Matt Ridley

Almost everything bad is the (largely) unintended consequence of utopians

James Delingpole reviews Matt Ridley’s book Evolution of Everything.

[E]volution is a phenomenon which extends far beyond Darwin to embrace absolutely everything. The internet, for example. No one planned it. No one — pace Al Gore and Tim Berners Lee — strictly invented it. It just sprang up, driven by consumer need and made possible by available technology. As Ridley says: ‘It is a living example, before our eyes, of the phenomenon of evolutionary emergence — of complexity and order spontaneously created in a decentralised fashion without a designer.’

Which is what, of course, is such anathema to control freaks everywhere, from the Chinese, Iranian and Russian regimes to Barack Obama, who famously declared in 2012: ‘The internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the internet.’

This claim, as Ridley demonstrates, is at best moot, at worst flat-out untrue. In fact, government was actually responsible for postponing the internet. One of its early forms was the Pentagon-funded Arpanet, which until 1989 was prohibited for private or commercial purposes. An MIT handbook in the 1980s reminded users: ‘sending electronic messages over the ARPAnet for commercial profit or political purposes is both antisocial and illegal’. Only after it was effectively privatised in the 1990s did the internet take off.

Read more »

How climate science is destroying science

Matt Ridley writes at The Quadrant about how it is that climate science is now running the risk of discrediting all science.

[T]he great thing about science is that it’s self-correcting. The good drives out the bad, because experiments get replicated and hypotheses put to the test. So a really bad idea cannot survive long in science.

Or so I used to think. Now, thanks largely to climate science, I have changed my mind. It turns out bad ideas can persist in science for decades, and surrounded by myrmidons of furious defenders they can turn into intolerant dogmas.

This should have been obvious to me. Lysenkoism, a pseudo-biological theory that plants (and people) could be trained to change their heritable natures, helped starve millions and yet persisted for decades in the Soviet Union, reaching its zenith under Nikita Khrushchev. The theory that dietary fat causes obesity and heart disease, based on a couple of terrible studies in the 1950s, became unchallenged orthodoxy and is only now fading slowly.

What these two ideas have in common is that they had political support, which enabled them to monopolise debate. Scientists are just as prone as anybody else to “confirmation bias”, the tendency we all have to seek evidence that supports our favoured hypothesis and dismiss evidence that contradicts it—as if we were counsel for the defence. It’s tosh that scientists always try to disprove their own theories, as they sometimes claim, and nor should they. But they do try to disprove each other’s. Science has always been decentralised, so Professor Smith challenges Professor Jones’s claims, and that’s what keeps science honest.

What went wrong with Lysenko and dietary fat was that in each case a monopoly was established. Lysenko’s opponents were imprisoned or killed. Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise shows in devastating detail how opponents of Ancel Keys’s dietary fat hypothesis were starved of grants and frozen out of the debate by an intolerant consensus backed by vested interests, echoed and amplified by a docile press.

Does that sound familiar?

This is precisely what has happened with the climate debate and it is at risk of damaging the whole reputation of science. The “bad idea” in this case is not that climate changes, nor that human beings influence climate change; but that the impending change is sufficiently dangerous to require urgent policy responses. In the 1970s, when global temperatures were cooling, some scientists could not resist the lure of press attention by arguing that a new ice age was imminent. Others called this nonsense and the World Meteorological Organisation rightly refused to endorse the alarm. That’s science working as it should. In the 1980s, as temperatures began to rise again, some of the same scientists dusted off the greenhouse effect and began to argue that runaway warming was now likely.

At first, the science establishment reacted sceptically and a diversity of views was aired. It’s hard to recall now just how much you were allowed to question the claims in those days. As Bernie Lewin reminds us in one chapter of a fascinating new book of essays called Climate Change: The Facts(hereafter The Facts), as late as 1995 when the second assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with its last-minute additional claim of a “discernible human influence” on climate, Nature magazine warned scientists against overheating the debate.

Since then, however, inch by inch, the huge green pressure groups have grown fat on a diet of constant but ever-changing alarm about the future. That these alarms—over population growth, pesticides, rain forests, acid rain, ozone holes, sperm counts, genetically modified crops—have often proved wildly exaggerated does not matter: the organisations that did the most exaggeration trousered the most money. In the case of climate, the alarm is always in the distant future, so can never be debunked.

These huge green multinationals, with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, have now systematically infiltrated science, as well as industry and media, with the result that many high-profile climate scientists and the journalists who cover them have become one-sided cheerleaders for alarm, while a hit squad of increasingly vicious bloggers polices the debate to ensure that anybody who steps out of line is punished. They insist on stamping out all mention of the heresy that climate change might not be lethally dangerous.

Today’s climate science, as Ian Plimer points out in his chapter in The Facts, is based on a “pre-ordained conclusion, huge bodies of evidence are ignored and analytical procedures are treated as evidence”. Funds are not available to investigate alternative theories. Those who express even the mildest doubts about dangerous climate change are ostracised, accused of being in the pay of fossil-fuel interests or starved of funds; those who take money from green pressure groups and make wildly exaggerated statements are showered with rewards and treated by the media as neutral.

Read more »

Fossil fuels are saving the world

Don’t listen to the Green Taliban…fossil fuels have actually saved the world.

Matt Ridley explains in the Wall Street Journal:

The environmental movement has advanced three arguments in recent years for giving up fossil fuels: (1) that we will soon run out of them anyway; (2) that alternative sources of energy will price them out of the marketplace; and (3) that we cannot afford the climate consequences of burning them.

These days, not one of the three arguments is looking very healthy. In fact, a more realistic assessment of our energy and environmental situation suggests that, for decades to come, we will continue to rely overwhelmingly on the fossil fuels that have contributed so dramatically to the world’s prosperity and progress.

In 2013, about 87% of the energy that the world consumed came from fossil fuels, a figure that—remarkably—was unchanged from 10 years before. This roughly divides into three categories of fuel and three categories of use: oil used mainly for transport, gas used mainly for heating, and coal used mainly for electricity.

Over this period, the overall volume of fossil-fuel consumption has increased dramatically, but with an encouraging environmental trend: a diminishing amount of carbon-dioxide emissions per unit of energy produced. The biggest contribution to decarbonizing the energy system has been the switch from high-carbon coal to lower-carbon gas in electricity generation.

On a global level, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar have contributed hardly at all to the drop in carbon emissions, and their modest growth has merely made up for a decline in the fortunes of zero-carbon nuclear energy. (The reader should know that I have an indirect interest in coal through the ownership of land in Northern England on which it is mined, but I nonetheless applaud the displacement of coal by gas in recent years.)

The argument that fossil fuels will soon run out is dead, at least for a while. The collapse of the price of oil over the past six months is the result of abundance: an inevitable consequence of the high oil prices of recent years, which stimulated innovation in hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling, seismology and information technology.

Read more »

The liberal-left’s extraordinary capacity for cognitive dissonance

James Delingpole examines “the liberal-left’s extraordinary capacity for cognitive dissonance” at Breitbart.

You may ask why is this relevant, but it most certainly is. We can learn a great deal by watching politics in other countries. Nothing Labour or the Greens are doing here is unique or groundbreaking, they simply follow trends overseas.

And so we can learn about the inherited cognitive dissonance of the leftwing.

On this week’s Radio Free Delingpole podcast I discuss with Peter Foster of Canada’s Financial Post an issue which has long puzzled me: the liberal-left’s extraordinary capacity for cognitive dissonance. Or, if you want to put it more bluntly, for epic self-delusion.

I’m thinking, for example, of Ed Miliband’s proposals to introduce rent controls, despite copious historical evidence that this measure always and inevitably has exactly the opposite effect of the one intended: creating more housing scarcity; hurting the poor.

I would include in the same category several of the measures introduced by the Cameron administration: the 0.7 per cent of GDP ring-fenced for foreign aid, despite all the evidence that the billions of dollars bombarded on Africa have had the unintended consequence of leaving some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa as poor (sometimes poorer) than they were 50 years ago; the minimum wage which – as any sane economist can tell you – is a tax on jobs and therefore a disincentive to employers to hire labour; the “green jobs” the Coalition’s drive for renewables has allegedly created, even though they are in fact nothing more than Potemkin jobs, entirely dependent on taxpayer subsidy, and therefore a grotesque misallocation of scare resources which would otherwise by directed towards real, lasting jobs in areas of the economy which create genuine value.

All this, as Thomas Sowell would put it, is Basic Economics. So why do so many politicians – from the Obama left to the Cameron faux-right – not get it? And why, for that matter, do all those voters who applaud their statist measures and urge still more government intervention not get it either?

This is the question asked by Foster in his superb new book Why We Bite The Invisible Hand: The Psychology of Anti-Capitalism (Pleasaunce Press). And he comes up with some fascinating answers.

My favourite is his suggestion – though he puts more politely than I do – that people on the liberal-left are insufficiently evolved; they are too much in thrall to their “monkey brains” – monkey brains which of course those of us on the right possess too but with one crucial difference: we’re clever enough and advanced enough to allow the logical part of our brains override them.

Read more »

All over for the Greens?

The Green party in NZ put all their eggs in the AGW basket and have no position to retreat to from it.

They are also the enemies of the environment as the anti AGW policies they have advocated are creating massive harm – economically and environmentally – especially for the poor who – highly paradoxically – they claim to stand for in New Zealand.

The other aspect they have no morals on is the negative influence on, and exploitive use of, young people through the needless panic and worry they create .

Dr Matt Ridley says in the Times:

The latest science suggests that our policy on global warming is hopelessly misguided

There is little doubt that the damage being done by climate-change policies currently exceeds the damage being done by climate change, and will for several decades yet. Hunger, rainforest destruction, excess cold-weather deaths and reduced economic growth are all exacerbated by the rush to biomass and wind. These dwarf any possible effects of worse weather, for which there is still no actual evidence anyway: recent droughts, floods and storms are within historic variability.  Read more »

Rupert Murdoch on equality and the scourge of corporate welfare

At Quadrant Online, Gina Rinehart blogs about Rupert Murdoch’s speech to the Institute of Public Affairs:

I arrived in Melbourne in good time to neaten up for a dinner function celebrating the IPA’s 70 years. Although it seems a long way to fly from Tokyo for dinner, it was fantastic to see so many friendly and enthusiastic people. Thank you to all the friends and new friends who came to chat with me.

I spoke briefly, but it was the other speeches that made the night so worthwhile, including the address by IPA award winner Rupert Murdoch. He said the sort of things Baroness Thatcher would have appreciated because, like him, she strongly believed free societies are moral and socialism is not.

The speech she was talking about said this in main:

How often have you elected political leaders to fight against some horrible regulation or tax, only to watch as they basically agree to a watered down version of what their opponents are arguing?

Placating a nation is not leading a nation.

So long as we allow the debate to be framed by people who think the market is efficient because it is based on a human failing, we are going to lose every argument.

The only way to uphold market freedom is to show people that the market doesn’t succeed because of greed. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

The market succeeds because it gives people incentives to put their own wants and needs aside to address the wants and needs of others. To succeed, you have to produce something that other people are willing to pay for.

Of course the socialists would have you believe otherwise.

Matt Ridley is a British author who has given great thought to these issues. He wrote a famous book called The Rational Optimistthat many of you must know. He points out a few simple facts:

First, that today by almost any measure you can think of, people on this planet are better fed, better sheltered, and better protected than they’ve ever been – and that prosperity has really accelerated in the last 100 years. lndeed, that the average person’s standard of living has improved ten fold – yes, ten fold – in the last century.

Second, he says that the key is simply trade, or the interchange of goods, services, and ideas among people.

Let’s put this in human terms. Recently the World Bank reported that in 1981, 42% of people in the developing world had to live on less than a dollar a day. That is one-and-a-half billion people in poverty or starvation.

Thirty years later, the percentage has been reduced to 14%, a huge change in a relatively short period of time. What could be more moral than that?

This is unparalleled in history.  Read more »