to encourage people to pay more attention to what scientists are saying about the Arctic and, in particular, Arctic sea ice. It was all going well, and then the interviewer said:
… the well-known science writer, Matt Ridley, has written about your expedition and said, look, there are times in the past where, routinely, ice has disappeared during the summer, and his argument is that really, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t actually tell us anything.
Why Matt Ridley, and why should we care what he thinks? He doesn’t have any expertise that would suggest his view carries more weight than those of anyone else. Also, he may be a well-known science writer, but he’s also a Viscount, a member of the House of Lords, the ex-Chairman of Northern Rock, and Academic Advisor to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and has coal mines on his land. Referring to his simply as a well-known science writer would seem to be ignoring many other relevant descriptors.
Matt Ridley’s views on Arctic sea ice appears to come from an article he wrote for the Times called an ice-free arctic ocean has happened before. His basic point is that the Arctic has been ice-free in summer before everything was fine. He concludes with
The effect on human welfare, and on animal and plant life, will be small. For all the attention it gets, the reduction in Arctic ice is the most visible, but least harmful, effect of global warming.
Really? No caveats. Absolute certainty. The effect will be small and it will be the least harmful effect of global warming. How can he possibly know this? He can’t even write like a scientist and we’re supposed to take his views seriously?
What about his sources? Well, he provides none for his absolutely certain conclusions, but earlier in his article, he does say
It seems that the quantity of Arctic sea ice varies more than we used to think. We don’t really know how much ice there was in the 1920s and 1930s — satellites only started measuring it in 1979, a relatively cold time in the Arctic — but there is anecdotal evidence of considerable ice retreat in those decades, when temperatures were high in the Arctic.
Where does his anecdotal evidence come from? Why, it comes from Anthony Watts and Steven Goddard, two people who have contributed significantly to the promotion of science denial. I know Matt Ridley objects to being regarded as a science denier, but it is hard to see why; if he really doesn’t like it, maybe he should stop getting his information from sites that are clearly promoting science denial. If you want a more reliable source, you could try this, which says:
The consolidated database shows that there is no precedent as far back as 1850 for the 21st century’s minimum ice extent of sea ice on the pan-Arctic scale.
So, in an interview with someone who undertook an expedition so as to encourage people to listen more to what scientists are saying about the Arctic, the BBC manages to introduce the views of Matt Ridley, an advisor to the Global Warming Policy Foundation and someone who gets their information from sites that promote science denial. Could it have been more ironic?