Matt Ridley

Matthew White Ridley

 Credentials

  • BA (zoology), Oxford University
  • D Phil (zoology, 1984), Oxford University
  • DSc FRSL FMedSci

Source: [1], [12]

 Background

Matthew White Ridley, more commonly known as Matt Ridley, is a British science writer/journalist and popular author. He has written several books on evolution and genetics including The Red Queen (1994) and Genome (1999) as well as books on economics including The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (2010). Ridley has a regular column titled “Mind of Matter” at the Wall Street Journal where he has often voiced his skepticism on the threat of climate change. He has also written for The Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, the Times, The Guardian, New Scientist, New Statesman, Time, Newsweek and The New York Times.

Ridley is an advisor to the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a group run by climate change skeptic Nigel Lawson. The GWPF is “deeply concerned about the costs and other implications” of policies designed to mitigate man-made climate change. [2]

Matt Ridley is also a past chairman of Northern Rock, where he was responsible (according to parliament's Treasury select committee) for a “high-risk, reckless business strategy” which the group was able to pursue as the result of a “substantial failure of regulation” by the state. [3], [4]

Stance on Climate Change

“I am not a 'denier'. I fully accept that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, the climate has been warming and that man is very likely to be at least partly responsible. […] you can accept all the basic tenets of greenhouse physics and still conclude that the threat of a dangerously large warming is so improbable as to be negligible, while the threat of real harm from climate-mitigation policies is already so high as to be worrying, that the cure is proving far worse than the disease is ever likely to be.” [5]

Key Quotes

“Ocean acidification looks suspiciously like a back-up plan by the environmental pressure groups in case the climate fails to warm: another try at condemning fossil fuels. […] Even if the world warms as much as the consensus expects, the net harm still looks small alongside the real harm now being done by preventable causes; and if it does warm this much, it will be because more people are rich enough to afford to do something about it.” [6]

“A cumulative change of less than 2°C by the end of this century will do no net harm. It will actually do net good […] rainfall will increase slightly, growing seasons will lengthen, Greenland's ice cap will melt only very slowly, and so on.” [7]

Key Deeds

September 25, 2014

Matt Ridley attends the “At the Crossroads; Energy & Climate Policy Summit” in Houston, Texas, hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and The Heritage Foundation. Ridley presents the “Opening Luncheon & Keynote Address.” [27]

June 16, 2014

Matt Ridley is a guest speaker at an ideacity Conference in Calgary, Alberta with a lecture entitled, “A New Perspective on Climate Change.” Within it, Ridley contrasts Haiti's and the Dominican Republic's respective landscapes and suggests that Haiti has “pinched nature's lunch to provide [its] energy,” through its dependence on wood for charcoal production, leading to “ecological devastation” due to reliance on renewable energy. Simultaneously, he states, the Dominican Republic imports fossil fuels so people “will not go out into the forest and cut down trees to burn”: [26]

7:35-8:24 “Haiti is brown; the Dominican Republic is green. Why? Because Haiti depends on wood—on charcoal—for nearly all of its energy. It uses charcoal not just in cooking but also in industry. And as a result, it’s almost completely deforested. It’s relying on renewable energy almost entirely and the result is ecological devastation, compared with the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic imports fossil fuels to use and actually subsidizes the use of propane as a cooking fuel so that people will not go out into the forest and cut down trees to burn. So let’s not forget that it’s quite a good idea to get energy out of a small hole in the ground, so we don’t have to pinch nature’s lunch to provide our energy.”

Later on in his lecture, he cites work from Craig Idso, and says that “the world is actually getting greener … because of carbon dioxide in the air”: [26]

12:36-13:30 “The world is actually getting greener. I mean that quite literally. There are satellites measuring the greenness of the planet. The data is called the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, and there are several teams analyzing this and they are all agreeing that they are picking up a steady increase in the greenness of the planet. It’s showing up in different parts of the world, but it’s showing up in the Amazon, its showing up in the Sahel region of Africa particularly, and its going at the rate of about 2-3% per decade … Why is this happening? Well, it’s happening because of carbon dioxide in the air…”

In his closing remarks, Ridley accepts that the industry is culpable for rising carbon dioxide levels, but he does not accept is that “climate change is going to turn fast and dangerous … or that renewable energy is the cheap and safe solution to that problem”: [26]

16:14-17:02 “Carbon dioxide levels are rising—that is our fault—it is industry that’s doing that. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, there’s no question about that. The climate has been warming, and I accept all of that. But what I don’t accept is that it is certain that climate change is going to turn fast and dangerous in the future or that renewable energy is the cheap and safe solution to that problem. Instead I think that global warming is slow and mild and renewable energy is proving to be expensive and damaging to the environment as well as the economy. In other words, the cure may be worse than the disease; we may be taking chemotherapy for a cold.”

September 21, 2012

In a Wall Street Journal piece, Matt Ridley suggests that a growth of Antarctic sea ice is a reason to doubt the existence of global warming: [8]

“Antarctic sea ice shows no sign of summer retreat, and the current winter's peak extent is well above average. The sea-dominated Southern Hemisphere is certainly warming more slowly than the land-dominated Northern Hemisphere, but it has still been warming. If warming is supposed to be “global,” shouldn't sea ice retreat at both ends of the world?” he said.

The Associated Press spoke to experts in the area who described how scientists have “long predicted that Antarctica would not respond as quickly to global warming as other places.” AP reported that “Mark Serreze, director of the snow and ice data center, says computer models have long predicted that Antarctica would not respond as quickly to global warming as other places. Since 1960, the Arctic has warmed the most of the world's regions, and Antarctica has warmed the least, according to NASA data.” [9]

September, 2012

Matt Ridley has compared climate scientists as eugenicists because he contends that both have insisted their “tenets were beyond reasonable challenge.” He believes that climate science has more confirmation bias than other sciences because of ” a monopoly focus on a single hypothesis.” Science writer Chris Mooney who has written extensively about confirmation bias and climate science science told Media Matters for America that Ridley's argument relies on the premise that there is a “unique reason not to trust” climate scientists, yet there is no reason to think “they're acting differently than other scientists.” [10]

In an article on “the perils of confirmation bias,” published for the Global Warming Policy Foundation (a group firmly opposed to policies that counteract climate change), Ridley suggests that “governments should fund groups that intend to explore alternative hypotheses about the likely future of climate as well as those that explore the dangerous man-made climate change prediction.” He concludes that “Only then will that theory be properly tested.” [11]

Ridley also compares climate science to a “cult,” pointing to scientists who hold the theory that global warming may worsen malaria by increasing the range of mosquitos. He has previously compared those who accept climate change to conspiracy theorists in an article at the Wall Street Journal. [13]

He also compared predicting climate changes to predicting the weather (the IPCC has previously explained that comparing climate science to meteorology is invalid):

“Climate scientists and their media champions equate such scepticism with scepticism about, say, the theory of evolution. Yet evolution is an explanation of facts; dangerous man-made climate change is a prediction about the future. Theories about the future are always less reliable than theories about the past. I can have confidence that the reports that it rained last Tuesday are true, while doubting the forecast that it will rain next Tuesday.”

August 17, 2012

Matt Ridley wrote a cover story for Wired magazine titled “Apocalypse Not: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry About End Times.” Ridley asserts that “the net positive feedbacks from water vapor in the atmosphere [is] low, so that we face only 1 to 2 degrees Celsius of warming this century.” A number of climate change skeptics including Anthony Watts praised the article. [14]

This is one of a number of “misleading and inaccurate claims” according to Skeptical Science. According to environmental scientist Dana Nuccitelli, the “literature consistently shows” that water vapor has a strong positive feedback and amplifies warming. [15]

January 7, 2012

Matt Ridley published a Wall Street Journal article that, according to some sources, misrepresented the issue of ocean acidification. Lisa Suatoni, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council found that Ridley's article “confuse[d]” the effects of short-term natural variation in pH with the effects of longer-term changes and “misstate[d]” the effect of higher acidity on marine species overall.

According to Suatoni, “The result [of Ridley's article] is an exercise in obfuscation.  As a scientist working on these issues for the past five years, I was struck by several gaping holes (and inaccuracies) in his piece – taking liberty to manipulate facts in order to misrepresent them.” [16]

When scientists reviewed a section of Ridley's book on the same issue, they found that it contained “misconceptions,” “cherry-picked evidence,” and “unsupported” claims. That was from an excerpt of just 3 pages of The Rational Optimist: How prosperity evolves regarding coral reefs and ocean acidification.

August 6, 2011

In a Wall Street Journal column, Ridley claimed that “97% of the carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere each year is from nature,” and that cutting man-made carbon emissions could “hinder us, in adapting to” a volcanic eruption:

“The possibility of another [volcanic eruption like] Katla or Laki reminds us of the need to prepare for dangerous climate change of the natural as well as the man-made variety. Abrupt climate change has been a sporadic feature of history since long before the industrial revolution, mostly in the form of cooling caused by volcanoes.”

Scott Mandia, professor of Physical Sciences, wrote the following in a letter to Media Matters:

To argue that we need to keep drastically warming the world for generations in order to “protect” us from temporary volcanic cooling is about as silly an argument I have ever heard. Recall the massive Mt. Pinatubo volcano in 1991 that caused about 0.5C cooling for a few years? Where are we now? Obviously much warmer than we were in 1991 and Pinatubo is a distant memory. […] Ridley also repeats the very misleading meme that nature emits more CO2 than humans. He fails to tell his readers that nature also absorbs about the same CO2 that it emits. [10]

April 5, 2011

Matt Ridley compared climate change, sea level rise and Arctic ice melt to just a “nosebleed.” Ridley's “tourniquet theory” is as follows:

“if you are bleeding to death from a severed limb, then a tourniquet may save your life, but if you have a nosebleed, then a tourniquet round your neck will do more harm than good. This metaphor can be applied to all sorts of scares and their remedies, but it is climate change that I have in mind. Over the past few years it has gradually become clear to me that climate change is a nosebleed, not a severed limb, and that the remedies we are subsidising are tourniquets round the neck of the economy.”

His article, published in The Times, describes rising sea levels as a “slight nosebleed” (i.e., insignificant): [17]

“Sea level is rising more slowly than expected, and the rise is slowing down rather than speeding up. Sea level rise is the greatest potential threat to civilization posed by climate change because so many of us live near the coast. Yet, at a foot a century and slowing, it is a slight nosebleed. So are most of the other symptoms of climate change, such as Arctic sea ice retreat, in terms of their impact. The rate of increase of temperature (0.6C in 50 years) is not on track to do net harm (which most experts say is 2C) by the end of this century.”

He goes on to quote fellow climate change skeptic Indur Goklany with reference to biofuel production, stating that, “policies to stimulate biofuel production, in part to reduce the alleged impacts of global warming on public health, particularly in developing countries, may actually have increased death and disease globally.”

The Carbon Brief examines Ridley's claims especially with regard to sea level rise, which Ridley dismisses as a minor issue. The Carbon Brief notes that “Ridley does not however consider any other research in this area. Other research on this subject disagrees with its conclusion - a fact illustrated by comments made by oceanographer and climate scientist John Church. Church,  who is writing the chapter on sea level rise for the IPCC's 2013 update, told Australia's biannual climate science conference just earlier this week that sea levels are rising at the upper end of projections by the IPCC - meaning a rise of 60-80cm by 2100.” [18]

On the issue of Arctic ice, research published earlier this year suggested ice sheet loss has accelerated over the last 18 years. The Carbon Brief also notes that Ridley gives no supporting scientific literature regarding his statements on Arctic sea ice.

May, 2010

Matt Ridley published his book, the Rational Optimist. According to an article in New Scientist, “Reading Ridley's book, you find that polar bears are adapting as the Arctic ice vanishes, that the predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are highly improbable, and that global warming will bring the bounty of extra rainfall just where the world's population needs it most.” [6]

New Scientist sent a sample of Ridley's book (pages 339-341), a section on coral reefs that suggests “Local threats are far more immediate than climate change,” to a group of senior climate researchers. These researchers responded with a number of criticisms of the science behind Ridley's assertions. The following are some examples: [19]

“Matt appears to have ignored the majority of papers carrying out a realistic change in future ocean chemistry and picked a single 2008 study by Herfort et al (Journal of Phycology, vol 44, p 91) that is:

  • irrelevant to the chemical nature of “ocean acidification” in the future (the study was looking at physiological mechanisms and was not designed to address future ocean acidification conditions);
  • associated with almost no pH change;
  • impossible to occur in the future, and probably has not existed in the ocean for 600 million years.” – Professor Andy Ridgewell.

“Many studies - some of them more than three decades old - show that increasing CO2 has physiological effects on animals beyond those observed on skeletons. […] Many uncertainties surround the effects of continuing pH decline on marine animals, but what we do know is not cause for complacency. Rather it is a call for experiments that can shed light on the issue. Suggesting that environmental concerns are like Y2K doesn't strike me as a useful alternative.” – Andrew Knoll, Harvard Fisher Professor of Natural History and Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University.

“The man does not understand the differences in ocean carbonate chemistry controls on short and long timescales, and he compares apples and eggs.” – Jelle Bijma, professor at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany.

“I think it is extremely unfortunate that Matt Ridley has missed many of the important points and concepts. In my view, he has also cherry-picked evidence to form opinions which are unsupported by the bulk of scientific evidence and understanding. This is demonstrated by the fact that he completely ignores the mainstream scientific literature. In my view, it is also clear that he has a very poor understanding of the core issues.” Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Professor of Marine Studies and Director of the Global Change Institute, University of Queensland, Australia.

Matt Ridley responded, saying that “After reading their critiques, I stand even more firmly behind my conclusion that the threats to coral reefs from both man-made warming and ocean acidification are unlikely to be severe, rapid or urgent.”

There have also been critiques of others sections of Ridley's book. One by The Guardian's George Monbiot discusses Ridley's claim that “11 of 13 populations” of polar bears are “growing or steady.” Recent research by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Polar Bear Specialist Group, 8 populations are declining, 3 are stable, 1 is increasing, and there is insufficient data to assess the other 7 subpopulations. [20]

According to Monbiot who quotes Howard Friel, “Ridley chose to ignore the most credible studies, while relying instead on: '(a) a source that doesn't mention polar bears, (b) an oil–industry funded source, and (c) a non–peer reviewed lecture at an undisclosed location in an undisclosed month and year'.” [3]

October 31, 2011

Ridley gave the Angus Millar Lecture at the Royal Society of the Arts in Edinburgh on the subject of “Scientific Heresy.” Ridley claims that he can see “confirmation bias everywhere in the climate debate.” He also claims that “apart from the hockey stick, there is no evidence that climate is changing dangerously or faster than in the past, when it changed naturally. It was warmer in the Middle Ages and medieval climate change in Greenland was much faster.” [21], [22]

According to Ridley, the hockey stick graph was “utterly debunked by the work of Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick.” Steve McIntyre is a mining industry executive with an education background in economics, philosophy and mathematics, while Ross McKitrick is an Economist.

 Affiliations

Source: [12]

 Publications

According to a search of Google Scholar, Matt Ridley has not published any peer-reviewed articles in the area of climate. 

Matt Ridley's books include:

  • Warts and All; Penguin, 1989
  • The Red Queen; Penguin, 1993
  • Down to Earth; Institute of Economic Affairs, 1995
  • Down to Earth II; Institute of Economic Affairs, 1996
  • The Origins of Virtue; Penguin, 1996
  • The future of disease; Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1997
  • Genome; 4th Estate, 1999
  • Best American Science Writing (editor); Harper Collins 2002
  • Nature via Nurture; Harper Collins, 2003
  • Francis Crick; Harper Collins, 2006

 Resources

  1. Biography,” rationaloptimist.com. Accessed January 19, 2013.

  2. GWPF Launched Today!”, The Global Warming Policy Foundation, November 23, 2009. Archived January 4, 2012.

  3. Matt Ridley's Rational Optimist is telling the rich what they want to hear,” The Guardian, June 18, 2010.

  4. Select Committee on Treasury Fifth Report: Summary, September 2007. Retrieved from parliament.uk.

  5. Thank you, Matt Ridley,” Watts Up With That, November 1, 2011.

  6. Matt Ridley: Optimism without limits,” New Scientist, June 10, 2010.

  7. Matt Ridley: Cooling Down the Fears of Climate Change,” The Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2012.

  8. What Arctic Foxes Know About Global Warming,” The Wall Street Journal, September 21, 2012.

  9. EXPERTS: GLOBAL WARMING MEANS MORE ANTARCTIC ICE,” Associated Press, October 10, 2012.

  10. Meet The Wall Street Journal Columnist Dismissing Science,” Media Matters for America, October 29, 2012.

  11. Matt Ridley. THE PERILS OF CONFIRMATION BIAS” (PDF), The Global Warming Policy Foundation, Briefing Paper No 5.

  12. Matt Ridley's C.V.”, mattridley.co.uk. Archived May 22, 2009.

  13. Maybe We're All Conspiracy Theorists,” The Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2011.

  14. Matt Ridley. “Apocalypse Not: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry About End Times,” Wired, August 17, 2012.

  15. Matt Ridley - Wired for Lukewarm Catastrophe,” Skeptical Science, August 29, 2012.

  16. Can we keep discussions about ocean acidification honest?”, Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog, January 12, 2012.

  17. The Tourniquet Theory,” The Rational Optimist (blog). Archived January 2, 2012.

  18. Matt Ridley's climate science based on weak foundations,” The Carbon Brief, April 7, 2011.

  19. Experts review a section of Matt Ridley's book,” New Scientist, June 10, 2010.

  20. Dynamic population information tool, IUCN/SSC PBSG. Accessed January, 2013.

  21. Matt Ridley's Rousing Defense of Climate Change Skepticism,” Hit & Run (Reason Foundation blog), November 4, 2011.

  22. Angus Millar Lecture 2011 - Scientific Heresy” (event description), Royal Soceity for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

  23. ACADEMIC ADVISORY COUNCIL,” The Global Warming Policy Foundation. Accessed January 19, 2013.

  24. Advisory council,” Sense about Science. Accessed January 19, 2013.

  25. Matt Ridley,” Sourcewatch Profile.

  26. Matt Ridley. “A New Perspective on Climate Change,” ideacity Conference, June 16, 2014. Archived July 8, 2014.

  27. Matt Ridley. “Speakers,” At the Crossroads; Energy & Climate Policy Summit, Texas Public Policy Foundation, The Heritage Foundation, September 25/26, 2014.

[x]
Christy Clark at LNG Canada announcement

The B.C. government’s claim that LNG exports offer the “greatest single step British Columbia can take to fight climate change” is inaccurate in the absence of stronger global climate policies according to a new report released today by the Pembina Institute and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.

Natural gas does have a role to play in a world that avoids two degrees Celsius in global warming, but only if strong emissions reduction policies are put...

read more