Matt Ridley on Optimism

Like Sou, I too watched the video of Matt Ridley in Oz. My first thought was fairly similar to the first comment, from Chandra, on Bishop Hill’s post about the video

I imagine readers already know and adore Ridley’s line in half-truths. Why is this one so interesting? Does he say anything new? Recant for example?

Seem a little unfair? Well Matt Ridley tells this story of how in 1948, Ludwig Erhard – director of West Germany’s Economic Council – decided to lift food rationing, against the advice of almost everyone else. This, according to Matt Ridley, was the day on which the German economic miracle was born. Rationing had been preventing the market from operating and the end of rationing meant that the free-market was allowed to do what it does best.

I, however, did a bit of searching and discovered a book about Ludwig Erhard. On page 71, the book says

The economy would be freed but not completely. The second stated that food and raw materials would remain under control. Third, grain, potatoes, meat, coal, iron, and steel prices and supplies would be freed only with the express permission of the Economic Council. Fourth, textiles, clothes, shoes, and soap would continue to be rationed. Fifth, the government could intervene in the raw materials and semifinished goods market if the need arose.

So, an element of truth but – it would seem – not quite the free-market miracle that Matt Ridley seems to be suggesting. There are two things I would say about this. Firstly, I’m amazed that the Chairman of the first British bank to have a run on its finances in over a hundred years is still spouting forth about de-regulation and free-market capitalism (especially as Northern Rock had to be bailed out by the government). I’m equally amazed that anyone takes him seriously when he does so. Secondly, this seems to be another example of how some try to pretend that a complex topic (economics, what to do about global warming/climate change) is really very simple. These topics clearly aren’t simple and pretending that they are does us all a great dis-service.

However, much of Matt Ridley’s talk focused on optimism. His basic premise seems to be that people like himself are fundamentally optimistic, while those he regards as “alarmist” are not. The world, according to Matt Ridley, is a better place now than it was in the past. Again, this is over-simplifying a very complex topic, but he does have a point. Furthermore, we don’t really need to worry about global warming/climate change because we’re innovative and will solve any problems we might face. Again, partly true but a bit simplistic. Finally, the only way to drive economic growth is through the use of fossil fuels, the energy “wonder drug”. My main issue is that his “don’t worry” is more a bury your head in the sand type of optimism, than a realistic optimism. Also, his views on fossil fuels seem remarkably pessimistic to me. If the only way to drive economic growth is through the use of fossil fuels, doesn’t that imply that once this finite resource is gone, the economic miracle will be over? Our future generations will just have to accept a life of poverty? Seems a bit depressing to me.

In my view, what “alarmists” are suggesting is much more optimistic than what Matt Ridley is suggesting. What most are suggesting is that global warming is continuing – as expected – and that we will likely soon enter a climate regime never before experience by the human species. This seems like a risky thing to do and we should try to do something about this. This will include both an element of adaption and mitigation, but we are an innovative species and so – as long as we put some effort in – we will likely succeed in not only preventing too much climate disruption, but will likely also develop new and valuable technologies that would not have existed had we not acted to both adapt and mitigate against climate change. Seems quite optimistic to me. Not sure why Matt Ridley sees this as pessimism. Maybe it’s time that those who Matt Ridley calls “alarmists” (although “realists” may be a better term) should try some optimistic rhetoric of their own.

I’ll finish this post with another comment about a story Matt Ridley tells in the video. He’s a member of the House of Lords so mentioned that some of his colleagues had been optimistic about the jobs that renewable energy technologies would create. His, supposedly witty, response was to say that if all we wanted to do was create jobs, then we’d just have our economy powered by people riding stationary bicycles. The prime factor in an industry, according to Matt Ridley, is best value for the consumer. This, to me at least, is a classic example of over-simplifying a complex topic. In most Western economies (and maybe in most economies) the consumers are also employees. Ideally you need to consider both best value for the consumer and impact on the labour market. It’s no good reducing the cost of some consumer product if the consequence is thousands of people out of work who then need to be supported by the taxpayer. Similarly, you can’t simply create jobs if the cost to the consumer becomes so high that noone can afford the product anymore. It’s a complex issue and pretending that it’s nice and simple, as Matt Ridley does, really has no value – in my opinion at least.

Those in the audience for his talk and those commenting on Bishop Hill seem, however, to like these supposedly clever little stories. It does make it seem that not only is he simply telling people what they want to hear, those who are listening are quite happy to simply lap it up without really thinking critically about anything he says. I should probably add that this post is really just my thoughts on the topic and I’m certainly no economic expert. As usual, comments are welcome from those who may have different views about what is clearly a complicated topic.

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86 Responses to Matt Ridley on Optimism

  1. Rachel says:

    I definitely don’t view myself as a pessimist. In fact, I have always got quite excited by technological advancements and even if there was no such thing as global warming, I think I would still embrace renewable energy because of its innovativeness and cleverness. But I also love the natural world and all of the plants and animals in it and I think it’s a tragedy that we don’t value it more. I want both things: protection of the natural world and technological progress and I don’t see why we can’t have both. This is optimism.

    Personally I see the Matt Ridleys of the world not as optimists but as having a phobia to change. Perhaps that’s what conservative really means 😉 They are doing their best to maintain the status quo.

    I disagree with Ridley that the most important factor in an industry is the consumer. I think the most important factor is the people – employees. There are no products/services without the people who make/produce them. Your point about consumers also being employees reminds me of Henry Ford’s production line. When he started manufacturing cars, the tediousness of the task meant that staff turnover was high and costing lots of money. So overnight he decided to double the salary of his employees. The impact of this was a large increase in sales because the higher salary meant that his employees became his customers as well. I’m sure there was some loyalty involved too.

    And if only someone would pay me to ride my bicycle 😉

  2. William says:

    You can find better historical documents but this will do for the moment,

    Free market,

    The British Capture of Havana and its relation to Albermarle Street in ……/the-british-capture-of-havana-and-its-relation…
    13 Aug 2013 – On their arrival to Havana, the British met the obstinate defenses … it to new ideas about trade, the Enlightenment, free markets, and capitalism.

  3. William, your link doesn’t work and you probably need to add some context. To be clear, this post isn’t an argument against the free-market. It’s really arguing that most of these topics are much more complicated than pithy one-liners from Matt Ridley would indicate. Some of what the free market is able to do is fantastic. Some not so much. Something of what governments do is good, some not good. Pretending that there is one simple solution to all our problems is, in my opinion at least, simplistic and unlikely to be true. So, I would hope that you haven’t assumed that because I’ve been critical of Matt Ridley’s fee-market miracle that that immediately implies that I’m some kind of Socialist. Just in case that is what you had assumed, I’m not.

  4. Marco says:

    “The prime factor in an industry, according to Matt Ridley, is best value for the consumer”.

    What does “best value” really mean?

  5. richard says:

    No I don’t,

    Regarding the Germans, I always thought it was financing money from America that solved their problems, plus rebuilding everything from scratch , beautiful new state of the art factories, etc, that is going to beat Englands 19th century factories very quickly, anyway a massive topic,

    As to the future and optimism,

    perhaps my link on mortality rates from weather events has decreased by 95 per cent since the 1920’s.

    I remain very optimistic.

    Free markets and and technology and the future

    two extracts.

    9. Climate change has an upside

    Harsher environments will force African farmers (and their counterparts around the world) to work smarter and make long-term investments that they should be making anyway. In staving off doom, they will actually be building a more sustainable future.

    Satellite photographs attest to the success, recording blocks of green that once were brown and gray. To do that, farmers dug crescent-shaped ditches and erected low fences out of stones, deadwood, and brush to catch drifting soil. These keep the dirt stationary long enough for it to catch water and insects, germinate seeds, and allow farmers to add manure. Near-desert plots are gradually transformed into small, narrow fields in which the farmers then plant trees. And in the shadows cast by the trees, they grow fruits and vegetables.

  6. richard says:

    by the way i post under two names william on my mini ipad and richard on my desktop!

  7. Marco, true but that may have been my words rather than his. As far as I could tell he was arguing that all we should worry about is cost to the consumer. If the consumer, however, is also an employee, than you won’t be that impressed with cheap products if you can’t afford to buy them because you’re out of work.

  8. Tom Curtis says:

    Marco, “best value” means lowest up front cost relative to manufactured wants with all negative externalities excluded from cost consideration. Or, at least that is what it means if you are Ridley.

  9. Richard/William, you seem to be largely making the same case I’m making here. Things are much more complicated than they may at first seem. I’m sure climate change has an upside. It also, almost certainly, has a down side. Which is more significant? Well I would argue that it is risky to assume that changing our climate to one that we – as a species – have never before encountered will be largely beneficial. It might be, but we can be fairly certain that there will be more heatwaves and more precipitation. Other things may be less certain, but more energy in the climate system will likely increase the strength of the most powerful weather events. So, should we be happily going where no man has gone before or should we be acting to mitigate against some of this climate change? My personal view is the latter. If you want to make an argument for the former, go ahead.

  10. William says:

    I would have to look back at the un 2300 report but I. Believe they made the comment better warmer than colder.

  11. William, that seems to be falling into the “rather simple” category. It can’t be universally true. You ever spent any time in Morocco in July for example?

  12. richard says:

    spent time in Israel and Dubai!! but once again with money/ technology we can see where they are going.

  13. richard says:

    ok , I am not a wordsmith so you will have to get through the following best as you can.

    after all even the Egyptians and Romans, many past civilisations had to resort to irrigation.

    Of course we know what might have happened to some of them eventually –

    We can only assume that , lets say naturally , massive droughts will happen again anyway,

    I have posted before, there is a regular – every 700-800 years massive drought that happens in the US, i believe it lasts around a hundred years, we are due one.

    Whether naturally or manmade we need money spent on addressing at least the naturally occurring droughts anyway.

    At the moment what I see is a prospering world,

    I am optimistic.

  14. I’m not sure I can, but why commit money/technology to adapting to an unknown world, when we could commit some to mitigating against at least some of the future changes in climate. We certainly can’t avoid adaptation to a certain extent, but assuming that adaptation alone is the optimal strategy seems overly simplistic (and lacking in convincing evidence, as far as I can tell).

  15. OPatrick says:

    Pretty much by definition any of us still commenting and engaging are optimists, no matter how pesimistic we may sound.

  16. Richard, my previous comment was meant to be for your comment about Israel/Dubai. I’m also optimistic, but that doesn’t imply that an element of mitigation is pessimistic. Of course we’re going to have to continue developing technologies to deal with various climate related disasters. Noone is arguing that mitigation will suddenly stop all climate disasters. It’s about reducing the potential impact of future disasters.

  17. OPatrick, indeed that’s a good point. If I was truly pessimistic, I wouldn’t have started this blog in the first place. Having said that, even though my level of optimism hasn’t changed in the last 6 months or so, my cynicism has increased dramatically 🙂

  18. OPatrick says:

    “At the moment what I see is a prospering world”

    Thanks in part to development and diplomacy. I’m optimistic that international action can make a difference. I don’t want to see those actions wiped out by ‘natural’ factors which we actually have some control over.

  19. OPatrick says:

    The cynical optimist – has a ring to it.

  20. Well, if I ever decide to change the name of this blog, I now know what it will become.

  21. Rachel says:

    We’re not the only creatures on this planet. There are plants and animals trying to survive as well and it’s gravely irresponsible of us to ignore their interests. That climate change will likely destroy the world’s coral reefs is enough of a reason alone to do something about it in my view. I have got a great deal of pleasure out of the Great Barrier Reef and I would feel terrible if my descendants didn’t have the same opportunity. You can’t argue for business as usual and optimism for the future of things like the Barrier Reef because the Barrier Reef is given not even considered in this scenario.

  22. richard says:

    things that get my goat! am going off tangent, but have not done to badly so far! but at least you can understand my thinking.

    acidification of the seas and destruction,

    So i spend weeks on this one and came across this,

    A report from a workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the National
    Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Geological Survey


    Tripling the pre-industrial atmospheric CO2 concentration will cause a reduction in surface ocean
    pH that is almost three times greater than that experienced during transitions from glacial to interglacial periods. This is often termed “ocean acidification” because it describes the process of decreasing pH. Current projections of ocean acidification suggest that
    the pH of surface ocean waters will continue to decline. However, the term can also lead to confusion when it is wrongly assumed that the oceans will become acidic, when in reality, ocean pH is never expected to fall below 7.0; i.e., the oceans are becoming less basic, but not acidic. Such a phenomenon could only occur in the unlikely event that CO2 emissions
    reach more than 10,000 Pg C (Caldeira and Wickett,

    So I thought lets check rules and regulations about PH of coastlines etc which took me to the EPA and this.

    So 3 miles out to sea, of course I do not know how sea life is effected further out.


    Maryland: “Normal pH values may not be less than 6.5 nor greater than 8.5” for Use II (Estuarine and
    Marine Aquatic Life and Shellfish Harvesting) waters.

    So I contacted a scientific organization about the above, their comment was the public and congress would not understand, so I said “well just tell them” the person i contacted ended on “stop trolling me”

    Now this gets my Goat,

    sorry for my rant,

    feel better now,

    I remain optimistic!!

  23. guthrie says:

    Perhaps one source of optimism is the likes of the ban on CFC’s, which was opposed by people and corporations using arguments from the same intellectual stable as Ridley’s. Unfortunately for him, the action which solved it all involved governments getting together and agreeing on legal stuff.
    Same with many of the egregious examples of pollution – civil society, as represented by a government, passed laws forcing the corporation to stop polluting things. Sure, there’s often one or two enlightened organisations who reduce pollution themselves, but the evidence is clear that a legally driven method covering an entire country works better, in part because it puts all the companies on a level playing field and helps prevent individual ones from gaining a short term advantage by continued pollution.

    Ridley is in the position of objecting to global warming because the main model for dealing with externalities of pollution and the like involves regulation, which he is ideologically opposed to. So we can safely say that he has abandoned all scientific thinking which he was educated about all those years ago, and is now anti-science.

  24. Richard/William, are you sure you don’t have a third name. It seems quite well established that the pH of the oceans is decreasing and that this is a consequence of the large increase in dissolved CO2 from our use of fossil fuels. It does seem that many regard this as an effect that could damage many marine biosystems. I’m optimistic too but not convinced that we won’t still damage many ecosystems.

  25. Rachel says:

    I’m not sure why this “gets your goat”. I know what acidification means. No-one is saying or has said, as far as I’m aware, that the oceans will turn to acid. But they are saying that coral reefs will not survive the lowering of ph. Reef ecologist, Peter Sale, talks about it in Reef Grief.

    It’s behind a paywall but I’ve read the full article. Here are some snippets of it:

    ■■ Have coral reefs ever totally
    disappeared in the two billion years since
    they evolved?
    In each of the five previous mass extinctions, the coral reefs have disappeared all over the world for a very lengthy period of time — tens of millions of years.
    ■■When the climate changed again, how
    did the reefs come back?
    On each occasion there was a small number of coral species that survived in refugia. They were relic species tucked away somewhere, and they were insignificant in terms of their impact on the environment. When the conditions improved, there was an
    opportunity for speciation. So, for example, the dominant coral reef species we have now — the scleractinian or ‘stony’ corals — appeared around 65 million years ago, but are derived from earlier corals around that evolved more than 200 million years ago.
    ■■What do corals require to develop
    a reef?
    To build a reef, you’ve got to have an environment where the conditions are favourable for the broad range of calcifying organisms, particularly corals, to prosper and grow, building their carbonate skeletons. These conditions are limited by temperature,
    and water acidity, clarity and quality. Reefs are always a balance between the forces that allow them to build up through calcification and the processes that break them down, such as physical erosion, bio-erosion (by creatures that burrow through it or scrape it off) and
    bleaching events.
    ■■ How are our carbon emissions
    impacting reefs?
    Corals live very close to their upper thermal limits and the first observable impacts on reefs are from rising sea temperatures [from the greenhousegas effect]. Corals are unable to cope with the temperatures, they evict their symbiotic algae, which provide their colour (bleaching), and then if they are
    kept at elevated temperatures for two to three weeks, they start to die. So when the warmer average temperatures coincide with a stronger El Niño, producing extra warmth, you get mass coral bleaching and mass mortality. What’s left behind — remnants of corals in shady places or slightly deeper — are then able to start growing again, given time. But these warm periods are becoming more frequent.

    The other impact our emissions are having is through ocean acidification, which may prove to be more important than warming. Carbon dioxide dissolves in the oceans producing carbonic acid, pushing the ocean pH down, which makes the chemical process of calcification much more difficult energetically. So those organisms
    that depend on calcification to produce their skeletons — corals and a whole range of other things — calcify less rapidly. Corals build weaker skeletons and grow more slowly, and as a consequence, their ability to recover from damage is reduced.
    ■■ Do you worry that you might be of
    the last generation to have dived in
    pristine reefs?
    I do worry, yes. I have told my graduate students: don’t pitch yourself as a coral reef scientist but as some other kind of scientist who happens to work on reefs, because coral reefs may not be there to research in the future or there may simply not be enough
    of them. There are people of my generation who have gone back to places they knew as graduate students and they are amazed at how much they’ve changed in a single working lifetime. Going through the Caribbean, there are some very disappointing sites.

  26. richard says:

    maybe, I cannot comment on the Great barrier reef.

    Scott Reef, a remote coral system in the Indian Ocean, has largely recovered from a catastrophic mass bleaching event in 1998, according to the study published in Science today.

    The study challenges conventional wisdom that suggested isolated reefs were more vulnerable to disturbance, because they were thought to depend on recolonisation from other reefs. Instead, the scientists found that the isolation of reefs allowed surviving corals to rapidly grow and propagate in the absence of human interference.

    My words – Human interference, Tuvalu Coral destruction was from building construction back in the 1970’s.

  27. richard says:

    maybe this is more the problem,

    ” “We know from other studies that the resilience of reefs can be improved by addressing human pressures such as water quality and overfishing,” says Dr Gilmour. “So it is likely that a key factor in the rapid recovery at Scott Reef was the high water clarity and quality in this remote and offshore location.”

  28. richard says:

    as NAT GEO say,‎
    Drilling down into coral reveals distinct bands whose thickness is a measure of annual growth, rather like the rings in a tree trunk. “Our samples show that some reefs have stopped growing lately,” Jon Brodie, a water-quality expert with the Marine Park Authority, told me. “We can tie this directly to higher nitrogen levels in the water coming out of rivers. But it’s important to point out that when we say the Great Barrier Reef is at risk, we’re only talking about portions of the inner reef so far. More remote areas and the outer reef as a whole are still in good shape.”

    The Great Barrier Reef covers 135,000 square miles (350,000 square kilometers), ….. More remote areas and the outer reef as a whole are still in good shape.”

  29. richard says:


    ■■ Have coral reefs ever totally
    disappeared in the two billion years since
    they evolved?


    Although corals first appeared in the Cambrian period, some 542 million years ago

    PH levels were, maybe I am wrong with my info, apparently 7000ppm.


  30. Good post. Maybe we should all learn and post more about economics. It seems more and more that that is the real debate.

    The climate “debate” is just shadow theatre.

    Climate scientists collateral damage.

  31. Victor, thanks. I also think the real debate probably is there. I just wish that people could debate policies/economics without also having to make claims about the science being flawed. I’d have more confidence in the economic views of Tol/Lomborg/Ridley if they didn’t also spend time trying to convince people that there is something fundamentally wrong with climate science. Given that they do that implies, to me at least, that they don’t have sufficient confidence in their economic arguments. In other words, if the free-market is the solution, it’s the solution whether or not the world is warming and undergoing climate change. If you have to argue that the science is wrong in order to make your economic argument more credible, then maybe it isn’t as credible as you think.

  32. Of course, if we do all start discussing economics and policies, we’ll be accused of advocacy, and that’s – apparently – not allowed 😉

  33. Rachel says:


    From what I can find, the ancestors of modern corals appeared in the middle triassic. But they were quite different to the corals we have today in that they did not build reefs.

    I don’t really know much about this though and I’ve just been searching to find stuff on the evolution of corals during periods of high CO2 – which is your argument – and all I can really find is stuff on contrarian websites. What does seem clear is that there was a mass extinction, both on land and water, at the end of the triassic and one theory for this is climate change. It’s worth noting though that high levels of atmospheric CO2 in the past developed over millions of years, not hundreds of years as is happening today.

  34. A quick search for the word advocacy on the latest Climate Etc. post, the folly of corn ethanol did not show any protest.

    I guess advocacy is no problem any more. 🙂

  35. andrew adams says:

    Harsher environments will force African farmers (and their counterparts around the world) to work smarter and make long-term investments that they should be making anyway.

    Yeah, because farming in Africa being such a lucrative occupation there is no incentive for them to do these things at the moment.

  36. richard says:


    I got the impression from the article that the incentive for the change happening in Africa is that farming is lucrative.

    it’s changing quickly but they need more investment,

    a bigger threat possibly is agriculture land grab from other countries squeezing out the locals.

  37. BBD says:

    I see “William” / “Richard” is back trolling again. His previous appearance several threads back as “Richard” did not result in a fruitful conversation. Pretending that the pH of the oceans isn’t falling as more CO2 dissolves in seawater is chemistry denial will be similarly unproductive.

  38. it’s changing quickly but they need more investment,

    Isn’t that, by and large, the fundamental problem. I’m sure we can solve many economic problems if people would simply invest, honestly, in various parts of the world. However, it’s easier said than done, and – as you essentially point out in the latter part of your comment – investors are interested in making money for themselves rather than specifically helping the local economy.

  39. BBD says:

    Pretending that African agriculture – much already at or close to the thermal tolerance of the crops cultivated – will be entirely unaffected by future surface warming is to miss the point so entirely as to cause amazement. One might even think that Richard/William believes that nothing much is going to happen to surface temperatures – particularly African surface temperatures – by the end of the century.

  40. richard says:


    I can only make a judgement on the links i gave you on recovery of coral over the last ten years, and destruction of ( pollution from river water, fishing etc) from the NAT GEO Link.

  41. richard says:



    though a lot of countries seem to be making heavy investment for the future in this area- Africa.

    Ie taking out 90 year leases, of course that maybe canny African governments forcing them into the contract or canny foreigners wanting a guaranteed long term lease based on the huge investments needed,

  42. BBD says:

    That chemistry denial, again, Richard / William.

    I wonder if you would have admitted to two screen names if you hadn’t accidentally outed yourself upthread?

  43. BBD says:

    “Maybe” what Richard / William?

    What about surface temperature rise and its impacts on African agriculture? That is the point I made – address it, please.

  44. richard says:

    bbd, not sure as a government I would take the risk of massive investment if i thought,

    “much already at or close to the thermal tolerance of the crops cultivated ”

    As i have mentioned it amazes me that the US ploughs up prairie grass- great at withstanding droughts , to plant wheat – not great at withstanding droughts.

  45. BBD says:

    The principle actor behind the land-grabs in Africa is China. China is making short-term attempts to meet increased demand from its own population. None of this is remotely cause for optimism about the longer-term future of African agriculture.

  46. richard says:

    What about surface temperature rise and its impacts on African agriculture? That is the point I made – address it, please.

    all i can comment on is at the moment that Africa agriculture is improving all the time, I believe the desert is greening, not sure if the Israeli Scientists are helping on that one.

  47. BBD says:

    You are becoming irritating, Richard / William.

    I asked you to address the point about negative impacts of future warming on African agriculture and you responded with this:

    As i have mentioned it amazes me that the US ploughs up prairie grass- great at withstanding droughts , to plant wheat – not great at withstanding droughts.

    IMO you are trolling here.

  48. BBD says:

    And see your next above. Blatantly evasive.

  49. richard says:

    BBD maybe you are right I can only go by
    “The mounting evidence of this historic reversal is impossible to ignore. Against the new reality, international food agencies that spent decades proclaiming Africa’s inevitable doom are being forced to shift their rhetoric. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the leading nongovernmental donor to African agriculture, reports that 10 African countries are posting annual output increases of 6 percent, more than twice the rate of population growth. After years of bemoaning the inadequacies of African farmers, the Gates foundation now trumpets a series about them entitled “Profiles of Progress.””

  50. BBD says:

    Please explain why the ocean pH will *not* fall as the atmospheric concentration of CO2 increases, Richard / William.

    Please do not be evasive on this point.

  51. BBD says:

    You’ve spammed comments enough here with that link. It does not address the impacts on agricultural productivity of future warming.

    And Richard / William, we have had this conversation before – the last time to trolled comments here. We aren’t going to have it again. Your effective denial that there will be negative consequences for African agricultural productivity in future as warming continues is obvious for all to see and makes a mockery of your “optimism”.

  52. BBD says:

    Desertification isn’t the same problem as crop yields impacted by rising summer temperatures. Either you are confused beyond help or you are being deliberately irritating. The net effect is the same.

  53. BBD says:

    Now, please explain to the forum why ocean pH will *not* continue to rise as the atmospheric concentration of CO2 continues to rise. I have already asked you not to be evasive on this point.

  54. BBD says:

    Apologies to all for the various typos and stoopids, especially the use of “principle” where “principal” was intended. Long day, rather tired.

  55. Rachel says:

    Are you trying to say that ocean acidification is not going to be harmful to coral reefs? Your national geographic link, which doesn’t work I might add but I think you mean this, doesn’t mention CO2 at all.

    It’s my understanding that although there will be some winners and losers with changes in ocean chemistry, by and large the story will be one of loss.

    There was a paper published earlier this year titled Allowable carbon emissions lowered by multiple climate targets. It was basically making the case that rather than setting a target for 2C of warming, why not set a target for something else like maximum sea level rise, ocean acidification or loss of net primary production that we are prepared to tolerate. With these other targets, the allowable emissions become much more restrictive. For ocean acidification, they said that if CO2 rises above 550ppm, then it is likely that more than 90% of the habitats associated with coral reefs will be lost.

    So while I accept that some marine organisms may tolerate a lower ph at least initially, the evidence on the whole seems to point towards habitat loss and severely reduced diversity.

    See also Losers and winners in coral reefs acclimatized to elevated carbon dioxide concentrations.

    Another source of information is Scott Doney’s (from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) testimony to the United States Senate from July this year.

    In addition to ocean acidification, marine ecosystems are also already experiencing other large-scale trends linked to global change. Documented trends relevant to marine biota include increasing sea surface temperature, upper-ocean warming, rising sea-level,
    retreating Arctic sea-ice, and declining subsurface oxygen. Ocean warming is linked to poleward migration of commercial fish stocks and higher intensity and increased spatial ranges of marine diseases that attack corals, abalones, oysters, fishes, and marine mammals.

    Now I think I have to apologise to Wotts for derailing this thread which had absolutely nothing to do with ocean acidification. I will take responsibility for this. Sorry.

  56. BBD says:

    You didn’t derail the thread, Rachel. That was “Richard” / “William”, trolling. And not for the first time, either.

  57. Rachel says:

    On the discussion about Africa and crop yields, an article in the Economist from 2011 finds that climate change is not good news.

    Days above 30°C are particularly damaging. In otherwise normal conditions, every day the temperature is over this threshold diminishes yields by at least 1%. Moreover, days where the temperature exceeds 32°C do twice the harm of those at 31°C. And during a drought, things are worse still. Then, yields take a hit of 1.7% per day over 30°C.

    This matters because increasing the average temperature only a bit can multiply the number of the hottest days a lot. The research predicts that a 1°C rise in average temperature will reduce yields across two-thirds of the maize-growing region of Africa, even in the absence of drought. Add drought and that effect spreads over the entire area.

    I know contrarians like to talk about carbon dioxide as a fertiliser for plants but this isn’t the full story. C4 plants do not benefit from carbon dioxide at all and these include important crops like maize. It also includes the enormous tropical grasslands of Africa and South America. The plants that do respond to CO2 fertilisation also respond negatively to increases in temperature.

    For more info see:

  58. William says:


    So far so good with crop yields, when will these decline, do you have a date as to when they will start.

  59. William says:


    Winners and losers,,

    Seems of the ones they tested winners more winners.

  60. William says:

    Always a balance of amount grown, price, availability for areas that may have experienced drought, always a potential problem in Africa.

    IRIN Africa | SOUTH AFRICA: Too much maize | South Africa …
    Maize production has been booming in South Africa. JOHANNESBURG, 13 January 2011 (IRIN) – After a record maize harvest, a bid by South African farmers to …

  61. Ian Forrester says:

    William/Richard asks:

    So far so good with crop yields, when will these decline, do you have a date as to when they will start.

    Well if you had actually read what is happening by following the peer reviewed scientific literature instead of spamming the nonsense you found on denier blogs you would have the answer to your question. And the answer is now!!

    “Rice yields decline with higher night temperature from global warming”;

  62. guthrie says:

    Switching names in the middle of a discussion can be seen as an indication of confusion or bad faith. Any chance you can stick to one name? All you need to do is take care when typing your post that the correct name is in the box.

  63. William says:

    Rachel, possibly it is better for Africa to grow indiginous crops rather than bought in, the maize article was interesting but of. Course it would be hit by rising temps, take the US And crops, better to grow prairie grass and graze Bison!,

    So africa should grow the crops that can withstand extreme temps, this might help you.

    [PDF]Africa’s Indigenous Crops – Worldwatch Institute‘s-Indigenous-Crops.pdf
    Africa’s Indigenous Crops. 1. Introduction. Finding ways to alleviate hunger and poverty doesn’t always depend on new crop varieties that are bred in a …

  64. William says:

    Not sure if the link opens but from example the Bambara bean, an indiginous plant highly nutritious and able to with stand high temps and lack of rain,

  65. Rachel says:

    William/Richard, I think it would be a good idea to just stick to one name. Using more than one identity when commenting on blogs is a little bit deceptive. There’s a word for it: sock puppetry. I agree with guthrie’s comment above.

    As for growing crops to suit the climate I agree with you. The issue we have here though is that our climate is changing and it is changing rapidly. You mention growing grass for grazing. The IPCC 4th assessment has a section on grasslands and savannas and it’s very complicated. They say:

    Simulations suggest that rising CO2 may favour C3 forms at the expense of African C4 grasses (Thuiller et al., 2006b), even under projected warming.

    The idea that we can just adapt and grow different crops also ignores all of the other animals living on the planet. They can’t adapt by growing different crops.

  66. william says:

    [Rachel: I have stepped in here and deleted this comment because the thread was veering a little too far off course. I realise I am largely to blame and so I thought I’d better sort it out. I hope you understand, William]

  67. Doug Bostrom says:

    Wotts: It’s no good reducing the cost of some consumer product if the consequence is thousands of people out of work who then need to be supported by the taxpayer.

    What’s usually left unstated in romantic thinking by free market optimists is that the unemployed won’t be supported by anybody.

    The foundation of Ridley’s optimism is the law of the jungle.

  68. BBD says:

    Please deal with the troll. This is just chain-jerking by some bozo from WUWT and it is now officially a pain in the ****

  69. Doug

    What’s usually left unstated in romantic thinking by free market optimists is that the unemployed won’t be supported by anybody.

    Indeed, I had thought of elaborating on that, but the post was getting a little long. True de-regulated, free-market economics would indeed – as far as I can tell – imply exactly that. If you couldn’t support yourself in some way, then you’re essentially expendable. No education, no healthcare, no benefits.

  70. BBD says:

    See Ayn Rand.

  71. Ayn Rand’s a bit of a classic. Ended up on benefits (or the equivalent) I believe.

  72. BBD says:

    So it seems. And from wiki, we learn that at her funeral:

    A six-foot floral arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign was placed near her casket.

  73. That's MR BALL to you. says:

    Wotts:Having said that, even though my level of optimism hasn’t changed in the last 6 months or so, my cynicism has increased dramatically

    “No matter how cynical you get, it’s impossible to keep up.” — Lily Tomlin

  74. Rachel says:

    What I don’t understand is why the conservative Australian government wants to abolish a market-based approach to tackling climate change – pricing emissions – and replace it with direct government intervention. Ok, so the direct action they propose is next to useless but it’s still at odds with their philosophy.

  75. Tom Curtis says:

    Ayn Rand is to ethics as creationism (or AGW denial) is to science.

    The disturbing thing is that many vocal economists seem not to recognize that. Indeed, from the public debate on economics, my strongest impression is that much of what passes for macro-economics is simply ideology wrapped up in mathematics. Perhaps the strongest sign of this is that economists even talk of a free market at all, meaning a market without (or with very limited) government regulation. The most fervent proponents of that “ideal” seem not to recognize that the power to incorporate, the ability to establish limited liability, and the mandated low inflationary targets for central banks are all forms of government regulation; and forms of government regulation whose most immediate effect is adverse for wage earners. So also is the freedom of international exchange of capital and goods coupled with strenuous restraint of international exchange of labour. There are additional long term benefits from these regulations, but these are benefits for all in the society – while the costs are born by the poor and those on fixed incomes.

    If economics was ideology free, this would be recognized up front. It would be noted (in one instance) that the ability to incorporate represents (among other things) a government sanctioned means to form a permanent collusion of actors of one sort which thereby gives them an advantage in negotiation with other actors (employees, small suppliers such as farmers) and that that therefore introduces distortions into the market unless those other actors are also allowed to collude when negotiating with coorporations – ie, to negotiate on a union or coop level rather than individually. (Even the later still introduces distortions, but that are then not one sided in their impact.)

    In another example, the right of limited liability should be recognized as a subsidy for the business, and as such should be covered by government guarantee of debts, or by strictly regulated provisions for pay out of debts in the event of bankruptcy such that those who are most vulnerable and with the least market power (employees, subcontractors, local suppliers) should bear the least burden from failure and those with the most market power and who are least vulnerable (banks and other major corporations) rather than the reverse as is presently the case (at least in Australia). Perhaps the most elegant solution is that limited liability should only extend to debts to corporations with limited liability and to governments so that only the beneficiaries of limited liability need pay the implicit subsidy.

    I could go on, but it would be of topic. However, simply learning economics will not aid in the debate on global warming, in that to a certain extent you will only learn a set of ideologically biased principals in a discipline that has schooled itself in not seeing the obvious. The reason scientists are concerned about global warming is that they have schooled themselves in following the evidence. The reason many economists are not is that they have schooled themselves in the reverse.

  76. Tom Curtis says:

    Rachel, the virtue of the Abbot government’s “direct action plan” is that it can be stopped quickly, if it ever actually starts (which I would not bet on). It was proposed as a fig leaf so that the coalition could diffuse AGW as an election issue among those who accepted the science, and with a wink and a nod to those who do not accept the science so that they could believe (probably correctly) that it will not be actually implemented.

  77. Rachel says:

    my strongest impression is that much of what passes for macro-economics is simply ideology wrapped up in mathematics.

    This is an insult to mathematics. It should read: my strongest impression is that much of what passes for macro-economics is simply ideology wrapped up in pseudo-mathematics.

  78. Tom, I think Stiglitz makes a similar argument in his recent book. I meant to write down the page so that I could repeat his argument, but forgot to do so. Will have to page through the book again.

    What I find ironic is a bunch of economists (or those associated with economics) arguing for value-free science when they themselves seem to be associated with what appears to be an extremely value-laden field.

  79. Rachel says:

    The direct action plan is really just a ruse, I know. But I can’t help thinking Abbott is not a true free market thinker. I read a good one-sentence summary of him in an otherwise unexciting article about the broadband network:

    [his] policy gyrations expose him as a rank opportunist driven more by statist Catholic social conservatism than free enterprise.

  80. Tom Curtis says:

    Rachel, it may be an insult to mathematics, but the economists’ mathematics is generally sound. Mathematics, however, is just like computer programs. GIGO! In this case, however, perhaps it is a case of what is left out rather than what is put in that results in the problem.

  81. John Mashey says:

    Get your library to order a copy of Ayres&Warr: The Economic Growth Engine: How Energy and Work Drive Material Prosperity. or take a look at this lecture. Bob Ayres is a physicist turned biophysical; economist, i.e. ,based on real world

    He understands* climate change *and shows why energy efficiency is crucial, since CO2 emissions have to come down. He is not keen on neoclassical economics, with magic Total Factor Productivity that produces endless growth divorced from the real world. For odd reasons, one of the blurbs on the book jacket is from me. I make no claim this book is light reading, but it is good.

    *It’s in the book, appropriately, including the p.303 concern that most econ models assume the same GDP growth rate for next century as for the last, not a good idea, since the last century’s growth was built on massively-expanded use of fossil fuels…

  82. Doug Bostrom says:

    Further to Tom’s thoughts, perhaps its the case that most macroeconomists employ the term “free market” as one end of a continuum for the purpose of building mental models, but politicians, bankers, owners of fast food empires etc. mistake the intended abstract concept of a “free market” as something that’s actually viable in the real world?

    From reading Paul Krugman’s blog, it seems fairly clear that despite doubtless spending many sitting through economics courses our captains of industry don’t seem to have absorbed much in the the way of macroeconomic fundamentals. More it seems the case they mine their experience for expedient interpretations.

  83. John, I can see why I’d need to that book from the library 🙂

    Doug, I’ve also read quite of lot of what Paul Krugman writes and it is amazing that some very influential economists (Stiglitz seems to be another) make very convincing arguments about macro-economics that then get ignored by our policy makers. It does seem that our politicians seem quite comfortable making decisions that seem to be based on their own, rather narrow, experiences and views, instead of actually considering proper macro-economic analysis.

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