Apocalypse maybe

Guest post by Matt Ridley

My article in Wired in August called “Apocalypse Not” (http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/08/ff_apocalypsenot/) attracted a huge number of comments, many of which were constructive and interesting. It also led to critical responses at other sites. Here is my response to some of those responses. Wired asked me to respond, but then concluded that there was not space on their website to carry the response.

Philip Bump wrote an article in Grist attacking what he calls my “conceit” on climate change and calling my argument “bullshit”: http://grist.org/news/apocalypse-or-bust-how-wireds-climate-optimism-doesnt-add-up/. Leaving aside the insults, what was the substance of his criticism?

Mr Bump’s first point is that I am wrong that malaria will continue to decline because “comparing our relative recent success in combating malaria to the haphazard and poorly funded efforts from last century doesn’t provide much insight into how we’ll fare against more widespread malaria using existing tools”. He is entitled to this opinion but it flies in the face of published evidence on three counts. First, the retreat of malaria during the twentieth century was far from haphazard. As a chart published in Nature by Dr Peter Gething of Oxford University (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v465/n7296/images/nature09098-f1.2.jpg) shows, malaria vanished in the twentieth century from large parts of Asia, Europe and North America and became dramatically rarer in South America and South-east Asia. It also declined in Africa.

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Second, the acceleration of this decline of malaria since 2000 (25% reduction in ten years) has indeed been aided by the work and funds of the Gates Foundation and others, but with new funds and new techniques it is not clear why Mr Bump thinks “it’s unlikely, though, that additional investment will continue to get the same rate of return” since he provides no evidence for this statement. Third, the “more widespread malaria” the he forecasts is largely a myth. In most of the world malaria is not limited by climate. In Africa there a few high-altitude areas – less than 3% of the continent – that might become more malaria friendly if global warming accelerates as the IPCC predicts. Surely it will continue to make sense to combat malaria itself rather than trying to fight it by combating climate change? Why should we focus on preventing that 3% increase rather than diminishing the existing 100% of malaria? As Dr Gething has written: “widespread claims that rising mean temperatures have already led to increases in worldwide malaria morbidity and mortality are largely at odds with observed decreasing global trends in both its endemicity and geographic extent” and “proposed future effects of rising temperatures on endemicity are at least one order of magnitude smaller than changes observed since about 1900 and up to two orders of magnitude smaller than those that can be achieved by the effective scale-up of key control measures.”[1]

Incidentally, the persistence of the myth that malaria would worsen in a warming world was quite unnecessary, because a world expert on the topic tried in vain to correct the myth at an early stage. Paul Reiter of the Pasteur Institute, made the case within the IPCC that malaria’s range was shrinking and was limited by factors other than temperature, but was ignored and (in his words) “After much effort and many fruitless discussions I…resigned from the IPCC project [but] found that my name was still listed. I requested its removal, but was told it would remain because ‘I had contributed.’ It was only after strong insistence that I succeeded in having it removed.”[2]

Mr Bump’s second charge is that if I am right that the threat of increased malaria as a result of global warming was greatly exaggerated, this does not prove that other aspects of climate change are exaggerated: “Even if the malaria argument held up, it would still only represent one ancillary concern stemming from global warming!” Given the prominence of the malaria-from-warming threat in the early IPCC reports and in the media, and the long battle Dr Reiter had to get the IPCC to see sense on the issue, the issue was hardly ancillary. None the less, let me take up Mr Bump’s challenge and consider some of the other threats promised in the name of climate change. For reasons of space I chose to focus on malaria but there is a long list of threats that have been downgraded as more knowledge of climate change accumulates. My first draft included two paragraphs of other examples that were left on the cutting room floor when my article was published. I reproduce them here:

“Likewise, the prediction that global warming could turn off the Gulf Stream, an idea that featured in the film The Day After Tomorrow. The fear was taken seriously in the 1990s, with the respected Nature magazine publishing a computer-model calculation that showed “a permanent shutdown” of the Atlantic “thermohaline circulation”, which drives the Gulf Stream, within a century if carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise[3]. This, commented a senior scientist, posed a risk “that no nation bordering the North Atlantic would willingly take.”[4] Such a threat has now been abandoned as highly unlikely, one scientist commenting: “I think the notion of telling the public to prepare for both global warming and an ice age at the same [time] creates a real public relations problem for us.”[5]

“In other words, some of the subplots of climate change have already proved exaggerated.

– The Himalayan glaciers are not melting in a hurry and even if they were, 96% of the water in the Ganges comes from rain, not melting ice[6].

– A gigantic methane belch when the Arctic ocean reaches some warm tipping point turns out to be implausible[7].

– The world’s coral reefs recover quickly and fully from bleaching episodes caused by sudden warming[8].

– Runaway warming is now widely agreed to be impossible[9].

– The United Nations was wrong in 2005 to predict (and map the whereabouts of) 50 million future environmental refugees by 2010[10]. And so on.

Maybe these sideshows were always mistakes. Or just maybe the main event is being exaggerated too.”

I look forward to Mr Bump’s response on each of these points, few of which are ancillary. I also draw his attention to the deceleration of sea level rise, in sharp contrast to predictions, a measure that is about as central to the climate change threat as you can get. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/09/13/sea-level-acceleration-not-so-fast-recently/

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Another critique of my article appeared under Lloyd Alter’s byline here: http://www.treehugger.com/energy-policy/wired-magazine-tells-us-dont-worry-be-happy-about-climate-population-resources-pandemics.html. Mr Alter accuses me of being pie-in-the sky and head-in-the-sand and objects specifically to my conclusion about the ozone hole that “the predicted recovery of the ozone layer never happened: The hole stopped growing before the ban took effect, then failed to shrink afterward. The ozone hole still grows every Antarctic spring, to roughly the same extent each year. Nobody quite knows why. Some scientists think it is simply taking longer than expected for the chemicals to disintegrate; a few believe that the cause of the hole was misdiagnosed in the first place. Either way, the ozone hole cannot yet be claimed as a looming catastrophe, let alone one averted by political action.”

Mr Alter claims that the long residence time of chloroflurocarbons in the atmosphere explains the failure of the ozone hole to shrink. He may be right, in which case he falls in the category I cited – “Some scientists think it is simply taking longer than expected for the chemicals to disintegrate” – but that hardly disproves my last statement that the ozone hole cannot yet be called a crisis that was definitely averted. Here’s a graph, from NASA (http://ozonewatch.gsfc.nasa.gov/meteorology/annual_data.html) , showing the stubborn persistence of the ozone hole:

Among the emails received at Wired was one from David Gasper of Dayton, Ohio, arguing “many situations are avoided because we listened to the alarmists and PREVENTED the extremes from happening.” Sure, and I acknowledged this in my piece. However, Mr Gasper gives two poor examples to support his case. The first is the Y2k computer bug. A huge amount of expensive work was indeed done to avert the breakdown of computers on 31 December 2012, but that does not in itself prove that the threats were not exaggerated.

Indeed the absolute lack of any major problems the next day, even in countries whose efforts were threadbare and patchy (such as Italy and South Korea and much of Africa), rather argues that they were exaggerated. Remember my argument is not that there was no threat of problems, but that the threat was overblown. Can anybody really think, in retrospect, that Senator Christopher J. Dodd, (D-CT), speaking at the first hearings of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem on June 12, 1998 was not overegging the scare when he said: “I think we’re no longer at the point of asking whether or not there will be any power disruptions, but we are now forced to ask how severe the disruptions are going to be…. If the critical industries and government agencies don’t start to pick up the pace of dealing with this problem right now, Congress and the Clinton Administration are going to have to…deal with a true national emergency.”[11]

Mr Gasper’s other example is DDT, saying that I downplay the importance of DDT and bird populations and he points out that bald eagles and other predatory birds now thrive in his part of Ohio. He’s right and hawks and falcons now thrive where I live also. In both cases the removal of DDT was, I am convinced, crucial in the recovery of raptor populations, because DDT became concentrated as it moved up the food chain till it reached levels that did harm by thinning eggshells. However, my critique of the Rachel Carson/Paul Ehrlich scare was not about this phenomenon, but about the claim that DDT, together with other chemicals, caused cancer in human beings and would result in a severe shortening of human lifespan.

The website Carbon Commentary carried a piece by Chris Goodall (http://www.carboncommentary.com/2012/08/23/2449) arguing that skin cancer was getting worse because of ozone loss, that food and metal prices were rising and that he had read a similar article in the Economist in 1997.

Mr Goodall’s piece had many errors, starting with the repeated misspelling of “Ehrlich”.

He attempted to combat my assertion that melanoma is not increasing with the following remark: “increasing skin cancer incidence has been linked to rising UV-B radiation for several decades.” He gave no source. (My article has over 75 source links at my website: http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/apocalypse-not.aspx.) Is Mr Goodall unaware that most skin cancer is not melanoma? That the increase in other skin cancers is caused, most medical scientists think, by an increase in holidays in low latitudes, not a reduction in ozone in high latitudes?

There were plenty more in the way of egregious mistakes in the piece that would never have got past the fact-checkers at Wired. His price graphs took no account of inflation! Minerals and cancers were cherry picked. For the true picture on commodities prices and the Simon-Ehrlich bet, see this chart:

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_otfwl2zc6Qc/S4AmqnxCqXI/AAAAAAAAM1A/eYRQcCkYlcc/s1600-h/commodities.jpg

and Mark Perry’s conclusion about it:

“If Simon’s position was that natural resources and commodities become generally more abundant over long periods time, reflected in falling real prices, I think he was more right than lucky, as the graph above demonstrates.

Stated differently, if Simon was really betting that inflation-adjusted prices of a basket of commodity prices have a significantly negative slope over long periods of time, and Ehrlich was betting that the slope of that line was significantly positive, I think Simon wins the bet.”

As for food prices, see http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/10/08/peak-oil-climate-change-and-the-threat-to-food-security/#more-48870

How anybody from the climate-alarm camp can argue that the recent spike in food prices might be evidence of running out of food, when we turned 40% (!!) of US grain into motor fuel last year to satisfy green campaigners, baffles me.

And the similarity of some parts of the Wired article to some parts of the Economist article in 1997 is because I wrote them both.

Finally, there was an anonymous article on a blog called Skeptical Science, which purported to correct my claims about the possibility of a “lukewarm” climate outcome that would be less damaging than some of the measures being taken to combat climate change such as biofuels. The article focused on two points, first that Greenland’s ice loss, while currently less than 1% per century as I claimed, is in fact accelerating. However, recent revisions to the data show that the true rate of ice loss is even lower, less than 0.5% per century (http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v3/n9/full/ngeo938.html) and even this comes from far too short a period to be called a trend. (It is interesting how quick some climate alarmists are to dismiss the standstill in global temperatures of the last 15 years as “too short” while accepting nine years of Greenland satellite data as a trend!)

In fact the latest work, by Kurt Kjaer of the University of Copenhagen (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/337/6094/569.abstract?sid=822b555a-638b-4a49-a021-3dab84f17457), using aerial photographs to extend the history of Greenland’s ice cap backwards in time “challenges predictions about the future response of the Greenland Ice Sheet to increasing global temperatures” by concluding that the spurts of ice loss from Greenland in 1985-1993 and in 2005-2010 were short-lived events rather than indicative of a general trend.

Skeptical Science’s other criticism was that the evidence supports a strong positive water-vapour feedback amplification of carbon-dioxide induced warming. I am glad to have confirmation that this feedback is necessary to turn CO2-induced warming into a major danger, as I argued, but I disagree that the current evidence overwhelmingly supports this. There are studies that find evidence for net positive feedbacks and studies that do not. Here’s one very recent one (http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2012/2011GL050226.shtml) that makes “relatively low projections of 21st-century warming”. And here is a recent critique of high-sensitivity studies (http://judithcurry.com/2012/06/25/questioning-the-forest-et-al-2006-sensitivity-study/). My point, remember, is not that climate change will definitely be benign, but that the possibility that it will be real but not a catastrophe is far from small and yet is usually ignored. It is surely premature to rule out the possibility of such a lukewarm future and Skeptical Science produces very threadbare evidence to support such a dogmatic conclusion.

For those who are interested in the sources I used for my original article, I have reprinted it with many live links at www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/apocalypse-not.aspx.


[1] http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v465/n7296/full/nature09098.html

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Reiter

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/climate/stories/sci120197.htm

[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/climate/stories/sci120197.htm

[5] http://junkscience.com/2011/11/25/climategate-2-0-revkin-told-freezing-and-melting-alarm-not-a-good-pr-combo/

[6] http://www.mtnforum.org/sites/default/files/pub/1294.pdf and http://www.theresilientearth.com/?q=content/himalayan-glaciers-not-melting

[7] http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/28/more-views-on-global-warmin-and-arctic-methane/?src=tp

[8] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090423100817.htm and http://www.worldclimatereport.com/index.php/2010/09/13/coral-bleaching/

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runaway_greenhouse_effect#cite_note-10

[10] http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,757713,00.html

[11] http://www.co-intelligence.org/y2k_quotes.html

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Great post. Thanks.
Reading those replies to you I suddenly got the thought that Kindergarten teachers must not tell the kids the story of “Chicken Little” anymore, or the story of “The Boy who Cried Wolf” either.
The public seems to believe any darn thing these charlatans say even if they make predictions that are wrong over and over and then cheat by changing the official data. (how can the temps in the 1930s be cooler now than we thought they were in the 70s? Did we send back a time traveling team to check?)
The one item that bothers me the most has been the Polar Bear fraud. In my lifetime the numbers of bears goes up by a factor of 5 and yet they yell the bloody beasts are at the edge of extinction! Jesus, Joseph, and Mary!

georgi

Having a partner who studies malaria, I know how they hate having their work hijacked by catastrophists. Malaria is a disease of the poor. It is prevalent where people live close to their animals. It was widespread in the UK, Scandinavia, the US and Siberia until we industrialised, drained marshes and left the livestock with farmers.

Ged

Very well written. It was a great read, thank you.

jeff

I am a big fan of Mr Watts, so I don’t understand how he could have invited someone like you to comment. Instead of writing all your books, you probably should have spent more time supervising the finances of failed bank Northern Rock, where you were non-executive chairman. Someone who prioritizes small royalty cheques from books over the savings of thousands probably doesn’t have a firm grasp of priorities

jeff

Thank you, Matt, for all the wonderful work you do. And your steadfast politeness in the face of crude attacks from the other side.

cui bono

Excellent Mr Ridley!
I had personal experience of the Y2K farce. My colleagues and I were supposed to be on our computer site for 7 days after the Millenium hit, to deal with the multitude of emergencies which would no doubt show up. We sat in the centre of an international network of computer centres, and had to phone them all up to check for problems. I asked the guy from Indonesia how much work they had put in to cure Y2K.
“None” he replied.
“So what if something goes wrong?”
“We’ll fix it quickly.”
The bigger organisation of which we were a part (a large American bank) was rumoured to have spent $100 billion plus, mainly (let’s be honest) to avoid lawsuits by traumatised customers failing to get money dispensed from ATM machines at midnight plus one minute – the customers being accompanied by American lawyers with video cameras. 🙂
As you can guess, nothing happened. The Indonesians went home quickly. After a few hours of boredom, so did we.
At least we got to watch some of the Millenium celebrations on a TV in the corner of the office. The people who took to the caves to avoid the exploding nukes missed even that.
Perhaps they’re still there. Or writing for Grist.

wte9

Matt,
Good post. If you don’t mind, can you share the evidence you are using to conclude that DDT: 1. causes egg shell thinning, 2. caused the decline of raptor populations?
Thanks.

Good article and arguments, well stated!
Ahh! but herein lies the problem: the warmists have CERTAINTY, while the skeptics have only un-certaint on their side.
The warmists are in a position to march forward while we suggest there may be potholes in the way. Since they have adopted a position and action plan, in the way of human affairs, i.e. the way forward is now “certain”, others then have to PROVE that the problem exists.
It’s like what happened about mass attacks on entrenched positions during WWI: the generals were SURE it was a good idea. The doubters said it “probably” wasn’t a good idea, but the ocean was in motion. It took a lot of dead bodies before the doubters’ “probably” became the generals’ “certainly”, and plans were changed.
Your/our detractors at this point are convinced. Doubt is not important anymore, only proof. They believe they have proof, so if, by looking carefully at the data, you can show +/- in the parameters, the uncertainty does not matter. In whatever situation we face, there is always a different, contrary proposal, but the “benefit of the doubt” goes to the Plan. Skeptics say the benefit of doubt should go to the Anti-Plan; warmists disagree.
The reverse could easily have been present. If global cooling were being touted, the liberal eco-green would be pushing for increased CO2. Their position is always pro-nature, anti-capitalist (and anti-human). They would mess with the environment in a heartbeat to save the snail-darter minnow, and if Arbibald and others are correct, in 20 years that’s exactly what they will be doing.
2033: say hello to expansion of coal-burning power plants!

Theo Goodwin

“- The Himalayan glaciers are not melting in a hurry and even if they were, 96% of the water in the Ganges comes from rain, not melting ice[6].”
Since first encountering the claim that melting Himalayan glaciers would cause a huge reduction in water flow in the Ganges, I have believed that it should be the poster child for AGW/CAGW. To give the claim a moment’s serious consideration, one would have to be totally ignorant of rivers and the watersheds that feed them. For people familiar with the US, is it not obvious that constructing a dam across the Mississippi River at Minneapolis would have no detectable impact on the flow at St. Louis? Isn’t this obvious even to children who have studied geography in grammar school?

Resourceguy

Not room on Wired’s website eh. That tells me all I want to know about them. Never again!

John West

Very nice fact filled skeptical position. Well Done!
One point: I suspect there’s a strong correlation between skin cancer rates and UV light (tanning bed) sales/usage.

The Y2K bug was indeed a bad example. The majority of the work was done to eliminate bugs that were certain to trigger, and the remaining worry was primarily that no one could be sure that all the critical bug instances had been located and fixed. The existence of the problem was beyond doubt, well understood, and the fix simple, but it was still extremely expensive, since – mostly due to the nature of old COBOL programs and the scarcity of good COBOL programmers, a huge amount of code had to be revisited.

Code Monkey Wrench

“Wired asked me to respond, but then concluded that there was not space on their website to carry the response.”
If they’re going to lie, they should at least try to make it believable.

Dr Burns

I wouldn’t be bothered about Grist. Who in their right minds would believe this “bullshit” :
http://grist.org/series/skeptics/

bob

Egg shells are still thin decades after DDT was banned. It might be the persistence of DDT in the environment (?) but it might not be, who knows. It is important to understand that a hell of a lot of the DDT studies were extremely biased and were also done by activists who I’m sure meant well, but were very sure of themselves, considered all these pesticides to be evil cancer causing chemicals beforehand, and had axes to grind. They were spraying the stuff everywhere though and I can understand people simply wanting to tone down the amount of spraying that was going on at the time.
A lot of scientists came out against these studies and were hit with the same arguments that skeptics get today, “in the pay of Big-Agra / Big-Oil” etc.

Matt Skaggs

Hopefully folks who are actually trying to understand the world around them won’t be beguiled by the Julian Simon nonsense. No rational person seriously believes that:
“If Simon’s position was that natural resources and commodities become generally more abundant over long periods time, reflected in falling real prices, […] he was more right than lucky, as the graph above demonstrates.”
The fact that Ehrlich made a stupid bet has nothing to do with it. Yes, commodity prices can decline for decades as the industrialized world’s economy inflates while miners continue to earn a dollar a day, and yes, the front end of a bathtub curve can be projected to look like a permanent decline. But to believe that more people plus less resources equals cheaper resources over the truly long term, as Simon did and Ridley apparently does, well that is about as good of an example of wildly irrational optimism as I can think of.

FYI: Moderator: Check the addresses linked to articles sources ( [ # ] ), they are resolving back to “Users/Anthony/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/Temporary%20Internet%20Files/Content.IE5”
locations and giving visitors 404 errors.
REPLY: Those were bookmarks from the Word Doc that didn’t translate – fixed thanks – A

Willis Eschenbach

jeff says:
November 21, 2012 at 11:22 am

I am a big fan of Mr Watts, so I don’t understand how he could have invited someone like you to comment. Instead of writing all your books, you probably should have spent more time supervising the finances of failed bank Northern Rock, where you were non-executive chairman. Someone who prioritizes small royalty cheques from books over the savings of thousands probably doesn’t have a firm grasp of priorities

And all of the rest of the banks that collapsed and got into huge difficulties during the global financial crisis? Are you calling for all of those directors of those banks to leave public life and give up all of their other activities because those bankers didn’t have a “firm grasp of priorities”?
Jeff, you don’t seem to have grasped the idea of “science”. Either Matt Ridley’s scientific claims are true, or they are not true. Whether Mr. Ridley is a successful banker or a failed banker, in science all that matters is, are his claims true? It doesn’t matter in the slightest whether he is the CEO of Greenpeace, the head of Exxon Mobil, or the janitor of the local high school. The only question worth asking is, are his claims true?
And what happens when someone like yourself shows up and doesn’t say a word about the scientific questions, but instead proceeds to attack Mr. Ridley for some entirely different and totally unrelated part of his life?
Well, bro’, I got real bad news for you. It makes you look like a petty, vindictive person who doesn’t have a single scientific clue. Instead of discussing the science like an adult, you are childishly attacking what he did in another time in a different arena … pathetic, but sadly, quite typical for AGW alarmists.
w.

James Ard

Cui bono, You weren’t watching the celebration of the new millenium. You were watching hoards of suckers who believed the media that you start counting to ten at the number zero.

Gunga Din

georgi says:
November 21, 2012 at 11:12 am
Having a partner who studies malaria, I know how they hate having their work hijacked by catastrophists. Malaria is a disease of the poor. It is prevalent where people live close to their animals. It was widespread in the UK, Scandinavia, the US and Siberia until we industrialised, drained marshes and left the livestock with farmers.
=============================================================================
Malaria in Toledo Ohio? I thought it was a tropical disease?
Today’s enviro-mentalist would have never let this happen.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Black_Swamp
(PS This was long before the “hockey stick” took it’s uptick.)

Alexander K

Excellent material and well written as is usual for you.
Thank you.

MonktonofOz

Willis Eschenbach says re Jeff
“Well, bro’, I got real bad news for you. It makes you look like a petty, vindictive person who doesn’t have a single scientific clue. Instead of discussing the science like an adult, you are childishly attacking what he did in another time in a different arena … pathetic, but sadly, quite typical for AGW alarmists.”
Perfectly expressed Willis but look at it this way; Jeff, by attacking the man not the message, may look daft to scientists but he now feels much better after his dose of self therapy. Something about warm fuzzy feelings and trouser legs?

Anthony.!
The research, the time and the effort you put in is both admirably and very well done. The Purlizer prize!
I would like to elaborate and put it more elegant but English is my second language so I will refrain from trying.that. Keep it up!
🙂
REPLY:Thanks but I can’t take any credit. It is always helpful to read the byline “Guest post by Matt Ridley” – Anthony

Maybe I made a mistake here. This was written by Matt Ridley I just discovered. I have read some of Matt Ridleys writing earlier and what I wrote is equally applicable to Matt!

Gunga Din

Gunga Din says:
November 21, 2012 at 1:06 pm
=============
At one time that article mentioned malaria as a problem. It doen’t now.
Try this for one. There are others.
http://www.newbremenhistory.org/Great_Black_Swamp.htm

MattS

@Theo Goodwin,
“For people familiar with the US, is it not obvious that constructing a dam across the Mississippi River at Minneapolis would have no detectable impact on the flow at St. Louis?”
This claim as stated is false. There would be a detectable impact on the flow downstream. It would however be temporary and flow would return to normal after the reservoir behind the dam was filled. If you added the qualifier long term to your statement it would be true.

Gunga Din

Gunga Din says:
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
November 21, 2012 at 1:33 pm
Gunga Din says:
November 21, 2012 at 1:06 pm
=============
At one time that article mentioned malaria as a problem. It doen’t now.
Try this for one. There are others.
http://www.newbremenhistory.org/Great_Black_Swamp.htm
===========================================================
Mods, please be patient with me. The Wiki link DOES still mention malaria. My bad.
The point still stands. Malaria is not a temperature dependant disease.

Correction on the DDT/Egg Shell connection.
The real cause of the eggshell thinning was the action of Ethylene Di-Bromide. Which was added to tetra-ethyl lead in gasoline to stabalize the tetra ethyl lead.
Lead in gasoline “banded” in 1970. Let’s set the record straight…because the refineries were producing mixes with a good enough Octane, to prevent detonation…just by the “mix”, and since the automobiles now all had “hardened” valve seats, there was no longer any functional need for the tetra-ethyle lead addition. The “evil” oil companies had been asking for SOME TIME to have the GOVERNMENT REMOVE THE REQUIREMENT to put the T.E.L. in the gasoline, which they did PROMPTLY when said requirement was REMOVED (one of the first actions of the EPA, thank you…credit where credit is due!). Remove T.E.L, removed the E.D.B. stabalizer. Since the E.D.B. was the REAL cause of the Egg shell thinning, the co-incident band on DDT (1975, under Billy Ruckushouse) and run forward about 10 years, AMAZING the endangered species birds start coming back. (However, the “urban myth” remains.)
Last, let me point out the old saw that DDT “never breaks down” in the environment. In like 1995, some soil samples were found (University of Michigan?) which had been sealed in glass since 1905. Although discovered in 1874, DDT was not synthesized in bulk until the early ’40’s. THUS the sealed soil samples provided a “window” into pre-industrial (major) history of “soil contaminants.”
AND the verdict: 10 PPM of DDT, just as in modern soils. (Please NOTE the Wiki article on DDT is full of errors, omissions, and untruths about the substance, and aside from a few factual dates, is unreliable. The “banning” date of 1972 is dubious as the report on the FINAL DECISION TO BAN DDT is dated, 1975, I have a copy..)
Anyone with a modicum of SENSE would have QUESTIONED this ubiquitous distribution claim on the basis that taking 4 to 6 feet of top soil AROUND THE GLOBE and working out the MEGATONS of DDT that 10 PPM would mean, would show..given the record of total HUMAN PRODUCTION, that the 10PPM could NOT have come from human production.
In conclusion: Bravo to Mr. Ridley for his courage to go against the apocolypse “religion” (because that is what it is, an irrational belief system…not based in reality!) But he has to be careful that he doesn’t fall into any of the “traps” that are still out there for the “chemically unwary”.
Max, BS Chem E. 1976 (Yeah, I’m an old f-rt, doesn’t mean I can’t think!)

“Wired asked me to respond, but then concluded that there was not space on their website to carry the response.”
The capacity of their website must be very similar to their combined mental capacity. That is, cripplingly small.

Mr. Ridley,
By chance have you ever read “Mosquito” by Andrew Spielman?

georgi says:
November 21, 2012 at 11:12 am
. It was widespread in the UK, Scandinavia, the US and Siberia until we industrialised, drained marshes and left the livestock with farmers.
=====================================================
And something as simple (and cheap) as screen doors.

Willis Eschenbach says:
November 21, 2012 at 12:51 pm
jeff says:
November 21, 2012 at 11:22 am
====================================
WOW, you nailed that one.
Could be a boilerplate response to many eco-trolls!!

thisisnotgoodtogo

As far as I found out, DDT never was directly the cause > It’s a breakdown product of DDT that is suspected.
It’s been reported that testing with DDT did not show the result expected, and so DDT was “exonerated” for a short time, until it the correlation with the breakdown product came into view.

Matt Ridley,
Your guest post is appreciated. Good scientific perspectives. Thank you.
In the future, I wonder if you might consider an article on the alarmist CAGW roots in some of the major philosophic traditions from ancient to modern? It needs coverage in my view.
John

RockyRoad

Jeff, by attacking the man not the message, may look daft to scientists but he now feels much better after his dose of self therapy.
Yet if that’s what makes Jeff happy, then his world of priorities is upside down and inside out.
May I suggest that Jeff (and others like him) go back and request a full tuition refund–starting from grade 1.

David A. Evans

James Ard says:
November 21, 2012 at 12:59 pm
Actually, when you are born, you are zero years old, after a year you are one year old so you do start counting at zero.
On the other hand, you are correct that there is no zero on the calendar denoting bc/ad.

Superior. Simply superior.

Dan in Nevada

Matt Skaggs says:
November 21, 2012 at 12:47 pm
“Hopefully folks who are actually trying to understand the world around them won’t be beguiled by the Julian Simon nonsense. No rational person seriously believes that….
…more people plus less resources equals cheaper resources over the truly long term…”
Matt, you, and many others including Ehrlich, don’t seem to grasp the economic principles that apply in the real world and which made Simon confident he would win his bet. Man’s ingenuity, the free market (including, yes, that ugly profit motive), and competition will always assure that our wants will be satisfied, assuming governments will allow those forces to work.
In very simple terms, markets will find alternative ways of providing for human needs, which will in turn bring prices down. History is littered with examples, but whale oil is one that comes to mind. As demand grew and whale populations declined, whale oil indeed started to become expensive. Enough that it made it profitable to look for alternative ways to satisfy the real demand, which was for light, not whale oil. After the kerosene industry developed and pushed out whale oil as the primary source of lantern fuel, whale oil prices did just what Simon would have predicted. It fell so dramatically that whaling as a way of life practically disappeared.
This is not hard to understand; I think most 5 year olds could grasp this. Why is it that presumably intelligent adults continue to buy into the “Population Bomb” crap?

Louis Hooffstetter

…the prediction that global warming could turn off the Gulf Stream, an idea that featured in the film The Day After Tomorrow… was taken seriously in the 1990s, with the respected Nature magazine publishing a computer-model calculation that showed “a permanent shutdown” of the Atlantic “thermohaline circulation”
The Journal ‘Nature’ lost all respect years ago, when they began publishing pal-reviewed climastrology papers. The 2009 issue with Eric Steig & Mike Mann’s article on Antarctic Warming was the low point of their existance (to date). Science, Scientifc American, National Geographic, and Discovery have all followed suit. These ‘Journals’ more closely resemble the National Enquirer than the scientific journals they were a decade and a half ago. Today they are all a tenuous mix of fact, fiction, and pop culture. If they can’t publish good science, they should perish; good riddance to them all. I predict the future of science publication will be web sites like this one.

uncle looey

Ah yes Y2K. I fell for it. However, the generator I purchased for my rural retreat has provided years of enjoyment during power interruptions due to storms here.

MarkP

Correction: ” A huge amount of expensive work was indeed done to avert the breakdown of computers on 31 December 2012″ — should be 31 December 1999 (or really 1 Jan 2000).

John

To wte9 at 11:32 AM, regarding DDT and eggshell thinning.
Ron Bailey, a conservative scientific writer at Reason magazine, addressed this issue:
http://reason.com/archives/2004/01/07/ddt-eggshells-and-me

Gunga Din

Mods, Feel free to drop my last two comments. They added nothing beyonding pointingout my humanity. (Something we are all afflicted with. 😎

Matt Skaggs on November 21, 2012 at 12:47 pm
Hopefully folks who are actually trying to understand the world around them won’t be beguiled by the Julian Simon nonsense. No rational person seriously believes that:
[ . . . ]
The fact that Ehrlich made a stupid bet has nothing to do with it. Yes, commodity prices can decline for decades as the industrialized world’s economy inflates while miners continue to earn a dollar a day, and yes, the front end of a bathtub curve can be projected to look like a permanent decline. But to believe that more people plus less resources equals cheaper resources over the truly long term, as Simon did and Ridley apparently does, well that is about as good of an example of wildly irrational optimism as I can think of.

– – – – – – –
Matt Skaggs,
I do not recall any of Ehrlich’s ‘concerntist’ / doomist statements that actually came true or have any broad based observational / empirical evidence that any are coming true.
Whereas generally Simon’s ‘lack of concern’ / optimistic statements have been seen as supported by history / experience with a scarcity of actual events to the contrary.
The nature of human nature contains a self-fulfilling rational ability to achieve prosperity and a cleaner world at significantly increasing population levels if mankind is intellectually free to think independently. I think some challenging Bumps in that road of course but nothing deterministically bad.
It is a great time to be human.
John

Matt Ridley

Thanks, Willis. For the record, Jeff, I wrote one book during my 3.5 years as part-time chairman of Northern Rock: my very short biography of Francis Crick. I made mistakes in that job but inattention to the advice of regulators and experts (let alone modelers) was not one of them. Rather, I should have been more contrarian.
Re eggshells, wte9, I re-looked into this carefully some years ago and was persuaded that DDT’s effect on top-of-food-chain predators like hawks and otters had indeed been significant because of progressive concentration of organochlorines as they went up the food chain. i don’t have to hand the references that persuaded me, but can revisit them in due course.
Re the Millennium bug, a weird typo crept in (my fault): for 31 December 2012, read 31 December 1999.
Re Wired not finding space, I don’t think there is anything sinister about this and maybe I phrased it badly. They did not see a place to put it on their website. I have no complaints about the way Wired handled the piece: they were professional throughout.

Doug Arthur

I would like to read a response to wte9’s comment too.

Re eggshells, wte9, I re-looked into this carefully some years ago and was persuaded that DDT’s effect on top-of-food-chain predators like hawks and otters had indeed been significant because of progressive concentration of organochlorines as they went up the food chain. i don’t have to hand the references that persuaded me, but can revisit them in due course
—- I really HATE to get into an intellectual “urinating match”, but, alas, I’m dragged into it.
BIRDS ARE BIRDS!
Chickens eat FIELD PRODUCTS and have EQUAL OR STRONGER exposure to DDT.
There was never any problem with domestic egg production, including HATCHING NEW CHICKENS.
When it comes to the “egg shell thining/DDT connection”, I’m completely dubious and suspicous that there were OTHER causes, perhaps INCLUDING “selective observations”. (Please note also the “restoration of wetlands” and expansion of game preserves AND the banning of HUNTING on certain birds, which ALSO were completely lined up with the time frames involved.) Cause and effect (as in the AWG matter) can be a really difficult problem.
However, the psychological gratification of creating “problems” and “solving them” (whether real or contrived) should not be underestimated. After all, who doesn’t need a little extra room to live in every once and a while?

For the DDT controversy see here for a start:
http://dwb.unl.edu/Teacher/NSF/C06/C06Links/www.altgreen.com.au/Chemicals/ddt.html
In 1968 two researchers, Drs. Joseph J. Hickey and Daniel W. Anderson, reported that high concentrations of DDT were found in the eggs of wild raptor populations. The two concluded that increased eggshell fragility in peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and ospreys was due to DDT exposure.9 Dr. Joel Bitman and associates at the U.S. Department of Agriculture likewise determined that Japanese quail fed DDT produced eggs with thinner shells and lower calcium content.10
and
Other observers also documented that the great peregrine decline in the eastern United States occurred long before any DDT was present in the environment.16,17 In Canada peregrines were observed to be “reproducing normally” in the 1960s even though their tissues contained 30 times more DDT than did the tissues of the midwestern peregrines allegedly being extirpated by the chemical.18 And in Great Britain, in 1969, a three-year government study noted that the decline of peregrine falcons in Britain had ended in 1966 even though DDT levels were as abundant as ever. The British study concluded that “There is no close correlation between the decline in population of predatory birds, particularly the peregrine falcon and the sparrow hawk, and the use of DDT.”19
In addition, later research refuted the original studies that had pointed to DDT as a cause for eggshell thinning. After reassessing their findings using more modern methodology, Drs. Hickey and Anderson admitted that the egg extracts they had studied contained little or no DDT and said they were now pursuing PCBs, chemicals used as capacitor insulators, as the culprit.20

Note this is probably the researcher that got the whole controversy rolling on the scientific front…
Enough papers are referenced that anyone wanting to examine the issue should be able to find some material to ponder.
hth

Crispin in Waterloo

@Matt
“- The Himalayan glaciers are not melting in a hurry and even if they were, 96% of the water in the Ganges comes from rain, not melting ice[6].”
The problem I have with the usual interpretations of this annual glacial melt is implication that the ‘4%’ is somehow not going to be there any more because there might be no glacier involved. This is silly. The 4% comes from rainfall. It is stopped raining over the icefield, then there would be no ice. If it stopped raining over the not-an-icefield-anymore it would be a drought. If it continues to rain over the not-an-icefield-anymore it becomes river water immediately. = 100%. Duh.
The popularisation of this no-glaciers-means-the-Mekong-River-will-dry-up craziness is that bastion of climate science and all things moonbattish at the Guardian.
The difference between the Y2K bug and global warming is that the Y2K problem was man-made and had a man-made solution whereas climate change is naturally caused and does not need a solution. It needs man-made coping skills of which we have plenty. In a similar vein, other man-made problems like tetra-ethyl lead also have man-made solutions. Fortunately some natural problems like malaria also have man-made solutions. Score one for the good guys!

cui bono

Of course, we MAY All be forgetting about the real apocalypse, now only a month away. 🙂