Call for essays: The 2013 Matt Ridley Prize

The Matt Ridley prize for exposing environmental pseudoscience was inspired by Matt’s discovery that a Ridley family trust was making money from a wind farm company. All too often, hysterical groupthink, based on bad science, creates a climate in which politicians intone ‘something must be done’ and throw millions at pointless schemes. So the Ridley prize is awarded each year to the essay that best exposes the pseudoscience behind the government’s pet eco-projects.



Examples of pseudoscience include, says Matt, ‘the idea that wind power is good for the climate, or that biofuels are good for the rain forest or that organic farming is good for the planet or that climate change is a bigger extinction threat than invasive species’.

It was awarded for the first time last year to Pippa Cuckson who wrote about the environmental damage caused by hydroelectric power.

This year’s prize is for £5,000, reflecting the post-tax sum Matt’s trust receives. The prize is for an essay of 1,000 to 2,000 words and is open to writers of any age and residents of any country. Essays that have previously been published elsewhere can be submitted. The competition closes this year on 25 August.

Entries should be sent to:

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Janice Moore
July 6, 2013 3:42 pm

If they will award a prize for condemning hydroelectric power per se, I want nothing to do with their contest.

July 6, 2013 3:59 pm

remember this is a prize for pseudoscience – so giving a reward means that the article is bad not good.

July 6, 2013 4:12 pm

Janice Moore
I do not think that hydro electric was condemned per se.
having worked for the Environment Agency for some years we saw a lot of half baked schemes that were little more than token green gestures by a landowner who had no idea of the environmental problems that would be caused in order that he could have his tiny bit of green power.
The author identifies the problems with many-but not all- hydro electric schemes in the UK, a small crowded country where someones green actions are likely to impact on the historic rights of others.

Dr. John M. Ware
July 6, 2013 4:20 pm

Is the prize for a fatuous essay already in existence? Or is it for a newly written fatuous essay? Or is it for an essay that exposes the fatuity of an essay already in existence? The object of the competition is unclear to me.

Bill Parsons
July 6, 2013 4:23 pm

RE: “Matt’s discovery that a Ridley family trust was making money from a wind farm company…”
What…they shorted it?

Janice Moore
July 6, 2013 4:49 pm

Tony B (or anyone who could tell me),
I read the entire essay. I could find no hydropower that the author did not condemn. What hydropower would the author approve of?
In view of what I know of the many excellently run, salmon-friendly, hydropower operations here in Washington State, U.S.A., the author’s article is actually a parody of the apparent goal of the contest. She uses junk science to make her point! Salmon make it up the fish ladders by the hydropower dams here just fine.
Good for her to condemn POORLY DESIGNED, poorly run, hydropower. The author did a poor job, however, of distinguishing badly done hydropower from properly run hydropower, if that was, indeed, her intention. It may be she merely did a poor job at researching her topic.
The Ridley contest awarded a prize for an essay that, in part, used junk science to condemn without qualification (that I could find) hydroelectric power per se. Thus, I can only conclude at this point that it is a junk contest.

July 6, 2013 4:56 pm

Who is the judge? Matt?

July 6, 2013 5:14 pm

The author is writing about the British experience. Ours is a small overcrowded country where fiddling about with the flow of water is likely to have a serious effect on someone’s rights down river, be it a fishing club, boating, a restriction of flow dropping the water quality etc.
I can not think of a single example in MY country (not yours) where a hydro electric scheme would not have severe repercussions.
Less so in Scotland and Wales but In England there is very little scope for schemes that will produce worthwhile amounts of electricity without harming something.
Please bear in mind that England is the same size as New York state and has some 55 million people with jealously guarded water rights, including navigation, that go back 1000 years

Janice Moore
July 6, 2013 5:33 pm

Thanks for answering me. Much appreciated.
The author used the phrase “within our small island” [that would include, of course, Scotland and Wales]. She does not say, nevertheless, that her arguments are addressed only to the unique situation of England. That you are having to explain and defend her essay to this extent proves, to me, that it was poorly written.
You are a better writer than she by far. Enter the contest!
Thank you for taking the time to explain.

michael hart
July 6, 2013 6:00 pm

Janice Moore,
My reactions were initially similar to yours, and I also don’t consider the essay to be a particularly good one. The author missed one good example in the UK. There is, in fact, a large hydroelectric scheme built almost entirely inside a Welsh mountain (Dinorwig), and reputed to be the largest man-made hole in Europe during construction. It was built primarily to iron out the peaks and troughs of the daily demand-cycle on the national grid by pumping water uphill to a mountain lake during off-peak hours, and releasing back down it to generate power during peak demands or sudden failures of other supplies.
It was certainly expensive, but there was only one big state-owned monopoly supplier in those days, and they were in a position to plan a long way into the future. In retrospect, they did a pretty good job too, but were always buffeted about by changes of government plans and bleating about nuclear power from Greenpeace etc.
Be that as it may, The Spectator is not an academic science/engineering journal, but rather more of a political/current affairs magazine. I understand the invitation to mean writing about some nonsense that the contributor is aware of and has strong opinions about.
Self indulgent? Maybe. But there’s also no shortage of topics to choose from IMO.

July 6, 2013 6:18 pm

In the end any form of energy generation will affect the environment in some way.
You can do two things:
Generate energy in the most (economically) efficient and environmental friendly way.
Don’t generate energy.

July 6, 2013 6:20 pm

Instead of the essay contest, let’s just get rid of the politicians ? 🙂

Ian H
July 6, 2013 6:23 pm

She is talking about baby hydro schemes – one of those she discussed generated 2/3 of the power supply of a single supermarket. Schemes of this size are fruitloopery. Hydro has a very large impact on the environment – not so much damaging as transforming it -what was rapids becomes a lake – a volcano or earthquake could do as much. A few big schemes to generate a large amount of power is a very reasonable choice to make. Hundreds of piddling little ones is insane.
The efficiency of hydro depends on the size of the vertical drop. It sounds like the schemes she is discussing have minimal vertical drop on the order of what you’d see on a standard lock or weir in flat country. No wonder the amount of power they generate is so piddling.
Hydro is a great sustainable source of power. But only if you do it on a large scale in places where there is a decent amount of height to play with. Put in a dam way up in the mountains and create a large lake to capture 2/3 of the natural flow. Dig a massive tunnel through a mountain, drop it a thousand metres into another catchment and stick a powerhouse and some turbines at the end. NOW you are talking a decent amount of power – enough to justify a rearrangement of the landscape.

Janice Moore
July 6, 2013 6:30 pm

Michael Hart,
Thank you, so much, for your understanding and for your insightful and informed reply to my question. You make good points. Your kind attention is much appreciated.

Janice Moore
July 6, 2013 6:35 pm

Thanks for all that WELL-written, helpful, information, Ian.
You and Michael and Tony should all enter the contest!

July 6, 2013 7:32 pm

Janice – I know all too much about some of those “salmon” friendly projects. Know why they often put fish hatcheries below large dams? I agree hydro is a good source of power, but Grand Coulee killed one of the best salmon runs in the world. The proposed Site C dam in BC north of you will wipe out thousands upon thousands of hectares of wildlife habitat and will displace thousands of moose, elk, deer, ad infinitum. Even the proponents agree with the significant damage but say the “benefits” outweigh the “costs”. I have worked on, and around, and studied hydro projects for over 50 years. That doesn’t make me an expert, but if it weren’t for the public, BC Hydro would have damed the Fraser River, the last remaining great salmon river we have. So, even though I can support hydro power, I also understand there is huge impacts including significant alteration of the microclimate – more precipitation, more snowfall, higher temperatures in a large area around the impoundment, and typically, dams flood some of the best agricultural land. Back in the late 60’s when the High Arrow dam was built in BC on the Columbia River with flood control money from the US, the local ski hill in Rossland, BC, suddenly started getting nightly snow falls of 4 to 6 inches of the most beautiful light powder you could imagine. As a skier, I loved it, but there were other impacts like no more freshets, and issues with the downstream trout fishery and lack of flushing. Law of unintended consequences. Oh – and BC doesn’t call a dam a “dam” but a “Clean Energy Project”. Having worked on a few, they really aren’t that clean. But relatively speaking, maybe.
There used to be a site that had some very interesting comments from the public and interest groups. It was incredibly interesting but it has been disappeared – now get a “Not Found” error on the site.
I am neither for or against hydro power, just fair evaluations of the alternatives.

Janice Moore
July 6, 2013 8:06 pm

Hey, Wayne Delbeke, a warm and friendly “Hello” to you, up there. Thank you for sharing. Always good to bear in mind the big picture. Do you ever ski at the Mt. Baker ski area? Best snowboarding snow in the world! (I suppose skiiers prefer less moisture in their snow, eh?)
Dear Tony B,
Now that my feathers have smoothed down again, I must say that I do think, given England’s magnificent, world-wide, reputation for, among other things, stellar scientific accomplishments, the finest literature in the world, and unflinchingly courageous valour in battle, you must at least find it pardonable that some of us forget to bear in mind just how quickly one can fly from one side of England to the other. #[:)]
Your American friend,

July 6, 2013 8:14 pm

Part of me is tempted to expose the conspiracy and pseudoscience behind the Destroilet.

July 6, 2013 8:16 pm

The essay is really a critique of the crony socialism (aka crony capitalism) indulged in by opaque and largely unaccountable quasi governmental bodies in the name of environmentalism.
I didn’t think it was that good, and more facts would have helped. This bit had me scratching my head.
At Gunthorpe, most of the river’s flow will be directed through the turbines, slowing it from 45 cubic metres per second to under 12 at the exit. This is slower than the worst flow recorded here in the famously dry summer of 1976.
I assume she means reducing rather than slowing, but where does the other 33 CM/sec go?

July 6, 2013 8:18 pm

Janice: Yes indeed I have skied Mount Baker. Two friends and I skied had a top 10 day there in the late 60’s during a blizzard. I think there were only a half dozen or so of us on the hill (lots in the lodge). We skied the lift line all day long in knee deep powder and never saw our own tracks. I actually have some old super 8 movies of that day that I recently converted to digital. My cousin from Everett also skis there regularly. Have a great day, looking forward to another great ‘ski’ season (too old to board). The last few years have been phenomenal. All the best.

July 6, 2013 8:23 pm

There is no question hydroelectricity causes environmental damage, but all development does.
If you were to compare the area damaged by hydroelectric schemes with the area damaged by growing biofuels on a per unit of energy produced basis, hydroelectricity would cause far less damage.

Janice Moore
July 6, 2013 8:34 pm

P.B.: “… where does the other 33 CM/sec go?”
J.M.: LOL. It’s the giant inside pedaling away to create all that power. He gets mighty thirsty.
Keep on skiing, Wayne Delbeke!

July 6, 2013 8:58 pm

“I didn’t think it was that good, and more facts would have helped. This bit had me scratching my head.
At Gunthorpe, most of the river’s flow will be directed through the turbines, slowing it from 45 cubic metres per second to under 12 at the exit. This is slower than the worst flow recorded here in the famously dry summer of 1976.
I assume she means reducing rather than slowing, but where does the other 33 CM/sec go?”
After filling up the reservoir, there should be no reduction or slowing of the water flow when averaged over a natural cycle.

July 6, 2013 9:07 pm

Surely the most recent Mann presentation with the chart to the stars has to win…but the money should go to the debunkers. No point in encouraging the scoundrels.

July 6, 2013 10:16 pm

The comming IPCC report?
“At Gunthorpe, most of the river’s flow will be directed through the turbines, slowing it from 45 cubic metres per second to under 12 at the exit. This is slower than the worst flow recorded here in the famously dry summer of 1976.
I assume she means reducing rather than slowing, but where does the other 33 CM/sec go?
To get the turbine running you need higher water pressure on the correct side of it’s blades? Maybee that is what she is trying to explain?

Neil Jordan
July 6, 2013 10:42 pm

This morning’s Wall Street Journal carries a Mind & Matter article by Matt Ridley:
“Science Is About Evidence, Not Consensus”
Mr. Ridley closes by describing the UEA removing the hockey stick from its temperature record and “…quietly conceding that Mr. McIntyre was right about that, too.”
Mr. Ridley closes by stating that this Mind & Matter column is his last. The torch will be carried by others.

July 6, 2013 11:42 pm

I did not say it was a GOOD article, merely that she had a point in our situation!
Perhaps it illustrates that there were not that many submissions that fitted all the criteria. I might enter in the vague hope of winning as £5000 to compensate me for my time and expense in writing climate articles might go some way to mitigate the baffling failure of Big Oil to send me those large cheques I keep hearing about.
Yes, it would take a very short time to fly from one side of our country to the other. Mind you, going by boat would be far better, one could traverse the River Thames from London in the East, past the Houses of Parliament following the route rowed by ‘three men in a boat’, past Windsor castle, Past the riverside meadows beloved by Ratty and Moley, turn off at Reading onto the Kennet and Avon Canal and spend five days travelling across the heart of England enjoying the tranquil sights on the way, via Bath and Bristol, before emerging in the East at Bristol Docks where Brunel’s Great ship is moored, having followed his wonderful railway for much of the journey.
BTW, here is my handy cut out and keep guide to the climate that the players in our long history would have enjoyed or endured each decade over the last 500 years.
All the best

Joseph Adam-Smith
July 7, 2013 1:22 am

Folks. I think some of you were nit-picking on this essay. It was a simple essay that pointed out,in a short space, that hydro-power in lowland areas eg Windsor, are not as efficient as those in highland areas eg Lochnagar. That they ONLY make sense with taxpayers’ subsidies, and that the authorities giving permission to these lowland projects, Canal and River Trust, has a vested interest in allowing such projects – ie, they have a holding stake in The Small Hydro Company Ltd

Paul Nottingham
July 7, 2013 1:24 am

I don’t know much about water turbines but I know a little about Gunthorpe (the name showing that this was an old Viking settlement) and the scheme (this is the first time I’ve heard of it) puzzles me.
Firstly there is very little fall on the river. Is it supposed to have one or is this just my wrong headed romanticism?
Secondly there is quite a wide floodplain here, stretching back on the Gunthorpe side of the river for a mile or more. Won’t this affect the turbines?
The Trent is comparatively not very wide at this point and the authorities have been trying to encourage the use of barges and pleasure craft. How do they get through the barrage? Can you use a system of locks here? Wouldn’t this be expensive?
How much power would they get anyway?
Sorry about the schoolboy level of the questions.
You can see the river here by Googling Gunthorpe Bridge or Gunthorpe Bridge Nottingham
You can get some idea of the area from this slideshow

or see the river in flood here

Janice Moore
July 7, 2013 1:32 am

Dear Tony B,
Thanks for sharing your SUPER-EXCELLENT research. Sigh. You deserve many thousands of pounds for all that fine research and scholarship. I guess “the check is in the mail” — and always will be.
Ah, what a lovely boat trip down the river that would be, where “life is but a dream.” Well, you and I live on separate continents, but, back when the CET records were just beginning to be kept (and for awhile after, too), my people were within a day’s horseride (or so) of yours. Perhaps, they even knew each other. Perhaps, they got into arguments. I think they would have been friends.
Since this thread is not busy, I’ll go off topic for a bit more. What do you think of this phenomenon? When I watched Prince William’s and Catherine’s wedding in TV, as I gazed at those venerable, old, London buildings and saw the joy on the faces of all the British people, I felt nostalgia — ABOUT A PLACE I HAVE NEVER BEEN! Or, is England simply so inherently charming that EVERYONE seeing it feels a longing to visit? All that reading of Dickens, I suppose… But, hm, I don’t know. All the Norwegians I know (Americans of Norwegian descent, I mean) absolutely LOVE Norway as if they were born there… .
Enjoy your Sunday. I’m going to bed!

July 7, 2013 1:44 am

thanks for your very insightful comments.
I guess everyone knows Britain through Royalty, our traditions. our pop music, language and literature.
I once wrote an only half joking piece querying whether Charles Dickens had fostered this notion of a perpetual deep freeze until modern times through his book ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Has this book embedded itself in the minds of the Anglosphere climate scientists?
I feel the need for a large public grant coming on….

Paul Nottingham
July 7, 2013 1:53 am

Just looking a bit more at this. The turbines have to be shut down if they kill more than 10 salmon or sea trout in a day.
It’s not going to be too difficult for them. The Trent travels though industrial areas and the pollution wiped out the salmon population many years ago (as in more than a century). Even with attempts to re-establish the fish catching a salmon in Nottingham is so unusual it gets you a major article in the newspaper. It’s not the right conditions for sea trout either so there would be few of them about to be killed.

Disko Troop
July 7, 2013 2:29 am

I think Matt is asking for an “essay”. This is not a finely researched scientific paper, or a dissertation, or a research document. It is an “essay”. There is a huge difference.

July 7, 2013 3:33 am

“At Gunthorpe, most of the river’s flow will be directed through the turbines, slowing it from 45 cubic metres per second to under 12 at the exit.”.
Any thought of Gunthorpe having a barrage is silly. No engineer would or could consider it. Most of the Trent is over flood plain giving rich soils so high farming value. The UK only has 60M arable acres for well over 65M people as it is!
Facts speak for themselves when some one considers water to be either compressible or land there to be so cheap to be constantly flooded… Imagine when the real floods come!
I’d ignore such proponents for what they are.

July 7, 2013 4:21 am
Gail Combs
July 7, 2013 6:01 am

Wayne Delbeke says: @ July 6, 2013 at 7:32 pm
….There used to be a site that had some very interesting comments from the public and interest groups. It was incredibly interesting but it has been disappeared – now get a “Not Found” error on the site…..
If you are using Google try Bing or DuckDuckGo instead. I just found a classic article on Monoculture farming got ‘Disappeared’ by Google but was available on Bing. It had been available on Google up to a month or so ago. (I search the title)

July 7, 2013 7:39 am

Gail Combs says:
July 7, 2013 at 6:01 am
“Wayne Delbeke says: @ July 6, 2013 at 7:32 pm
….There used to be a site that had some very interesting comments from the public and interest groups. It was incredibly interesting but it has been disappeared – now get a “Not Found” error on the site…..
If you are using Google try Bing or DuckDuckGo instead. I just found a classic article on Monoculture farming got ‘Disappeared’ by Google but was available on Bing. It had been available on Google up to a month or so ago. (I search the title)”
Sounds like he says the server is gone, not that google doesn’t find it anymore.
Wayne, try the wayback machine at

July 7, 2013 11:45 am

I vote for the Willis post:
“How Environmental Organizations Are Destroying The Environment” I don’t know if it can be shortened to 2000 words though:

July 7, 2013 12:32 pm

Thank you Dirk H. The WayBack Machine found the article within seconds just typing in the old http address. And yes, the server says it is gone – but not forgotten. I will copy it to my computer for future reference. I often use Bing, Yahoo, and Dogpile but for some reason when I upgrade my Max software, Google comes back. So interesting how different engines give different results. I hate how Google tries to think of context for me and banned it from my computer for some time. Anyhow, thank you and Janice for the suggestions. I must try the wayback machine more often.

July 7, 2013 2:37 pm

I have a good outline for an essay.
The GM industry and its version of “science” makes Climate change science (™) look legit. 🙂
Genetic Modification of plants and animals by gene insertion.
Let the proponents finally show..
1/All the published papers showing gm foods are safe for human consumption
2/All the evidence which shows you NET income of GM crops for farmers is greater than non GM crops.
Net income is after tax for those who are confused.
Cue hysterical responses by people that dont know the difference between plant breeding and gene insertion.
Cue all the hand waving with “hundreds of studies show its harmless”..yup..there are about 15…wonder why..
Cue all the hand waving with “show us papers showing its bad”..look up Genetic Roulette by Smith which has hundreds of papers.
Cue more hand waving with “if it was bad for you we would already know it”..see a govt agency anywhere in the world testing that sounds..thought so.
So I would win if it
There is more chance that the Golden Rice foundation..remember them..???would produce that final paper proving it did what they claimed it could do..than me winning this prize.
Ridley loves the GM meme..
So…its not going to happen.

Tom Harley
July 8, 2013 8:10 pm

It seems we are all going to drown, but at the same rate as everywhere else … more funding please.

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