I thought I might make some points about Matt Ridley’s recent lecture. There are two general points I want to make. Matt Ridley might have a PhD (DPhil technically) and he might have published some papers in the 1980s, but his expertise is really in business, the banking sector, journalism and politics. He has no obvious expertise that suggests that he is capable of interpreting the evidence associated with climate science himself. And, yet, that is what he does and appears to stick with his interpretations even if the authors of the studies he’s using disagree with what he is saying. Climate science is actually a very complex topic that includes many different research areas. The idea that one person is capable of independently interpreting all this evidence is rather remarkable.
The other point I was going to make is that if someone has to tell you what they aren’t, or what they are (for example, “I’m not a science denier, I’m a lukewarmer”) then either they aren’t conducting themselves in a manner that makes this obvious, or the people labelling them are simply wrong. In my view, they should either consider behaving in a manner that makes it more obvious, or they should largely ignore those doing the labelling; telling people is unlikely to have much impact.
As far as Matt Ridley’s actual lecture, it’s a bit of a gish gallop of “skeptic” talking points. Dana’s already covered some of it in his Guardian article, and Mat Hope has an article on DESMOGUK. The lecture starts with a discussion of the benefits of global greening due to enhanced CO2. The author of the study – who Ridley accuses of delaying publication to avoid it being in the recent IPCC report – has already responded. He disagrees with Ridley’s interpretation, but according to Richard Tol, Ridley has somehow been vindicated. Quite how Tol would know is beyond me.
He then discusses the consensus, saying
The supposed 97% consensus, based on a hilariously bogus study by John Cook, refers only to the proposition that climate change is real and partly man-made.
I presume the “hilariously bogus study” is also Tol as is – probably – the completely incorrect interpretation of the study. It is quite remarkable that someone who has spent so much time responding to this study, still doesn’t understand it. The consensus was not “real and partly man-made”, it was “humans are causing global warming”. When there are two possible causes (humans and not humans) a conclusion that one of them is causing global warming would seem to be somewhat stronger than simply partly causing it.
Ridley then claims that
James Hansen in 1988 said that by the year 2000, “the West Side Highway will be under water.
Well, this is simply not true. In an interview James Hansen was asked, in 1988, what the view out of his office window would be like in 40 years time if CO2 had doubled. Not only is 2000 not 40 years after 1988, the question was also based on the hypothetical scenario of CO2 having doubled.
Ridley moves on to claim that “The climate models have failed to get global warming right”, and illustrates this by showing two figures comparing models and observations. He, however, fails to discuss that the forcings have not been updated, that one should ensure that the models and observations are baselined properly, and that one should ensure that the comparison is actually like-for-like (by accounting for coverage bias and that the observations mix sea surface temperatures and air temperatures). If you do that, then you get quite a reasonable comparison between the models and the observations.
Ridley also claims that the best evidence indicates that climate sensitivity is relatively low. Well, this is obviously subjective and there are many reasons to be cautious of the studies that return low climate sensitivities. Also, these studies still return 5 – 95% ranges of around 0.8oC to 3.1oC. Additionally, if you account for coverage bias and that observational temperatures are a mix of sea surface temperatures and air temperatures, these apparently low estimates turn out to be consistent with most other estimates.
I probably don’t need to say very much more. It’s clear that this was not simply Ridley giving a lecture about climate policy, it was him giving a lecture about his interpretation of climate science, and – in the process – insulting scientists individually (Ranga Myeni and Richard Betts, for example) and collectively, suggesting that
the climate science establishment has a vested interest in alarm.
I’m very interested to see how the Royal Society will respond to this. My guess is that they’ll either do nothing or, if they do respond, it will be completely ineffective; it’s not easy to effectively respond to something quite this off the wall.
Update: Daily Kos has also covered the lecture, and some of the articles about it. Delingpole’s response is so remarkable, that I can’t bring myself to link to it.