Matt Ridley Comments

The Times recently ran an article by Matt Ridley:

(Published at 12:01AM, December 8 2014)

It began:

Environmental researchers are increasingly looking for evidence that fits their ideology, rather than seeking the truth

As somebody who has championed science all his career, carrying a lot of water for the profession against its critics on many issues, I am losing faith. Recent examples of bias and corruption in science are bad enough. What’s worse is the reluctance of scientific leaders to criticise the bad apples. Science as a philosophy is in good health; science as an institution increasingly stinks

Some of the comments ran as follows:

Mr D J Noble 1 day ago

Let us just review a few undisputed facts, not contested opinions, but verifiable facts.

1) Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. That means it absorbs heat more easily than the oxygen and nitrogen that forms most of our atmosphere.

2) If the concentration of carbon dioxide increases more heat will be absorbed and less reflected into space, so the earth will warm up.

3) There has been a considerable increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere over the last 200 years and particularly over the last 50 years.

4) Whatever other effects may be going this increase in concentration will result in the earth being warmer than it otherwise would be.

5) Human beings have been adding vast quantities of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over the last 200 years and particularly over the last 50 years.

6) Whatever other effects may be going this human activity will increase the concentration to more than it otherwise would be.

It follows from these 6 facts that human activity is raising the temperature of the earth. There is no possible alternative. There can be discussions and disagreement about “How much”, and “How fast” and, of course, some measurements and forecasts may be inaccurate for this or that reason. But you cannot get away from the simple truth that human activity is causing the earth to be warmer than it otherwise would be.


John Reid 20 hours ago

@Mr D J Noble I would dispute some of your “undisputed facts”, as follows:
1) agreed.
2) No, because the primary mechanism for the transport of heat through the lower atmosphere is convection not radiation. Surface heat is transported by convection into the stratosphere where it is radiated into space in accordance with the Stefan-Boltzman law.
3) True.
4) Not necessarily, see #2 above,
5) Not “vast” quantities – the total human production of CO2 since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is abut 320 Gigatonnes (James Hansen’s congressional testimony) whereas the total CO2 in the ocean-atmosphere system is estimated to be 32,000 Gigatonnes (IPCC TAR). Hence humans are responsible for about one percent, a negligible proportion. Furthermore there is a continuous interchange between the oceans and the atmosphere. The present relatively high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have more to do with the vagaries of ocean currents and upwellings than with human activity.
6) Technically true but unimportant – our contribution is “lost in the noise”.

In addition I would also like to point out that there is nothing at all remarkable about the climate of the last century.

For further discussion see

ATNT 16 hours ago

@John Reid @Mr D J Noble Correct me if I am wrong but I would like to dispute your disputes to the points above:

Point 2. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which means that infrared light from the sun can pass through it and heat up the earth’s surface however the heat that escapes the earth surface via convection is trapped in between the troposphere and the earths surface by greenhouse gasses – which in turn creates a positive feedback which gradually increases the temperature under the troposphere.

The majority of greenhouse gasses are made up of water vapour but as carbon dioxide is now at over 400 ppm (higher than anytime in measurable history (ice core measurements that are thousands of years old) there is a very strong argument that says that the addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will contribute to changes in the earth’s climate.

I think this answers your retort to point 4 too. As to point 5, as briefly mentioned above, measurements from ice cores point to the fact that the highest historical (measurable) amounts of CO2 in the earths atmosphere prior to the 1870s was around 270 ppm. In 2013 there were 400 ppm up from 200 ppm in 1904. If this was to do with the vagaries of the ocean currents then we could have expected levels of up to 400 ppm in the past – that has not happened so we have to look elsewhere, and that leads us to burning fossil fuels and the man-made release of CO2 in to the atmosphere.

Point 6 – you say technically unimportant – this is where the argument rages, The question remains as to whether these changes will have any measurable effect to us and the earth is something that I am sure will be disputed for many many years.

My personal view is that there is a correlation between right wing political ideology and climate change doubt and left wing political ideology and Climate Change acceptance. In the past the right wing approach (which more often than not has worked and has been the correct approach) is to use market forces to lift a beleaguered nation out of debt, of save a company or what ever needs to be done to benefit society as a whole. It is an approach which is tenable, understandable and has a history of working, spend more, buy more, make more in order to get out of trouble. Up against the spectre of climate change where cut back is called for in almost every area there is a fairly typical and understandable push back from the established right wing politically minded. I am not saying that this small personal anecdote proves or disproves Climate Change I am just positing a hypothesis on why some people are apt to deny Climate Change and others are more willing to accept it.

John Reid

@ATNT @John Reid @Mr D J Noble
Heat is not “trapped in between the tropopause and the earth’s surface”. The convective transport of heat from the surface to the stratosphere leads to the well known decrease of temperature with height known as the “adiabatic lapse rate” which is measured many times daily using radio-sond balloons. The lapse rate can be calculated theoretically from the thermodynamic properties of gases and the observed lapse rate fits rather well. If there were any trapping of heat as you suggest it would distort the lapse rate but this is not observed.

The 400 ppm of CO2 is a spot reading, an instantaneous value, whereas the proxy atmospheric concentrations of this and other gases in ice cores are effectively averaged over centuries due to the squeezing of ice under pressure. Averaging removes the highs and the lows. It is the dubious practice of plotting recent spot readings on the same graph as these much older averages which leads to the characteristic “hockey stick” curve. It is also possible that CO2 diffuses though ice. Other methods of estimating ancient CO2 concentrations, such as counting stomata density in fossil leaves, indicate that CO2 has indeed been as high in the past.

I certainly agree with you about the correlation between Left or Right vs Warmer or Sceptic but it does not apply in my case. I was a member of the Australian Labor Party for many years and once served on the State Executive. I also have a PhD in Upper Atmosphere Physics and a lifetime of research experience in various aspects of environmental physics. For me the physics of AGW just does not stack up for reasons I have outlined. I am saddened by the way in which this interesting branch of science has become corrupted by political ideology and by an “integrity deficit” within the scientific community as Matt Ridley points out.