The best shot?

Guest post by Matt Ridley (with permission, from his blog The Rational Optimist h/t to Indur Goklany)

UPDATE: David MacKay’s letter is now up in a separate post here

Some weeks ago I wrote an article for The Times about why I no longer find persuasive the IPCC’s arguments that today’s climate change is unprecedented, fast and dangerous.

I was delighted to receive a long and courteous letter from David MacKay, the chief scientific advisor to Britain’s Department of Energy and Climate Change. With his permission I am publishing my reply to that letter. I would put his letter here too (again he agrees), but I only have a hard copy of it, so that will have to follow when he has time to send me a soft version.Now done.

The remarkable thing about this exchange is that far from weakening my doubts about the IPCC case, it has strengthened them. The letter explains why. Essentially, I have realised that almost the only weapons left in the alarm locker are the retreat of the Arctic sea ice and an event that happened 55m years ago and was probably not caused by CO2 at all. Everything else — the CO2-temperature correlation in the Antarctic ice core, the hockey stick, storm frequency, phenology, etc etc — no longer supports the argument that something unprecedented in magnitude or rate is happening. Remarkable.

Here is my letter:

Dear David

I am honoured that you liked my book and I liked yours very much indeed: a brilliant and necessary contribution to the debate. Though it arrived late in my writing process, I managed to squeeze in several references to it in the penultimate chapter of mine.

Thank you for taking the trouble to give such a detailed reply to my Times article – much longer than the constraints of the Times op-ed page allowed for me! I shall now indulge in a longer reply. It is certainly nice that the political `climate’ (sic) now allows articles like mine to receive serious replies, rather than accusations of heresy or sin or threats of prosecution as a criminal against humanity. I appreciate that very much. I surmise from your covering note that perhaps your letter is circulated more widely among DECC colleagues and I would be glad for you to circulate this reply, not least to the secretary of state who showed you my article. I shall post this letter on my blog.

I am surprised to find that I agree with much of your letter, but it changes almost none of my conclusions. How can this be? The gap between the science and how it has been presented is huge. This is as much the fault of bodies like the Royal Society, which should have been a brake on politically inspired extreme statements but was not, as it is of the media. You say scientists know how big the uncertainties are and that the failure to ensure that uncertainties are reported has contributed to the problem. I agree and I wish that the science establishment had paid this issue more attention. They allowed and encouraged their spokesmen to peddle the very opposite impression.

Consider this statement for example: `Earth’s climate can only be stabilized by bringing carbon dioxide emissions under control in the twenty-first century.’ That is the opening sentence of a paper in Nature Geoscience last month.  It is shocking that it got past the editors and reviewers. After 4 billion years of climatic volatility, much of it not caused by CO2 but by orbital variations, solar cycles and so on, how on earth are we to `stabilise’ earth’s climate by adjusting just one forcing factor? I refuse to accept that the climate could ever be stabilised, let alone by adjusting one factor. That sentence has no place in a scientific journal.

Taking your points in turn, then:

You say most climate scientists are nicer than their caricature on the web. I agree, but so are most sceptics. The image of the politicised, right-wing, anti-science zealot fits some, of course, just as the reverse fits Jim Hansen, Bob Ward and Joe Romm, but the ones whose work I have got to know, such as Andrew Montford and Steve McIntyre are quite different.  The polarisation of this issue is a real problem. I learned from writing about the nature-nurture debate that arguments get polarised because people only read their friends’ caricatures of their opponents’ works; it is vital that we all read all sides of the argument.

Next you criticise my argument that current warming is not `unprecedented’ by reference to the Arctic sea ice graph. But this only goes back to 1979! Blackpool’s Football League table position is unprecedented since 1979. In a brief period of warming, of course the warming is unprecedented. You will know the ample anecdotal evidence that Arctic sea ice retreated just as much in the 1920s and 1930s: remember `Warming island’ for example. There is also good evidence from wave-made beaches and driftwood in Northern Greenland of probably ice-free summer months in the Arctic 7,000 years ago. A study published in the journal Quaternary Research of sea sediment cores in the Chukchi Sea shelf in the Arctic Ocean concluded that `during the middle Holocene the August sea surface temperature fluctuated by 5°C and was 3-7°C warmer than it is today’. (Incidentally, I am keen to see a proper test of the hypothesis that black carbon is the main cause of the Arctic sea ice summer retreat of recent years and that cleaning up Chinese coal power stations will reverse the trend. The argument seems quite plausible – and it might explain why Antarctic sea ice has been expanding during the same period —  but it needs a test.)

To be honest, whenever that sea-ice graph is used as an argument, I become a little bit more sceptical. If that is the best evidence of something unprecedented, then the case must be weaker than I thought. It is a change that is not even likely to threaten human or animal livelihoods: even with a total late-summer melt (I presume you do not belong to the school of thought that the ice could fail to reform in winter), there is no great albedo feedback at such latitudes because of the angle of the sun in August, and polar bears will expand their range further north or will survive ice-free summer months onshore as they do already in Hudson’s Bay, on Wrangel island and parts of Svalbard (where one once walked round my tent while I slept).

Then you say that if I mean `not unprecedented on 100m year timescales’… But those are not the only two options! I mean not unprecedented in centuries and millennia, ie in human history. It is hugely relevant whether the warming of 1910-40 was as fast as 1980-2010 (it was). It is hugely relevant if the climate was as warm in 1100 AD as now (it probably was) both in attributing cause and in making conclusions about sensitivity.

You will have seen this graph, one of many now making it amply clear that the warmth of the Holocene optimum, peaking about 7,000 years ago, was both global in extent and considerably warmer than today:

And this:

Next you disagree with my characterization that recent warming is not `fast’. Phil Jones himself confirms that the rate of warming in 1975-2009 is statistically indistinguishable in rate from the two other periods of warming in the past 150 years: this is from his interview with the BBC –

Period Length Trend
(Degrees C per decade)
Significance
1860-1880 21 0.163 Yes
1910-1940 31 0.15 Yes
1975-1998 24 0.166 Yes
1975-2009 35 0.161 Yes

I contend that none of these rates are `fast’. Contrast them with the rate of change now known from 12,000 years ago, characterized by `local, regional, and more-widespread climate conditions [which] demonstrate that much of the Earth experienced abrupt climate changes synchronous with Greenland within thirty years or less’ (Alley 2000. Quaternary Science Reviews 213-226), including `a warming of 7 °C in South Greenland [that] was completed in about 50 years’ (Dansgaard, White and Johnsen 1989, Nature 339: 532). That is a change roughly nine times as fast as has happened since 1980 – in Greenland or anywhere else. Another study gives even bigger numbers, saying that the `abrupt warming (10 ± 4 °C)’ at the end of the Younger Dryas and the warming at the end of a short lived cooler interval known as the Preboreal Oscillation `may have occurred within a few years’ (Kobashi et al 2008 Earth and Planetary Sciences 268:397). Nor was this rate of change confined to Greenland. As one article summarises, `temperatures  from the end of the Younger Dryas Period to the beginning of the Holocene some 12,500 years ago rose about 20 degrees Fahrenheit in a 50-year period in Antarctica, much of it in several major leaps lasting less than a decade.’ (Science Daily, Oct 2 1998).

You concede that the rise is running at just 1C per century over the past 50 years, though you do not recognise the degree to which even this is only true of the instrumental record, as adjusted and homogenised by the USHCN and similar bodies. These adjustments have come under question recently since it has become clear that far from correcting for urban warming they seem to be exaggerating it. So the true figure, without adjustments, is probably much closer to that recorded by the SST record and the satellite record, considerably lower than 1C.  Here is the US raw data:

And here it is `adjusted’:

The climate is going to have to get a move on if it is hit 3C this century. One-tenth of the century now over and no significant warming yet. This should have been the fastest bit:  since the curve is logarithmic, the first 100 ppm of CO2 should produce as much warming as the next 200 ppm.

You then say we should not be blasé about 2C in 200 years. I am sorry but I do not find this convincing for four reasons:

If anybody had adopted a policy in 1810 to affect the climate in 2010, they would have made absurd decisions because of uninvented technologies, etc.

There is lots of evidence that climate change is positive in its impacts up to 2C, especially if it takes 200 years to get there.

Remember most of this warming is predicted to be in cold regions, in winter and at night. The daytime temperature changes in temperate regions in summer would be less than 2C.

The thing I think we should not be blasé about is the cost of measures we are taking today. Biofuel policies have caused real hunger. Wind power policies have caused real fuel poverty. Yet these measures would do a statistically insignificant asterisk towards solving the problem even if the warming was happening fast. I refuse to be blasé about the jobs not created, the landscapes spoiled, the deaths caused by indoor air pollution in Africa because people cook over charcoal and above all the distraction and diversion of funds from real problems, including environmental ones.

You then ask me what I think the sensitivity to CO2 doubling is and you guess that I must think it is outside the range 1.5-4.5C. Actually, I think there are lots of sensitivities within that range that are `fairly minor problems’ and so do many of the studies cited by the IPCC. For Malaria, for example, 2C will produce less than 30,000 extra annual deaths on the million we see today. I think the million is a major problem, the 30,000 in a century’s time is a minor problem. Water shortages? The evidence of Arnell 2004 suggests that 2C of warming will reduce the net number of people at risk of water shortage. Etc etc.

So what do I think the sensitivity is? I have no idea. It could be 1C or lower, it could be 3C, but I think it very unlikely from the latest data that it is going to be as high as 4.5C. (Actually, IPCC says that is unlikely, too, if you read the probability right.) I do know this though: the IPCC’s estimates of the sensitivity are utterly worthless because they all – all – assume net positive feedback. You are quite right that we do not know that clouds have negative feedback for sure, but there is good evidence that they probably do, and just 2% change in the albedo of cloudiness could reverse all CO2’s marginal effect.  And you imply that Spencer is a lonely voice in arguing this case. May I refer you to the Nature Geoscience paper quoted above. Despite its catechistic opening sentence, it goes on to say:

It is at present impossible to accurately determine climate sensitivity (defined as the equilibrium warming in response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations) from past records, partly because carbon dioxide and short-lived species have increased together over the industrial era. Warming over the past 100 years is consistent with high climate sensitivity to atmospheric carbon dioxide combined with a large cooling effect from short-lived aerosol pollutants, but it could equally be attributed to a low climate sensitivity coupled with a small effect from aerosols. These two possibilities lead to very different projections for future climate change.

Anyway, you agree that climate sensitivity could conceivably be as low as 1C, which is more than the IPCC does, so I should accept this concession with gratitude and I do. It’s a huge change from what was being said by the science establishment two years ago and is still being said by many, namely that 2C is unavoidable.

Then you describe the PETM (it is the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum – the Pliocene came much later), suggesting that I might not know of it. I not only know it but know the more recent data suggesting that carbon emissions can no longer be reliably interpreted as the main cause of warming then. Gerald Dickens of Rice University last year concluded that CO2 did not even double during the PETM and that something other than carbon dioxide caused much of the heating.

I do think it is revealing how much scientists who are alarmed about climate refer to the PETM. Imagine if the sceptics relied heavily on one episode of uncertain causation and effect, little known and not repeated for 55m years! You would say: is that really the best they can do?

You mention the Toarcian event of 183m years ago, which is new to me, but sounds interesting (by the way I do long to get back to a world where one can discuss paleoclimatic episodes as thrilling stories in their own right without having to draw political lessons from them). Yet the very first abstract I read on the subject after googling it talked about species shifting range in response to `a rapid cooling and their gradual return to former habitat areas in the period of warming’. I will need more evidence that carbon was cause rather than effect here: sounds more like a classic volcanic winter story.

Next you say that sea level is a case where the IPCC has been too conservative. But the graph you show has a trend of 3.1mm per year. This equates to 31cm in a century, comfortably within the IPCC’s estimate of 18-59cm in the present century.

Let me make two final points. I have argued that the two main examples you cite – the Arctic sea ice retreat and the PETM – are weak examples on which to build your case. Five or ten years ago I suspect that you would have cited the Vostok ice core record, showing CO2 and temperature in lockstep, and the Hockey Stick graph, showing recent temperature rises to be unprecedented in a thousand years. These two graphs were very, very important in persuading me to rejoin the consensus view in the mid 2000s, after I had moved towards cautious scepticism in the late 1990s. The fact that both are now discredited as evidence of CO2 attribution has been very, very important in sending me back towards scepticism. When the facts changed, I changed my mind. The Vostok graph now unambiguously shows that CO2 rises follow rather than precede warming. The impact of that discovery is huge. The Hockey Stick graph is largely a statistical artefact caused by the inappropriate use of short-centred principal component analysis and heavily reliant on geographically narrow and methodologically suspect samples of tree rings. If you have not read Andrew Montford’s The Hockey Stick Illusion to understand this, I do beg you to do so.

My last point is this. We always discuss climate change in isolation, as a unique issue. Yet we cannot ignore the history of past environmental alarms, which I catalogue in my book: on population, famine, pesticides and cancer, desertification, sperm counts, acid rain, GM crops, and many other issues, we have been promised catastrophe, often with the backing of peer-reviewed science, and repeatedly these hopes have been dashed. (You may need to remember to switch your sarcasm detector on when reading the last sentence.) My position is heavily influenced by having been science editor of The Economist during the acid rain scare and having been a full-scale alarmist at the time myself.  In 1984 I wrote: `Forests are beginning to die at a catastrophic rate. One year ago, West Germany estimated that 8% of its trees were in trouble. Now 34% are…that forests are in trouble is now indisputable.’ Experts told me all Germany’s conifers would be gone by 1990 and the Federal Ministry of the Interior predicted all forests would be gone by 2002. I was wrong. German forest biomass increased during all these years. Of course, the boy who cries wolf may be right one day. But we are right to grow more sceptical when he keeps being wrong.

Now, if for the past 20 years we had been told that there is a probability of some change in the climate due to CO2, and a very small possibility that it is likely to lead to a drastic lurch, then I could join with you and the consensus. Instead of which I have been repeatedly told that trillions must be spent urgently because there are only a few months to save the world and it is the most urgent problem, more urgent than hunger, malaria and indoor air pollution, likely to lead to the collapse of the entire economy and moreover that the science is settled and to question it is to be equivalent to a criminal. So, apologies if I sound a little exercised on this, but as a huge champion of science I feel very, very let down by the science establishment, especially the laughably poor enquiries on the emails published this year. Ask yourself if these emails had been within a drug company about a drug trial, whether the establishment would have been so determined to excuse them.

Again, I thank you for the courtesy of a proper reply. This is more than I get from most scientists and journalists on this topic. I do not envy the difficult decisions you and your political colleagues face, but I do beg you to review the latest evidence and increase your doubts about the likelihood of catastrophe; also to increase your concern for the costs and damages caused by renewable energy policies.

yours sincerely

Matt

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73 thoughts on “The best shot?

  1. Heh, I was about to leave a comment on your previous thread asking if you’d read Matt Ridley’s letter to David McKay, with a fine dissection of the climate meaning in that earlier warming period. Fortunately, I looked at this post first.

    Matt Ridley’s letter should be required reading for every politician on earth. Oh, Hell, make it everyone on earth.
    ===========

  2. You devalue your blog enormously by publishing the views of Matt Ridley on it.

    Matt Ridley was the Chairman of Northern Rock from 2004 to 2007, the period leading up to its collapse. He was a cheerleader for the flawed model of debt financing. British taxpayers will be paying for the debts run up by Mr Ridley’s foolishness.

    Mr Ridley’s combination of enthusiastic risk taking and lack of relevant technical knowledge makes him profoundly unsuited to making ‘rational’ comments on anything at all, certainly not something as complex as climate science.

    Please take this post down asap, it is a calculated and very unpleasant insult to all your British readers.

    REPLY: And once again, a person too cowardly to put their own name to their criticism tells me what I should/ shouldn’t do. I really get weary of this sort of thing. I publish things here that people both agree and disagree with, so get over it. If you want to criticize Ridley, put your name to your words like he does, because anonymous opinion is pretty much worthless. – Anthony Watts

  3. As far as I’m concerned, the fact that there have been three periods of warming in the last century and a half with the same rate of temperature rise is the most compelling piece of information that CO2 probably has a small effect.

    And to think that I heard it from Phil Jones on Mulberry Street.
    ============

  4. Dear Matt,

    sorry I was not aware of your book earlier (probably because it seems to belong more into the political corner which does not interest me), but I really liked your letter here.
    You create a compelling cause!
    You touch a number of scientific facts (some of them are very recent), but keep the level very understandable – in our times anyone should be able to get the background facts if he/she desires!
    In my opinion you are spot on and I would like to read more from you!!
    It is very nice to read from someone on the bigger picture in a blog where most people (including me) get carried away by details!

    All the best regards,
    LoN

  5. Good to see this here at last (I flagged it on the Tips and Notes page on the 7th (just after Fremma) and again on the Whitehouse thread on the 9th).

  6. Well said.
    A common occurrence: AGW theory needs 20 things to be true – 19 are proven false – warmist continues to accept AGW theory based on 1 truth – 1 truth touted ad nauseaum – common sense dies a little.

  7. This is off topic, but can someone tell me if CO2 concentrations are uniform all over the world, ie if it’s 290ppm in Alaska, is it 290ppm in Tasmania? Have never seen this mentioned so probably I’m just ignorant!

  8. Very simply, a tour de force.
    And, the insightful phrase “Arguments get polarised because people only read their friends’ caricatures of their opponents’ works” ought to take on a life of its own. While this article is a masterful defense of the climate skeptic’s position, this quote is a maxim that applies to virtually any topic worthy of a full throated debate. Putting it to memory ought to be a requirement at every school worthy of its accreditation.

  9. Matt, thank you. Brilliant. I’m with you — how on earth has the scientific establishment allowed itself to be so hornswoggled — that’s a word for corrupted — by this tatty science called “climate science”? It wouldn’t be tatty if those doing it would act like real scientists and admit that their data are horribly equivocal and their theories/ models guesses that don’t come close to having any sort of really measurable error because there are too many unknowns. You can only measure error when you understand the general nature of the phenomena from which you’re sampling, which, of course, is not known within any confidence.

    But, maybe, just maybe, real scientists are starting to ask tougher questions of their climate science brethren as they realize more and more of the public are coming to understand that many scientists are rent-seekers with ideological views of who ought to be paying/ collecting the rent — and therefore not to be believed.

  10. Utterly wonderful letter, thanks to Anthony for publishing it. This is how scientific discourse should be, polite and full of information, clear as a bell and not an insult in sight!

    Reading that letter was ambrosia for the eyes after a hard day, its so rare nowadays to see such a letter that seeing and reading and enjoying it has made my day, this is why I visit this site so often.

    Many thanks.

    Cassie K.

  11. Laws of Nature says:
    November 11, 2010 at 7:43 am

    “The Rational Optimist” is not political. There are some conclusions that could ruffle the feathers of some who are politically inclined in a certain direction.

    Well done Mr. Ridley. Now, go write another book as intriguing as your latest.

  12. Matt,

    Superb – one of the best summaries of what we face that I’ve ever read – thanks a million. Please do try to continue your dialogue with David, it’d be great to read more, and further healthy debate can only improve matters. Why can’t get people like Chris Huhne and Ed Milliband to grasp this sort of stuff?

  13. Matt,

    Yours was a brilliant rebuttal, eloquently expressed as always.

    David McKay is a decent and fair-minded man and so are you. The kind of dialogue you have established there could well create the significant breach we need in the climate ‘war’ and get reasonable people on both sides of the debate rallying to the cause of courtesy, moderation and common sense – a benign Climategate 2 moment, perhaps?

    My modest contribution is as follows:

    When about ten years ago I first downloaded the (much maligned by climate skeptics) HadCRUT3 world temperature data from the Hadley website and got Excel chart to plot it out and draw a regression line, to my surprise I found that it computed the average temperature rise since 1850 (now today a 160 year period) was around 0.4degC per century. I then generated an 11 year running mean curve to smooth out the annual variability. This showed a regular cyclic variation of 60-70 years periodicity, above and below the linear regression line. At that time (around 2000) the smoothed curve was right at the top of its 60 to 70 year cycle – and so was widespread global warming alarmism. Immediately I realised that predictions of significant warming due to man-made additions of greenhouse gases were almost certainly unsound.

    Having redrawn the chart every year since then with the same result, I have had no reason to change my mind. The null hypothesis reigns supreme. That’s good science.

  14. I do think it is revealing how much scientists who are alarmed about climate refer to the PETM. Imagine if the sceptics relied heavily on one episode of uncertain causation and effect, little known and not repeated for 55m years! You would say: is that really the best they can do?

    Touché (Very British.)

  15. They vary by season (dead leaves give off CO2 in the northern winter, and plants suck out CO2 in the southern summer.) This reverses once a year. I think the fluctuation is about 5 ppm depending on season. Please correct me if that is inaccurate.

  16. Anthony: There’s only one thing wrong with this article: The enigmatic “teaser” caption it’s been given. Such clever captions should be avoided, because their opacity decreases the usefulness of WUWT as a reference source in the future.

    REPLY: Take it up with the author, it is his title – Anthony

  17. Anthea Collins says:
    November 11, 2010 at 8:40 am

    This is off topic, but can someone tell me if CO2 concentrations are uniform all over the world, ie if it’s 290ppm in Alaska, is it 290ppm in Tasmania? Have never seen this mentioned so probably I’m just ignorant!

    There can be substantial short term variation very close to the surface due to waxing and waning activities of living producers and consumers of CO2 and there are smaller but very regular seasonal variations between northern and southern hemisphere but with those caveats stated the answer is yes, CO2 is well mixed across the global atmosphere. In the global ocean, however, that isn’t the case. There is a great disparity between CO2 concentration in the warm shallow surface layer and the vast cold deeps. Below the thermocline where ocean temperature stabilizes at 3C CO2 concentration is quite high and dwarfs the amount held by the surface and atmosphere combined. The high concentration is maintained by cold water being able to hold more CO2 than warm water and by the enormous pressure of the ocean depth which in some cases allows droplets of pure liquid CO2 to persist. The so-called ring of fire which spans the global ocean like the seams on a baseball, and where new continental crust emerges deep underwater, spews out CO2 along with molten rock but the pressure is so great the CO2 in some cases has been found to be pure liquid in form. Due to limited mixing with the surface layer it tends to stay down there. If mixing does increase for any reason it might end up not making any difference to global temperature – exceedingly cold water would be mixing with the surface tending to cool the atmosphere but great amounts of CO2 would also be released which would tend to counteract the warming. Uncertainties like that make this whole climate change brouhaha a travesty. The only thing we can really rely on is history and history unequivocally shows there’s no such thing as catastrophic global warming by any means including hugely larger amounts of atmospheric CO2. On the other hand history also unequivocally shows there is such a thing as catastrophic global cooling and we’re on the brink of catastrophic global cooling at this time in history.

  18. Request to David Socrates who said onNovember 11, 2010 at 9:26 am

    “When about ten years ago I first downloaded the (much maligned by climate skeptics) HadCRUT3 world temperature data from the Hadley website and got Excel chart to plot it out and draw a regression line, to my surprise I found that it computed the average temperature rise since 1850 (now today a 160 year period) was around 0.4degC per century. I then generated an 11 year running mean curve to smooth out the annual variability. This showed a regular cyclic variation of 60-70 years periodicity, above and below the linear regression line. At that time (around 2000) the smoothed curve was right at the top of its 60 to 70 year cycle – and so was widespread global warming alarmism. Immediately I realised that predictions of significant warming due to man-made additions of greenhouse gases were almost certainly unsound.

    Having redrawn the chart every year since then with the same result, I have had no reason to change my mind. The null hypothesis reigns supreme. That’s good science.”

    Could you please provide a link to your analysis if it is available on line. thanks in advance.

  19. Ref se4al level hight increase . I have just seen an interesting TV programme on the British Isles that show the sea level must be dropping in the North as the old beaches complete with tide worn stones are tens of metes above the present sea level , how on earth do you measure sea level rise to the nearest millimeter when the ground itself is moving upwards ( evidently a rebound from the last ice age) If all the land that were covered by trillions of tons of ice are also rising back to their original pre ice age levels surely this makes accurate seas level hight increase impossible to measure ?

  20. Anthony,

    the Northern Rock fiasco cost the UK taxpayer somewhere between £50 billion and £90 billion.

    Between $15,000 and $20,000 per adult in the UK.

    Matt Ridley cost me personally $15k.

    Matt Ridley caused this by deliberate greed and risk taking, combined with profound ignorance of finance. In the UK Matt Ridley is the moral equivalent of Bernie Madoff.

    He is now unemployable in his chosen career. And is trying to make an alternative career as a climate specialist. Seeing this very foolish man being encouraged by bloggers I had previously considered sensible, is profoundly offensive to people in the UK.

    For your information your final comment in reply to my previous post means go and have anal sex. It is deeply offensive in most English speaking cultures. And its use as as an insult is profoundly homophobic.

    Geoff Willis.

    REPLY: In our use it means, “go away”, but welcome to the light. The essay stays, but I’ll can the comment. If we denied news and commentary about people that caused fiascos, caused trouble, or cost money, we’d never hear about Obama, Thatcher, Mountbatten, Blair, in any venue….- Anthony

  21. Matt Ridley has written a great reply. One can only hope that the correspondence with David Mackay will continue.

    I can’t help thinking that most journos and commentators have still not come to terms with the strength of uncertainties and the fact that climate science was not as ‘settled’ as previously thought.

    Anthea Collins says:
    November 11, 2010 at 8:40 am
    This is off topic, but can someone tell me if CO2 concentrations are uniform all over the world, ie if it’s 290ppm in Alaska, is it 290ppm in Tasmania? Have never seen this mentioned so probably I’m just ignorant!

    The short answer is No. There was a map here at WUWT some months ago, showing the distribution of CO2 in the lower troposphere (I can’t find it now). Industrial regions had greater CO2 concentrations above them than non-industrial regions. I am not sure whether (or how much) such CO2 ‘clouds’ affect the temperatures below.

    Also, I’d recommend this post which shows why Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii is a good location to observe atmospheric CO2 concentrations than either Alaska or Tasmania.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/06/04/under-the-volcano-over-the-volcano/

  22. Very well written.

    As the science does not support the extreme AGW position (cloud feedback is positive rather than negative, the amount of warming observed is less than half of what is predicted, and so on.), the Cabal attackes those personnally who present logic and data that contradicts the extreme AGW position.

    Your point that there are real problems that need to be addressed and limited funds to solve them is now the central issue.

    Trillions of dollars spent an the AGW program (transfer of money to corrupt third world governments, construction of wind farms in regions where there is not sufficient wind for a wind turbine, biofuel production rather than food crops, massive programs to tax and control CO2 use, CO2 sequestration, and so on.) will not improve or protect the environment. Increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 is benefitial to the biosphere (increases plant growth, increases yield of food crops, and reduces plant water requirements, and so on. Plants eat CO2.) and the amount of warming due to a doubling of CO2 (0.7C to 2C) is also benefitial.

    Those who care about the environment and humanity, need to speak up to stop this nonsense.

  23. A Holmes, that has been a nagging question in the back of my mind also. It seems to me that climate scientists are putting too fine a filter on their measurements. I think that trying to measure temperatures in tenths of a degree is absurd given 1) use of proxies, 2) calibration of thermeters, 3) time span involved, 4) multiple site and missing data issues, 5) consistency of data gathering activities, 6) ‘adjustments’ to collected data, and other factors. Measures of sea level change of 1 mm are in the same category, ie. is the land itself moving, how long has you data been accumulated at that particular site, has the measurement itself been impacted by celestial junctions, etc. Tenths of a degree, millimeters of sea change are just not significant and give enough of a misleading feeling of accuracy to be almost deliberately misleading.

  24. One of the best articles on AGW ever. Each point is made with devastating effect, and without pomp and acrimony. What more can one say? This is one British reader who is definately not insulated. Matt Ridley, I salute you sir!

  25. Whoops. This is one British reader who is definately not insulted.

    (should learn to proof read more)

  26. Anthea Collins : “This is off topic, but can someone tell me if CO2 concentrations are uniform all over the world, ie if it’s 290ppm in Alaska, is it 290ppm in Tasmania? Have never seen this mentioned so probably I’m just ignorant!

    Dave Springer has provided a good verbal answer. Here is a visual one.

    CO2 levels at various stations, ranging from near N Pole to S Pole.

    Aannual change in atmospheric CO2 concentration at 3 locations Mauna Loa, Barrow and South Pole (near tropics, N Pole, S Pole, resp.)
    [Not completely up to date, as I downloaded the data some time ago]

  27. John Peter says:
    November 11, 2010 at 9:54 am

    I did a raw land temperature plot shortly after ClimateGate. Without smoothing the anomalies (which exaggerates isolated weather stations), David Socrates’ description of his results matches what I found with NCDC data. http://justdata.wordpress.com

  28. Anthony – I thank you and don’t disagree at all with your reply to kagiso (November 11, 2010 at 7:15 am), but it doesn’t go far enough. Basically the kind of comments kasigo uses are propagandist. Demonize your opponent so you can ignore arguments for which you have no ready answer. That is not only sloppy and lazy thinking, it really isn’t thinking at all. It is a barely disguised thrust with a verbal sabre which any lout can carry off. Kasigo, you have not distinguished yourself. Please try again.

  29. Very nicely written. To censor this author because of association with a past calamity would be a mistake. His points do not stand alone on his opinion. They refer to information substantiated by others, and of which many of us concur.

    Great article.

  30. From the letter: “it has become clear that far from correcting for urban warming they seem to be exaggerating it.”

    This is exactly opposite to what I can determine by simple observation. UHI effect is grossly underestimated, IMO, and in particular the increase of UHI effect over the last century.

    A good deal of the “adjustments” seem have been done by “rule of thumb”, ignoring the realities of individual changes of location of temperature measuring stations.

    That temperatures decrease with increases in altitude ignores the fact that in valleys where katabatic winds, even of relatively lower velocity, are present, temperatures at higher elevations up the side of the valley are much warmer, not cooler. Location, location, location.

  31. George Soros U.N. Panel Organizes $100 Billion Climate Change Shakedown Aimed Against U.S.
    NetRight Daily ^ | November 11, 2010 | Kevin Mooney
    Posted on November 11, 2010 7:12:43 PM GMT+01:00 by NetRight Nation

    “George Soros, the radical, far-left billionaire, with a long history of antipathy toward American interests, now sits on a United Nations (UN) panel charged with organizing a $100 billion wealth transfer from the developed world to the underdeveloped world in the name of environmentalism. News of his involvement here is buried away in a New York Times report but it should be the lead sentence”. read more:

    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-bloggers/2625588/posts

  32. “Five or ten years ago I suspect that you would have cited the Vostok ice core record, showing CO2 and temperature in lockstep… The fact that both are now discredited as evidence of CO2 attribution has been very, very important in sending me back towards scepticism… The Vostok graph now unambiguously shows that CO2 rises follow rather than precede warming.”

    This statement illustrates a common misconception. Temperature rises at the end of glacial periods due to changes in the earth’s orbit. Increases in temperature cause CO2 to rise. A principal mechanism is that warmer oceans can hold less CO2. This causes the CO2 rise to lag the temperature rise (by about ~800 years).

    The increasing atmospheric concentration of CO2 in turn acts as a forcing to further increase temperature. The two effects are coupled. The suggestion that because increases in temperature can cause increases in CO2 that the reverse is not possible is simply false.

  33. Regardless of Matt Ridley’s financial acumen, the tenor of the debate was polite and respectful. For that we should give most of the credit to Professor David Mckay, who in his position of authority has the most to lose from the establishment from publicly engaging in a respectful scientific debate. We should all encourage more of this.

    Prof. Mckay is most certainly an establishment scientist, well credentialed and teaches physics at Cambridge University, but he has a really excellent book out “Sustainable Energy, without the hot air”. The book addresses the basic question of how much energy do we as a society use and how much energy can the renewables (wind, solar, geothermal, tidal etc) provide. It is a science based discussion and well worth the read. I am not going to give away the punchline of the book but it is filled with discussions along the lines of how many windmills you would need to supply the average UK home energy needs and is it feasible. Prof. Mckay comes across as a guy who biked to work and obsessed about insulation in his house years before it was popular and politically cool to do – but all his arguments are based strictly on the science. So it is a great example of how science and technology debates should be handled.

  34. Well for what it is worth, my observation this morning at Newman, an iron ore mining town in the Pilbara of Western Australia, is that it’s a bit cool – cold wind blowing from somewhere. Very welcome as the maximum temperature yesterday was about 42 degrees Celsius.

    Only possible reason for this cooling must have been a catastrophic removal of CO2 from the air somewhere else. After all it’s the CO2 forcing that determines the climate, whoops or is it weather, isn’t it?

  35. Kagiso,

    After some research it appears a more appropriate analogy to NR is Lehman Brothers. In fact Lehman was the counter party who was underwriting the risk on NR sub prime mortgages. Poor risk management certainly, but hardly the same as what Bernie Madoff did.

  36. I am afraid Kagiso is being thoroughly misleading when he pretends he speaks for the British public. With all due apologies to Mr Ridley 99.9% of them would not know who he was nor his association with Northern Rock – in itself an issue of great complexity which has been reduced, as is often the case, into a fairy tale of good guys and bad guys.

    It is clear that Kagiso has his own agenda and the fact that he purports to take offence where-ever possible and uses an ad hominem attack upon Mr Ridley rather than addressing the substantive points in the exchange of letters says far more about him than it does about the target of his attacks.

    So for the record I am British and certainly do not find either Mr Ridley’s article nor anything in Anthony’s replies offensive. Nor, do I believe, would the overwhelming majority of the British public.

  37. Absolutely spot on – fabulous. This is just the kind of reply to the alarmists that needs to be disseminated as widely as possible.

  38. Add me to the list of those British people who have better things to do than be offended several times a day.

    The bail out of Northern Rock may have cost us as taxpayers but AGW madness will ultimately cost us infinitely more, if it hasn’t already. If Mike Ridley has any impact at all on reigning in the costs of AGW that is more than enough redemption for me.

  39. Presumably Geoff Willis (AKA Kagiso) is part of Prof. Abraham’s “Climate Rapid Action Program.” Actually he doesn’t sound British to me. Most of us have a very high tolerance for the Anglo Saxon vernacular.

    I very much look forward to Prof. MacKay’s follow up to this.

  40. LarryOldtimer says:
    November 11, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    From the letter: “it has become clear that far from correcting for urban warming they seem to be exaggerating it.”

    This is exactly opposite to what I can determine by simple observation. UHI effect is grossly underestimated, IMO, and in particular the increase of UHI effect over the last century.

    What Ridley should have written was, “it has become clear that far from correcting for urban warming they seem to be exaggerating ignoring it.”

  41. Really good read.

    An absolute pleasure to read a civil and thought provoking exchange from both sides. Cannot help but think that My Ridley wedged this one.

    Well, i say edged, i mean demolished.
    Well i say demolished, i mean destroyed.
    Well i say…..

  42. Anthony, Kagiso says “For your information your final comment in reply to my previous post means go and have anal sex. It is deeply offensive in most English speaking cultures. And its use as as an insult is profoundly homophobic.”

    I presume you told him to “bugger-off”. In which case, well said my man. It’s a phrase in common English use (including by Edmund BlackAdder et al.), is no more offensive than many other choice phrases (and a lot less offensive than quite a few that spring to mind).

    I have also never known it to be taken as homophobic by anyone I know, so quite frankly I think Kagiso is talking out of his arse…

    Excellent article by the way, my thanks to Matt Ridley.

    Cheers

    Mark

  43. Regarding Northern Rock in UK, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Ridley

    Superficial I’m sure, but it makes Mr. Geoff Willis’ comments seem hyperbolic. Regarding Mr. Ridley’s chosen career, it would appear to be life sciences, not banking. Sorry to be off topic, but just a few seconds of research puts a damper on the objection. It seems telling that the primary spokesman against Mr. Ridley is a cheerleader for alarmism.

  44. Wonderful post from Ridley and a welcome discourse from both sides.

    As for Kagiso’s puerile PC intolerance and cack-handed attempts to stifle debate, most of it seems to be barely regurgitated mush from George Monbiot’s (aka Delingpole’s Moonbat) attacks on Ridley in the Grauniad and elsewhere. Once again, barely concealed Neo-Marxist anti-capitalism masquerading as eco-liberal earnest reason. Monbiot is still a big fan of protectionism and collective ownership by the state and used the collapse of Northern Rock to further his own desire to discredit Ridley’s book, “The Rational Optimist”, and the completely unrelated views that Ridley had on the environment. All very cynical and tacky and oh so typical of Moonbat himself. You can certainly critisize Ridley for taking his eye off the ball over Northern Rock, but casting him as the Darth Vader of Capitalism is risible hyperbole.

    And now I’m annoyed at myself for being distracted by barely literate trolls such as Kagiso, in marked contrast to the civility of the debate between Ridley and MacKay.

  45. Kagiso wrote “Please take this post down asap, it is a calculated and very unpleasant insult to all your British readers.”

    I’m British and I have nothing but admiration for Matt Ridley. His cv states he was a director of Northern Rock, it doesn’t mention him being chairman. I think Kagiso may be a bit confused.

    Several years ago I read Matt Ridley’s excellent book Genome. It described how a scientist in the 1920′s or therabouts determined that there were 24 chromosomes in the human genome. This quickly became the scientific consensus and appeared in all the text books for several decades. One group of scientists actually found there were 23. Because their technique was obviously faulty, they abandoned their research.

    Just one problem: those researchers were actually right and the consensus was wrong. There are in fact 23 chromosomes in the human genome. Ironically, many of the photographs in the text books actually showed 23 and not 24. It’s a perfect example of how belief can be stronger than raw data. It’s also a perfect example of how the scientific consensus can be completely wrong.

    I was fascinated to hear how Ridley was originally sceptical but returned to the fold after the evidence of the ice cores and the hockey stick – and how his scepticism re-emerged after more precise data was taken from the ice cores and the hockey stick was shown to be near-fraudulent.

    In this piece he shows almost effortlessly that there is no evidence at all that the climate is being driven by carbon dioxide. It’s not surprising that true believers are terrified by the prospect of real public debate, because they always lose the debate, one example being the recent Oxford Union debate, handsomely won by Christopher Monckton and his team.

    If Matt Ridley writes a book about climate change I’ll definitely buy it!
    Chris

  46. This exchange has made my day. Thoughtful positions and I hope the start of a series of calm exchanges that will help to pin the jelly to the wall.

  47. “Five or ten years ago I suspect that you would have cited the Vostok ice core record, showing CO2 and temperature in lockstep… The fact that both are now discredited as evidence of CO2 attribution has been very, very important in sending me back towards scepticism… The Vostok graph now unambiguously shows that CO2 rises follow rather than precede warming.”

    Ammonite says: November 11, 2010 at 3:25 pm
    This statement illustrates a common misconception. Temperature rises at the end of glacial periods due to changes in the earth’s orbit. Increases in temperature cause CO2 to rise. A principal mechanism is that warmer oceans can hold less CO2. This causes the CO2 rise to lag the temperature rise (by about ~800 years).

    The increasing atmospheric concentration of CO2 in turn acts as a forcing to further increase temperature. The two effects are coupled. The suggestion that because increases in temperature can cause increases in CO2 that the reverse is not possible is simply false.

    Your response illustrates a common AGW circuitous logic fallacy.

    Changes in earths orbit causes temperature to rise. I’m good to go here.

    Increasing earth temp causes CO2 outgassing from the oceans. I’m still with you man.

    The increasing atmospheric concentration of CO2 in turn acts as a forcing to further increase temperature.We’re on a roll here baby.

    Well, darn. You left me hanging there. I thought we were going to dance. You neglect to mention that even with highly elevated CO2 concentration, the earth cooled back down.

    Imagine that.

  48. REPLY: In our use it means, “go away”, but welcome to the light. The essay stays, but I’ll can the comment. If we denied news and commentary about people that caused fiascos, caused trouble, or cost money, we’d never hear about Obama, Thatcher, Mountbatten, Blair, in any venue….- Anthony

    Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi, Both Clintons, Harry Reid………………………….

  49. Tim Clark says: November 12, 2010 at 10:24 am
    From Ammonite: … The increasing atmospheric concentration of CO2 in turn acts as a forcing to further increase temperature… The suggestion that because increases in temperature can cause increases in CO2 that the reverse is not possible is simply false.

    Tim’s response: “Your response illustrates a common AGW circuitous logic fallacy… You neglect to mention that even with highly elevated CO2 concentration, the earth cooled back down.”

    Hi Tim. Many commentators on Matt Ridley’s piece have described it in the light of a devastating riposte to AGW proponents and yet it contains what I consider to be a basic and common flaw. In AGW circles the reasoning I specifically identified above is called a “zombie argument”. The logic has been shown to be incorrect many times, yet the meme will not die.

    As for the evolution of the earth’s temperature it is infuenced by many factors – orbital forcing, albedo, solar cycles, the slowly rising solar “constant”, ghg concentration, oceanic behaviour, man-made aerosols, volcanic activity… None of these factors change the physical properties of CO2 but they are certainly capable of dominating its influence in any given period.

  50. Very nicely done Matt. Your book was excellent, and every time I read your writing, I come away more impressed.

    I look forward to hearing you speak on the cruise in February.

  51. Matt Ridley caused this by deliberate greed and risk taking, combined with profound ignorance of finance. In the UK Matt Ridley is the moral equivalent of Bernie Madoff.

    Northern Rock (where Ridley was a nonexecutive director) failed because of exposure to the subprime crisis, along with AIG and Bear Stearns. Since their bailout, they have been repaying the bailout loan ahead of schedule.

    The company’s business plan was not exactly secret, and investors who lost money evidently also did not understand the risks involved or they would have sold their shares. Welcome to the uncertain world of investing.

    While Ridley may have underestimated the risks involved, he was hardly alone in doing so, and to suggest he ran a fraudulent scheme a la Madoff is irresponsible, inaccurate, and betrays a profound ignorance of finance in general.

  52. Tim’s response: “Your response illustrates a common AGW circuitous logic fallacy… You neglect to mention that even with highly elevated CO2 concentration, the earth cooled back down.”

    Ammonite says:
    November 12, 2010 at 12:09 pm
    Hi Tim. Many commentators on Matt Ridley’s piece have described it in the light of a devastating riposte to AGW proponents and yet it contains what I consider to be a basic and common flaw. In AGW circles the reasoning I specifically identified above is called a “zombie argument”. The logic has been shown to be incorrect many times, yet the meme will not die.
    As for the evolution of the earth’s temperature it is infuenced by many factors – orbital forcing, albedo, solar cycles, the slowly rising solar “constant”, ghg concentration, oceanic behaviour, man-made aerosols, volcanic activity… None of these factors change the physical properties of CO2 but they are certainly capable of dominating its influence in any given period.

    Hi Ammonite,
    And your response in skeptic circles is called “ignore the logical fallacy in your previous argument but repeat the meme ad nauseum until consensually accepted argument”.

  53. The comment at the start caught my eye,
    It is certainly nice that the political `climate’ (sic) now allows articles like mine to receive serious replies, rather than accusations of heresy or sin or threats of prosecution as a criminal against humanity.
    A weather forecaster on TV this morning 12/11/10 said of the storms battering the UK that they were “Nothing new and had been happening off and on for decades” And she did not suddenly explode!

  54. Perfect, and concrete proof you are right is the politicians cure for this, they want to send all industry to China??? maybe there is a little known fact that COI2 only causes a greenhouse effect in the west?? I am utterly disgusted by the whole warmist agenda, hanging would be too kind (ask the people they have killed about that)

  55. Tim Clark says: November 12, 2010 at 12:53 pm
    “Ignore the logical fallacy in your previous argument…”

    Temperature rises can increase CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.
    Increased atmospheric CO2 can cause temperature to rise.
    These are hardly contentious statements. Where is the logical fallacy?

  56. //Ammonite says:
    November 12, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Tim Clark says: November 12, 2010 at 12:53 pm
    “Ignore the logical fallacy in your previous argument…”

    Temperature rises can increase CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.
    Increased atmospheric CO2 can cause temperature to rise.
    These are hardly contentious statements. Where is the logical fallacy?//

    Let me fix that for you.
    Temperature rises can significantly increase CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.
    Increased atmospheric CO2 can cause temperature to rise minutely.

    There! All better.

  57. All re Matt Ridley and NR.

    Go read the Rational Optimist. He makes a very clear admission on this topic. He is not covering up anything at all. Indeed, he makes the case that finance is one of the few markets that benefit or require regulation.

    I heartily recommend that George Willis go and get a copy and read it with an open mind.

  58. Reply to John Peter – November 11, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Re. your request for a link to my chart showing the official HadcRUT3 world average temperature data from 1850 to 2009, which clearly demonstrates an un-alarming average temperature rise over the period of 0.4degC per century, I have the chart up at:

    HadCRUT3 Chart

    In my opinion, this chart kills the whole issue of man-induced global warming stone dead – as it has done every year for the last 10 years since I first drew it.

    Yet I find that most people, when presented with an exceedingly simple graph of what has actually happened to the Earth’s temperature to date, simply shrug it off and can’t really engage with it because it is so far removed from the official warming rhetoric. A modern example of the emperor’s new clothes perhaps?

    My simple view is that we skeptics could all blog on for ever about the physics of radiative absorption by CO2 molecules, and we could battle on well into the next century about polar bear extinctions, glacier melts, sea rise, etc., and get nowhere – because each issue is complex and uncertain and it always ends up as one expert’s opinion against another.

    But facts are facts and data are data. And, since the data I have plotted come straight from the Hadley Centre of Climategate fame, I can hardly be accused of using specially selected ‘unalarming’ data that suits my case. It’s the official stuff!

  59. Gene Zeien said November 11, 2010 at 1:18 pm
    “I did a raw land temperature plot shortly after ClimateGate. Without smoothing the anomalies (which exaggerates isolated weather stations), David Socrates’ description of his results matches what I found with NCDC data:

    http://justdata.wordpress.com/

    Gene, What I find fascinating about your data charts of the raw temperature data is that they show no net warming over the main period you chose (1900 to 2009) whereas my plots of the official CRU data (see
    HadCRUT3 Chart)
    do show a rise of 0.4degC per century.

    I have always wondered why CRU and NASA make such a fuss about ‘adjusting’ the raw data (and then, in CRU’s case, ‘losing’ the original!). After all, nobody is interested in the absolute value of this thing called ‘annual world average temperature’. It’s only an index that can be compared from year to year to see if there is a warming trend or not. It is simply a mathematical construct – a bit like a stock exchange index. That doesn’t (in my view) invalidate it as a useful indicator of temperature trend, but what baffles me is why they didn’t just use the raw station data to construct the abstract index rather than data that has been adjusted in some mysterious way (without telling us how) by the climate scientist priesthood. The raw data would have given a trend indication that was just as statistically valid without arousing suspicions of agenda-driven data manipulation.

    And as your plots show, as soon as the raw data is used instead of the adjusted data, the upward temperature trend of the late 20th century mysteriously disappears. Funny that, isn’t it?

    The supreme irony, of course, is that even if one uses the official ‘adjusted’ data, as I did with HadCRUT3, the results still turn out to be remarkably un-alarming.

    So I think the climate alarmists are snookered either way. It’s just a question of how long it will take for the rest of the world to wake up.

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