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« The works of Lord Deben | Main | Naming names »

Walport and his evidence

Another entertaining episode in the hearings this morning was where Mark Walport was asked about Matt Ridley's suggestion that global warming would bring net benefits over 40-50 years. This conclusion is based on Richard Tol's metaanalysis of mainstream economic studies into such questions (see key figure below).

In response to this, Walport had this to say:

I understand the point [Ridley] is trying to make but I think he's completely wrong unfortunately. While there might be trivial benefits in some parts of the world for some of the time the long term direction for all of us is a negative direction. And frankly I think he is...he described himself as a "rational optimist". I'm not sure about the rational bit.

I wonder if Walport has any actual evidence to support his position that Ridley is wrong. The words read like our chief scientist substituting name-calling for a lack of evidence.

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Reader Comments (53)

Anyone who has read Geoffrey Parker's 'Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century' is well aware of the benefits of warming.

My recollection is that he reports a possible 50% drop in population during that Ice Age century.

Mar 11, 2014 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon B

Sorry. Parker reports that possibly 1/3 of the world's population was lost during the seventeenth centruy, not 50%

Mar 11, 2014 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon B

>there might be trivial benefits in some parts of the world

Benefits like faster plant growth everywhere, drought resistance everywhere, an overall increase in rainfall, longer growing seasons outside the tropics. Increased bioproductivity and biodiversity.

Mar 11, 2014 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered Commentergenemachine

Anyone going to the Chief Scientist for actual science is raving mad and/or in Government.

Mar 11, 2014 at 2:12 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

So we go from Barker who won't name names to Walport who can't do so without inserting an ad hominem.

We don't PAY these people, do we??

Mar 11, 2014 at 2:15 PM | Registered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

Are we better off now than we would be if our climate was still in the middle of an ice age? Of course we are. What is it about the current climate that makes it perfect? Why do the warming skeptics (those who believe that further warming would be harmful) believe that we are living in the best possible climate? One that cannot be improved upon? Are we simply incredibly fortunate to be living when we are?

Mar 11, 2014 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpeed

Time for the 1938 Guy Callendar paper quote again:

"In conclusion, it may be said that the combustion of fossil fuel, whether it be peat from the surface or oil from 10,000 feet below, is likely to prove beneficial to mankind in several ways, besides the provision of heat and power. For instance the above mentioned small increases of mean temperature would be important at the northern margin of cultivation, and the growth of favourably situated plants is directly proportional to the carbon dioxide pressure. In any case the return of the deadly glaciers should be delayed indefinitely.”

Mar 11, 2014 at 2:23 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Canada (plus Alaska) would benefit greatly from some warming: more food production, lower energy costs, lower infrastructure maintenance costs, opening the Arctic, etc. I am sure the same thing applies to most of Russia, Mongolia, and Northern China.

Mar 11, 2014 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike W

Perhaps Walport is alluding to the fact that the half a degree warming experienced so far has already cost our economy a ruinous amount by the simple device of the various misguided directives....

Mar 11, 2014 at 2:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave M

Mike W (Mar 11, 2014 at 2:25 PM)

And northern Europe, where smaller winter fuel bills, and hopefully a longer growing season would be very welcome. Last year nothing began to grow here (Scottish Highlands) until very late May.

Walport's should back up his opinion with some evidence, or apologise to Ridley. Maybe if he learnt some climate history he would appreciate the benefits of the long slow thaw from the Little Ice Age:

Famine in Scotland - the 'ill Years' of the 1690s (Scottish Historical Review Monographs).

Mar 11, 2014 at 2:58 PM | Registered Commenterlapogus

I thought non-scientist Beddington was bad, but Wallyport is abysmal; another public school educated prat.

At least King was at one time a scientist before he became an advocate of the IPCC's fake fizzicks.

Mar 11, 2014 at 3:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpartacusisfree

How can we ever expect common sense to prevail when the majority of the political class are suffering from, or profiting from, mass hysteria?

Mar 11, 2014 at 3:08 PM | Unregistered Commenterc777

Does the CGS not realise now much territory in the northern hemisphere becomes arable and therefore productive when the temperature increases???? That alone is a good reason to know that warming is beneficial. No doubt however, the prospect of using all that evil hydrocarbon fuel to cultivate, process and transport all those extra millions of tonnes of crops from that newly available pasture will send the CGS and all his greenie friends into a dizzied fit.

Mar 11, 2014 at 3:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterIlma

I thought non-scientist Beddington was bad, but Wallyport is abysmal; another public school educated prat.

At least King was at one time a scientist before he became an advocate of the IPCC's fake fizzicks.

Mar 11, 2014 at 3:07 PM | Spartacusisfree

"another public school educated prat."

Great piece of stereotyping. Congratulations.

Mar 11, 2014 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

By the way, Spartacus, Matt Ridley is another public school educated twat as well. Eton in his case. How appalling does that make him in your (playground) iconography ?

Mar 11, 2014 at 3:56 PM | Registered Commenterjeremypoynton

What's interesting – and disturbing – in watching the government's climate head-honchos in action is not just how smug they are, not just how dismissive they are of any sceptical position, not even just how buttressed they are by a Whitehall machine that seems about as far removed from reality as it is possible to get but how utterly third-rate they are.

Yet these puffed-up, condescending midgets are committing the country to a kind of economic suicide.

It may be true that, little by little, they are at last before forced to concede fragments of ground. But it is still a genuinely scary prospect that such half-wittery is in a position to cause immense damage.

Mar 11, 2014 at 4:10 PM | Unregistered Commenteragouts

I differentiate between Ridley and the others as the latter were promoted into niche bureaucratic positions because they were of the elite. Despite his background, Ridley has talent.

Today, Walport and MacKay, the latter also privately-educated, illustrated classical Group Think in their dumb acceptance that despite falling atmospheric temperatures and near static OHC, the missing heat 'just has to exist'; it never did.

Mar 11, 2014 at 4:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpartacusisfree

I presume it would be possible for Tol to submit a short paper correcting what Walport says because he does seem to be plainly wrong. The only escape would be to argue for more than 2 degrees warming in the next 30-40 years. That's surely no longer a defensible position (if it ever was).

Mar 11, 2014 at 4:28 PM | Unregistered Commenteraln kennedy

Today, Walport and MacKay, the latter also privately-educated, illustrated classical Group Think in their dumb acceptance that despite falling atmospheric temperatures and near static OHC, the missing heat 'just has to exist'; it never did.

Mar 11, 2014 at 4:20 PM | Spartacusisfree

Oh FFS. Lets have some citations then for this garbage about public school education. By citations, I don't mean rank prejudice.

Mar 11, 2014 at 4:30 PM | Registered Commenterjeremypoynton

One thing is certain, you don't get to be Government Chief Scientific Advisor without agreeing to toe the Government line. He will agree to say whatever the Government wants. He won't get his baronetcy if he steps out of line.

Mar 11, 2014 at 4:40 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

If Sir Mark Walport had strong evidence for his position of extreme catastrophic climate change then he can rebuke Matt Ridley. He has not. It is all based on modelled estimates.
Suppose the catastrophist curve above is correct, and assume all the warming since 1900 has been human caused. 0.8 degrees equates to a global welfare loss of 2% of GDP. So where is the trend in real losses in the last 113 years?
If it is minor effects it is even worse. Real GDP on average has risen by over 2,000%, with huge variations. Nominal GDP and the GDP deflator are just estimates.
Then, if you can show a 2% decline in welfare historically, there is the shape of the curve. That is how the welfare impact I is related to temperature rise T. A more recent paper from Richard Tol was referenced in February last year at Wattsupwiththat.

Tol's two cost functions were of the form I=f(T^2) and I=f(T^6).
That is the welfare impact is related temperature rise raised to the 2, or raised to the power 6. When I tried to derive a cost function last year with less sophisticated techniques I came up with I=f(T^4). There is no way on a very limted amount of warming over a long period you can even reliably estimate wether the welfare impact will be positive or negative. Yet the Sternian justification of the costs of policy being a small fraction of the costs unmitigated warming rely as much on the extreme welfare impact functions as they do on very low discount rates.
It is even worse if you question a climate scientist. The reason for catastrophic consequences above 3-4 degrees are due to tipping points. That is the welfare impact function is dicontinuous. The economic cost of crossing these tipping points is highly speculative, and the larger estimates based upon the highly unlikely scenario of one thing triggering another, throwing the climate into complete chaos.
Sir Mark Walport's only firm ground is that a lot of other highly intelligent people also accept the same story. They all assume that somebody else has fully thought the issues through when none has. Richard Tol is probably the expert who has gone furthest.

Mar 11, 2014 at 6:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevin Marshall

Ice ages are bad news whether little or large. A climate change (natural or human) which takes us out of the little ice age is a good thing.

Mar 11, 2014 at 6:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterEddy

Meanwhile, in the real world.

Shindell is at odds with his erstwhile colleagues,including Hal Doiron.

Doiron was one of 40 ex NASA employees – including seven astronauts – who wrote in April 2012 to NASA administrator Charles Bolden protesting about the organization’s promotion of climate change alarmism, notably via its resident environmental activist James Hansen.

During his stint as head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Hansen tirelessly promoted Anthropogenic Global Warming theory. He retired last year to spend more time on environmental campaigning and has twice been arrested with former mermaid impersonator Darryl Hannah for his part in protests against surface coal mining and the Keystone XL pipe line. While still head of NASA GISS he once described trains carrying coal as “death trains” “no less gruesome than if they were carrying boxcars headed to crematoria and loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.” Many NASA employees and former employees found his views an embarrassment.

Doiron and his team now hope to set the record straight in a report called Bounding GHG Climate Sensitivity For Use In Regulatory Decisions.

Using calculations by George Stegemeier of the National Academy of Engineering, they estimated the total quantity of recoverable oil, gas and coal on the planet. They then used 163 years of real world temperature data to calculate Transient Climate Sensitivity (ie how much the world will warm as a result of the burning of all the carbon dioxide in the fossil fuel). The figure they came up with 1.2 degrees C which is considerably lower than the wilder claims of the IPCC, whose reports have suggested it could be as high as 4 degrees C or more.

Mar 11, 2014 at 6:10 PM | Registered Commenterperry

I watched snippets of Walport and Mackay earlier, they both struck me as being incredibly unsure and insecure. I doubt Walport understands much about what 1˚C lower troposphere warming may mean. Aberdeen lies toward the N edge of the temperate belt. If I drive 30 miles west and climb 3789 ft up Lochnagar I'm in Arctic conditions. For Scotland to slip deeper into the Temperate belt would be great - in fact bring on the Mediterranean. To slip towards the Arctic would be a catastrophe for the whole of northern Britain.

Mar 11, 2014 at 6:20 PM | Registered CommenterEuan Mearns

"another public school educated prat."

Yes, someone has already called out this generalized smear but can we now hope (no, 'expect that') no one else makes a fool of themselves by revealing such bigoted views on a blog much given over to exposing the biogtry of CAGW supporters.

Mar 11, 2014 at 6:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlleagra

Mark Walport should not be let out.

Mar 11, 2014 at 7:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterHeadless Chicken

As a Kiwi who has lived and worked in the UK, I am still surprised and disapointed when obviously intelligent English people demonstrate various unthinking and unreasonable class and political prejudices.
I once had a very serious disagreement with a teaching colleague in Berkshire who reacted very strongly when I said something about 'us middle-class people' and he indignantly insisted that despite his first-class degree and sheltered childhood with a bank-managing father that he was 'working class' because his Yorkshire grandfather had worked 'in t'pit' . My Yorkshire grandfather also 'worked in t'pit' as a lead miner, but I can't for the life of me understand how his occupation a century and a half ago could possibly define me in any way.
And if your egregious Chief Scientist who has no clue, scientific or otherwise, about climate, send him to New Zealand which has a climate in the Temperate Zone and he might understand the linkages between a climate slightly warmer than the UK and year-round outdoor livestock farming.

Mar 11, 2014 at 7:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

I thought non-scientist Beddington was bad, but Wallyport is abysmal; another public school educated prat.

Mar 11, 2014 at 3:07 PM | Spartacusisfree

Wow, what an intelligent contribution. Miliband went to a state school, so I assume you are just as contemptuous of state school educated prats?

Mar 11, 2014 at 8:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

Just out of interest, which is the sole forecast which has ALL warming as 100% bad? Could it be associated with Lord Stern?

Mar 11, 2014 at 8:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Interested readers may want to have a look at the leaked Chapter 10 of IPCC WG2 AR5.

Mar 11, 2014 at 8:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Walport 's "the long term direction for all of us is a negative direction" merely restates Keynes' "in the long run we are all dead". The apposite question to Walport is whether he has read Tol or Lomborg.

Mar 11, 2014 at 9:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterLuther Bl't

Actually the alarmist crowd now how firm evidence that a warming world is a dangerous one, according to new reports this week.

Genghis Khan: Good weather 'helped him to conquer'

"The rise of Genghis Khan and the huge Mongol Empire in the early 13th Century may have been helped by good weather, scientists suggest. American researchers studying the rings of ancient trees in central Mongolia have discovered that his rise coincided with the mildest, wettest weather in more than 1,000 years. Grass grew at a rapid rate, providing fodder for his war horses."

Does anyone want a new Genghis Khan? The next IPCC Report will surely have a chapter on this previously unsuspected but obviously terrifying danger.

Mar 11, 2014 at 10:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Big certain opinion out of mouth
no evidence on the table
Big orange feet under the table
Quack Quack

- Barker "Skepticsm is fading.." evidence ? "oh I can't name any names"
- Wally# : "I think Ridley is wrong" .."...evidence "I think Ridley is wrong"

As usual large amounts if projection.. so perhaps
"Alarmism is fading.." I think you could show evidence for that.

Talking of projection, warmists always have this fantasy about their being powerful serial deception , by big money interests. No applying the rule if projection that would make them the powerful, big money, serial deceivers. Well the evidence seems to tick sll the boxes; since the big money is really with green hedgefunds/subsidies & climate research grants.

# what about the "shutup you are not an expert in the field" rule ...Warmists shout "Lawson should be banned, he's not a bona fide 'climate scientist' ", Well neither id Walport

Mar 11, 2014 at 11:22 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

American researchers studying the rings of ancient trees in central Mongolia have discovered that his rise coincided with the mildest, wettest weather in more than 1,000 years.

The very first thing we teach students is that correlation is not causation. You'd think well paid academics would know that.

How do they explain Attila the Hun, at the peak of bad weather? Usually the explanation is that crop failures weakened the Roman Empire.

So climate explains everything! Again.

Mar 12, 2014 at 12:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterMooloo

So what does Walport think global cooling will be like then? Funny how they effortlessly combine ridiculous pessimism about climate with ridiculous optimism about windmills. It's like they aren't content with just being stupid once.

Mar 12, 2014 at 12:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG


You are right to challenge the stereotyping idea of "public school prats". Ad hominem and all that.

I went to an orphanage, wooden Army huts, just after WW2. In my long life I have never met any public school prats. Well, not that many - I spent 20 years in Whitehall and they were nowhere to be seen.

Jeremy - any chance of you commenting on the substantive issue ? That Walport is ignorant ?

Mar 12, 2014 at 12:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Anderson

Genghis Khan will work well for parents, Roy.

"Do you want Ghengis Khan and his hordes charging up the street, burning, looting and pillaging? Do you want him stealing your X-box and ripping up your Justin Bieber posters? Well, that's what will happen if you don't turn off the light when you leave your room."

Mar 12, 2014 at 1:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterDocBud

(1) If you want to keep global warming to 1C from now (1.7C from pre-industrial) in line with the peak in the graphic, we would need to rapidly reduce CO2 emissions. (2) The gains from modest warming are net gains: some regions lose while others gain. The technical economics term for this is theft.

Mar 12, 2014 at 1:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike X

I sent this email to Sir Mark Walport:

Dear Mark,

I see that this morning in testifying to the Energy and Climate Change Committee in answer to a question from Graham Stringer MP you described my reporting on studies of the benefits of climate change as "completely wrong" and me as not rational. You will understand that I find these charges damaging to my standing as a journalist and author who takes great care with his research. I also find them surprising coming from somebody who I consider a friend.

It is possible that you had not read my article on the benefits of climate change directly, but had relied on second-hand accounts of it, in which case I can understand how you came to be misled. If so, you can read it here (, with links to sources, together with some detailed responses that I made to ill-informed criticisms of the article. My article states:

"There are many likely effects of climate change: positive and negative, economic and ecological, humanitarian and financial. And if you aggregate them all, the overall effect is positive today — and likely to stay positive until around 2080. That was the conclusion of Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University after he reviewed 14 different studies of the effects of future climate trends."

Are you saying that the academic, peer-reviewed work by these 14 teams, and the meta-analysis of them by Richard Tol, as well as all the other studies I cited in my article, are all "completely wrong"? Or are you arguing that my reporting of this work was "completely wrong"? Professor Tol thinks my reporting of his paper was accurate, and none of the other authors have objected, so the second charge is certainly unfair.

I know you are busy, but please may we meet to discuss this matter? I am available in the House of Lords on a regular basis. I emailed you on a previous occasion on 13 January, after your letter to the Times, but did not receive a response. I would be grateful if you would acknowledge this email at the very least so that I know it has reached you.

Yours sincerely


I received a reply in which he did not address the question of why he thought I was "completely wrong" but agreed to set up a meeting. However, his criticism remains on the record, so I have asked him to withdraw it.

Mar 12, 2014 at 7:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterMatt Ridley

He'll withdraw it when he'll overheats...or is that freezes over???



Mar 12, 2014 at 8:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

The responses of Walport and Mike X above show why you can't rationalise with or give ground to these unscientific activists: They are just too self-righteous to listen to reason. Yes it would be utopian to minimise our reliance on fossil fuels but some of us care that the current high-tax path to getting there will definitely cause misery in the short/medium term that is likely much worse than the guesstimated bad long term effect from a hypothesis with zero observational support so far hyped up by overconfident researchers who cannot predict anything correctly.

Acid rain from fossil fuels was the last enviro scare and before that a new ice age was supposedly due from fossil fuels too. Both were grossly overhyped extrapolations from minimal data and theory. The only consistency is that earth scientists seem determined to imagine that industrial progress from fossil fuels is innately somehow bad despite all the evidence to the contrary. Skeptics need to continually point out that these fanatics don't have the moral high ground. Far from it, their activism is anti-human!

Mar 12, 2014 at 8:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

I don't know why it has any relevance at all, but I was not privately educated. My education (age 5-21) was entirely state-funded, and I am very grateful for it.

Mar 12, 2014 at 9:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid MacKay

David Mackay

Thanks for your post. You should ignore "Spartacus is free"; I tend to delete his comments when I see them.

Mar 12, 2014 at 9:31 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

David MacKay: Given that you have been well treated by the taxpayer, it would be good if you were to repay the taxpayer from your position of influence, by pointing out to the Government that its energy policies (based on unfounded climate alarmism with no scientific evidence), mainly based upon heavily subsidising unreliable and hugely expensive renewable energy generators, at the expense of cheap and reliable power stations, are driving the country into economic ruin and causing considerable harm to the taxpayers. If they won't listen to such advice, you should resign.

Mar 12, 2014 at 9:36 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

In my view, anyone who gives credence to the temperature record, climate models or the outcome of their projections is playing for the other side. That includes Matt Ridley and the GWPF.

Mar 12, 2014 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

I understand your position but since it is the temperature record, climate models and the outcome of projections that are the basis on which government is advised and acts the only weapon we have is to provide evidence that these things are flawed.
Simply denying that they have any credibility just makes us .... deniers!
You forget that the activists (as has been pointed out, or at least inferred, in the comments on the Deben thread) have been at work on this for 40 years. They have had more than enough time to cement their views into the mainstream while the rest of us weren't even aware that there were any "views" that we needed to be aware and wary of!
While I hold no brief for the ad homs from MyDogSpartAlec (who I see has reverted to Nym2) his comments about Agenda21 and, today, Globe International are usually pretty well on the mark.
Digging these people out of their trenches is going to take some doing.

Mar 12, 2014 at 12:05 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Mike Jackson

The MWP and 'hide the decline' aren't flaws, they are crevasses.

Mar 12, 2014 at 12:12 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

I am a stout, good portly man i'faith and if I behave like a prat then I might well be called 'a big fat prat'. Causation need not be claimed (size-wise) or even implied, but it just makes it more personal. It is an emphatic way of pointing one out - 'Yes, its you I mean'.

Re. a 'public school' et cetera.

Mar 12, 2014 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoseph Sydney

Don B at 2:02 PM on March 11:

"Parker reports that possibly 1/3 of the world's population was lost during the seventeenth centruy[sic]...."

It's an eco-misanthrope's wet dream.

Mar 12, 2014 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn DeFayette

Learned people such as Matt Ridley may well give his opinion to this committee but the committee does not have to recognize it for it full worth.
After all they (the committee) did not say they were to be rational or scientific – they’re only a government run circus aka The Energy & Climate Change Select Committee.
You can’t expect too much from sitting on such committees as these members are reduced to mere government fuctionaries paid to toe the line.

Mar 12, 2014 at 3:25 PM | Unregistered Commentertom0mason

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