Matt Ridley has been complaining about the frantic polarising on Twitter since his talk. When it was pointed out that frantic polarising is a euphemism for ‘lots of people disagree with my argument’, he responded with
no it’s not. I point out that there’s a deliberate attempt to keep the debate binary and deny the middle position cd exist.
What he’s seems to be referring to is a claim he made in his lecture. He claims that
These days there is a legion of well paid climate spin doctors. Their job is to keep the debate binary: either you believe climate change is real and dangerous or you’re a denier who thinks it’s a hoax.
But there’s a third possibility they refuse to acknowledge: that it’s real but not dangerous. That’s what I mean by lukewarming, and I think it is by far the most likely prognosis.
Well, the only reason what he suggests isn’t strictly binary is that he’s added a third option; it, however, is still discrete. It makes no more sense to acknowledge that it’s real but not dangerous than it is to accept that it’s real and dangerous; neither position is consistent with the evidence. As Stoat has said if you can’t imagine anything between “catastrophic” and “nothing to worry about” then you’re not thinking. There are a range of possible outcomes for a given emission pathway, and there are a range of possible emission pathways; the latter, of course, being something over which we have some control.
By and large, the impact will depend on how sensitive our climate is to changes, and how much we end up emitting. There may well be some positive impacts, but it is widely accepted that there will be costs associated with adapting to the changes. There will also be costs associated with reducing emissions, assuming that we decide to actually do so. Suggesting that the options are “not real”, “real but not dangerous”, and “real and dangerous” ignores that there is a continuum of possibilites, some of which we can do something about (our emissions) and some of which we can’t control (climate sensitivity).
The real discussion should take into account the likelihood of the various outcomes, and what we should, or should not, do to address this. Ridley’s position seems like an ironic strawman. Providing one additional option is hardly avoiding the debate remaining binary, especially if this alternative is barely different to one of the other options – there’s not much of a difference between denying that it’s real, and denying that it could be dangerous. Also, most of those he’s criticising don’t – from what I’ve seen – believe that climate change is real and dangerous; they think that it is real, that there is a possibility of severe negative impacts, and that we should consider doing something to avoid these.
If Ridley really wants an improved debate he should at least consider the criticism levelled at him and should avoid doing precisely what he’s accusing others of doing. Of course, I seriously doubt that he is interested in improved debate; that would require acknowledging some of the other possibilities, and that doesn’t appear to be something that he’s willing to do.