When a respected bastion of hard-headed journalism like the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) publishes a piece urging climate quietism – don’t worry, be happy! – it’s worth taking a harder look. Unlike web sites like WattsUpWithThat, or Murdoch’s other mouthpiece FOX News, one might expect from the WSJ some degree of fact-checking. But recent editorial by Matt Ridley displays shocking scientific ignorance, confusing climate sensitivity with total warming. That’s like confusing the speed of a runner with how far they’ve gone.
Climate sensitivity is not the same as climate warming, it’s a measure of how much the planet will warm given a doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial levels. Conservatively, it’s thought to be around 1.5C. Ridley lowballs it at 1.2C (based on a conversation with a financier friend …) and then absurdly concludes we’re heading for … 1.2C of warming this century. What? Sensitivity is like speed, and warming is like distance. How much we warm by the end of the century depends on climate sensitivity and total emissions (as well as positive feedbacks, like melting methane, dying forests, and CO2-burping warm oceans). Current business-as-usual takes us to 1000 ppm, which is 4x pre-industrial levels.
So – first mistake: climate sensitivity is not total warming. This isn’t even science – it’s basic math. Doh!
Second mistake – the IPCC estimates climate sensitivity to be around 3C. A conversation with a friend does not a relevant rebuttal make. Doh!
There are many other errors in the article. They are equally silly, and equally easy for an editor to catch. For example, he confuses clouds with water vapour. See Joe Romm’s full and forceful debunking here.
“Shocking” is the relevant term here. These mistakes are so basic, so obvious, one has to wonder whether they are legitimate ‘mistakes’ or a strategic lapse of attention. Given the lack of apologetic correction, and Murdoch’s recent takeover of the WSJ, I veer to the latter. When such radical (!) groups as the International Energy Agency and PriceWaterhouseCoopers agree we are headed for a civilization-melting 5-6C this century, this journalistic nonsense from a herald of the business community is inexcusable. The stakes are too high.
If you disagree in some way, please think precisely why – and DO put that comment below.