Matt Ridley writes My life as a climate lukewarmer- The polarisation of the climate debate has gone too far in his blog, The Rational Optimist.


What sealed my apostasy from climate alarm was the extraordinary history of the famous “hockey stick” graph, which purported to show that today’s temperatures were higher and changing faster than at any time in the past thousand years. That graph genuinely shocked me when I first saw it and, briefly in the early 2000s, it persuaded me to abandon my growing doubts about dangerous climate change and return to the “alarmed” camp.

Then I began to read the work of two Canadian researchers, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick. They and others have shown, as confirmed by the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, that the hockey stick graph, and others like it, are heavily reliant on dubious sets of tree rings and use inappropriate statistical filters that exaggerate any 20th-century upturns.

What shocked me more was the scientific establishment’s reaction to this: it tried to pretend that nothing was wrong. And then a flood of emails was leaked in 2009 showing some climate scientists apparently scheming to withhold data, prevent papers being published, get journal editors sacked and evade freedom-of-information requests, much as sceptics had been alleging. That was when I began to re-examine everything I had been told about climate change and, the more I looked, the flakier the prediction of rapid warming seemed.

I am especially unimpressed by the claim that a prediction of rapid and dangerous warming is “settled science”, as firm as evolution or gravity. How could it be? It is a prediction! No prediction, let alone in a multi-causal, chaotic and poorly understood system like the global climate, should ever be treated as gospel. With the exception of eclipses, there is virtually nothing scientists can say with certainty about the future. It is absurd to argue that one cannot disagree with a forecast. Is the Bank of England’s inflation forecast infallible?

Incidentally, my current view is still consistent with the “consensus” among scientists, as represented by the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The consensus is that climate change is happening, not that it is going to be dangerous. The latest IPCC report gives a range of estimates of future warming, from harmless to terrifying. My best guess would be about one degree of warming during this century, which is well within the IPCC’s range of possible outcomes.

Yet most politicians go straight to the top of the IPCC’s range and call climate change things like “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction” (John Kerry), requiring the expenditure of trillions of dollars. I think that is verging on grotesque in a world full of war, hunger, disease and poverty. It also means that environmental efforts get diverted from more urgent priorities, like habitat loss and invasive species.