Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser’s Misleading Guide to the Climate Debate

This post was written by Peter Sinclair and Greg Laden in response to a recent Wall Street Journal Op Ed piece by Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser.

In a recent Wall Street Journal commentary, “Your Complete Guide to the Climate Debate,”
Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser ask what might make world leaders concerned about the security impacts of climate change. One answer might be the US Department of Defense.

In its 2010 Quadrennial Defense review, Pentagon experts wrote:

“…climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s today’s front page news. A 2014 Defense Department document underlined the message, calling climate warming “a threat multiplier.”

Ridley and Peiser ridicule President Obama over his “careless” statement that climate change is a greater threat than terrorism. Indeed, recent research indicates that the current Syrian refugee crisis is at least partly a result of climate change enhanced drought in the region.

Ridley and Peiser claim that global temperatures have risen only slowly. This is simply untrue. The upward march of global surface temperatures varies, as expected for any natural system such as this, but continues on an upward trend. Contrarian claims of an extended pause in global warming have been debunked over recent months by at least a half dozen studies. (See: this, this, this, this, and this.)

Ridley and Peiser also suggest that surface temperatures have risen less than earlier climate modeling had projected. This is simply untrue. Global surface temperatures have risen at a pace of about 0.15 degrees C per decade since 1990, which is within the range of earlier IPCC projections.

Ridley/Peiser suggest that current record smashing weather events are due to El Nino, not climate change.

Wrong for two reasons.

First, many of the record breaking events we have experienced over recent years happened when there was no El Nino.

Second, records that are set during an El Nino period are, obviously, compared to all other prior El Nino periods as well. This year’s El Nino is exceeding earlier El Nino years in heat and tropical storm activities precisely because of a continued rise in planetary heat.

Ridley and Peiser claim that it has been warmer at times during the last 10,000 years. This statement is not supportable. While scientists know that orbitally caused warming occurred some 8000 years ago, the most current research suggests that today’s surface temperature exceed those values, or will shortly under current trends.

It is incorrect to assert that there have been no changes in extreme storms, or flooding. In the past week we have seen a new annual northern hemisphere record in major hurricanes, with 30 storms category 3 and above this year, literally blowing away the old record of 23, with the season not yet over.

Every year for the last three years, careful and conservative researchers publishing in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society have studied the contribution of global warming to major weather events around the world, the papers collected in an annual volume “Explaining Extreme Events … from a Climate Perspective.” Every year the number of events attributed to global warming goes up. (See these three reports.)

The US Global Change Research Program has documented the increase in extreme precipitation events across the country, and in recent weeks, the east and gulf coast of the US have been inundated by a “1000 year rain event”, as well as a new phenomenon, coastal flooding not associated with any storm, merely the regular pull of the tides, on an ocean that has risen several inches since 1950.

Miami taxpayers are currently spending 500 million dollars on pumps and other infrastructure to remedy the flooding Peiser and Ridley say does not exist.

Ridley and Peiser make the claim that tropical storms can’t be as much of a problem now as they were in the past because the number of deaths attributed to natural disasters is reduced. The irony of this statement is stunning. The reason there are fewer deaths due to weather related natural disasters is precisely because climate science and meteorology have developed methods and models to predict and warn. That very same science is telling us about the recent, ongoing, and future changes in climate due to the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas.

Ridley and Peiser seek to confuse by conflating Arctic and Antarctic sea ice, without mentioning that the small increase in Antarctic sea ice, along with the large loss of Arctic ice, is predicted from our understanding of the global warming process, and that, globally, sea ice area is clearly in a multi-decadal decline, the very reason that our giant oil companies are lobbying so intensely for access to polar regions they know are thawing.

Similarly deceptive is the claim that “Antarctica is gaining land based ice”. Here they cite a one-off outlier study, not the other dozen studies completed since 2012 by groups from NASA, the European Space Agency and others, most using more recent data than the cited piece, and all of which show overall Antarctic land ice loss. Moreover, the author of the study cited has said that
if the sea level rise does not come from Antarctica, it obviously must be undercounted elsewhere, such as Alpine glaciers, Greenland, or thermal expansion of the oceans – since observed sea level rise is unequivocal.

That sea level rise is also the most unambiguous indicator of a warming planet. The relentless and accelerating observed rise of the seas supports the half dozen recent studies showing that global warming has not halted or paused, and continues apace.

Ridley and Peiser claim that research is increasingly showing climate sensitivity to be low. This is entirely the opposite of what has been happening. The most likely range of values of climate sensitivity (the amount of increase in surface temperature that eventually occurs as a result of the doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere) was established over a century ago. Recently revealed documents show that Exxon Mobil Corporation itself studied climate science as early as the late 70’s, and its findings were in clear agreement with the National Academy of Science 1979 report, which estimated a climate sensitivity of 3°C, plus or minus 1.5° C. Tables in Exxon’s 1982 Climate Change “Primer” for executives show predictions for 2015 markedly similar to contemporary estimates by NASA, and NOAA.

Meanwhile, the solutions for climate change are at hand.

Solar and wind energy have grown faster, and costs have plummeted further, than even most fervent supporters would have predicted a few years ago. Wind and solar are now out-competing coal and nuclear everywhere, and even gas in many markets. Recent volatility in oil and gas prices make the predictable zero cost of renewables all the more attractive, as more and more major corporations are signing power purchase agreements for renewable energy, based on markets, not political correctness.

In a recent article in Scientific American, Engineers Mark Jacobsen and Mark Deluchi have shown how 139 countries can generate their total energy needs by 2050 from wind, solar, and water technologies.

Today’s average cost of large-scale solar in the U.S. is 5 cents/kWh. The installed cost of solar is down by half since 2009. The cost of wind in the U.S. is 2.5 cents per kWh, and efficiency is about the same, and sometimes below 1 cent/kWh. (See this.)

Denmark, Scotland, Spain, and Portugal are now producing more than half their electricity from renewable sources, Germany is close to a third – and the German grid is 10 times more reliable than the US grid.(See this)

In 20 US states, contractors will put solar panels on your roof for free – and in San Antonio Texas, the utility will pay you for the privilege of putting those panels on, and lowering your utility bill. (See this and this)

It’s a business model that will spread, sooner than coal barons like Matt Ridley would like you to believe.

Polling shows again and again that large majorities of Americans across all demographics favor rapid development of renewable energy, and tough regulations for greenhouse gases.

In addition, most importantly, a large majority of Americans now believe that climate change is a moral issue that obligates government officials, and private citizens, to take action.

The tactics of confusion and distortion are losing their effectiveness, as more and more Americans experience the effects of a climate altered world first hand. It’s time to stop denying the science, and begin discussing the solutions.

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19 thoughts on “Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser’s Misleading Guide to the Climate Debate

  1. In the current political climate they do one very smart thing: they tie (their misguided take on) climate change to President Obama. Doing that raises the flag that tells tea-baggers around the country that addressing it must be opposed because it is clearly a Muslim-communist-socialist plot to destroy our country.

  2. Perhaps the odd behavior denialists are engaging in when they desperately link climate change facts to President Obama is deliberate, and “orchestrated:” judging by how often this has been seen in various online forums in the past four weeks, I wonder if some anti-science “free market” so-called “think tank” has told deniers to do that— their fearful, hate-filled, cowardly, simple-minded obeyers have, do, and will oppose anything and everything Obama says and does, even when they greatly benefit; their masters know that fact.

  3. The WSJ OpEd section has a 2-decade history if this, going back at least to 1996 attack in Ben Santer.
    Don’t hold your breath for anything resembling science there.

  4. WSJ also has a piece on demographics and the world economy. It is interesting, but knowing the WSJ’s leanings, I don’t feel I can trust all their charts.

  5. In a recent Wall Street Journal commentary, “Your Complete Guide to the Climate Debate,”
    Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser ask what might make world leaders concerned about the security impacts of climate change.

    “Um… The facts of recent history?” I said in a quavering tone.

    “Right — off you go!”

    That was easy! Once again I avoid the Gorge of Eternal Peril. /sarc

    I refer to the shifting of rainfall patterns in the Sudan and more recently in Syria, leading to prolonged droughts, leading to crop failures, leading to hunger, leading to large-scale migrations, leading to regional conflict and millions of refugees. It takes a degree of willful blindness for a pundit, ostensibly smart and well-informed, to fail to connect these dots. And while climate change cannot be shown to have caused these shifts in rainfall patterns, there is good evidence that it is a factor.

  6. So, you take a couple of studies of people talking about the issue among themselves (they all agree that the opposite side does not know what they are talking about), plus a few studies of people torturing data in order to get the answer they want, and come us with “data”

    Ha Ha Ha. Rhetoric is not data. Calculations are not data. torturing real data to create ersatz “data” is not data.

    The real world does not care what you think.

    1. rxc: “Ha Ha Ha. Rhetoric is not data. Calculations are not data. torturing real data to create ersatz “data” is not data. The real world does not care what you think.”

      Why, by gods you’re right! That never occurred to me! I now agree completely with… with… well, with whatever your point if there is one is! I how that makes the missing ice come back.

  7. Perhaps rxc was lambasting the deniers for torturing data to get the results that they want…

    Because he has a valid point there: The real world does not care what the deniers think. It is what it is, and it will continue to react to having gigatons of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere every year by humanity. The result is global overheating, regardless of how they torture the data to make it look otherwise.

    1. Brainstorms: “Because he has a valid point there: The real world does not care what the deniers think. It is what it is, and it will continue to react to having gigatons of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere every year by humanity. The result is global overheating, regardless of how they torture the data to make it look otherwise.”

      Professional denialists work hard to HIDE THE INCLINE.

  8. It’s a “global conspiracy” to hide the incline.

    We should demand that the government force them to turn over their emails…

  9. I wrote: It takes a degree of willful blindness for a pundit, ostensibly smart and well-informed, to fail to connect these dots.

    Allow me to paraphrase a line from Circle of Iron: “Tie two denialists together and, though they have four eyes, they cannot see.”

    That doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it was fun.

  10. The record-breaking vicious flooding in the UK and elsewhere in December which happened concurrently with high temperatures records—thus proving the simple physics of global warming—completely blows the claim that there has been “no changes in extreme storms, or flooding” out of the water. Ordinary ‘people in the street’ can now see we have a serious climate problem, and need no prompting to recognise what total charlatans Ridley and Peiser, henchman of the GWPF, represent.

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