Author Topic: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers  (Read 1879 times)

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Offline Pdb88

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Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« on: March 29, 2017, 06:32:14 PM »
What are the community's  thoughts on Matt Ridley's recent article about global greening being a more signifant impact than global warming?

Here is Ridley's article:
https://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/10/the-world-is-getting-greener-why-does-no-one-want-to-know/
&
http://www.thegwpf.org/matt-ridley-global-warming-versus-global-greening/

How would you assess his statement that the 14% greening over the last 30 years will have a greater positive impact than other predicted consequences of greater CO2 in the atmosphere?

Here are the primary sources he uses:
https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=NczWU8AAAAAJ&hl=en
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Offline Gerbig

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Re: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2017, 07:40:31 PM »
This sounds so hopeful, im skeptical. It makes sense, but the fact that the professor himself was scolding this student to not publish his work makes me think the author may be misinterpreting the professors actual work.

Offline Sawyer

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Re: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2017, 11:21:53 PM »
Ridley's ~10 year track record of giving credence to idiotic denialist talking points is not taken lightly by myself or many others on this forum.

If whatever arguments he's shifted to start gaining traction in other scientific publications I'll start paying attention, but I'm not wasting time on the guy every time he moves the goalposts.

Offline Pdb88

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Re: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2017, 12:10:14 AM »
There appears to be a long series of publications about global greening and Myneni has many thousands of citations.

One article about northern latitudes and greening has more than 2000 citations, has the data been challenged?
https://scholar.google.com/citations?view_op=view_citation&hl=en&user=NczWU8AAAAAJ&citation_for_view=NczWU8AAAAAJ:u-x6o8ySG0sC

The controversy seems to be about how much of the greening is caused by more CO2 and what effect this greening will have on climate. Svante Arrhenius predicted this when he first set out the greenhouse effect.
"By the influence of the increasing percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates,’ he wrote. The earth, he predicted, ‘will bring forth much more abundant crops than at present, for the benefit of rapidly propagating mankind’."
http://www.rsc.org/images/Arrhenius1896_tcm18-173546.pdf

I haven't followed Matt Ridley on this particular issue but reading the Red Queen made me (and many others) pursue science for a lifetime.
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Offline Ah.hell

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Re: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2017, 09:41:38 AM »
It is significantly more optimistic than the scientific consensus, which makes me skeptical.  The idea is not implausible though.  So, probably not true but I'm not going to bet on it.

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Re: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2017, 12:59:58 PM »
Did not read up fully, but it seems totes plausible that more carbon in the atmosphere means more plant life, warmer climate, and more arable land exposed.
I'm sure there are some positive benefits to this greener planet. It's part of a huge, larger shift tho.
And as Steve says, "unfortunately, we built our civilization on CURRENT coastlines..."

Since I didn't read, can someone summarize how more plants will keep our coastlines where they are?
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Offline Billzbub

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Re: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2017, 02:01:48 PM »
I'm lazy and didn't read the article, so feel free to ignore me.

It sounds from this thread like the author is not arguing about whether the world is warming, but observing that it is getting greener because of the CO2 increase.  Most of the negative effects I've heard that will come from climate change aren't really related to how green the earth is.  For example, the oceans will still desalinate and rise, killing off lots of sea and coastal life.  I'm not sure that plants growing better will make up for all of the catastrophic effects related to climate change that aren't related to plant growth.  Therefor, if the article really is limiting itself to just greening, I see no reason why it would be going against the current scientific consensus that rapid global warming will be a disaster overall.

Offline Sawyer

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Re: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2017, 03:20:52 PM »
I thought a little more about this.  Even if I set aside my suspicion of Ridley, I'm still not sure that it's the moral responsibility of scientists or science journalists to shout from the rooftops every time we discover a positive outcome of global warming.  This research (assuming it is of reasonable quality) should play some role in informing policy decisions, and should absolutely factor into driving future research among climatologists themselves.  But this is very different from insisting that it be front and center in the *public* discussion of global warming.  To demand that scientists and journalists give extensive coverage to these sorts of results is essentially demanding that they pretend to  be politically naive.  You can't force scientists to come to the table as if they believe everyone is approaching this topic in an honest and objective manner, because many of these scientists have seen >30 years of evidence to the contrary.

An analogy that comes up frequently when talking about climate change is the struggle to inform the public about the dangers of tobacco use, and it's an apt comparison in this case.  There were plenty of negative/null studies in the 50s and 60s on whether or not cigarettes caused lung cancer, and there was tons of research showing alternate causes including asbestos, smog, and radiation exposure.  It may have even been sensible to tell scientists they needed to do a better job explaining these results to the public ... at first.  The problem was that tobacco companies and fringe political movements immediately seized on these results to deceive the public.  They overemphasized any research that cast doubt on the harm of their product, and while it's easy to forget about now, this worked amazingly well for decades.  If you were an epidemiologist that did research on asbestos and cancer, you may be doing top notch work, but if you demanded that your work get talked about in every public discussion of lung cancer, you were inadvertently ass kissing tobacco companies.  They knew how to exploit your work and distract people from the primary research showing their product killed millions of people.  Until the public accepted that fundamental science, the more complicated questions about mechanisms, rates, etc. were not that useful to discuss.

This is not all that different than what's been going on in climatology.  You have a handful of industry leaders, political operatives, and straight up crackpots that will leverage any null results or positive results (in the sense of human benefit, not in the sense of showing real effects) to further confuse the public and stall any political action.  Sure, some of the research they cite is legit.  Sure, it would be nice if the public was better informed about the various silver linings of global temperatures rising 3 degrees.  But that's just not the world we live in.  It's impossible to talk about the more complicated aspects of climate change until everyone is on the same page about the basics , and it's unfair to demand scientists and serious journalists do free legwork for the deniers.  I always imagine some kid failing 9th grade algebra complaining that the teacher is stupid because he/she is not showing the class how to use calculus.  No.  You don't get to fail your way upward and insist you have more intellectual curiosity than your peers.  This isn't the White House.

Odd tangent - all of this reminded me of a Partially Examined Life episode where they talk about Oppenheimer and the philosophical dilemma of scientists engaging in the political process.  It made me very aware of people who make that demand something impossible:  scientists must be hyper aware of the political causes/outcomes of their research, and yet somehow remain apolitical in their discussion of the results of their work.  This is now one of my litmus tests for people being ignorant about science, and it serves double duty in showing me I don't care about their political opinion either.

Not directing any of this at you Pdb88, just a general comment on deniers/lukewarmers/whatever the hell label they will hide behind 10 years from now.

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Re: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2017, 04:24:23 PM »
Pdb, you say Ridley claims global greening will be "a more significant impact than global warming" of greater carbon in the atmosphere.

Can you summarize: does he say the greening will counteract the warming and give a mechanism, or is he just denying the impact of the warming (in favor of this other impact, which happens to be a good one)?
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Offline 2397

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Re: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2017, 07:36:06 PM »
Isn't most of the problem of a lack of trees and such, that we've been clearing and destroying forests to use for other purposes? If we wanted more plant growth, we could have it through not actively working against it (and possibly killing off a bunch of people).

New areas opening up because of a shift in climate and temperature regions are going to come at a cost of other areas going away. So the main change might be that we occupy different regions. If we can manage to move our production and dependencies as quickly as the climate is changing.

Meanwhile we've been measuring a temperature increase corresponding to the CO2 increase. What does it matter that the Earth is getting greener, if it doesn't stop the temperature increase?

Offline Pdb88

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Re: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« Reply #10 on: March 31, 2017, 01:25:04 AM »
I am also skeptical of effects that appear out of data due to selection bias of the results reported or through other statistical artifacts. The idea of the null results from tobacco reminds me of the replication crisis in psychology and education research - results that are taken as conventional wisdom (learning styles etc.) that are non-existent; which is obviously an outcome we would all like to avoid - if it is non-existent. Another example would be the rate at which HIV is passed on through vaginal intercourse (very low chance) yet that information is not being publicly announced because people have a difficult time in assessing risk and this information would promote risky behaviour or the meme that alcohol destroys brain cells (incorrect) however debunking these myths publicly will likely cause significantly more harm than believing them. What about paper burning (for many Asian religions) and fireplaces producing particulates that are more dangerous than tobacco(https://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-fireplace-delusion) ?

It is always difficult to make blanket statements when the truth is often subtle and there will always be some data that contradicts the mainstream, it is then the task of the scientific community to create some metric to place a value on the data that is against expectations - the greening data seems to be important enough to at least be part of the mainstream conversation on climate change.

If scientists filter their results in a political way it then opens up accusation of politicised science (such as the CSIRO - "more religion than science" comment http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-11/csiro-boss-larry-marshall-defends-controversial-shake-up/7157650), which can cause even more tribalised thinking and less trust in the scientific process and the scientific community as a whole. Ridley is questioning the negative future effects of global warming and also discussing the possible positive impacts.

The idea that positive effects should be suppressed or not publicly spoken about will fuel the opposition to climate change. I suppose it comes down to how detrimental the rise in sea levels (and other associated negative effects) will be as opposed to the greening; the greening itself will have a dampening effect as well, for the same reason that methane is a greater greenhouse gas than CO2 because of the larger current concentration of CO2. It is a possible future that has an increase in agricultural production and a "greener" world as well as a world with higher sea levels that would be considered a better overall bargain for humanity and other organisms than the current state. For example if there was a 5% increase in global greening for every inch increase in sea levels it would not be clear to me that this would be a terrible outcome for the world.

I fully agree with a conservative and cautionary approach that would mean that I, personally, would be against tampering with the environment by adding CO2 even if the models predicted positive changes, however, such a positive future is possible and discussing it does not equate to promoting the emissions of CO2 or being a AGW denialist. The line of reasoning that appealed to me was that most systems have negative feedback loops built in and that positive feedback loops would indicate that the system was unstable. This negative feedback loop is demonstrated by the enhanced greening effect due to increased CO2 and more water (as temperature increases the humidity increases - so the rate of photosynthesis increases which will dampen further warming) - this data has also been published for decades yet does not often make it to public AGW discussion.

"The limited amount of available experimental data has as a trend that water use per unit soil surface area will change little (-10 to +10%). As, however, the general trend towards an improved water-use efficiency is clear, the productivity per unit of available water is expected to rise by 20-40%, probably much less than the value (100%) calculated from a reduced stomatal conductivity and an increased photosynthesis. Some studies show that in situations with marginal water availability the threshold for a successful crop may shift to lower values (Chaudhury et al., 1990,b; Clifford et al., 1993; Grashoff et al., 1994). Whether at otherwise unchanged water availability this would open up possibilities to reverse existing trends towards desertification in certain areas is very questionable, as apart from precipitation falling short to maintain existing vegetation, other aspects like over-exploitation might dominate. It should, however, be emphasized that present knowledge on feedback among vegetation characteristics, gas exchange and albedo and the regional climate is insufficient to draw firm conclusions."
http://www.fao.org/docrep/w5183e/w5183e07.htm

Ridley mentions that he has moved away from being concerned about global warming to being cautious but optimistic about the future. He seems to be questioning the calculus of how detrimental the effects of global warming will be versus the current abatement costs. I would summarise Riley's views as:
1) Global warming exists (~0.85*C increase in global temperatures)
2) This warming is primarily due to human activity (so he would be considered a believer in AGW)
3) The negative consequences are exaggerated and the positive consequences are suppressed

Both 1) & 2) are mainstream positions and it is only 3) that is novel - I'm not sure if Riley denied temperature changes or had some other "idiotic denialist talking points" or moving the goal posts - are there any links or examples of this occurring? Regardless of his previous stances, his current position seems eminently reasonable and hopeful.
« Last Edit: March 31, 2017, 01:27:58 AM by Pdb88 »
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Online Andrew Clunn

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Re: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« Reply #11 on: March 31, 2017, 06:24:26 AM »
The predictions that assume drops in harvests and growing seasons assume drought as the result of changing weather patterns (something notoriously difficult to predict).  The increased rate of plant growth due to more C02 and longer growing seasons at high latitudes are things we can observe right now.  Granted we can also see the very beginning of the sea level rising.

It's important to separate "could happen" and "will happen" predictions of global warming.  That some here believe that research showing "already happening" positive results is counterproductive...  Well, the auther might be engaging in motivated reasoning, but that response is definitely so.
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Offline Sawyer

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Re: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« Reply #12 on: March 31, 2017, 12:38:37 PM »
Pdb you've thrown way too much information up to deal with all it once, and I suppose I did as well.  Is there one specific aspect you'd like addressed?

If you're curious about Ridley's questionable track record on global warming, just google him and look at some of the sites/blogs that are critical of his position.  It has very little to do with global warming, but I found one of the most damning criticisms of his supposedly competent science journalism on science based medicine.  It is abundantly clear to me that he is someone who places his politics in front of his commitment to scientific rigor, and I really don't know how the guy has fallen as far as he has.   Skeptical science has a breakdown on his misdeeds as well, although I will admit I am a *little* suspicious that they aren't as thorough as they should be.  https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/matt-ridleys-not-so-mythical-myth-of-basic-science/

I'm happy to talk more about the supposed "suppression" of null results, particularly the example about tobacco research I gave.  The scientific and medical community bent over backwards to have an honest and transparent conversation about this research with the public while it was underway, and I find the narrative that scientists were acting as intellectual gatekeepers controlling the flow of information to the public to be ridiculous (slightly less ridiculous with climatology, but still an extremely inaccurate portrayal of what's going on).  A lot of the stuff that isn't presented to the public is "suppressed" because actual scientists know how to do proper literature reviews and assess methodology better than a novice.

I do not feel comfortable discussing the actual science behind "global greening" or it's relative benefit to mankind because I have zero research experience in climatology.  I find it rather pointless to speculate on something I have little tangible experience with, and would advise applying this standard to others as well.  Unfortunately we only have a handful of people on this forum that qualify as real climate scientists, and they don't post a lot.

Offline Pdb88

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Re: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« Reply #13 on: March 31, 2017, 09:08:15 PM »
You are correct Sawyer we are talking about a lot of issues and there is also a huge amount of information.

There is 1) Matt Ridley himself then 2) the issue of AGW and the associated consensus and political aspects of global warming and global greening and then there is 3) the broader discussion of the role of the scientist in society (I listened to the Partially Examined Life podcast on Oppenheimer and found it interesting although did not take away any general principle to judge when communicators becomes advocates).

I'm interested in all of these issues, especially the issue of innovation and the connection between the scientific revolution and the industrial revolution and how much government can influence the scientific  output of their country - this is an incredibly complicated discussion and much of it comes down to political lines (how effective our belief in the government to allocate resources, I always come back to "That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen" which elucidates the principle that the obvious benefit of an action may in fact hide the opportunity cost which may have benefited to general welfare more than the seen action).
http://bastiat.org/en/twisatwins.html#SECTION_G002

I would like to focus on the argument set out by Matt Ridley (rather than anything about him personally) and also avoid the general principles behind how scientists act as prophets or apolitical public servants.

The most interesting part of Ridley's argument is how accurately we can predict the future impacts of AGW and the current costs and benefits. One of the main reasons why I am partial to this line of reasoning is that there seems to be a focus on AGW away from other environmental and social issues which does lead to exaggerated claims linking AGW to multiple issues e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/01/climate-change-trigger-unimaginable-refugee-crisis-senior-military without any different scenarios entertained.

Public policy based on fear does not seem to be the most logical approach (neither would a dismissal of obvious dangers) so we have an odd state of affairs where the probability of events is never discussed and only the most severe scenarios are being entertained - it then creates this dynamic between those that believe AGW is the most important issue facing humanity and then everyone else is placed in the denialist category.

There is a spectrum of responses to AGW, ranging from denialist of warming, denialist of human cause (greenhouse effect not responsible, relate to sun activity or other long term trends unrelated to humans) then there would be those that think the positive effects outweigh the negatives (some sort of pro CO2 position that has parallels with pro tobacco propaganda) to those that feel positives are similar to the negatives, to the view that AGW is one of the most dangerous processes and finally those with the view that AGW will destroy humanity and the world as we know it.

My view is that any apparent contrarian position to the serious nature of AGW means that many moderate voices are self-censoring and this leads to an even more combative stance between those on different ends of the spectrum of response to AGW. The  equation of AGW concern with morality or global citizenship is obviously a huge silencing technique.

If the greening data is true (that an entire continent of greening as been created in half a century - which is observable and currently true) and there are greater dampening effects to global warming and the range (from the current 0.85*C increase since the industrial revolution may e more likely to be 2 to 3*C in the century as opposed to 4 to 6*C) these are not insignificant matters and when current changes to our society to mitigate the harm associated with AGW has current and real costs and the long term benefit is unclear.

Are there any of Ridley's statements in the GWPF lecture at the royal society that any in the community particularly object to?

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Offline 2397

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Re: Matt Ridley, Global Greening & Ranga Myneni: lukewarmers
« Reply #14 on: April 01, 2017, 03:02:12 AM »
What other scenarios are there regarding refugees and climate change? Conditions are pretty poor in parts of the world, and the populations are under significant strain. I'm not seeing what kind of changes climate change can cause that are going to be improve their conditions, especially since the areas where most of the vulnerable populations live are in the center 50% of the planet around the equator, which is already plenty warm. Are you expecting Russia to be capable of supporting billions of people?

In countries like Brazil and Indonesia, there are major problems with people burning down forests to clear more land for farms. We're already using all the land we can, and we rely on significant technological advances to keep up with growing needs. If existing farms get damaged from changes in temperature, where are we going to move all that production to, and what will that mean for the remaining natural environment of the planet? Do we expect it to swap to where we used to have farms? How much time will that take?

 

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