Like the good little ecomodernist he is, Viscount Ridley (AKA Matt King Coal, science correspondent for Murdoch’s Times, owner of Britain’s biggest open-cast coal mine and the man who inherited and then broke Northern Rock) has been busy recycling old myths into comment pieces, for the Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Fortunately, ever since Murdoch bought it, the WSJ’s editorial pages are only really of interest to members of the US Republican party, so I don’t need to look at that piece (co-written by Ridley and Benny Peiser, 'sport sociologist' and Ridley’s colleague at the UK’s premier science denial outfit, the Global Warming Policy Foundation).
But there are still many people around the world who take the Times seriously, even on scientific matters, so perhaps we should have a look at that.
It’s a typical Gish Gallop – a tottering tower of mistakes and misrepresentations so high that debunking every error in the piece would produce a response too long for anyone to bother reading. So, in keeping with the spirit of the piece, I’m cherry-picking the penultimate paragraph to debunk. If any of my readers would prefer me to pick another paragraph, please let me know which one in the comments, and I’ll debunk that as well. But life’s too short to do the whole thing.
So, my chosen paragraph is –
“In fact, the Arctic, and the world as a whole then cooled between 1950 and 1970, which then led to these headlines, all from 1970: “Scientists See Ice Age in the Future” (The Washington Post), “Is Mankind Manufacturing a New Ice Age for Itself?” (Los Angeles Times), “Scientist predicts a new ice age by 21st century” (The Boston Globe), “US and Soviet Press Studies of a Colder Arctic” (The New York Times) and (my favourite) “Dirt Will Bring New Ice Age” (The Sydney Morning Herald).”
Long-term climateers will instantly recognise the rather battered and over-used ‘scientists thought there would be an ice-age in the seventies’ meme.
And long-term climateers will know that it’s been debunked a thousand times.
According to a meta-analysis conducted by the American Meteorological Society of the relevant peer-reviewed literature, between 1965 and 1979 there were 44 papers published predicting global warming, 20 papers which took no view on whether the world was warming or cooling, and only seven which predicted cooling. So for every scientist warning of cooling, there were 6.3 scientists predicting warming. There wasn’t the overwhelming consensus there is now, but so far as there was a consensus, it was clearly for warming.
But of course, the clever old Viscount doesn’t claim that ‘scientists thought the world was cooling in the seventies’, because he knows how easy that is to disprove.
What he is claiming is that a lot of American newspapers, and one Australian newspaper, thought the world was cooling in the seventies.
Now, I could go through the archives of all those papers and dig out the articles predicting global warming from the same period and compare the numbers, but I think we can skip all that by learning a deeper lesson.
The scientists were right, the science correspondents were wrong.
Plus. Ça. Change.
In case there are any members of the US Republican party reading, the WSJ piece by Ridley and Peiser is critiqued by climate scientists here.