Final letter to PCC – 9.04.12

Press Complaints Commission

Halton House

20/23 Holborn

London EC1N 2JD


Dear Ms Cobbe                                                                                           April 9 2012

Your reference:  115482

I am now responding in detail to your letter dated February 29 in relation to my complaint against The Times and The Financial Times (previous letters from me dated 11 November  2011, 21 December 2011 and 30 January 2012 plus accompanying documents).

I am going to address in more detail the mistakes contained in the two articles by Matt Ridley published in The Times  on 31 August 2010 (This Discredited Science Body Must Be Purged) and 1 November 2011 (Seven Billion People Is Nothing To Be Scared Of).

This Discredited Science Body Must Be Purged.

The title is extremely prejudicial as the IPCC have not been discredited.  The first sentence “we cannot make sane decisions on global warming if the ‘experts’ present us with evidence that is biased”.  Again, this is highly prejudicial as it implies that the experts have presented us with evidence that is biased.  The IPCC have never been shown to be biased.  Ridley is implying that over 2,000 of the world’s climate change scientists are in collusion to present an inaccurate report.  It is far more likely that Matt Ridley is the one that is biased.

In the next paragraph, Ridley draws an analogy between the IPCC and a single professor of psychology who was suspended by Harvard University after his work was found to be unreliable.  Again, there is no relationship between the work of an intergovernmental body such as the IPCC and a single scientist who is working alone.

Ridley then states that a committee of scientists concluded… that the IPCC has “assigned high confidence to statements for which there is very little evidence” whereas the report by the committee of scientists (the Inter-Academy Council or IAC) actually states “assigned high confidence to some statements for which there is little evidence”.  Matt Ridley has therefore deliberately misquoted the  IAC in order to bolster his own case.  This criticism of Ridley’s article has been accepted by Times newspapers.

In addition, Matt Ridley does not mention that it was the United Nations and the IPCC who in March 2010 jointly asked the IAC to review the IPCC’s proceedings, specifically to improve these in advance of its next (fifth) report. Thirdly, the IPCC have a adopted the IAC recommendations but this was never reported by The Times. Fourthly, the IAC does not regard the IPCC report as biased.  Far from it.  To quote the IAC: “the Committee concludes that the IPCC assessment process has been successful overall and has served society well”.

Ridley’s article goes on to state that “enormous and expensive policy changes have been based on the flawed work of these scientists”.  The IAC report states: “through its unique partnership between scientists and governments, the IPCC has heightened public awareness of climate change, raised the level of scientific debate and influenced the scientific agendas of many nations”.

Ridley’s article goes on to state: “the notorious claim that glaciers in the Himalayas will disappear by 2035 seems to have been a misprint (for 2350) in a document issued by a pressure group”.  In fact, this is not true.  The mistaken date of 2035 originally appeared in an article published in The New Scientist by Fred Pearce in 1999 in which he quoted an Indian glaciologist, Syed Hasnain.  The date of 2035 was then picked up in a report by World Wildlife Fund (2005) and this in turn was quoted by the IPCC in its fourth report.

Ridley goes on to state that “several reviewers challenged this assertion in a draft”.  This is untrue.  The mistaken date for the melting of the Himalayan glaciers was actually picked up by the IPCC itself in 2009 and was one of the items that prompted the IPCC to refer itself to the IAC.  To quote the original letter to the IAC (10 March 2010):

“In recent months, a very small number of errors have been brought to light in the fourth assessment report (AR4 of the IPCC), a document containing thousands of peer-reviewed and independent scientific studies.  However, the bedrock scientific consensus on climate change as described in AR4 remains unchanged and indeed was affirmed by the world’s environment ministers meeting last month in Bali, Indonesia.”

Letter from Banki-Moon, Secretary General to the United Nations and Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC.

Matt Ridley then goes on to quote a claim by Ross McKitrick and Pat Michaels who “found a strong link between temperature rises and local economic development implying that recent warming is partly down to local not global factors”.  Ridley claims that “this paper was given a grudging reference with the false assertion that the data were rebutted by other data that turned out to be non-existent”.  This latter statement is completely untrue.  The basis of McKitritick and Michaels’ paper was that many of the monitoring stations which measure temperature are located close to urban areas and that increased urban activity might have given higher readings and therefore exaggerated the global warming trend over the past 30 years.  In fact this claim has been rebutted in detail.  The accompanying graph (REF 1) shows the temperature record from 1950-2008 both with and without the urban temperature-measuring stations included.  As  can be seen from the graph, there is no difference between the different temperature measurements.

Ridley then brings up the Climategate scandal in which emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia were leaked to the media in November 2009, just before the Copenhagen summit on climate change in December 2009.  The head of the CRU, Professor Phil Jones, is quoted as saying “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report.  Kevin and I will keep them out somehow.”  But Matt Ridley fails to state that there have been five official enquiries into Climategate.   Three were in the United Kingdom, including the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and two in the United States including the Environmental Protection Agency.  In every case, the scientists from the University of East Anglia have been exonerated and  no evidence of any scientific misconduct has been found.

Matt Ridley then goes on to quote an economist (Richard Toll) and ‘an independent science scholar’, Inda Goklany, who disagree with some of the IPCC conclusions.  However, these individuals do not represent any sort of consensus.  Anybody is entitled to their own views but, if it is not scientifically based, and does not appear in peer-reviewed literature, then it is of little value.  Particularly incredible is Gaklany’s  quote that “by the 2080’s the net global population at risk (of water shortages) declines by up to 2.1 billion people.”  This should be contrasted with a consensus statement issued by the co-chairs of the International Scientific Conference held in London in March 2012 “Planet Under Pressure”.  The first paragraph of the State of the Planet declaration says:  “Research now demonstrates that the continued functioning of the earth’s system as it has supported the well-being of human civilisation in recent centuries is at risk.  Without urgent action we could face threats to water, food, biodiversity and other critical resources.  These threats risk intensify in economic ecological and social crises creating the potential for a humanitarian emergency on a global scale.”  (REF 2)

Matt Ridley concludes his article as follows:, “Frankly the whole process, not just the discredited Dr Pachauri, needs purging or it will drag down the reputation of science with it”.

This statement is totally unjustified by the evidence that Ridley has presented in his article.  Clearly, he has cherry-picked claims made by maverick commentators and has misquoted the report by the IAC in order to bolster his case.

I now come to the second article by Matt Ridley:

“Seven billion people is nothing to be scared of”.

This contains a number of contentious statements, most of which are not true.  The first paragraph states that the United Nations Population Division “low” forecast predicts a world poulation of six billion and falling by 2100.  In fact, according to current projections, the global population will reach 8 billion by 2025-2030 and will likely reach around 9 billion by 2045-2050.  Alternative scenarios for 2050 range from a low of 7.4 billion to a high of more than 10.6 billion.  Long-range  predictions to 2150 range from a population decline to 3.2 billion in the low scenario to high scenarios of 24.8 billion.(REF 3)

The second paragraph states, “HIV is in retreat, malaria in decline”.    It is true that UNAIDS has reported that the number of people dying of HIV Aids fell from 2.2 million per annum to 1.8 million but transmission of the infection to new hosts is continuing despite treatment of infected individuals.  In addition,  anti-HIV medication does not cure the disease and there is also the problem of emerging drug resistance.  Since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic in the early 1980s, more than 60 million people have been infected with HIV.   Currently there are 34 million people alive around the world who have HIV (2010) which is an increase of 700,000 from 2009.  It cannot therefore be claimed that HIV is in retreat.

Matt Ridley is also incorrect when he states that malaria is in decline.  WHO reported 216 million cases of malaria in 2011 with an estimated 655,000 deaths in 2010.  It is true that malaria mortality rates have fallen by 25% since 2000 and by 33% in the WHO African region, however a recent publication in The Lancet suggests that the WHO had underestimated the number of malaria deaths and that 1.24 million people died from malaria in 2010.  In addition, a very recent study from Burma, Thailand has identified the emergence of drug-resistant malaria.   It cannot therefore be claimed that malaria is in decline.

Matt Ridley then goes on to make some other unsubstantiated claims, for example that a greater proportion of humanity will live in cities freeing more land for cultivation.  Migration of people from land to city does not free land for cultivation since farmers occupy farmhouse or huts not agricultural land.  He then states that more people will be able to afford fossil fuels and fewer will depend on forests for cooking fuel freeing still more land from human pressure.

Of course, the reality is that climate change will worsen since the burning of  fossil fuels releases  emissions and “NEW” carbon into the atmosphere, whereas burning wood is part of the carbon cycle.

Matt Ridley then says that if people live in steel and concrete buildings instead of wooden ones the footprint of their lives will shrink. This is also arrant nonsense.  The carbon footprint required to manufacture steel and to produce concrete buildings is massively greater (probably by two orders of magnitude) than building a wooden hut.

However, the most ridiculous statement made by Matt Ridley is that the carbon footprint (of humanity) will fall as gas replaces coal and oil.   Matt Ridley is talking here about shale gas as he produced a report on behalf of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (Nigel Lawson’s shadowy think tank) entitled “The Shale Gas Shock” in April 2011.  This was basically a eulogy extolling the virtues of shale gas and completely failed to identify some of the drawbacks.  Firstly, shale gas is a fossil fuel and will therefore add to the emissions of carbon dioxide.   Secondly, the fracking process used to release the shale gas from the rock in which it is embedded, causes release of methane.  Methane is a greenhouse gas seven times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame.  Unless emissions of methane from fracking are kept below 2% it is no more  friendly from an global warming point of view than oil or even coal.  In point of fact, current operating procedures release up to 10% of methane.  Attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States to limit methane emissions from fracking are meeting with severe opposition from the fossil fuel industry.

It was this issue that I addressed in my letter to The Times in response to the article by Matt Ridley.  I pointed out that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had risen from a pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million to 390 parts per million.  It is generally agreed that in order to stop irreversible climate change it is necessary to keep carbon dioxide levels below 450 parts per million.  In order to achieve this, it is necessary for the world population to limit its carbon output to 0.6 tonnes/year per head of population by 2050 and to 0.3 by 2100. Currently individuals in industrialised countries such as the US emit 5.2 tonnes of carbon per year.  To control climate change this needs to fall to below the level of the least industrialised country  – India – who release 0.4 tonnes per capita per year.  This will not be achieved by changing from one fossil fuel to another such as shale gas.

I enclose a briefing paper produced for a consultation on climate change at St George’s House within Windsor Castle in March 2012..  The problem with global warming is summarised by the equation:

MC2 = E

where M stands for multitude ie world population; C2 stands for carbon output per capita per year; and E stands for Extinction of species or for those that don’t worry about  animals or plants, it also stands for the End of human civilisation as we know it. It is pretty self-evident that world population will have a profound impact on climate change.

It is also clear that Matt Ridley is a scientifically illiterate commentator who presents a partial account of the climate change issue and cherry picks so-called authorities to suit his case.  He was of course Non-Executive Chairman of the UK Bank Northern Rock from 2004-2007 in the period leading up to the bank’s near collapse.  In my letter to The Times I said, “It would appear that Ridley’s grasp of science is on a par with his financial acumen”.

The problem with newspapers like The Times and The Telegraph is that they publish articles by climate change contrarians but then refuse to publish letters correcting the more glaring faults in the original articles.  They therefore present a very partial and prejudicial account of the science of global warming and thereby pervert the public discourse on this subject in the United Kingdom, in the same way that Fox News perverts the debate in the United States.  It is no coincidence that both President Obama  and George Osborne promoted Shale Gas in their State of the Union and Budgets statements this year.

Yours sincerely.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones MA FRCP FRCPath

Items appended:

  1. Graph taken from Article “Does Urban Heat Island Affect-Exaggerate Global Warming Trends?”
  2. State of the Planet Declaration 29 March 2012
  3. World Population from Wikipaedia.
  4. St George’s House Consultation 27-28 March 2012

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