Matt Ridley's Rousing Defense of Climate Change Skepticism

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Matt Ridley

My friend Matt Ridley gave the Angus Millar Lecture of the Royal Society of the Arts Edinburgh on Halloween. His title was "Scientific Heresy." Ridley cogently explains why he thinks that massive confirmation bias is behind the claims that man-made global warming is potentially catastrophic. Here's the heart of his talk: 

I was not always such a 'lukewarmer'. In the mid 2000s one image in particular played a big role in making me abandon my doubts about dangerous man-made climate change: the hockey stick. It clearly showed that something unprecedented was happening. I can remember where I first saw it at a con- ference and how I thought: aha, now there at last is some really clear data showing that today's temperatures are unprecedented in both magnitude and rate of change – and it has been published in Nature magazine.

Yet it has been utterly debunked by the work of Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick. I urge you to read Andrew Montford's careful and highly readable book The Hockey Stick Illusion. Here is not the place to go into detail, but briefly the problem is both mathematical and empirical. The graph relies heav- ily on some flawed data – strip-bark tree rings from bristlecone pines – and on a particular method of principal component analysis, called short centering, that heavily weights any hockey-stick shaped sample at the expense of any other sample. When I say heavily – I mean 390 times.

This had a big impact on me. This was the moment somebody told me they had made the crop circle the night before. For, apart from the hockey stick, there is no evidence that climate is changing dangerously or faster than in the past, when it changed naturally. It was warmer in the Middle Ages and medieval climate change in Greenland was much faster.

Stalagmites, tree lines and ice cores all confirm that it was significantly warmer 7000 years ago. Evidence from Greenland suggests that the Arctic ocean was probably ice free for part of the late summer at that time. Sea level is rising at the unthreatening rate about a foot per century and decelerating. Greenland is losing ice at the rate of about 150 gigatonnes a year, which is 0.6% per century. There has been no significant warming in Antarctica, with the exception of the peninsula. Methane has largely stopped increasing. Tropical storm intensity and frequency have gone down, not up, in the last 20 years. Your probability of dying as a result of a drought, a flood or a storm is 98% lower globally than it was in the 1920s. Malaria has retreated not expanded as the world has warmed.

And so on. I've looked and looked but I cannot find one piece of data – as opposed to a model – that shows either unprecedented change or change is that is anywhere close to causing real harm….

Meanwhile, I see confirmation bias everywhere in the climate debate. Hur- ricane Katrina, Mount Kilimanjaro, the extinction of golden toads – all cited wrongly as evidence of climate change. A snowy December, the BBC lectures us, is 'just weather'; a flood in Pakistan or a drought in Texas is 'the sort of weather we can expect more of'. A theory so flexible it can rationalize any outcome is a pseudoscientific theory.

For me, the bottom line is this excellent point:

So what's the problem? The problem is that you can accept all the basic tenets of greenhouse physics and still conclude that the threat of a dangerously large warming is so improbable as to be negligible, while the threat of real harm from climate-mitigation policies is already so high as to be worrying, that the cure is proving far worse than the disease is ever likely to be. Or as I put it once, we may be putting a tourniquet round our necks to stop a nosebleed.

Of course, I think that last point is "excellent" because it agrees with the conclusion reached in my article, "Is Government Action Worse Than Global Warming?": 

The transaction costs associated with addressing man-made global warming may turn out to be prohibitively high. In other words, the benefits achieved from trying to mitigate global warming will be swamped by the costs of distributing the corporate welfare used to buy the political acquiescence of various industries. You might hope to implement good public policy to deal with a problem, but if good public policy is impossible, policy nihilism is the more rational response.

Go to the Bishop Hill blog to read a transcript of Ridley's lecture [PDF]. 

See below my interview with Ridley about his new book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves.

NEXT: Reason Writers on Freedom Watch: Matt Welch Talks About Whether We Owe Our Success to Government

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  1. denial is a favored [MEME] of kochtopus libtoidz

    1. therez a kochtopus loose in my [PANTZ]

      1. ^^^ spoofer

        the kochtopus iz n my mouf

    2. Kocktupi Wall Street!

    3. I got your kochtopus danglin’ sistah.

      1. Dat’s RACI….wait, Herman Cain? Nevermind. LYNCH THAT NIGGER!

  2. I strongly encourage everyone to spend some time reading not only Bishop Hill (remember, he’s neithor a Bishop nor named Hill 🙂 ), but also Climate Audit to get a good handle on separating science and pseudoscience regarding the climate.

    1. Watt’s Up With That is pretty good too, if a bit histrionic at times.

      1. WUWT is hit and miss for me. Some posts are really good. I mean really good and break down climate BS quite well. Other times posts are just plain stupid or nutty.

  3. I always found Michael Crichton’s speeches on global warming to be cogent and persuasive. They’re now outdated, of course, but I found them especially noteworthy for charting the changes in the IPCC’s statements over time. In the span of just a few years the IPCC went from acknowleding that climate may well be a chaotic system to declaring — based on nothing, as far as I can see — that climate is predicatble and that we can therefore project temperature increases and pinpoint their causes. From there, the whole thing had the smell of fraud to me.

    1. And then he died. I wonder just how far they would go to shut him up…

      1. IT WAS GLOBAL WARMING WHAT KILLED HIM!!!!!!!

        1. No, I’m pretty sure it was Dark Wizards.

  4. The problem is that you can accept all the basic tenets of greenhouse physics and still conclude that the threat of a dangerously large warming is so improbable as to be negligible

    Bingo. It has been proven that CO2 is a green house gas. What has not been proven, is the effect increasing levels of CO2 has on global temperatures. Those in support of AGW have yet to produce an experiment that supports their predictions.

    Designing an experiment to discover the Higgs-Boson particle is a hell of a lot harder than designing an experiment to prove the effects of man made CO2 on global temperatures. If the folks over at CERN were able to build a 17 mile long particle accelerator, with the hopes of discovering a sub-atomic particle that exists for only the tiniest fraction of a second, then I think the AGW’ers could design an self contained eco-system to test out their theory.

    1. Terraform Mars. Then conduct climate experiments.

      1. I regret to inform you but Mars is experiencing global warming as well supposedly. Probably due to the SUVs and martian libertarians. Michael Moore (aka. Baron Harkonen) is doing a documentary on it “Green Martians”.

        1. Well, that’s a conundrum.

          1. See here Not exactly a skeptic’s magazine.

            1. Well, if it really is warming, I say we go whole hog and make it Earth-like!

              1. The resident theory is that since Mars has no Magnetosphere it can’t sustain an atmosphere against the solar wind. BUT, if you want to drill to the core, install several small moons worth of fissile material and then drop an a-bomd in there we might have a chance…it’s crazy enough it just. might. work.

                1. What could possibly go wrong?

                2. The notion of solar wind ionizing the Martian atmosphere away is true, however once the planet’s internal magneto stopped it took millions of years for that ionization to essentially zap the atmosphere away.

                  Whatever mechanism you use to terraform the planet will generate – obviously – a net positive of emissions into the planet’s atmosphere. Just turn the dial down on whatever it is you’re using as your prime mover there to barely over the noise, and keep it going. CO2 (ironically) is a tough molecule, does not ionize so easily – look at Venus. Its the oxygen you’ve got to keep replenishing. Only bummer with Mars is where do you get all the nitrogen from if you really want a Green Mars analog of Earth? That stuff is really really reactive without a EM shield of some kind.

            2. “The Angry Green Planet”?

        2. Are you suggesting there are giant sand worms on Mars? Because that would be awesome.

          1. If only we could be so lucky.

            1. Oh, definitely Shai-Hulud-sized.

              1. So long as there’s spice…

                1. We’ll always have the spice.

            2. Tremors is an under-rated movie. Definitely Reba McEntire’s finest role. You know, other than…Reba?

    2. It has been proven that CO2 is a green house gas

      If you want to be accurate you would call it an albedo increasing gas. Green houses actually do not work like CO2 does and simply are warmer because of convection….ie the glass panes trap the warm air inside…they do not reflect back the IR to any meaningful degree. There have been experiments using IR transparent panes and there is no measurable difference in temperature between the IR transparent and IR reflective panes.

  5. I’m sorry, but I heard that all costal cities will be inundated and there will be millions of climate refugees during the climate holocaust. That doesn’t sound like a nosebleed to me.

    1. That’s great and all, but have you ever heard anyone predict what the temperature will be if CO2 levels increase by a specified amount, and then see that prediction come true? If they can’t predict that, then the rest begins to fall apart.

  6. La la la la la
    La la la la la
    La la la la la

  7. What I have never understood, and have pointed out in the past, is that REAL scientists look at all the data. Clouds, Sun Activity, Orbital changes, Oceanic heat sink, etc. but these AGWers are always focused on gasses and their collegues (for the longest time) never called them on it.

    It fucking pisses me off that they call it science. Any high school chem student understands the scientific process better than the morons at the IPCC. I don’t give a crap if they are 100% correct, they didnt use science to get there.

    1. THe GCM models do take these things into account, but there is a huge degree of uncertainty in a couple of variables, most notably the feedback effect of clouds. They pretend to have the feedbacks all figured out, but it’s evident that they don’t. They express a level of certainty that doesn’t exist and that’s why I don’t trust them.

    2. I once commented on a forum that the Voyager data made a pretty clear case for the solar system’s termination shock had expanded by millions of miles, and that more study should be made of how such a surge of solar energy (enough to push back the particle rain of the rest of the universe by close to a light-minute) might affect atmospheric conditions.

      I was accused en masse of politicizing the argument.

      1. Reality is a political argument, these days.

      2. Dude, that is fascinating, ya got a link?

  8. …we may be putting a tourniquet round our necks to stop a nosebleed.

    How much did Big Oil pay him to come up with an awesome line like that?

    1. See? Another hater.

      1. How is it in the pocket of Big Oil? Cozy in there?

        Yeah, that’s what I thought.

        1. I mistakenly cozied up to Big Olive Oil.

          1. We already knew. It takes lots of olive oil to make deep dish pizzas.

            1. That’s a fair cop.

          2. That is better than what I did. I in bed with vegetable oil.

  9. Climate change is just an excuse to hate oil companies even more.

    1. Climate change is an excuse for cash strapped governments to rake in more tax revenue.

      1. We only have $2.5 trillion in revenue. We’re in dire straights, I tells ya.

        1. Hey!

        2. First “Big Olive Oil”, now we get an “I tells ya.” What’s with the Popeye theme today?

        3. Al Gore is certainly getting ‘money for nothing, and chicks for free.’ I wonder how many doe-eyed female eco-zealots have given up the goods for Al Gore, only to feel pillaged and soiled afterward, just like Mother Gaia.

          1. Just the tipper of the iceberg. Which is melting, melting…

  10. “Go to the Bishop Hill blog to read a transcript of Ridley’s lecture [PDF]. ”

    I’d love to but the link does not work!

    1. well now it works.

      1. No it doesn’t. N

  11. The errors in Mann et al’s paper did not affect the conclusion, several studies have confirmed that the end of the 20th century was that hottest decade in over a millennium. But BS does make a good speech.

    1. RTFA no one disputes that it’s hot. The dispute is that the rate of heating is not unprecedented and in fact is completely average. The IPCC’s argument is that people are causing a catastrophic change in the Earth’s climate. The evidence shows time periods in the past that were both hotter and changing more rapidly than currently and yet THE WORLD DID NOT END, THE MASS EXTINCTIONS DID NOT OCCUR!

    2. Yes, but there hasn’t been any warming since then. While it may be a little early to see whether we’ve seen the maximum, it certainly does hurt the case between human emissions (which have continued to increase) and surface temperature (which has not). Either the Sun (which went through a cold spell) has more effect on surface temperature than models account for OR the system is not as tightly coupled as the IPCC models claim. Whichever is true (both could be) hulls the predictive value of those models. And the entire case for “doing something” is predicated on the idea that these models have predictive value.

        1. NOAA: 2010 Tied For Hottest Year on Record (with 2005)

          Then temperatures declined for a period between 2005 and 2010.

    3. The conclusion of Mann’s paper is a not warming per se, but a prediction…the ‘hockey stick.’ Only hockey-stick of geopolitcal proportions extant today is US public debt past fort years. That’s not even a hockey-stick, its damn near a carpenter’s angle on a 150-year scale.

      1. The conclusion of Mann’s paper is not a prediction at all. It is a statement that there seems to be some shaking evidence that would motivate a closer look with better tools.

  12. The transaction costs associated with addressing man-made global warming may turn out to be prohibitively high.

    Governments should do nothing… that’s a shocker. Feel free to impose that baseless assumption on the rest of us.

    1. Here’s another shocker: Governments are the agents of imposition, so it is up to proponents of governments’ doing something to prove their assumptions.

      Yet it is those who ask for a high certainty of positive benefits to justify the use of political force for scientific ends who are said to be politicizing science.

      1. Not doing things = YOU’RE FORCING IT!!!

        Same shit, different day.

  13. Tony you are free to continue sucking off your father. We won’t interfere.

  14. Mat gets off to an ( unopposed) good start at the RSA, but rather as with the admirable Crichton, he begins to flag about halfway through, as though disheartened by the sound of his own cant.

    By the time he gets to the stretch, he’s commited most of the scientific sins the first half warns against, so in the end, it is a pretty underwhelming performance to one well versed in the components of both sides well worn Gish Gallops.

    I give him a 4.

    1. Underwhelming sounds about right.

  15. So what if the world is warming? Your life is meaningless and in 6000 years, the monkey overlords will never know you existed or care that 2000-2010 was the hotest on record. Get over it and accept that life on earth was around for millions of years before you were born and will be around millions of year after. You do not have the power to destroy the earth, nor keep evolution and extinction from happening. It is the way the world works.

  16. maybe that’s noly the lucky..

  17. I am reminded of meeting this Swedish grad student who was doing her thesis on carbon sequestration. She is working with a group that is going to pump CO2 down into the ground. When I asked her what the risks are of sequestering too much CO2, she looked at me with a blank expression. “What do you mean, ‘too much'”?

    That kind of attitude towards climate change scares the bejeezus out of me. It’s like “thank God we all froze to death, because less rain in Seattle would be been far far worse!”

  18. rather exciting. Nevertheless, I appologize, but I can not give credence to your whole plan, all be it stimulating none the less. It looks to everybody that your remarks are generally not completely validated and in simple fact you are your self not really fully convinced of your assertion. In any event I did enjoy reading it.

  19. rather exciting. Nevertheless, I appologize, but I can not give credence to your whole plan, all be it stimulating none the less. It looks to everybody that your remarks are generally not completely validated and in simple fact you are your self not really fully convinced of your assertion. In any event I did enjoy reading it.

  20. What needs a lot more attention is the book, The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert, by Donna Laframboise. She and a number of volunteers went through the IPCC’s 2007 report and showed grave errors, references to grey literature that had been shown to be false by peer reviewed papers, major conflicts of interest and outright lies by the hierarchy.

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