Matt Ridley: The Sceptics Are Right. Don’t Scapegoat Them

  • Date: 17/02/14
  • Matt Ridley, The Times

There is no evidence, Mr Miliband, Lord Stern and others, that our floods and storms are related to climate change

In the old days we would have drowned a witch to stop the floods. These days the Green Party, Greenpeace and Ed Miliband demand we purge the climate sceptics. No insult is too strong for sceptics these days: they are “wilfully ignorant” (Ed Davey), “headless chickens” (the Prince of Wales) or “flat-earthers” (Lord Krebs), with “diplomas in idiocy” (one of my fellow Times columnists).

What can these sceptics have been doing that so annoys the great and the good? They sound worse than terrorists. Actually, sceptics have pretty well all been purged already: look what happened to Johnny Ball and David Bellamy at the BBC. Spot the sceptic on the Climate Change Committee. Find me a sceptic within the Department of (energy and) Climate Change. Frankly, the sceptics are a ragtag bunch of mostly self-funded guerrillas, who have made little difference to policy — let alone caused the floods.

What’s more, in the row over whether climate change is causing the current floods and storms, the sceptics are the ones who are sticking to the consensus, as set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — you know, the body that the alarm-mongers are always telling us to obey. And it is the sceptics who have been arguing for years for resilience and adaptation, rather than decarbonisation.

Mr Miliband says: “This winter is a one-in-250-year event” (yet it’s nothing like as wet as 1929-30 if you count the whole of England and Wales, let alone Britain) and that “the science is clear”. The chief scientist of the Met Office, Dame Julia Slingo, tells us “all the evidence” suggests that climate change is contributing to this winter’s wetness. (Why, then, did she allow the Met Office to forecast in November that a dry winter was almost twice as likely as a wet winter?) Lord Stern, an economist, claimed that the recent weather is evidence “we are already experiencing the impact of climate change”.

All three are choosing to disagree with the IPCC consensus. Here’s what the IPCC’s latest report actually says: “There continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale.” Here’s what a paper published by 17 senior IPCC scientists from five different countries said last month: “It has not been possible to attribute rain-generated peak streamflow trends to anthropogenic climate change over the past several decades.” They go on to say that blaming climate change is a politician’s cheap excuse for far more relevant factors such as “what we do on or to the landscape” — building on flood plains, farm drainage etc.

As for recent gales caused by a stuck jetstream, Dr Mat Collins, of Exeter University, an IPCC co-ordinating lead author, has revealed that the IPCC discussed whether changes to the jetstream could be linked to greenhouse gases and decided they could not. “There is no evidence that global warming can cause the jetstream to get stuck in the way it has this winter,” he says, in a statement that raises questions about Dame Julia’s credibility.

In 2012, the Met Office agreed: “There continues to be little evidence that the recent increase in storminess over the UK is related to man-made climate change.” So please will Lord Stern, Dame Julia and Mr Miliband explain why they are misleading the public about the science?

That consensus, by the way, has never said that climate change will necessarily be dangerous. The oft-quoted 97 per cent agreement among scientists refers to the statement that man-made climate change happens, not to future projections. No climate change sceptic that I know “denies” climate change, or even human contributions to it. It’s a lazy and unpleasant slur to say that they do.

Sceptics say it is not happening fast enough to threaten more harm than the wasteful and regressive measures intended to combat it. So far they have been right. Over 30 years, global temperature has changed far more slowly than predicted in 95 per cent of the models, and has decelerated, not accelerated. When the sceptic David Whitehouse first pointed out the current 15 to 17-year standstill in global warming (after only 18 to 20 years of warming), he was ridiculed; now the science establishment admits the “pause” but claims to have some post-hoc explanations.

While the green lobby has prioritised decarbonisation, sceptics have persistently advocated government spending on adaptation, so as to grab the benefits of climate change but avoid the harm, and be ready for cooling as well if the sun goes into a funk.

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