Correcting Ridley’s climate errors in the Wall Street Journal


A recent error-filled opinion piece by Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal was so egregious in making unsubstantiated claims that readers deserve a correction.  In anticipation of the forthcoming IPCC climate science assessment report, contrarians and denialists appear to be trying to build up skeptical spin in media stories.

Earlier CSW post: In WSJ, Ridley presents medley of long-debunked climate claims (September 14)

The following is a guest post by Dr. John Abraham at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota:

How many climate errors in one article?

The article, “Dialing back the alarm on climate change”, was written by someone who has never researched anything in the field of climate change (literature search on September 14, 2013).  So what did Mr. Ridley have to say that makes a real scientist cringe?

First, Mr. Ridley states that a forthcoming major climate change report (for which I was an expert reviewer) will lower the expected temperature rise we will experience in the future.  He also claims that the temperature rises will be beneficial. Since the report hasn’t been released yet, and reviewers promise confidentiality, my answer is based on available literature.  I can inform the readers that this isn’t necessarily the case.  What Mr. Ridley is focusing on is the lower bound of warming (the best case scenario for human society). What he doesn’t tell the readers is that regardless of which estimate of warming is correct, human society will be severely stressed.  Basically, he is arguing that the Earth may undergo a slow simmer whereas most scientists think it will be a faster boil.  Either way, the consequences are enormous.

Second, Mr. Ridley makes the unsubstantiated claim that warming of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit will result in “no net  or ecological damage”.  This claim could only be made by someone who is unfamiliar with climate science.  With a fraction of that warming, we are already seeing economic and ecological damage.  Among them are increased precipitation in some regions with consequent flooding, more severe drought in other regions, increased storms, heat waves, rising sea levels.  In the U.S. we have seen incredible weather costs over the past three years, including heat waves and droughts in 2011, 2012, and 2013; Superstorm Sandy, incredible flooding just this week in Colorado and elsewhere including my home state of Minnesota. Around the world we’ve seen similar impacts.  Alternating flooding and heat waves in Europe, China, India, and Australia, to name a few examples.  With these impacts being seen already, it makes a real scientist shudder about what will occur when we reach 3.6 degrees of warming.  Where did Mr. Ridley get his information? Hard to say because he cited no studies that support his claim.

Mr. Ridley made other irresponsible and unsupported claims – for instance stating that the benefits of rising sea levels will outweigh the consequences. That just doesn’t pass the smell test.  It certainly isn’t consolation for regions like Southern Florida, which are severely threatened by rising seas.

The basic facts are clear: humans are causing climate change and there are already economic costs.  We scientists have known this for over one hundred years.  But there is good news; we can do something about it.  We don’t need futuristic technology – we can solve it today.  By using energy more efficiently, we save money and the planet at the same time.  By investing in smart, renewable energy, we can create the economy of the future. That is the message that should be heard, not non-science nonsense from persons like Mr. Ridley.

Dr. John Abraham

University of St. Thomas

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See also:

Have Matt Ridley, Wall Street Journal Finally Embraced Strong Climate Action And 2°C Warming Target? (Joe Romm, Climate Progress, September 15)

The 5 stages of climate denial are on display ahead of the IPCC report — Climate contrarians appear to be running damage control in the media before the next IPCC report is published (Dana Nucitelli, UK Guardian, September 15)

Scientists respond to the Wall Street Journal’s latest junk-science climate predictions (Climate Science Watch/Climate Nexus, December 20, 2012)

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10 Responses to Correcting Ridley’s climate errors in the Wall Street Journal

  1. Desertphile says:

    Calling his lies “mistakes” is too charitable.

  2. says:

    I really think you should put your own house in order before trying to tidy-up someone else’s. You yourself cite no studies in countering Matt Ridley.
    If you factor in the US craziness of insisting in building in ever more risky places, it is no wonder insurance bills go up. The physical energetics of Sandy were modest compared with older hurricanes, and absolutely nothing to do with global warming! See: Roger Pielke, Hurricanes and Human Choice, WALL STREET J., Oct. 31, 2012,

    • John Abraham says:

      First, I was responding to an article put into the public discourse. I made the point that the article had no references for many of the claims. I am correct on this. The prevailing scientific view is that some weather patterns are becoming more severe with climate change. In particular, droughts, floods, and the intensity of the most extreme storms. The commenter references a WSJ article, which I think I have shown, is no basis for sound judgment.

  3. Windy says:

    Ridley is open to pubic debate on the issue is Abraham? Ridley is the more correct based on recent studies that indicate that future disaster costs to GDP have been grossly overstated and based on exaggerated scenarios. Again I recommend a public debate and let people judge the evidence.

  4. Windy says:

    Unfortunately some of the IPCC AR5 report that Abraham has reviewed is already out of date. For instance this study, which includes the lead climate scientist at UEA Phil Jones, disagrees with Abraham’s position.

    • John Abraham says:

      The commenter is incorrect, they misinterpret this study. In particular, this sentence from the abstract is misinterpreted by the commenter.
      “Here we show that although fluctuations in annual temperature have indeed shown substantial geographical variation over the past few decades2<>, the time-evolving standard deviation of globally averaged temperature anomalies has been stable.”

      • Windy says:

        John I didn’t misinterpret anything. Here is the authors’ own words about how they disagree that the future will be much different from the present.

        “Our findings contradict the view that a warming world will automatically be one of more overall climatic variation.”

        • John Abraham says:

          Climate variability and extremes are not the same thing. A climate can become less variable and more extreme. Secondly, you cannot confuse local extremes with overall global averages. For instance, the average rainfall in the US is more or less the same, but rainfall in the east is increasing and in the West is decreasing. This shows that local variations can be hidden by larger scale averages.

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