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Saturday, March 29, 2014

On contrarian contradictions and the newest IPCC report, featuring Matt Ridley and Richard Tol

Sou | 4:37 AM 4 Comments - leave a comment

Anthony Watts on Nicholas Stern

On WUWT today, Anthony Watts reported a segment of the ABC Lateline interview of Nicholas Stern by Tony Jones.  I've already mentioned it a couple of times briefly. Anthony seems stuck for words.  All he said about the interview was a leading headline and a rhetorical statement (archived here):
Now even Australia’s ABC is asking questions about the new IPCC report and why Dr. Richard Tol asked his name to be removed from it
h/t to WUWT reader Pat. We are witnessing the crumbling of the consensus mindset. Stern looked like a deer in headlights.
Nicholas Stern is challenged by ABC’s Tony Jones on China/coal/renewables propaganda, and comes out looking very foolish indeed. The Richard Tol stuff is predictable:

Richard Tol spat the dummy - last September

While to Anthony Watts Australia might seem like a backwater, our current affairs programs rival most of what I've seen in the USA.  Richard Tol's dummy spit was mentioned by Peter Hannam of the Sydney Morning Herald and Matt McGrath at the BBC and a few other places.  There was no big fuss made about this in the US media. Even Fox News just reprinted the Reuters blurb, which makes him out to be a lone voice of muted dissent rather than a whistleblower.

Eli Rabett has more on the subject. Apparently Richard pulled out of the SPM core writing team last September, according to this press release and confirmed by Richard himself on Twitter.  He was still invited to the current Yokohama meeting.  I don't know if he went. His name will remain as one of the two coordinating lead authors for Chapter 10.

The second thing is that Anthony doesn't explain what he means by "the crumbling of the consensus mindset". As far as I'm aware, there hasn't been a major shift in thinking of anyone.  Richard Tol sometimes tries to argue "it won't be bad". His association with the GWPF says it all.  But that's nothing different.

Other people mentioned in the media lately have been Bob Ward and, now, Nicholas Stern. Both of them are with the The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and both are firmly in the camp with mainstream climate scientists that continued CO2 emissions is high risk.  "Business as usual" is extremely dangerous.

So whose mindset is "crumbling"?  Anthony didn't explain what he meant by that and there's absolutely nothing in the Lateline segment he provided that would suggest a crumble.

Nicholas Stern on coal and China

As for Nicholas Stern looking "very foolish" in regard to China, that wasn't how it would have appeared to the average viewer.  He was more knowledgeable about what's happening in China than was Tony Jones, since as he said, he'd just returned from a visit to China.  He'd had discussions with people in the know over there.  He didn't try to present anything other than his take on the situation - that China is rapidly adding energy generation.  That this means that a lot more coal will be burnt.  The use of coal is not growing as quickly as the growth in electricity generation.  In other words, coal is declining as a proportion of the mix of energy sources but is still increasing in absolute terms.  The powers that be in China are very concerned about a number of related matters including climate change and pollution.  Both of these are driving the push towards nuclear power and hydro-electricity.

Nicholas Stern didn't have the numbers at his fingertips. He spoke in generalities. What he said was not inconsistent with what you can find on the internet.

Fake sceptics up to their usual tricks...

The WUWT article followed on from a copy and paste (archived here) of part of an article by Matt Ridley from the Wall St Journal (archived here).

Matt announced that the impending IPCC AR5 WGII report would state that global warming will "overall cost at less than 2% of GDP for a 2.5 degrees Centigrade (or 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature increase during this century".

I don't know if that's a fact or not.  The report has yet to be released.  I will say that this breathless announcement by Matt Ridley is similar to what happened just before the WGI report was released.  The deniers try to get in early to control the message.

It didn't work then and it won't work now.  The main difference this time is that the earlier attempts to control the WGII message haven't got any traction.  And Matt Ridley has left his run a bit late.  The actual report will be released in a couple of days, so there's little time for him to make his disinformation stick.

Matt Ridley leaves out half of the equation

In Matt's article he makes the same mistakes he's made before.  I guess he's preaching to people who aren't too hot on critical thinking.  For example, Matt once again goes through some of the warnings of the past and claimed they were alarmist.  What he doesn't say is that because of the warnings, the world acted and changed direction.  He leaves out half the equation.  Matt lists a ragtag bag of issues:
Almost every global environmental scare of the past half century proved exaggerated including the population “bomb,” pesticides, acid rain, the ozone hole, falling sperm counts, genetically engineered crops and killer bees. In every case, institutional scientists gained a lot of funding from the scare and then quietly converged on the view that the problem was much more moderate than the extreme voices had argued. Global warming is no different.

The population explosion - it's real.  I can't believe that Matt Ridley doesn't know that the world population has increased rather a lot in the past few decades. It's been tempered to a great extent by education, family planning, emancipation of women and modern contraception.  There have been vast sums spent on family planning education and support throughout the world.  China took the drastic step of imposing a "one child" policy.  Without all these measures, the world population would have risen a lot more quickly than it has.  If no-one had sounded the alarm and there'd been no resulting action, we'd be in a fine mess struggling to feed, clothe and house many more people.

Pesticides - is Matt Ridley really ignorant about the harm caused by some agricultural chemicals that have since been banned or had their use strictly controlled? That's hard to credit. Just one example - the risks from and results of exposure to organophosphates has been well documented.

Acid rain - again, the warnings resulted in action.  One of the actions was to filter out SO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants.  According to the US EPA:
Since its inception in 1990, the cap and trade component of the Acid Rain Program (ARP) has reduced SO2 emissions from power plants by 10 million tons (more than 60 percent). The program is currently at full implementation, with a permanent cap on SO2 emissions at 8.95 million tons, or about a 50 percent reduction from 1980 levels.

Ozone hole - Again, I don't believe that Matt Ridley really believes that the ozone hole was not a clear and present danger. If not for the Montreal Protocol it would be growing with potentially disastrous consequences.

Falling sperm counts - that might be a problem particular to Matt Ridley.  I don't know much about it. Seems to me it would have helped counteract the population explosion.  If you're interested, here's an article on the subject.

Genetically engineered crops - I think Matt just threw that one in there for the heck of it. Genetic modification is still a fairly new field.  In many parts of the world genetically engineered plants are subject to regulation.  I don't share the concern that some people have but agree that genetic engineering does need to be monitored and in some cases regulated.

Killer bees - sounds like something from Hollywood.  However I think Matt is probably referring to Africanized honey bees, which are a hybrid of various Western honey bee species with African honey bees.  Apparently the hybrid bee is very defensive and can invade and take over hives of European honey bees. Matt probably doesn't take honey on his morning toast and isn't concerned about any ramifications for pollination.

I'm surprised that Matt didn't list the famed London smogs as something that didn't last (because of clean air regulations). He could have listed over-crowding of English prisons (solved by shipping prisoners off to the colonies and, ultimately, amending the law).  He might also have listed the spread of TB, smallpox, measles, whooping cough and other diseases (addressed by massive investment in medical research and development of immunisation programs). Or perhaps the threat of flooding in low lying areas (temporarily addressed in some regions by massive engineering works and relocating people).

In short, humans have so far responded to threats and acted.  In the case of global warming, Matt doesn't want people to respond. He doesn't want us to act to avert the climate change crises.

I'm reminded of moondoong at HotCopper.  When it comes to their ability to assess risk, there's not much difference between the ignorant mining employee in the Pilbarra (who thinks that getting AIDS from HIV is as likely as an invasion by aliens from outer space) and the financier from the UK whose bank collapsed.

Matt continues to push the CO2 is plant food line, too.  What a nutter!

Contrarian contradictions

In pulling together the bits and pieces it strikes me that there are some inconsistencies.

Matt Ridley: "...the actual report, known as AR5-WGII, is less frightening than its predecessor seven years ago." (Wall St Journal)

Richard Tol: One of the 70 authors of a draft U.N. report on climate change said he had pulled out of the writing team because it was "alarmist" about the threat...."The drafts became too alarmist," (Reuters)

Anthony Watts: "We are witnessing the crumbling of the consensus mindset. " (WUWT)

Did Anthony mean "we are witnessing the crumbling of the contrarian mindset", perhaps?  After all, both Richard Tol and Matt Ridley are associated with the denier lobby group the GWPF!


  1. "We are witnessing the crumbling of the contrarian consensus."

    But then there never was one, except for: the IPCC is wrong.

    1. Actually, as I recall, it was: we must not stop burning fossil fuels.

  2. Matt Ridley insinuations once again : "In every case, institutional scientists gained a lot of funding from the scare"
    He surely knows how to whistle the denier crowd. Well, sorry Mr Ridley, but institutional scientists did NOT get lots of money from "human bomb" problem and falling sperm count. There were only small studies highlighting this problem. Much less than, say, all the money spent on financial R&D which spectaculary failed - does it ring a bell to you Mr Ridley ?

    And then he has the nerves to describe himself as a moderate man.


  3. It is quite simple Sou. As more and more media outlets do not fall for the past practices of false balance, these deniers can only shriek like indignant chimpanzees. They can only now distort what is being reported by the usual gish Gallup of serial lies from the peanut gallery. They have no real evidence and they know it. Even Nate Silver had to be wised up to their nefarious tactics. Bert


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