False allegations by climate change ‘sceptic’

Matt Ridley (Photo credit: John Watson)

Matt Ridley (Photo credit: John Watson)

The UK’s most prominent climate change ‘sceptic’ has falsely alleged that an international group of researchers conspired to suppress their results.

In the Annual Lecture for the Global Warming Policy Foundation on 17 October, Viscount Ridley accused Professor Ranga Myneni of Boston University and his 31 co-authors of delaying publication of a paper in order to avoid it being taking into account by the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

According to the text of the lecture posted on the Foundation’s website, Viscount Ridley said:

“Myneni’s results, however, remained unpublished. I was puzzled by this. Then I realized that one of the IPCC’s periodic assessment reports was in preparation, and that probably Dr Myneni and colleagues might delay the publication of their results until after that report was published, lest “the skeptics have a field day” with it.

That last phrase, by the way, is from one of the Climategate emails, the one on 22 September 1999 in which Dr Michael Mann approves the deletion of inconvenient data.

Sure enough, Myneni’s results were eventually published three years later in April 2016 in a paper in Nature Climate Change, with 32 authors from 24 institutions in eight countries – when the IPCC report was safely in the public domain and the great Paris climate jamboree was over.”

This is a serious allegation against Professor Myneni and his co-authors. However, Viscount Ridley misrepresented Professor Myneni’s work in order to make this claim.

The text of Viscount Ridley’s lecture states that he was first alerted to Professor Myneni’s work in December 2012 by someone who directed him to a video of a lecture that was delivered on 19 July 2012.

Viscount Ridley purported to reproduce two slides from Professor Myneni’s July 2012 lecture, outlining the main results. Viscount Ridley claimed that Professor Myneni had found that 31% of the Earth’s vegetated land had ‘greened’ between 1982 and 2011, and that there had been an increase in gross productivity by 14%, about half of which could be attributed to carbon dioxide fertilisation.

In fact, Professor Myneni’s video clearly shows that he was reporting that 20.5% of the Earth’s vegetated land had ‘greened’, as, indeed, Viscount Ridley had indicated in an article for the ‘Wall Street Journal’ which was published online on 4 January 2013.

Furthermore, Viscount Ridley did not, as he wrongly claimed, reproduce slides from Professor Myneni’s July 2012 lecture, but instead used two slides from a different lecture which was delivered at a meeting on 4-5 July 2013.

In addition, Viscount Ridley did not make clear that in his July 2013 lecture, Professor Myneni suggested that 42% of the 14% increase in annual productivity “can be attributed to relaxation of climatic constraints to plant growth”, with “57% to other ‘anthropogenic factors’”, whereas the paper published in the journal ‘Nature Climate Change’ in April 2016 did not present a figure for annual productivity, instead concluding that 25% to 50% of the Earth’s vegetated area had greened, with about 70% of this trend attributable to carbon dioxide fertilisation.

Crucially Viscount Ridley also failed to mention that Professor Myneni states clearly at about 42 minutes during his recorded 2012 lecture that “The attribution to fertilisation is somewhat speculative and not on very solid ground and we have to further refine this before this paper goes out to publication”.

Hence, despite Viscount Ridley’s false claims, it is clear that Professor Myneni presented only preliminary results in July 2012, and so there is no justification for the allegation that he and his co-authors delayed publication in order to avoid its inclusion in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Indeed, it appears that Viscount Ridley obscured the truth about Professor Myneni’s work by showing slides from his July 2013 lecture, but claiming they were part of his earlier 2012 lecture.

To be considered for the contribution by IPCC working group I to the Fifth Assessment Report, papers had to be submitted by no later than 31 July 2012, and accepted by 15 March 2013, so Professor Myneni’s presentation of his preliminary results on 19 July 2012 was just 12 days before the deadline for submitting eligible papers, and his lecture in July 2013 was well after the cut-off date.

Working group I’s report, which was published in September 2013, explicitly addressed the issue of carbon fertilisation and its impact on the net primary production (NPP) of vegetation on pages 501-2 in Chapter 6.

The chapter explicitly cites the findings of a paper by Nemani and co-authors, published in 2003 and also referred to by Professor Myneni in his July 2012 lecture:

“Warming (and possibly the CO2 fertilisation effect) has also been correlated with global trends in satellite greenness observations, which resulted in an estimated 6% increase of global NPP, or the accumulation of 3.4 PgC on land over the period 1982–1999 (Nemani et al., 2003).”

Yet Viscount Ridley ignored the contribution of IPCC working group I and instead complained about the coverage of ‘greening’ in the contribution of working group II. This is a mistake that Viscount Ridley made before, which Professor Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts at the Met Office, pointed out on social media. Yet Viscount Ridley used his lecture to attack Professor Betts and wrongly to describe his efforts as being “misleading at best and false at worst”.

It is apparent, therefore, that the allegations Viscount Ridley made against Professor Myneni and his co-authors, and against Professor Betts, are entirely untrue and based on misrepresentations of the facts. Professor Myneni has published a statement directly refuting the allegations against him.

I have written to Viscount Ridley suggesting that he immediately withdraw the text of his Annual Lecture for the Global Warming Policy Foundation at the Royal Society on 17 October, and issue public apologies to Professor Myneni and his co-authors, and to Professor Betts, for making false allegations against them.

There are, of course, other significantly misleading and inaccurate claims in Viscount Ridley’s Annual Lecture for the Foundation which I have not outlined here. I will be, however, publishing shortly details of these other errors and misrepresentations.

This is just the latest example of the Global Warming Policy Foundation and Viscount Ridley, who is a member of its “Academic Advisory Council”, attacking scientists and misrepresenting their work.

The Foundation was launched by Lord Lawson in November 2009 to capitalise on false accusations made against scientists at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia following the illegal hacking of their emails.

Although it spends most of its efforts lobbying against policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, the Foundation is also, controversially, registered as an educational charity.

The Charity Commission ruled in September 2014 that the Foundation was in violation of its rules for promoting climate change denial. However, it has continued to produce pamphlets and other propaganda that reject the findings of climate scientists.

Viscount Ridley has become the UK’s most prominent denier of the risks of climate change, using columns in ‘The Times’ and the ‘Wall Street Journal’ to make inaccurate and misleading claims that researchers have exaggerated the impacts.

His false allegations against Professor Myneni and his co-authors have also been reproduced in the 22 October issue of ‘The Spectator’ magazine, which frequently publishes the unscientific views of climate change ‘sceptics’.

A previous article by Viscount Ridley in October 2013 for ‘The Spectator’ claiming that “climate change has done more good than harm so far and is likely to continue doing so for most of this century”, was found to have been based on an error-ridden article by a fellow member of the Foundation’s “Academic Advisory Council”, but has yet to be corrected.

It remains to be seen whether the Global Warming Policy Foundation or ‘The Spectator’ admits to their latest misrepresentations about climate change.

For his part, Viscount Ridley has confirmed that he misrepresented Professor Myneni’s work, but refuses to acknowledge that his allegations are demonstrably false, and protests that he has done nothing wrong.

 

Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.