Sunday, November 17, 2013

Is Matt Ridley a Crackpot?

Sou | 2:55 AM Go to the first of 11 comments. Add a comment

I have just watched a YouTube video of a lecture by Matt Ridley, who I've written about before - here and here and here.  He's in Australia and spoke to the IPA (the Institute of Public Affairs is a right wing lobby group posing as a "think tank").

The crackpot comment

In the video Matt Ridley complained that some people call him a crackpot.  I don't think he's a crackpot. He's a climate science disinformer who knows exactly what he's doing and what he wants.

He's not a crackpot but he was wrong when he claimed (citing his GWPF mate, Richard Tol) that earth will benefit from global warming for the next 70 years.  That is, until 2083.  And I expect he knows he's wrong. If he doesn't he should. He's clever enough to figure it out. (Matt didn't say what he thinks will happen after that or whether, just maybe, we should start acting now to reduce the harm after his 70 years are up.)

I'm not familiar enough with Richard Tol's work to know if he's ever found that the world will be better off with global warming for the next seventy years.  Or whether Matt or Richard have more prescience than climate scientists and know exactly how much CO2 we will emit over the coming seventy years.

Who made the world a better place - the pessimists or the optimists or both?

In the first five minutes of the video, Matt Ridley complained about what he regards as left wing pessimists who warned the world about overpopulation, famine, the hole in the ozone layer, unbreathable air, acid rain and other problems the world faced.

He spent the next ten minutes gloating that we shouldn't have been concerned about any of those things because none of them caused major problems.

He argued against government intervention.  He is very much against government intervention.

Why is the world as clean as it is today?  Why isn't the world population even greater? 

What Matt didn't admit to (does he even recognise it?) was that the reason that these are no longer the big problems that they might have been is because of people power.  Because of environmentalists and scientists and particularly because of people like Paul Erlich, who Matt seemed to think was an irrational pessimist:

  • Ozone hole - addressed by the intergovernmental agreement, the Montreal Protocol
  • Over-population - being addressed by international aid programs and particularly by family planning education and subsidised access to birth control - in the developed world and the less developed world
  • Acid rain - being addressed by clean air regulation and pollution controls
  • Smog - being addressed by clean air regulations and pollution controls

So why is Matt Ridley arguing against controls to limit the harm we are doing to the earth by polluting the air with CO2?

It was controls and government intervention that addressed all the problems he cited as not being as bad as the pessimists said they would be.  Matt must realise that but decided not to admit it.

A bit boring...

Incidentally, Matt Ridley is not a very good speaker.  His speaking voice is okay with sufficient intonation but his speech was overpopulated with quotes, rambled from one topic to another and came across as nothing but a sop to the audience.  I guess the audience liked it enough.  At least some of them stayed awake and laughed when they were supposed to.  However his talk had no coherent message that I could fathom.  He shifted from climate change and environmental issues to free trade.  I'm in favour of free trade (ie I don't favour tariffs and quotas as a rule) but I also think that societal controls are very important.  We can have both.

Rich capitalists are kind people  

Matt spent much of the latter part of his speech rationalising his approach to the world, extolling the virtues of capitalism and saying how kind all the rich people are because they are giving work to people in sweatshops. Is that what he means by "a rational(ising) optimist"?

CO2 is plant food!

Oh, and he finished up with "CO2 is plant food"!


  1. Matt Ridley was chairman of the first bank in Britain to suffer a run for 100 years, Northern Rock, the worst run financial institution in Britain before the credit crunch. Which is a *very* high hurdle.

    You'd think he'd want to crawl under a rock and disappear, rather than lecture anyone on anything associated with economics.

    He's not a crackpot, he's an appalling egomaniac

    1. If the banksters who wrecked Royal Bank of Scotland and Anglo-Irish Bank started to pontificate on climate change (or almost anything), presenting themselves as "experts", they would be unmercifully derided in the media.

      It beats me why this does not happen to Ridley, and the media give him a free pass. Possibly because it is an issue that is politically correct in some quarters.


  2. That's what a lifetime of privilege and entitlement does to some people, I'm afraid.

    1. Ridley is not a catch-all science denier - he's right behind evolution by natural selection. Which justifies his privilege and entitlement, since he and his ilk come from successful and hence superior gene-lines, doncha know.

      What a prick he is. Sadly, he and his ilk have charge of the UK and they are ruining the place.

  3. I wonder if Richard Tol has mentioned to Matt Ridley that there's a typo in his paper so that the supposed benefit for up to 2.2 degrees of warming is actually probably more like up to 2 degrees of warming. Of course, that's ignoring the uncertainties that would indicate that the net benefit could be negative for anything beyond 1 degree of warming. Given that we've probably locked in at least 0.5 degrees of warming, that would seem to indicate that even economic models suggest that there's a reasonably high chance that we're almost at the point where the net economic benefits would be negative.

    1. If you look at the figures in the paper, it also seems as if for some regions (mostly Africa) there are no benefits whatsoever for all temperature rises.

      There is a moral question as it seems that Africa will hold ~20% of the world' population in the 21st century, when the regions with most benefits (North America, Europe, Eastern Russia) will hold ~10%. Can we continue with something that will only ultimately benefit such a small number of the world's people?

    2. I find it impossible to accept that there will be "net benefits" of global warming up to two degrees or one degree or any more degrees. We have set ourselves on a path that will cause great harm unless we rein in CO2 emissions very very soon.

      Richard Tol's curve is make believe not real. (And where does Richard talk of 70 years from now? I couldn't find it. Did Matt make that up?)

    3. My intuitive assessment confirmed by a peer reviewed study.

      "Overall, the credibility of the economics literature is likely to be modest or even low."

      Ioannidis, J. and Doucouliagos, C. (2013), WHAT'S TO KNOW ABOUT THE CREDIBILITY OF EMPIRICAL ECONOMICS?. Journal of Economic Surveys, 27: 997–1004. doi: 10.1111/joes.12032

    4. Anonymous, indeed and that is acknowledge in the paper (or at least in one version that I found). I too find it remarkable that noone is acknowledging that even if this study has merit (and I agree with Sou that it probably doesn't) those who contributed most to global warming may benefit while those who contributed least will suffer.

      Sou, I think the 70 years from now is Matt Ridley's calculation based on the ECS. 2.2 degrees from now is 3 degrees from pre-industrial times. By 2080 we'll have doubled atmospheric CO2 concentrations and hence will have locked in 3 degrees of warming.

    5. Thanks, Wotts. You could be correct about the time frame. However it all depends on how we go with emissions, doesn't it.

      If Matt's assuming around 2 degrees is the cutoff for harm, then Looking at Fig TS-I5 in the IPCC report at 2070, Matt Ridley assumes that we won't follow his lead and go for RCP8.5. Instead we'll shift to clean energy sooner and follow RCP4.5.

      So he doesn't just avoid mentioning unpalatable facts, he's not at all consistent, is he.

      (I can easily see how he stuffed up so badly with the bank he was supposed to be in charge of.)

    6. Yes, I think you're correct. He's assuming RCP4.5 so we could indeed double CO2 sooner than 2080 if we follow one of the other pathways.


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