I have to ask, have I picked up something mainstream media failed to notice?
Most reviews of Ridley’s “The Rational Optimists” have been favourable. I appreciate that my criticisms are restricted to his discussion of climate change, but I do feel that his work was not given a sufficiently rigorous critique. But then again, his book plays well to a certain crowd.
Clive Crook, a financial journalist blogging over at Financial Times, has this to say:
My friend and esteemed science writer Matt Ridley has a new book coming out: The Rational Optimist. I’ve seen a review copy and it’s as good as I predicted.
Meanwhile, Matt has begun blogging. See his comment on a recent NYT piece about the global decline in maternal deaths, which noted that this good news was not universally welcomed.
[S]ome advocates for women’s health tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of their cause, Dr. Horton [Lancet’s editor] said in a telephone interview.
“I think this is one of those instances when science and advocacy can conflict,” he said…
“People who have spent many years committed to the issue of maternal health were understandably worried that these figures could divert attention from an issue that they care passionately about,” Dr. Horton said.
Echoes of Climategate.
Climategate, oh my. These guys really do believe that climate scientists have been involved in perpetrating a massive fraud to either overstate the risk of global warming, or have fabricated it all together.
SciAm review: getting it wrong?
Michael Shermer, normally someone whose opinion on issues I admire, did not look sufficiently into the issue of Ridley’s use of sources in his review for Scientific American:
In the teeth of the recession and the reality of more than a billion impoverished people in developing countries today, this thesis sounds ripe for skepticism, indeed almost blindly Pollyannaish. But Ridley systematically builds a case through copious data and countless studies that “the vast majority of people are much better fed, much better sheltered, much better entertained, much better protected against disease and much more likely to live to old age than their ancestors have ever been.
It would seem that some of Ridley’s “copious data and countless studies” are flawed.
I remember reading Shermer’s review some time ago, and was looking forward to Ridley’s book. Indeed it is part of the reason why I bought it. Shermer is a strong advocate of the market, so I think he got carried by Ridley’s bubbly feel-good mantra and his own natural enthusiasm for the “market”.
I’ve posted some questions in the comments section attached to Shermer’s review. I’m not expecting a response, but hope other readers or an alert editor picks up on the comments.
Further exhibits of denialist propaganda
If you want further examples of just how bad Ridley is on global warming, try some of these further examples…
Exhibit four: Ocean acidification is a “back-up plan” devised by environmental pressure groups
Ridley makes the following claim:
“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…” page. 340
Ocean acidification is a well-studied phenomena and of genuine concern. I am not sure how Ridley has come to the conclusion that this is a suspicious plan, unless one has a conspiratorial world view.
Let’s be honest here: this is a nutty claim.
I would direct readers attention to the following paper: Paleo-perspectives on ocean acidification, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Volume 25, Issue 6, 332-344, 30 March 2010.
The abstract notes:
“The anthropogenic rise in atmospheric CO2 is driving fundamental and unprecedented changes in the chemistry of the oceans. This has led to changes in the physiology of a wide variety of marine organisms and, consequently, the ecology of the ocean. This review explores recent advances in our understanding of ocean acidification with a particular emphasis on past changes to ocean chemistry and what they can tell us about present and future changes. We argue that ocean conditions are already more extreme than those experienced by marine organisms and ecosystems for millions of years, emphasising the urgent need to adopt policies that drastically reduce CO2 emissions.”
Exhibit five: No species extinction due to climate change
Ridley also makes the following claim:
“…so far, despite two bursts of twentieth-century warming, not a single species has unambiguously been shown to succumb to global climate trends” page.338
I would draw Dr. Ridley’s attention the following research: Erosion of Lizard Diversity by Climate Change and Altered Thermal Niches, Science 14 May 2010, Vol 328 no.5980 pp.894-899
The authors of the paper note:
“It is predicted that climate change will cause species extinctions and distributional shifts in coming decades, but data to validate these predictions are relatively scarce. Here, we compare recent and historical surveys for 48 Mexican lizard species at 200 sites. Since 1975, 12% of local populations have gone extinct. We verified physiological models of extinction risk with observed local extinctions and extended projections worldwide. Since 1975, we estimate that 4% of local populations have gone extinct worldwide, but by 2080 local extinctions are projected to reach 39% worldwide, and species extinctions may reach 20%. Global extinction projections were validated with local extinctions observed from 1975 to 2009 for regional biotas on four other continents, suggesting that lizards have already crossed a threshold for extinctions caused by climate change.”
I believe the peer reviewed literature is clear on the issue.
As I noted, I believe Ridley has been blinded by his obvious devotion to “the market”.
Aspects of Denial
As noted previously, Ridley uses two of the “Six Aspects of Denial”:
- Magnify disagreements among scientists and cite gadflies – his entire case against the seriousness of global warming rests upon using the work of noted outliers/gadflies such as Lindzen, Tol etc.
- Acceptance repudiates key philosophy – Ridley begins his book with a quote from Adam Smith, and then goes on to sing the praises of the market. He dismisses global warming because it would seem to imply global warming is a by-product of our industrial civilisation.