How many climate errors in one article?
A recent error-filled opinion piece by Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal was so egregious that readers deserve a correction. 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