Matt Ridley combed the information that has been collated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and came to the surprising conclusion that mild warming (a degree or two) and increased atmospheric CO2, will have more benefits than costs. He reported these results in his book The Rational Optimist.
That view stands in stark contrast with the position articulated by Australia's Chief Scientist, who demanded that scientists should be more assertive to counter the views of people who do not accept the alarming scenarios. "… if you're 95 per cent certain your house is going to burn down, do you do nothing? I don't think so, " said Professor Ian Chubb.
The IPCC reports have been used as the bible of warming alarmism, as expressed by the Chief Scientist (interestingly, not a climate scientist), and that is the line that the journalists of the world have followed, almost without exception. To introduce some historical perspective Ridley described the way that climate change was reported in the past, using the example of Newsweek. In the 1970s there appeared to be a problem of global cooling and Newsweek reported:
"Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend…But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity…The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climate change once the results become grim reality."
Three decades later the problem has apparently changed, but the tone of breathless alarmism has not.
"The weather is always capricious, but last year gave new meaning to the term. Floods, hurricanes, droughts – the only plague missing was frogs. The pattern of extremes fits scientist's forecasts of what a warming world would be like."
Ridley surveyed the evidence on floods, hurricanes, droughts and the like to find no solid evidence to support the alarming claims. And since Ridley's book appeared there is another important contribution from Donna Laframboise, The Delinquent Teenager who was mistaken for the world's top climate expert, which shows how scientists with bad news - from the alarming point of view - can be sidelined by activists inside the key committees of the IPCC.
Ridley examined the scenarios sketched by the IPCC in 2007. There were six emissions scenarios, with temperature increases ranging from 1 to 6 degrees. All agree that there will be more warming at night, in winter and in cold regions. That means that some extremes of climate will be reduced, which is desirable in itself. All the scenarios involve so much economic growth that the people of 2100 will be 4 to 18 times as wealthy as we are today. That is a scenario of doom?
Ridley took up the central IPCC case of 3 degrees of warming by 2100, to examine the costs and benefits in terms of sea level, water supplies, storms, health, food, species and ecosystems.
Sea level: The most plausible prediction is for a rise of about 1 foot per century. Coastal flooding will increase slightly in some places, but other places will gain more land from deposits of silt than they lose by erosion. The Greenland icecap may retreat, if the glaciers continue to melt at the recent rate approaching 1 per cent per century.
Fresh water: The bottom-line - allowing for some variability around the globe, "all other things being equal, warming will itself reduce the total population at risk from water shortage."
Storms: The trends are positive, especially on the indicator of the anticipated human death toll. He noted a massive reduction in the death toll from weather-related natural disasters since the 1920s – from 242 per million people to 3 per million in the 2000s. The main factor here is better storm/flood prevention, which is a factor of economic growth. However there is no reason to expect that the weather will change to increase the frequency or severity of storms.
Health: Cold is a bigger killer than heat by a factor of five. There is no reason to expect malaria to become a bigger problem with warming. Other claims linking deaths and disease to climate change have been disproved on further investigation.
Food: Quite simply, mild warming plus more CO2 means more productive farming, more food from the same area. After all, CO2 is an essential plant food, and the carbon tax could just as well be called a "plant food tax" to underline the unreality of the situation.
Collateral benefits: More productive agriculture means that less undeveloped land is required to support human needs for food and fibre. That will pay off in terms of protecting species and maintaining biodiversity.
Sometimes you have to wonder what the fuss is about.