Answering the Wall Street Journal’s “Guide to Science Denial”

November 30, 2015


This post was written by Peter Sinclair and Greg Laden in response to a recent Wall Street Journal Op Ed piece by Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser.

In a recent Wall Street Journal commentary, “Your Complete Guide to the Climate Debate,” Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser ask what might make world leaders concerned about the security impacts of climate change. One answer might be the US Department of Defense.

In its 2010 Quadrennial Defense review, Pentagon experts wrote:

“…climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s today’s front page news. A 2014 Defense Department document underlined the message, calling climate warming “a threat multiplier.”

Ridley and Peiser ridicule President Obama over his “careless” statement that climate change is a greater threat than terrorism. Indeed, recent research indicates that the current Syrian refugee crisis is at least partly a result of climate change enhanced drought in the region.

Ridley and Peiser claim that global temperatures have risen only slowly. This is simply untrue. The upward march of global surface temperatures varies, as expected for any natural system such as this, but continues on an upward trend. Contrarian claims of an extended pause in global warming have been debunked over recent months by at least a half dozen studies. (See: this, this, this, this, and this.)

Ridley and Peiser also suggest that surface temperatures have risen less than earlier climate modeling had projected. This, again, is simply untrue. Global surface temperatures have risen at a pace of about 0.15 degrees C per decade since 1990, which is within the range of earlier IPCC projections.

Ridley/Peiser suggest that current record smashing weather events are due to El Nino, not climate change.

Wrong for two reasons.

First, many of the record breaking events we have experienced over recent years happened when there was no El Nino.

Second, records that are set during an El Nino period are, obviously, compared to all other prior El Nino periods as well. This year’s El Nino is exceeding earlier El Nino years in heat and tropical storm activities precisely because of a continued rise in planetary heat.

Ridley and Peiser claim that it has been warmer at times during the last 10,000 years. This statement is not supportable. While scientists know that orbitally caused warming occurred some 8000 years ago, the most current research suggests that today’s surface temperature exceed those values, or will shortly under current trends.

It is incorrect to assert that there have been no changes in extreme storms, or flooding. In the past week we have seen a new annual northern hemisphere record in major hurricanes, with 30 storms category 3 and above this year, literally blowing away the old record of 23, with the season not yet over.

Every year for the last three years, careful and conservative researchers publishing in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society have studied the contribution of global warming to major weather events around the world, the papers collected in an annual volume “Explaining Extreme Events … from a Climate Perspective.” Every year the number of events attributed to global warming goes up. (See these three reports.)

The US Global Change Research Program has documented the increase in extreme precipitation events across the country, and in recent weeks, the east and gulf coast of the US have been inundated by a “1000 year rain event”, as well as a new phenomenon, coastal flooding not associated with any storm, merely the regular pull of the tides, on an ocean that has risen several inches since 1950.

Miami taxpayers are currently spending 500 million dollars on pumps and other infrastructure to remedy the flooding Peiser and Ridley say does not exist.

Ridley and Peiser make the claim that tropical storms can’t be as much of a problem now as they were in the past because the number of deaths attributed to natural disasters is reduced. The irony of this statement is stunning. The reason there are fewer deaths due to weather related natural disasters is precisely because climate science and meteorology have developed methods and models to predict and warn. That very same science is telling us about the recent, ongoing, and future changes in climate due to the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas.

Ridley and Peiser seek to confuse by conflating Arctic and Antarctic sea ice, without mentioning that the small increase in Antarctic sea ice, along with the large loss of Arctic ice, is predicted from our understanding of the global warming process, and that, globally, sea ice area is clearly in a multi-decadal decline, the very reason that our giant oil companies are lobbying so intensely for access to polar regions they know are thawing.

Similarly deceptive is the claim that “Antarctica is gaining land based ice”. Here they cite a one-off outlier study, not the other dozen studies completed since 2012 by groups from NASA, the European Space Agency and others, most using more recent data than the cited piece, and all of which show overall Antarctic land ice loss. Moreover, the author of the study cited has said that if the sea level rise does not come from Antarctica, it obviously must be undercounted elsewhere, such as Alpine glaciers, Greenland, or thermal expansion of the oceans – since observed sea level rise is unequivocal.

That sea level rise is also the most unambiguous indicator of a warming planet. The relentless and accelerating observed rise of the seas supports the half dozen recent studies showing that global warming has not halted or paused, and continues apace.

Ridley and Peiser claim that research is increasingly showing climate sensitivity to be low. This is entirely the opposite of what has been happening. The most likely range of values of climate sensitivity (the amount of increase in surface temperature that eventually occurs as a result of the doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere) was established over a century ago. Recently revealed documents show that Exxon Mobil Corporation itself studied climate science as early as the late 70’s, and its findings were in clear agreement with the National Academy of Science 1979 report, which estimated a climate sensitivity of 3°C, plus or minus 1.5° C. Tables in Exxon’s 1982 Climate Change “Primer” for executives show predictions for 2015 markedly similar to contemporary estimates by NASA, and NOAA.


Meanwhile, the solutions for climate change are at hand.

Solar and wind energy have grown faster, and costs have plummeted further, than even most fervent supporters would have predicted a few years ago. Wind and solar are now out-competing coal and nuclear everywhere, and even gas in many markets. Recent volatility in oil and gas prices make the predictable zero cost of renewables all the more attractive, as more and more major corporations are signing power purchase agreements for renewable energy, based on markets, not political correctness.

In a recent article in Scientific American, Engineers Mark Jacobsen and Mark Deluchi have shown how 139 countries can generate their total energy needs by 2050 from wind, solar, and water technologies.

Today’s average cost of large-scale solar in the U.S. is 5 cents/kWh. The installed cost of solar is down by half since 2009. The cost of wind in the U.S. is 2.5 cents per kWh, and efficiency is about the same, and sometimes below 1 cent/kWh. (See this.)

Denmark, Scotland, Spain, and Portugal are now producing more than half their electricity from renewable sources, Germany is close to a third – and the German grid is 10 times more reliable than the US grid.(See this)

In 20 US states, contractors will put solar panels on your roof for free – and in San Antonio Texas, the utility will pay you for the privilege of putting those panels on, and lowering your utility bill. (See this and this)

It’s a business model that will spread, sooner than coal barons like Matt Ridley would like you to believe.

Polling shows again and again that large majorities of Americans across all demographics favor rapid development of renewable energy, and tough regulations for greenhouse gases.

In addition, most importantly, a large majority of Americans now believe that climate change is a moral issue that obligates government officials, and private citizens, to take action.

The tactics of confusion and distortion are losing their effectiveness, as more and more Americans experience the effects of a climate altered world first hand. It’s time to stop denying the science, and begin discussing the solutions.


17 Responses to “Answering the Wall Street Journal’s “Guide to Science Denial””

  1. There is no “US Bureau of Meteorology.” Do they mean NOAA, the National Weather Service, or some other group? This is shoddy reporting, you need to get the names right if you want to have any credibility.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      that’s all you got? Seriously?

      nevertheless, thanks for pointing that out – an oversight that slipped by our bleary-eyed editing process. now corrected.

  2. Dave Willis Says:

    Agreed – Great article –

    Suggest you submit it immediately to the WSJ as an op-ed piece – complete with URL links as references.


  3. FOX News/WSJ: “Where truth and journalism are dead.”

  4. Tom Bates Says:

    Truth and journalism are dead in the liberal world as well. The study on antarctic ice gain has not been refuted. You have two claims, it is melting or it is not. Sea ice is up which means it is colder not warmer, land surface temperatures have not increased since 1969 and under ice volcanoes are a suggested source of west antarctic loss of ice shelfs. So which is more likely, colder or warmer?

    • greenman3610 Says:

      we’re not dealing with a subtle intellect here.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        No, indeed. Tommy’s “intellect” is about as “subtle” as a brick, and he is about as well educated as a brick on the science of global warming. LMAO.

    • Jim Housman Says:

      Once again reality has a liberal bias.

    • Tom: You need to get a few things straight:

      1) Sea ice in the Antarctic is BARELY above the average (1981 – 2010 average). In August and September of THIS YEAR it was BELOW the average.

      2) The loss of sea ice in the Arctic FAR OUTWEIGHS any small gain in sea ice in the Antarctic.

      3) The sea level has risen about 8 inches (on average) globally since 1900. That is what warmer temperatures do. It melts ice (primarily Greenland ice….but also other land based glaciers throughout the world).

      4) Land surface temperatures since 1969 HAVE INCREASED here on earth. What planet have you been on?

      Sorry Tom. The truth NEVER goes away. Saying 2 + 2 is 5……DOES NOT MAKE IT 5. It is still 4 (except on FOX).

      FOX News/WSJ: “Where truth and journalism are dead.”

    • ubrew12 Says:

      Tom: the article itself says that IF its results for East Antarctica are correct (that it is growing slowly), then this has been the condition since the end of the last ice age (10,000 yrs ago). That was when snowfall approximately doubled.

      “You have two claims, it is melting or it is not.” Sorry: you are afforded two claims, because you have two Antarctica’s. In the last few decades: nothing has changed in the condition of East Antarctica (slowly growing for 10,000 years), and West Antarctica and the Peninsula have started falling at an exponentially rapid rate into the ocean (confirmed by multiple studies and which the study you refer to doesn’t refute). How can this afford you optimism regarding the current acceleration of sea level rise?

  5. Jim Housman Says:

    Nice article this morning in Bloomberg news describing the network of climate deniers and their relationship to Exxon and the Koch brothers. No suprise that Heritage, Cato and Heartland are at the center:

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Yes, a nice article. Good to see Bloomberg speaking truth about deniers. When the Wall Street Journal and Forbes start doing the same, we’ll know we’re making real progress. Then only Faux News and Rushbo will be left.

  6. You’ve done an excellent job with this article. The many links you provide add a lot as well. Thanks for your continuing efforts to educate the public!

  7. […] Answering the Wall Street Journal’s “Guide to Science Denial” by Peter Sinclair and Greg Laden, Climate Denial Crock of the Week, Nov 30, 2015 […]

Leave a Reply to Jim Housman Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: