Tag: matt ridley

You Ought to Have a Look: Clean Power Plan Comes Under Fire

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic. Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

We’ll start out with one of the best quotes we’ve come across in recent memory. It’s from the inimitable Matt Ridley in his piece, “The Green Scare Problem” from the Wall Street Journal last week:

Making dire predictions is what environmental groups do for a living, and it’s a competitive market, so they exaggerate.

Ridley goes on to describe a growingly familiar list of now-failed environmental apocalypses that had been, at one point in time, predicted to befall us—pesticides, ozone hole, acid rain, GMOs, etc. Climate change calamity, as is being pushed by President Obama and the EPA to justify their ever-expanding restrictions of our carbon dioxide emissions, is the latest addition to Ridley’s list. Ridley’s main point is that the “we’re doomed if we don’t do what the environmental pressure groups tell us, and saved if we do” push “has frequently turned out to be really bad advice.” Ridley foresees more of the same from Obama’s Clean Power. We’re inclined to agree.

Be sure to check out Matt’s full column in which he backs up his opinions. It well worth the time spent reading.

When it comes to selling the Clean Power Plan, President Obama and his EPA go to such extreme lengths that they run up against (and often exceed) the bounds of sound science. We’ve addressed many of these transgressions. Climate impact of the Plan? Zilch. Health impacts from the Plan. Non-existent. Economic stimulus of the Plan? Negative. Validity of calling “carbon dioxide emissions” “carbon pollution”? None.

To expand a bit upon the latter, we tracked the historical usage of the phrases “carbon dioxide emissions” and “carbon pollution” in press releases issued by the EPA since 1994. “Carbon dioxide emissions” is the scientifically appropriate description of well, carbon dioxide emissions, while “carbon pollution” is grossly inaccurate and, well, deceptive. Our figure tracks how the EPA has moved away from science and towards propaganda in recent years, no doubt, in concert with the President and his push for limits to carbon dioxide emissions under his Climate Action Plan announced in 2013 (and telegraphed years earlier).


Figure 1. Number of press releases each year since 1994 (through August 11, 2015) issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which contained either the phrase “carbon dioxide emissions” or “carbon pollution.”

Figure 1. Number of press releases each year since 1994 (through August 11, 2015) issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which contained either the phrase “carbon dioxide emissions” or “carbon pollution.”

When a straight up telling of the situation fails to impress, try dressing it up with something a bit scarier-sounding.

And finally, if the Obama Administration isn’t going to have its hands full dealing with challenges by states and industries who are opposed to the Clean Power Plan for myriad reasons, it’ll also have to defend itself against a lawsuit from a group of youths who think that the Clean Power Plan doesn’t go far enough:

They are asking for a court order to force Obama to immediately implement a national plan to decrease atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million – a level many scientists agree is the highest safe concentration permissible – by the end of this century. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has already hit 400 parts per million.

“It’s really important that the court step in and do their jobs when there’s such intense violation of constitutional rights happening,” [Julia] Olson [lead council on the case] said.

Nothing like a lawsuit that is suing for the impossible!

Three Views of Matt Ridley

Matt Ridley’s new book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, is garnering rave reviews. Ridley, science writer and popularizer of evolutionary psychology, shows how it was trade and specialization of labor–and the resulting massive growth in technological sophistication–that hauled humanity from its impoverished past to its comparatively rich present. These trends will continue, he argues, and will solve many of today’s most pressing problems, from the spread of disease to the threat of climate change.

The Cato Institute has now presented three different looks at the book, with a review in the Cato Journal, another in Regulation, and an event at Cato with Matt Ridley himself.

Powell on Ridley

My colleague Aaron Powell published the first Cato review of The Rational Optimist with a piece in the Fall 2010 edition of the Cato Journal (pdf).

What The Rational Optimist makes clear, in perspicuous prose and enchanting storytelling, is that, just as biological evolution populated the world with the wondrous variety of life, exchange allowed one of those species to achieve a wondrous standard of living that will only improve and become more uniform as we trade and invent.

Powell doesn’t find the book flawless, however. He identifies two problems that weaken Ridley’s argument, the first dealing with the “circular and unconvincing” nature of his claim that trade caused our human ancestors to achieve humanity. The second concern is broader. Powell writes,

It would be easy to get the impression Ridley is Pollyannaish. If nuclear annihilation, super flus, and starvation are nothing to be worried about, what possibly could be? Unfortunately, Ridley’s response to this critique is less convincing than it could be, for he fails to adequately draw a line between when an anticipated disaster is real and when it’s just pessimism writ large.

Henderson on Ridley

David R. Henderson reviews the book in the latest issue of Regulation (pdf). Like Powell, Henderson enthusiastically endorses the style and substance of Ridley’s book, though without identifying the weaknesses highlighted in the former review. His only point of contention with The Rational Optimist is a “jarring misstatement” regarding trade and value. Henderson writes,

Given the important role of trade in Ridley’s theory, and given his obvious understanding of trade, it is surprising that he makes a jarring misstatement: “For barter to work,” he writes, “two individuals do not need to offer things of equal value. Trade is often unequal, but still benefits both sides.” The correct statement is: “For barter or trade to work, individuals must offer things of unequal value.” If I valued what I give up the same as what I get in return, there would be no point in trading. Trading is always an exchange of unequal values.

Henderson goes on to defend Ridley against the negative appraisal his book received in the New York Times. That review, written by famous foreign-aid critic William Easterly, attacked The Rational Optimist for its take on Africa and for failing to “confront[] honestly all the doubts about the ‘free market.’” “Really?” Henderson responds. “All the doubts? I do not know if such a book could be written with the requisite amount of evidence and have under 3,000 pages.”

Ridley on Ridley

And then, of course, there’s the source himself. In May, Ridley spoke at a Cato Institute book forum about The Rational Optimist. He discussed the core arguments of his book and concluded (optimistically) that technology and trade have now made it possible to stop trying to keep the world from getting worse, and instead focus on making it better.

As with all Cato events, full video and audio are available for download on www.cato.org. Or watch it right here: