Matt Ridley: The Climate Wars And The Damage To Science

Posted: November 5, 2015 by tallbloke in Accountability, alarmism, Analysis, Big Green, climate, Critique

Matt Ridley: The Climate Wars And The Damage To Science
Global Warming Policy Foundation, 5 November 2015

Matt-RidleyAt the heart of the debate about climate change is a simple scientific question: can a doubling of the concentration of a normally harmless, indeed moderately beneficial, gas, from 0.03% of the atmosphere to 0.06% of the atmosphere over the course of a century change the global climate sufficiently to require drastic and painful political action today? In the end, that’s what this is all about. Most scientists close enough to the topic say: possibly. Some say: definitely. Some say: highly unlikely. The ‘consensus’ answer is that the warming could be anything from mildly beneficial to dangerously harmful: that’s what the IPCC means when it quotes a range of plausible outcomes from 1.5 to 4 degrees of warming.

On the basis of this unsettled scientific question, politicians and most of the pressure groups that surround them are furiously insistent that any answer to the question other than ‘definitely’ is vile heresy motivated by self-interest, and is so disgraceful as to require stamping out, prosecution as a crime against humanity, investigation under laws designed to catch racketeering by organized crime syndicates, or possibly the suspension of democracy. For yes, that is what has been repeatedly proposed by respected and senior figures in the climate debate.

James Hansen, former head of Nasa’s Goddard Institute and the man whose congressional testimony in 1988 kick-started the whole debate, said a few years back, of fossil fuel company executives: ‘In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature’.

As I am finishing this essay comes news that one of France’s leading television weather forecasters, Philippe Verdier, has published a book arguing that he thinks the problem of climate change is being exaggerated. As a result he was first taken off the air and then unceremoniously sacked. Imagine, for a moment, that he had published a book saying the opposite: that climate change is going to be worse than we think. He would have been feted, rather than fired. This is censorship, and the fact that it is happening less than a year after, and in the same city as, the Charlie Hebdo killings, when the world joined together to say ‘Je suis Charlie’ and insist that free speech must be protected, is astonishing.

Recently 20 senior climate scientists wrote to President Obama and his attorney general to support a senator’s call that the administration mount a ‘RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change’.

Remarkably, Dr Roger Pielke Jr, professor of environmental studies at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, then discovered that that the lead signatory of the letter from the 20 scientists, Professor Jagadish Shukla of George Mason University, has been paying himself and his wife $1.5 million a year, via his ‘non-profit’ Institute of Global Environment & Society Inc. of which he is President and CEO. The money came entirely from public grants climate grants and was on top of his $250,000 university salary. Two of his daughters were also on the institute’s payroll. Is it any wonder that he very much does not want anybody to conclude that climate change is a crisis? Is it any wonder he wants sceptics silenced by prosecution? And is it possible that the huge flow of money he receives has incentivised him to (in his own words) ‘knowingly deceive the American people about the risks of climate change’ in the other direction?

Meanwhile it is now commonplace to hear scientists and commentators express disillusion with democracy as a forum for resolving this issue. One scientist muses that forms of ‘good’ authoritarianism ‘may become not only justifiable, but essential for the survival of humanity in anything approaching a civilised form’, while a leading newspaper columnist wrote, of China’s climate policy: ‘one-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages’.

To me, given that most environmental scares never turn out as bad as first feared, given that climate change has proceeded much more slowly and mildly than expected since 1990, and given that there is now a vast vested industry in alarm, thanks to munificent public funding, this feels like an over-reaction. That is to say, although I am in the ‘possibly’ camp, above, I cannot understand why so many people who should know better – in science academies, in parliaments and in international agencies – tolerate this vicious intolerance of a different position, let alone join in with it. Nor can I understand how so many politicians and scientists have grown more confident, not less, that future global warming will be catastrophically dangerous, even as estimates of climate sensitivity have come down and as real-world warming has consistently underperformed models, with the discrepancy growing larger every year.

After all, the climate worriers have largely won the policy argument: most of the world’s governments pay lucrative lip service to the need to do something about climate change: subsidizing renewable energy, encouraging low-carbon fuels and taxing high-carbon ones, while preaching at their populations. Dr Shukla and others who worry about climate change receive about $31 billion a year from the US federal government; their sceptical opponents receive almost nothing. Yet the partisans are not satisfied, constantly moaning about how nothing is being done. It is true that emissions are not yet falling, but that’s because nobody has come up with an affordable substitute for fossil fuels – a problem of technology, rather than political will.

Most disappointing of all is the way that science – especially the leaders of the world’s science academies – have joined in with gusto, not just demonizing those who say they are not convinced we face catastrophe, but turning a blind eye to the distortion and corruption of the scientific process itself. That’s what this essay is about. I am a ‘lukewarmer’: somebody who has come to think that climate change is likely to continue to be slow and mild, and that much greater humanitarian and environmental problems deserve more attention. I meet a lot of people who are skeptical and a lot of people who are alarmed. The latter have all the plum jobs, hefty grants and fat salaries. Yet respect for the scientific method is far more prevalent among the former. I genuinely worry that science itself is being damaged by this episode.

Full essay

  1. rishrac says:

    Perhaps an off hand way of reintroducing religion back into western societies. The high priests say so and on whose authority do you speak? You can’t get a degree from an ordained institution unless you views are in line with the consensus. Something like that.

    Whether the earth was created in 6000 years seems a little improbable. In a belief system, anything is possible. The only thing I’m sure of is the religious war that is currently going on, has been going on for the last 6000 years.

  2. Jerry says:

    It continues to amaze me that no one mentions the 1,400-year global temperature cycle. It had a maximum around 1000 AD and a minimum in the 1700-1800 AD period. It is on its way to another maximum in roughly 2400 AD. This is a nature cycle that seems to be completely unaccounted for, and even ignored, by those on both sides of this issue. I have found no assessment of the magnitude of this cycle elsewhere, and so, did a crude assessment of my own. That showed a magnitude of about 6 deg F/3.3 deg C. This is far too large to be ignored, even if the actual magnitude is only half of my crude estimate. Will those making estimates of global temperature for the end of the current century please include this temperature cycle as a component of their temperature models.

  3. oldbrew says:

    ‘That is to say, although I am in the ‘possibly’ camp, above, I cannot understand why so many people who should know better – in science academies, in parliaments and in international agencies – tolerate this vicious intolerance of a different position, let alone join in with it.’

    Perhaps Matt Ridley should investigate the Global Green Growth Institute, which seems to have some of the same kind of privileges as (e.g.) the Vatican.

  4. Jaime says:

    Matt Ridley seems like a reasonable fellow and he is, and he does talk a hell of a lot of sense, and he is the darling of the anti-alarmist movement at the moment. He certainly gets right up the noses of the climate Luddites and CAGW doomsayers, which can’t be a bad thing. I just can’t help feeling that maybe he is a bit TOO reasonable, rational and optimistic. Perhaps that’s just me being a bit of an irrational pessimist at the moment.

  5. gymnosperm says:

    Pretty much. Maybe a bit earlier. Agriculture done it. You now get god king dinglenuts strutting around like they are the media to the gods. Strutting like they, and only they can insure that the crops will grow.

    This is religion.

  6. oldbrew says:

    The UK’s climate rep in Paris will be Sir David King.

    Bishop Hill has this:
    He [King] went on to suggest that by the end of the twenty-first century “Antarctica was likely to be the only habitable continent left on earth”

    Another climate crackpot who should have been sidelined years ago, but is still seen by the UK government as somehow credible.

  7. kwillshaw says:

    CO2 is neither a beneficial or harmless gas as far as life on this planet goes. It is in fact an ESSENTIAL gas. Without it no terrestrial plant or animal larger than a single celled organism could exist and even the largest group of bacteria (cyanobacteria) would become extinct. Global CO2 levels are close to the LOWEST they have been since life evolved on this planet. When the cyanobacteria first started busily producing O2 using sunlight water and carbon dioxide global oxygen levels were below 1% and CO2 levels many times higher than today

  8. hunter says:

    Excellent essay. Ridley is thoughtful, insightful, factual and nuanced.
    The climate obsessed will ignore, revile and dismiss him, of course.

  9. michael hart says:

    Ridley is indeed always a pleasure to read.

    Jaime: “Perhaps that’s just me being a bit of an irrational pessimist at the moment.”

    I occasionally despair too, then tell myself this: Some Western governments may well claim that whatever they agree in Paris is sufficient cause to implement punitive legislation upon their respective electorates. And may even do so in the short and medium term. But the world can no longer be ruled in such an Imperial fashion by an elite, whether they wear an environmentalist T-shirt or not. There are too many people (and corporations) who will not be denied.

    However many battles they win, they will lose the war they have declared on human advancement. The tide of progress and history will wash their schemings away.

  10. Jaime says:

    I hope you are right Michael. I hope there is reason to be optimistic that rationality will prevail.

  11. michael hart says:

    Jaime, I may, or may not be right about that. However, I do know Prof Phil Jones wrote in climate-gate email #2621

    “I recall giving lectures in the past when there would be one person who would disagree with something or all I said in an invited talk. The internet has allowed all these people to find one another unfortunately.”

    From my limited access to academic circles I know that when there was somebody in the audience willing to openly and strongly disagree with the speaker, that usually meant there were others in the audience who thought the same way but were grateful that someone else took the lead.

    Politically, most of us are individually inconsequential. But even if I achieve nothing else, I am happy that I proove Phil Jones right every time I post something he may not like on the internet.

  12. tallbloke says:

    Peter Hitchens, Warmism and the damage to the UK as a whole.

    Warmists armed with windmills are the REAL threat to Britain
    This is Peter Hitchens’ Mail on Sunday column

    AD159531882Wind turbines abAs we squeak and gibber about the distant danger of terrorism, this country stands on the brink of a real threat to its economy, its daily life and its order.

    It is a threat we have brought on ourselves by embracing an obsessive, pseudo-scientific dogma, a dogma that is also destroying irreplaceable industries and jobs week by week.

    Last week we came within inches of major power blackouts, though official spokesmen claim unconvincingly that all was well.

    Experts on the grid have for some time predicted a crisis of this sort, but had not expected it anything like so soon, or in such warm weather conditions. It is the fact that they were taken by surprise that warns us there may be worse to come.

    Though Wednesday was mild for the time of year, the National Grid had to resort to emergency measures to keep Britain’s lights on. These included paying industries to reduce their power consumption and giving electricity generators up to 50 times the normal wholesale price to produce additional supplies – plainly emergency measures.

    Forests of hideous, useless, vastly subsidised windmills predictably failed to help – because there was no wind. Acres of hideous, useless, vastly subsidised solar panels predictably failed to help, because it was dark.

    Several perfectly good coal-fired power stations failed to help because we recently shut them down and blew them up. We did this in obedience to European Union regulations that prevent Britain from generating power from coal.

    Meanwhile, China builds a new coal-fired power station every few weeks and fills the atmosphere with soot and carbon dioxide. If man-made CO2 really does cause global warming, then this policy of destroying Britain’s coal-fired power stations is not affecting that.

    Even on its own terms, the action is mad.

    Craziest fact of all: if things get really desperate, the Grid will resort to banks of back-up diesel generators, perhaps the least green form of energy there is. And if they can’t cope, a country almost wholly dependent on electrically powered computers will go dark and silent, as our competitors laugh.

    You will not be comforted to know that two more perfectly good coal-fired British power stations are already doomed by Euro-decree. They will be shut and irrevocably destroyed in the next six months.

    And our last deep coal mine, at Kellingley, sitting on a huge reserve of high-quality coal, is to be shut for ever.

    The UK’s exceptionally high electricity prices, forced up by green taxes to pay for useless windmills and solar panels, are destroying manufacturing industry. Having closed much of what remains of our steel industry, high power charges last week claimed their latest victim, the Michelin tyre plant in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.

    As I have pointed out here in the past, the world has seen this sort of madness before, when dogma has been allowed to veto common sense.

    This is what happened to the Soviet Union, which destroyed its economy and its society by trying to create Utopia. As usual, the result was hell.

    The inflexible, intolerant cause of Warmism is not as bad as Leninism. There is no Gulag, only a lot of self-righteous spite for any who dare to dissent. And who cannot sympathise with those who genuinely think they are saving the planet? But they aren’t.

    Do they really think, once the free Western countries sink into decay thanks to their policies, that a mighty China will pay any attention to their cries of protest?

    They are just hustling us into the Third World, while saving nothing at all.