In WSJ, Ridley presents medley of long-debunked climate claims


In the Wall Street Journal, Matt Ridley has made yet another attempt to convince the public that global warming won’t be that bad. The facts just don’t align with Ridley’s portrayal.

[Updated September 14 8:40 p.m.]

The following is a guest post by Climate Nexus. (Text of post in PDF format here.)

In WSJ, Ridley Presents Medley of Long-Debunked Climate Claims

In the Wall Street Journal, Matt Ridley has made yet another attempt to convince the public that global warming won’t be that bad. This time he claims the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its forthcoming Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), is going to reduce its estimate of future warming. He also claims the warming we will experience is likely to be beneficial. He ties this to the IPCC’s estimate of climate sensitivity -- the amount the world will warm with each doubling of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere (see an FAQ on climate sensitivity here). The facts just don’t align with Ridley’s portrayal. In reality:

  • Sensitivity is very likely to be higher than Ridley’s suggestion (based on only two studies, one from 1937) of 1.6º C.
  • Even a low sensitivity would mean bad news for our climate on our current, business-as-usual emissions track.
  • The benefits of CO2 that Ridley cites are wildly overstated.

Ridley’s quoted estimate is only one of a great many estimates of climate sensitivity that prompted the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) in 2007 to give us a range of likely values from 2-4.5º C. New research indicates that the IPCC may indeed reduce the lower bound of this range to 1.5º C -- but that would mean that a value of 1.5º C is possible, not that it is likely. In fact the other end of the range, at 4.5º C, remains just as likely, and would produce disastrous consequences.

If by some extreme twist of good fortune the climate sensitivity ends up at only 1.5º C, we’re not out of the woods. 1.5º C is the amount of warming projected with a doubling of CO2, but under current emissions trends, CO2 levels are on track to go well beyond doubling. In fact, under the IPCC’s unmitigated emissions scenario, CO2 levels will reach almost 1000ppm by the end of the century, more than tripling the pre-industrial level. This would send us into the 4º C warmer world of which the World Bank paints a bleak picture in a comprehensive report.

Now, exact timing of this catastrophe might vary. Ridley mentions transient climate sensitivity, or TCS, which is the amount of warming that happens immediately with each doubling of CO2 (as opposed to eventually at equilibrium). If TCS is 1º C as in Ridley’s best-case scenario, then 1000ppm won’t immediately put us quite at 4º C. But we will be committed to that warming and more. Arguing about whether this catastrophic outcome will arrive a bit sooner or a bit later completely misses the point when we are already experiencing severe and costly impacts of climate change.

Ridley’s claims about the benefits of CO2 are unconnected to reality. Rising nighttime temperatures hurt crop yields, and do not improve them as Ridley states. The CO2 fertilization effect -- or “greening” -- that Ridley mentions, will be countered by other side effects and is unlikely to help crop yields either.

Few have suggested that below 2º C of warming the effects will be beneficial; the goal of setting that target is to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change, and some still say it’s too high.

Finally, despite Ridley’s passing mention of a “warming pause,” unconnected with any other part of his argument: warming hasn’t stopped.

*    *    *

Earlier guest posts by Climate Nexus:

Heartland Institute and its NIPCC report fail the credibility test (September 9)

The science behind EPA standards is clear

The Economist zeroes in on climate sensitivity but misses bigger picture

The CO2 “fertilization” effect won’t deter climate change

Qing-Bin Lu revives debunked claims about cosmic rays and CFCs

(Response by Qing-Bin Lu to “Qing-Bin Lu revives debunked claims about cosmic rays and CFCs”)

House Science Committee chair twists climate science in Washington Post

Global warming misconceptions on BBC radio

Tired, disproven argument on “benefits” of CO2 resurfaces in Wall Street Journal

Drought study misses underlying climate connections

Setting the Temperature Record Straight: The Last 11,300 Years Explained

Pielke Jr. implies conspiracy over routine journal procedure

James Taylor misinterprets study by 180 degrees

James Taylor's deceptive attempt to discredit National Climate Assessment experts

In Wall Street Journal op-ed, Bjorn Lomborg urges delay with misleading stats

On floods and climate change

Scientists respond to the Wall Street Journal's latest junk-science climate predictions

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10 Responses to In WSJ, Ridley presents medley of long-debunked climate claims

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  8. AdamR says:

    I am uncertain how to interpret the research about the effect of increased nighttime temperature on wheat yield. Based on the abstract, that report does not even try to provide a realistic approximation of the temperature conditions that many/most growers are facing. That study started with the optimal nighttime temperature, and then tested the impact of increasing that temperature. Is it accurate to treat the optimal temperature as the starting point? Do farmers refrain from planting this crop until the nighttime temperature is consistently above 14C? Would warmed nighttime temperatures allow them to plant the crop earlier in the season?

    That study may be sufficient to illustrate how flippant Ridley was in making his claim, but it does not provide meaningful support to the opposite claim that "Rising nighttime temperatures hurt crop yields".

  9. Andy Logar says:

    The argument that the apparent correlation between the onset of the industrial revolution (circa 1850) and in-phase gradually increasing global temperatures is itself proof that Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) caused by increased concentrations of CO2 is fundamentally flawed (by the way, correlation is not necessarily proof of causation).

    According to Newton’s Second Law of Motion (F=ma), if the venerable Queen Mary were set to float freely, absent any other forces, and a line attached to the bow were to be pulled by even just one person, the ship would respond immediately to the steady application of that force by experiencing a very tiny acceleration in the direction of applied force. Velocity would change ever so slowly from zero to something eventually perceptible to the naked eye. However, as one can readily envision, there would be a great time-delay between the application of that comparatively tiny pulling force and a resultant, perceptible motion of the relatively enormous mass and its inherent inertia. Though Newton’s Second law, dealing with mass inertia, does not apply directly to the AGW argument it brings attention to the fact that our atmosphere not only has enormous mass inertia but the thermodynamic analog: thermal inertia, whereby it takes time, lots of it, for atmospheric heat to build to detectable levels.

    All that having been said, let’s take another look at the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) argument, first noting the following: The proponents of AGW argue that, right from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution when there were no automobiles, very few steam engines, and only 1.2 billion people (versus today’s 7 billion), the introduction of initially tiny quantities of a weak greenhouse gas produced, without time-delay, an in-phase and measurable rise in global temperatures that continues to this day.

    That is analogous to saying that the application of a weak force to an enormous mass sets that mass into immediate and measurable motion. That happens in neither mechanical nor thermodynamic systems. Ergo, the entire AGW argument tumbles like a house of cards.

    I can hear the Nobel Committee representative knocking at my door, please excuse me.


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