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Creating perspective

Matt Ridley has braved the brickbats of the vested interests and the greens with another hard-hitting piece in the Wall Street Journal, this time looking at the forthcoming Working Group II report, its downgrading of alarm and the new perspective of climate change among a number of issues facing the world.

Almost every global environmental scare of the past half century proved exaggerated including the population "bomb," pesticides, acid rain, the ozone hole, falling sperm counts, genetically engineered crops and killer bees. In every case, institutional scientists gained a lot of funding from the scare and then quietly converged on the view that the problem was much more moderate than the extreme voices had argued. Global warming is no different.

This, I think is likely to enrage those whose livings depend on the maintenance of a state of alarm and the reaction will therefore be aggressive. Let's make sure that the voices of reason are heard too.

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Reader Comments (69)

I do find myself wondering what the new scare will be though?

My money is on "biodiversity".....I've heard....rumblings...

Mar 28, 2014 at 8:34 AM | Unregistered Commenterjones

...Almost every global environmental scare of the past half century proved exaggerated...


Mar 28, 2014 at 8:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Read it and weep, peeps; this is what it was all about.

Mar 28, 2014 at 8:48 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Oh come on, let's be honest here. Ridley merely saying good morning will outrage the catastrophiliacs in to outrageously outragety outrage!


Mar 28, 2014 at 9:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Jones, the guardian is getting ocean acidity ready, just in case.

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

I do find myself wondering what the new scare will be though?

My money is on "biodiversity".....I've heard....rumblings...

Mar 28, 2014 at 8:34 AM | Unregistered Commenterjones

Yes, They are 'testing the water' at the moment trying to find the next big scare. Their probvlem is that they have become so 'locked in ' to climate scares that they can't think of anything else and climate scares are old rag now.

The BBC has an'acidification scare' at the moment but there are many others in the thinking, i'm sure.

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Has anyone kept a record/list of the scares over the past 50 years?

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterTom O'Connor

Ahh...."acidity" eh?

Honestly hadn't caught that one yet....

Well there ain't much bio-diversity inside my car battery so they may well be onto something with that one.....

Yet when my doctor wanted to eradicate the H.Pylori in my tum tum he was, in fact, a sort of eco-biodiversity-terrorist?

I am a confused sort at the best of times. Apologies.


So it's worse than we thought then.....

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:20 AM | Unregistered Commenterjones

I predict the next big scare will be an asteroid impact and/or a huge solar coronal mass ejection.

But wait... These are actually really scary.

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

Ton O'Connor:

"...Has anyone kept a record/list of the scares over the past 50 years?..."

Yes, Chris Booker and Richard North:in "Scared to Death".

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterOld Goat

@Jimmy Haigh: the trouble with those is taxation won't 'fix' it.

My money is on bio-diversity and the rate of extinction.

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterSebastian Weetabix

I predict the next big scare will be an asteroid impact and/or a huge solar coronal mass ejection.

But wait... These are actually really scary.

Only if you can humans in the frame for them...

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Well I hate to be pessimistic but the legislation based on the alarm for many of these environmental scares is still with us despite the scare going away. The reason Didcot and Cockenzie were shut down was from a European directive limiting not carbon dioxide but sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides. Every new power plant must have SO2 scrubbers and cars need catalytic convertors. Probably soot collectors are on their way too when they remember about that scare.

Alas the same largely baseless self-justificatory claim is made that the legislation cured the problem and not that it wasn't a problem in the first place. Not only that but the population bomb myth is back with us and pesticides are now being blamed for killing bees despite contradictory evidence.

Of course we have had the BSE scare, the millenium bug and several flu scares. In all cases it is also claimed that we cured the problem by international action. Well the millenium bug was almost ignored by the Japanese and yet they didn't suffer from it either, the BSE scare was one where the scientists got things totally wrong twice (first ridiculously optimistic, then ridiculously pessimistic) and the flu scares led to us buying millions of innoculations that were not required. The ozone hole (which turned out to be entirely natural and nothing to do with CFC's) discovery led us to replace a fairly leak-free gas in favour of a very leaky gas which is now also banned in Europe because it has a potent greenhouse effect. This latter fact was known by environmentalists prior to the Montreal protocol but they just ignored it presumably because they thought then that the ozone hole was the bigger issue.

Of course the genius of the CO2 limits is that it ticks all those anti-growth, anti-industry, anti-population boxes at a single stroke. The new green priests don't want us to develop stack scrubbers this time, they want us to change our lifestyle - or better still just die off.

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Rodent, I once tested the water, so to speak, by commenting in the gruniad (I think) about the earthquake a few years ago in Haiti to the effect that human caused Greenland glacier melt had disturbed the tectonic plates or something to that effect....I vaguely recall it got something like 200 recommends and supportive follow-up comments.....

I did not follow up with my initial comment due to ethical considerations!

I was gobsmacked I. I really was........belief systems are very interesting things...

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:39 AM | Unregistered Commenterjones

I watched the baseball film Moneyball last night and there was a scene in it where John Henry the owner of the Boston Red Sox is talking to Billy Beane the Manager of the Oaklands A's which struck me as apposite here -

"It's the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds it's threatening the game. But really what it's threatening is their livelihoods, it's threatening their jobs, it's threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it's the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people are holding the reins, have their hands on the switch. They go bat shit crazy."

Don't they just!

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterBuck

@ Tom O'Connor Mar 28, 2014 at 9:19 AM

"Has anyone kept a record/list of the scares over the past 50 years?"

Try this:-

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

I know that saying "I told you so" is an unpleasant habit with some people but may I be allowed to point you to this wot I wrote in October 2010?
I actually revised my view slightly in a subsequent posting when I concluded that on balance, "sustainability" was likely to be the preferred choice rather than "biodiversity". And I wouldn't argue either with those who are signed up to "ocean acidification" as the next scare though I think that is too precise and easily explained and rebutted to gain the required level of traction.
Biodiversity and sustainability are nicely vague and woolly concepts with a good built-in "feelgood factor".

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:54 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

New scare, my moneys on......

'extreme normal weather events'

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

The common theme is "Get the money before facts expose you."

Actually, the theme is even more common that the emergence of the enviornmental science parasites. The Romans taught their young to beware these folks.

Mar 28, 2014 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered Commentercedarhill

Well the millenium bug was almost ignored by the Japanese and yet they didn't suffer from it either

Where did you get this idea? The Japanese software company I worked for was already prepared for this in 1995, and since the operating systems in general use are all multi-national, the fixes from IBM/Microsoft/Unisys/HP/DEC/etc.etc.etc would have worked in Japan the same as everywhere else.

Mar 28, 2014 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

Chagrined, Dodgy asks:

...Almost every global environmental scare of the past half century proved exaggerated...


My term would be "virtually." I that strong enough?

There is doubt about the ozone problem - human, collective action may have helped with a much hyped issue.... Or else it may have had a marginal benefit. The swamp of measured seasonal variability and the capacity of the planet to re-make stratospheric ozone leaves the matter in question, either way. (Most enviros, however, put the opposite valence on it - just in the nick of time, humanity ACTED!)

Like Fred Singer, I think the jury's out on this one. So, to my mind, "virtually" is strong enough - although "almost" as Ridley uses, comes close enough I believe.

Mar 28, 2014 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterOrson

Not sure if this is the right thread to put it on but an interesting perspective....

Mar 28, 2014 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterjones

The BBC hasn't quite given up on the latest scare story yet:

All that non-change in temps over the last 16-20 years is wreaking havoc in Japan. Do I detect an air of desperation ahead of the IPCC's widely discussed climb down on alarmism? If climate change isn't happening it is still bad you know!

Mar 28, 2014 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Mike Jackson

I think you are correct. Sustainability is certainly the word of the moment in universities. If you have not seen it, I recommend Wilfred Beckerman's very short book "A Poverty of Reason." It provides a very cool demolition job on a vacuous concept.

Mar 28, 2014 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered Commenteralan kennedy

Ukraine and Crimea has re jump started the Cold War.So back to normal.Climate Change back to the bottom of the agenda

Mar 28, 2014 at 10:34 AM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

Thanks for the link Mike. Read it all...Interesting read.

Consider me told so!

I think I might patent a T-shirt with the words "I told you so" written on the front....

Unless you beat me to it of course.



Mar 28, 2014 at 10:36 AM | Unregistered Commenterjones

I really must activate that blog again. I read a few of my posts looking for that reference and was amazed at the perspicacity of some of them. Not to mention the total tripe in others!
Thank you for reminding me I should be paying it more attention.
As for the tee-shirt, be my guest.

Mar 28, 2014 at 10:55 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Matt Ridley;

The forthcoming report apparently admits that climate change has extinguished no species so far and expresses “very little confidence” that it will do so.

They'll be rewriting that bit furiously now.

Mar 28, 2014 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered Commenterssat

- A positive future : The world will come to understand reason and critical thinking and there will be no more scares with mankind blaming itself for everything Instead when problems come up we won't panic, we will deal with them like adults. The green movement will fall apart as people realise it's not possible to be dogmatic and proscribe whole fields as magic bad, or magic good.

- The global warming scare should be slowing. A few years ago we were told we have to act now, cos the changes are accelerating. By the same logic since evidence shows that changes are not accelerating now, the time available for careful analysis is more. Good decisions never came from rushing into things, that's when the screwups happen.

- Skepticsm is a positive mindset, whereas headless chicken alarmism is a negative one.

Mar 28, 2014 at 10:59 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

The Wired Magazine piece about the doomslayer is a good read...

This is the litany : Our resources are running out. The air is bad, the water worse. The planet's species are dying off - more exactly, we're killing them -at the staggering rate of 100,000 peryear, a figure that works out to almost 2,000 species per week, 300 per day, 10 perhour, another dead species every six minutes.We're trashing the planet, washing away the topsoil, paving over our farmlands, systematically deforesting our wildernesses, decimating the biota, and ultimately killing ourselves.

The world is getting progressively poorer, and it's all because of population, or more precisely, overpopulation. There's a finite store of resources on our pale blue dot, spaceship Earth, our small and fragile tiny planet, and we're fast approaching its ultimate carrying capacity. The limits to growth are finally upon us, and we're living on borrowed time. The laws of population growth are inexorable. Unless we act decisively, the final result is written in stone: mass poverty, famine, starvation, and death.

Time is short, and we have to act now.

That's the standard and canonical litany. It's been drilled into our heads so far and so forcefully that to hear it yet once more is ... well, it's almost reassuring. It's comforting, oddly consoling - at least we're face to face with the enemies: consumption, population, mindless growth. And we know the solution: cut back, contract, make do with less. "Live simply so that others may simply live."
There's just one problem with The Litany, just one slight little wee imperfection: every item in that dim and dreary recitation, each and every last claim, is false. Incorrect. At variance with the truth.

Not the way it is, folks.

Mar 28, 2014 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Matt Ridley has braved the brickbats of the vested interests.

Or as the Bard might have said:

Whether this Noble has the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortunes,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of rising levels ...

Sorry, I have these moments!

Mar 28, 2014 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered Commentergraphicconception

The 'next' scare mongering doom laden 'red alert' is air pollution.

There's more, and the underlying message is anti automobile - particularly particulate/gaseous exhaust pollution. We have recent examples of of enforced limitations, here and here

Circling around in the subterranean offices, spoken only in whispered tones by the Nomenklatura deep in the nether regions of the Brussels Empire and no doubt with tacit compliance with world governing bodies - all cars on EU roads: to be electric by 2050.................. or else.

And the way they'll do it - by limitation of speed limits, vat, fuel duty and incrementally enacted legislation to impose ever more harsh pollution limitations - you know it - the EU will have its way and you will be forced to comply - that's the way of things in the EU.

The EU is the green Empire and it's run in cahoots with the green loons. I wonder what BMW, Audi, Mercedes make of it?

Mar 28, 2014 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Jones: "I think I might patent a T-shirt with the words "I told you so" "

My wife has one. But it actually reads: "I told you. SO?" ;-)

Mar 28, 2014 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

@ Mar 28, 2014 at 9:25 AM | Old Goat & Joe public 1948hrs.



Mar 28, 2014 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterTom O'Connor

The 'cause ' still has a long way to go yet , far too many people ridding this gravy train and far too many hopping it will take them to political power for it to come off the rails soon.
For instance like all true UN organisations the IPCC will never die just become more zombie like until it’s down to one guy in office that still issues report that no one reads and most people do not know even exist. While whole university departments have been built off the rich funding stream AGW has created and the greens who have got their hands on the type of power than could otherwise only dreamed of. None of that is disappear easily.

Celebrate the day after you won , not on the day and you will never have cause to regret that celebration.

Mar 28, 2014 at 11:50 AM | Unregistered Commenterknr


Yeah here we go - you know one company that treated Y2K seriously therefore all companies did? You didn't see major problems therefore the scare story was a success. But then you made money from the scare didn't you so have a vested interest in defending the money spent?

The facts are that it was a minor problem that most sensible folk chose to fix on failure which took them roughly a few hours each. Others, encouraged by media hysteria and government pamphlets were persuaded to spend vast sums of money to programmers to check every sodding line of code in every sodding system. Of course there was no way they managed this herculean task before 2000 so any claim that the money spent prevented catastrophe is ludicrous. In fact it cost Western companies a lot of money for zero benefit. Japan largely (note the word I used doesn't mean every single company) chose to fix on failure - as is rather well documented.

Mar 28, 2014 at 12:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Ike's farewell address, horrible in its prescience.

"Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded."

Mar 28, 2014 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

The next scare will allow the current lot who make their (very good) living out of CO2 to continue to do so. So it will involve burning of dirty fossil fuels. I think pollution which can be linked to children's health and used to force the plebs onto public transport; this was a favourite of Two Jags. Paris recently had a pollution problem and banned cars on the even/odd registration number principle. In the UK the solution to that is simple as you buy an old banger with the opposite number so you own both an even and an odd number. France, I think, forces you to re-register a car when you buy it so it might take a couple of goes or have a co-operative effort.

Following on the shirt tails will be biodiversity and ocean acidification which are easily linked just as now we have alll sorts of stuff being badly affected by climate change.

Mar 28, 2014 at 12:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

To keep the bandwagon rolling properly the next scare always has to be at least as terrible as the last one. So whatever the eco-loons come up with at the very least it must destroy the planet. Can't wait to find out what I am required to be afraid of next.

Mar 28, 2014 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

A classic H. L. Mencken quote seems appropriate:

The whole aim of practical politics
is to keep the populace alarmed
(and hence clamorous to be led to safety)
by menacing it with an endless series
of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

Mar 28, 2014 at 12:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith Macdonald

In fact it is always about taxes.It is the eternal struggle of the marxist parasites versus wealth creating society = the rest of us.

We have to understand very well what "taxes" are to this respect: BBC c-nts do not pay taxes, they only claim they do. This most people understand now.

But neither do in effect the rest pay taxes.Companies pay you the money to pay taxes with.

So what is the net effect, ALWAYS?

The net effect is that companies are made life more difficult to hire people, at the expense of people hire to
do "whatever" on the public purse.

Now if we check out those on the public purse we know they are most of the time enjoying far better conditions in term
of job security. But nowadays also in real terms and financial security. For that, they produce documents, pjilosophise what we should think how long we should shower, hire people in most biased ways (count the nr of female nurses teachers vs male nurses teachers for example) and generally subvert society justice , equal access etc.

Once we understand how taxes work, we should start to demand the parasitic Left to contribute for the next "scare" or magnanimous project.

Yes: DO buy more blackboards for skools in Ghana. Just tell us which BBC depeartment you close DOWN fo rit, which grotesque benefit of the essential firefighters service you take away.

Cheers. Lets see now how the dogoodery evolves..

Mar 28, 2014 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

Steve Jones:

To keep the bandwagon rolling properly the next scare always has to be at least as terrible as the last one.

Agreed - and the reason I don't think there will a 'next scare' that gets anything like CAGW-level purchase on humanity. This one's shit or bust, which makes it all quite interesting.

Mar 28, 2014 at 1:06 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

most suppliers spent tonnes of their own money resolving the millennium bug issues, their customers did not pay for them!! comment above. I was a product manager for a number of Telco related products, and we spent a lot of time and money, delivering fixes to our Japanese Telco customers.. OUR cost. working with the venders mentioned.

Mar 28, 2014 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

I was, to use Nick Clegg's word (when Nigel Farage came out with the truth about the EU's involvement in Ukraine in their recent tv debate), 'shocked', when the same Nick Clegg managed not once, but twice, to insert 'fighting climate change' into a debate about the future of the UK in Europe..
They just won't ever let it go, will they..?
'So, Mr Clegg - what is your stance on (shall we say) gay marriage..?'
'Well, of course we are in favour because it will help us in the fight against climate change..'

Mar 28, 2014 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

'Voices of reason' Your Grace..?
Where are these to be heard, when the Secretary of State for Energy and (snigger) Climate Change has told us dissenters/deniers, who are not signed up to the 'correct message', to 'shut up'..?

Mar 28, 2014 at 1:58 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

"Sinner, be afraid, be very afraid!"

"Afraid? What of?"

"Just be afraid, that's all you need to know,
- and pay up on that back log of Indulgences
- and sinner, you just might be saved,"

Mar 28, 2014 at 2:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterBeth Cooper

Peak Oil seems to have been forgotten. Otherwise you've listed most of the major scares.

Greenies loved Peak Oil because it seemed that they had the tide of history on their side. This is not to say that oil or gas are infinite resources, any more than precious metals or rare earth minerals are, but that reports of their impending demise are greatly exaggerated.

Hence the new lines of attack on technologies that expose us to greater hydrocarbon availability than previously thought, like deepwater, Arctic, shale and CSG . The focus will be on any term or technique that the greenies don't understand - because it's pretty certain that the majority of the public won't either, making it ripe for social media activism.

The Facebook campaign will be the first time most people have ever heard these new terms, they'll be suitably alarmed, then the broadcast media will pick it up and so the feedback loops gets established. I'd tip HP/HT to be next scary term, but it could be anything really. The main criteria are that a) it's increasing the availability of "fossil fuels" and b) it can be made to sound new and scary.

Mar 28, 2014 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

Mike Jackson, I hope you do start writing your blog again. I wasn't aware of it until you mentioned it above, but I always (nearly) enjoy and agree with your contributions here.

Mar 28, 2014 at 2:41 PM | Unregistered Commentermike fowle

An old favorite of mine:

'A warmer world sustains more total life and more diversity of life.'

That one gets in among the sustainability/diversity ones pretty well. Every now and then I write 'support' instead of 'sustain' and like to make a big deal of the error.

Mar 28, 2014 at 2:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

The current scare is, of course, 'the controversial new process known as fracking'..
Except, of course, its only 'controversial' because the Greens don't like it, and because the media keep referring to it as such.
Oh - and its not 'new' - having been around since the 1940s, and in use in the UK since the 1980s (without, to the best of my knowledge, killing any birds or fluffy creatures)

Mar 28, 2014 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

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