Response to Matt Ridley’s article in The Times

On 1 November 2011, The Times published yet another appalling article on climate change, by the maverick and somewhat deluded commentator Matt Ridley, entitled ‘Seven Billion People Is Nothing To Be Scared Of’. Apart from dismissing the importance of a rising world population, Matt Ridley made the extraordinary claim that humanity’s carbon footprint could be lessened by switching from coal to natural gas.

I wrote a detailed rebuttal of this Alice in Wonderland scenario, but The Times refused to publish it, despite email correspondence directed to The Times Letters Editor Jeremy Vine. Indeed, The Times did not publish any letter in response to Matt Ridley’s illiterate article.

To: letters@thetimes.co.uk

Subject: Fwd: Letter For Publication: Corrected Response to article by Matt Ridley. Attention Jeremy Vine

Dear Mr Vine, Thank you for agreeing to reconsider my response to the article by Matt Ridley which I feel cannot go unchallenged. Just out of interest, I have reviewed my contribution to your letters column over the past 30 years. From 1980-1990 I had 17 letters or articles published in The Times FT or TES mainly on the subject of lead in petrol and ionising radiation (Nuclear discharges and leukemia clusters).   Since then I have had 22 letters or articles published in The Times mainly on the subject of global warming/climate change and the majority of these were first letters.  I can send you the full CV if you are interested.

Yours sincerely

Robin Russell-Jones

Begin forwarded message:

To: letters@thetimes.co.uk

Subject: Letter For Publication: Response to article by Matt Ridley.

Sir,

Matt Ridley paints a rosy picture of the world with a population peaking at 8 billion and then possibly falling back to 6 billion by the end of the century (Seven Billion People Is Nothing To Be Scared Of, 1 November, 2011). He also makes the extraordinary claim that humanity’s carbon footprint “will fall as gas replaces coal and oil”.  A dose of reality is required in this Alice in Wonderland scenario.

Up until 2009 world carbon emissions were approximately 7 gigatonnes annually which works out at one tonne of carbon per head of population per year. In the US the figure was higher – 5.5 tonnes per year per head of population, whereas in the developing world it was lower – 0.5 tonnes per year. For China the figure was 1.0 (and rising fast) and for India it was 0.3 (likely to rise even faster). Emissions of CO2 world-wide have risen 40% since 1990, the base-line year for the Earth Summit in Rio. However, figures published last week by the US Department of Energy show that carbon emissions worldwide have increased by a further 6% whilst emissions from China have leapt by 10% during 2010 alone, the highest year on year increase ever recorded (The Very Latest Figures from Peters et al in Nature Climate Change 4 December, 2011 show an increase of 49% since 1990).

In order to stop catastrophic global warming it is generally agreed that levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere must be kept below 450 parts per million (ppm). In pre-industrial days it was 280 ppm and is currently almost 390 ppm. To keep levels rising above 450 ppm by century’s end it is necessary to limit emissions of CO2 per capita to 0.6 tonnes per year by 2050 and to 0.3 by 2100. In other words the carbon footprint of individuals in the most industrialised society, the US, must fall to the level of the least industrialised, India. This is not going to be achieved by changing from one fossil fuel such as coal, to another such as gas. If CO2 levels are not kept below 450 ppm then the Greenland ice sheet will eventually melt raising sea-levels by 7 metres which will terminate financial centres such as London and New York.

Matt Ridley was a non-executive chairman of the UK bank Northern Rock from 2004 to 2007, in the period leading up to the bank’s near collapse. It would appear that Ridley’s grasp of science is on a par with his financial acumen.

Yours Sincerely

Dr Robin Russell-Jones MA FRCP FRCPath

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