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7 December 2015 17:09

Scientists respond to Matt Ridley’s climate change claims

High altitude view of the Earth
Carbon Brief Staff

Carbon Brief Staff

07.12.2015 | 5:09pm
In FocusScientists respond to Matt Ridley’s climate change claims

Matt Ridley is a Conservative hereditary peer and journalist, who used to be best known for writing about genetics. He is probably better known now for being the chairman of Northern Rock bank at the time that it had to be bailed out by British taxpayers in 2007.

Ridley has also gained prominence for writing regularly about climate change, describing himself as a “lukewarmer“. His outlets include a weekly column in the Times, occasional columns in the Wall Street Journal, as well as a variety of magazine and broadcast appearances. In 2012, Rupert Murdoch, whose company owns the Times and Wall Street Journal, used his first-ever tweet to endorse a book written by Ridley.

Last week alone, his climate claims were published in the Sun (another Murdoch title), twice in the Times, the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, as well as in the Spectator, a right-wing UK weekly magazine. He was also interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s flagship current affairs Today programme.

Ridley often uses his position in the Lords to discuss the topics of climate change and energy policy. He sits on the Lords’ science and technology committee and is an advisor to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a UK-based climate sceptic lobby group.

In October, his earnings from the coal mining that takes place on his country estate in Northumberland made national headlines when anti-coal campaigners chained themselves to machinery in protest. Ridley has long had a statement on his website setting out his position on the income he receives from coal mining, but, to date, has refused to say how much he earns.

As part of a recent three-part documentary series called Changing Climate for BBC Radio 4, Roger Harrabin, the BBC’s environment analyst, interviewed Matt Ridley, among a number of other people. The Open University has published many of the interviews online, both as recordings and full transcripts.

The Harrabin-Ridley transcript is arguably the most in-depth interview with the peer in the public domain on the topics of climate change and energy. Ridley makes a wide range of claims throughout, touching on subjects from ocean acidification and climate sensitivity through to energy subsidies and the “benefits” of global warming.

Recognising Ridley’s media prominence and influence with regard to climate change, Carbon Brief recently sent a copy of the transcript to various scientists and energy policy experts and asked them to respond to his claims by annotating the document with their comments and observations.

The document below includes responses from the following (in alphabetical order):

(The document can be expanded to fullscreen by clicking on the symbol in the bottom right-hand corner.)

Main image: High altitude view of the Earth. © Marcel Clemens/
Sharelines from this story
  • Scientists respond to Matt Ridley's climate change claims
  • TWF_is_the_way_forward

    I am personally convinced about the case for anthropogenic global warming and this is very interesting, especially as an amateur science fan. However there remains in the public (tax-payer) mindset a sense that all of this is a conspiracy, foisted upon them by those who benefit from perpetuating it, and this article doesn’t address that: 1) the scientists involved, who are already perceived to be quite left-wing academics, are getting whopping research grants to investigate their specific fields. 2) This is then exacerbated by the BBC, who are completely tainted by suspicions of left-leaning editorial bias and their apparently long-term goal to support more “big government” to solve everything. And then finally 3) by national politicians and the likes of the UN, who tend to vote for anything that enhances their role in the world. I wonder therefore how this perception can be addressed because the science does seem settled while the public remain unconvinced.

    • Rog Tallbloke

      “the science does seem settled”

      The only way the models can get CO2 to do anything much is by assuming a big water vapour feedback. But NASA’s NVAP-M data shows a decrease in upper atmosphere water vapour over the last decade since the Sun went quiet, despite the increase in airborne CO2. The models are wrong..

      Upper atmosphere water vapour is logarithmically more important than near surface water vapour when it comes to the greenhouse effect. This means the most we’re going to see from a doubling of CO2 is 0.5-1C, which is pretty much what sceptical scientists Dick Lindzen said 20 years ago.

      Despite this empirical data, IPCC obfuscates and dissembles in its AR5 report, refusing to provide a central estimate for how much warming CO2 is expected to cause.

      The science is anything but settled.

      • David S

        If carbon Brief wanted to talk about science they would not have used the boo-words “conservative” and “hereditary peer” in the first sentence and reminded us all of the Northern Rock debacle. Come on chaps, play the ball, not the man. And if you do insist on kicking the man into the third row, don’t expect people to stick around to watch your silken ball skills afterwards.

      • John Russell

        “…the most we’re going to see from a doubling of CO2 is 0.5-1C…”

        So far, since pre-industrial times, we have seen an increase in atmospheric Co2 concentration of ~40% (from ~280 to 400ppm). However over the same period we have already increased global temperatures by 1°C. [ ]

        An increase of ~3°C (+/- 1.5°C) from a doubling of Co2 would therefore seem more realistic.

        • Rog Tallbloke

          Well if that’s so, then there’s no warming ‘in the pipeline’ as we’ve already reached ECS. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You also need to take account of the logarithmic relationship between co2 level and temperature. The next 120 ppm would cause less warming than the last 120ppm. This is just basic physics, which you are blatantly ignoring.

          But given the history of climate’s ups and downs over recent millennia, it’s obvious to all except the most co2 obsessed that natural variation accounts for most of the recovery from the little ice age. Even the IPCC don’t try to convince us co2 did anything much prior to 1950.

  • Rachel Francis

    The science versus the mumbo jumbo. Very useful, thank you.

  • Mike Parr

    Ridely & his ilk remind me of Atlantis & Terry Jones in “Eric the Viking” – no no we are not sinking etc etc. The half turths and the little lies by which he tries to finness things. A stain on humanity as far as I am concerned & given prominance that he does not deserve.
    – by the way Osborne is married to his daughter I believe.

  • Susan Ewens

    Since when was attempted character assassination part of a rational debate? It’s what Ridley ARGUES that needs to be tackled not his source of income. If he is right he is right, irrespective of his income from coal or anything else.

  • Victor

    Poor Ridley,

    I have never seen a public figure made his point clear with so much numbers and statistics, which by and large are correct and come from peer reviewed studies. All by heart. Very impressive.

    And then a dozen experts go nitpicking on his every single word, and hardly seriously undermine his core reasoning. Go Ridley!
    Still waiting for the first rebuttal on Ridley that does not include the words Coal and Northern Rock.

    ps. the correlation on happiness and GDP goes beyong 15000 in the dated research quoted here:

  • geoff Chambers

    Wow! Eleven climatologists, of which eight professors, to counter one slightly critical lukewarmer who wonders if we really know what will happen to the climate in eighty years’ time!

    How many professors of climatology does it take to change a light bulb? And how fast do they have to pedal to keep it glimmering?

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