My Life as a Climate Lukewarmer

The polarisation of the climate debate has gone too far

This article appeared in the Times on January 19, 2015:
该文载于2015年1月19日《泰晤士报》(The Times)

I am a climate lukewarmer. That means I think recent global warming is real, mostly man-made and will continue but I no longer think it is likely to be dangerous and I think its slow and erratic progress so far is what we should expect in the future.


That last year was the warmest yet, in some data sets, but only by a smidgen more than 2005, is precisely in line with such lukewarm thinking.


This view annoys some sceptics who think all climate change is natural or imaginary, but it is even more infuriating to most publicly funded scientists and politicians, who insist climate change is a big risk.


My middle-of-the-road position is considered not just wrong, but disgraceful, shameful, verging on scandalous. I am subjected to torrents of online abuse for holding it, very little of it from sceptics.


I was even kept off the shortlist for a part-time, unpaid public-sector appointment in a field unrelated to climate because of having this view, or so the headhunter thought.


In the climate debate, paying obeisance to climate scaremongering is about as mandatory for a public appointment, or public funding, as being a Protestant was in 18th-century England.

为了获得公职任命或者公共基金资助,就必须在气候争议中遵从耸人听闻的气候变化言论,这就像在18世纪的英格兰必须当一名新教徒一样。【译注:1672年的考验法案(Test Act)要求出任国会议员和担任公职者向国王宣誓效忠,并履行相应宗教仪式,1678年版的考验法案则将天主教徒排除在这一宣誓程序之外,从而剥夺了他们担任公职的机会,法案同时还对天主教徒的民事权利施加了限制,该法案直到1828年才被废除。】

Kind friends send me news almost weekly of whole blog posts devoted to nothing but analysing my intellectual and personal inadequacies, always in relation to my views on climate.


Writing about climate change is a small part of my life but, to judge by some of the stuff that gets written about me, writing about me is a large part of the life of some of the more obsessive climate commentators. It’s all a bit strange. Why is this debate so fractious?


Rather than attack my arguments, my critics like to attack my motives. I stand accused of “wanting” climate change to be mild because I support free markets or because I receive income indirectly from the mining of coal in Northumberland.


Two surface coal mines (which I do not own), operating without subsidies, do indeed dig coal partly from land that I own. They pay me a fee, as I have repeatedly declared in speeches, books and articles.


I do think that coal, oil and gas have been a good thing so far, by giving us an alternative to cutting down forests and killing whales, by supplying fertiliser to feed the world, by giving the global poor affordable energy, and so on.


But instead of defending the modern coal industry I write and speak extensively in favour of gas, the biggest competitive threat to coal’s share of the electricity market. If we can phase out coal without causing too much suffering, then I would not object.


Besides, I could probably earn even more from renewable energy. As a landowner, I am astonished by the generosity of the offers I keep receiving for green-energy subsidies.


Wind farm developers in smart suits dangle the prospect of tens of thousands of pounds per turbine on my land — and tens of turbines.


A solar developer wrote to me recently saying he could offer more than a million pounds of income over 25 years if I were to cover some particular fields with solar panels.


Many big country houses have installed subsidised wood-fired heating to the point where you can hear their Canalettos cracking. I argue against such subsidies, so I don’t take them.


I was not always a lukewarmer. When I first started writing about the threat of global warming more than 26 years ago, as science editor of The Economist, I thought it was a genuinely dangerous threat.


Like, for instance, Margaret Thatcher, I accepted the predictions being made at the time that we would see warming of a third or a half a degree (Centigrade) a decade, perhaps more, and that this would have devastating consequences.


Gradually, however, I changed my mind. The failure of the atmosphere to warm anywhere near as rapidly as predicted was a big reason: there has been less than half a degree of global warming in four decades — and it has slowed down, not speeded up.


Increases in malaria, refugees, heatwaves, storms, droughts and floods have not materialised to anything like the predicted extent, if at all. Sea level has risen but at a very slow rate — about a foot per century.


Also, I soon realised that all the mathematical models predicting rapid warming assume big amplifying feedbacks in the atmosphere, mainly from water vapour; carbon dioxide is merely the primer, responsible for about a third of the predicted warming. When this penny dropped, so did my confidence in predictions of future alarm: the amplifiers are highly uncertain.


Another thing that gave me pause was that I went back and looked at the history of past predictions of ecological apocalypse from my youth – population explosion, oil exhaustion, elephant extinction, rainforest loss, acid rain, the ozone layer, desertification, nuclear winter, the running out of resources, pandemics, falling sperm counts, cancerous pesticide pollution and so forth.


There was a consistent pattern of exaggeration, followed by damp squibs: in not a single case was the problem as bad as had been widely predicted by leading scientists. That does not make every new prediction of apocalypse necessarily wrong, of course, but it should encourage scepticism.


What sealed my apostasy from climate alarm was the extraordinary history of the famous “hockey stick” graph, which purported to show that today’s temperatures were higher and changing faster than at any time in the past thousand years.


That graph genuinely shocked me when I first saw it and, briefly in the early 2000s, it persuaded me to abandon my growing doubts about dangerous climate change and return to the “alarmed” camp.


Then I began to read the work of two Canadian researchers, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick. They and others have shown, as confirmed by the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, that the hockey stick graph, and others like it, are heavily reliant on dubious sets of tree rings and use inappropriate statistical filters that exaggerate any 20th-century upturns.

然后我开始阅读Steve McIntyre和Ross McKitrick这两名加拿大学者的论文。他们以及其他一些学者的研究得到了美国国家科学院(National Academy of Sciences)的肯定,这些研究表明,曲棍球棒曲线以及其他类似的曲线都严重依赖于不可靠的年轮数据,并使用了不恰当的统计筛选方法,从而夸大了20世纪气温上升的趋势。

What shocked me more was the scientific establishment’s reaction to this: it tried to pretend that nothing was wrong. And then a flood of emails was leaked in 2009 showing some climate scientists apparently scheming to withhold data, prevent papers being published, get journal editors sacked and evade freedom-of-information requests, much as sceptics had been alleging. That was when I began to re-examine everything I had been told about climate change and, the more I looked, the flakier the prediction of rapid warming seemed.


I am especially unimpressed by the claim that a prediction of rapid and dangerous warming is “settled science”, as firm as evolution or gravity.

有些人宣称,“气候变暖迅速,并且十分危险”这一预测就像进化论和万有引力一样确凿,是“公认的科学”, 我对这一论调尤其不以为然。

How could it be? It is a prediction! No prediction, let alone in a multi-causal, chaotic and poorly understood system like the global climate, should ever be treated as gospel.


With the exception of eclipses, there is virtually nothing scientists can say with certainty about the future. It is absurd to argue that one cannot disagree with a forecast. Is the Bank of England’s inflation forecast infallible?


Incidentally, my current view is still consistent with the “consensus” among scientists, as represented by the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The consensus is that climate change is happening, not that it is going to be dangerous.


The latest IPCC report gives a range of estimates of future warming, from harmless to terrifying. My best guess would be about one degree of warming during this century, which is well within the IPCC’s range of possible outcomes.


Yet most politicians go straight to the top of the IPCC’s range and call climate change things like “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction” (John Kerry), requiring the expenditure of trillions of dollars.

然而,大多数政客只关注IPCC所给出范围的上限,把气候变化说成类似“可能是世界上最可怕的大规模杀伤性武器”(John Kerry语),要求政府支出数万亿美元来解决这一问题。

I think that is verging on grotesque in a world full of war, hunger, disease and poverty. It also means that environmental efforts get diverted from more urgent priorities, like habitat loss and invasive species.


The policies being proposed to combat climate change, far from being a modest insurance policy, are proving ineffective, expensive, harmful to poor people and actually bad for the environment: we are tearing down rainforests to grow biofuels and ripping up peat bogs to install windmills that still need fossil-fuel back-up.


These policies are failing to buy any comfort for our wealthy grandchildren and are doing so on the backs of today’s poor. Some insurance policy.


To begin with, after I came out as a lukewarmer, I would get genuine critiques from scientists who disagreed with me and wanted to exchange views. I had long and time-consuming email exchanges or conversations with several such scientists.


Yet I grew steadily more sceptical as, one by one, they failed to answer my doubts. They often resorted to meta-arguments, especially the argument from authority: if the Royal Society says it is alarmed, then you should be alarmed.

然而,随着他们一个个都未能回答我的疑问,我对他们的说法越来越充满怀疑。他们总是采取后设论证,尤其是来自于权威的论证:如果皇家学会(Royal Society)说气候变化问题是令人恐慌的,那你就应该感到恐慌。

If I want argument from authority, I replied, I will join the Catholic Church. “These are just standard denialist talking points” scoffed another prominent scientist, unpersuasively, when I raised objections — as if that answered them.


My experience with sceptical scientists, many of them distinguished climatologists at leading universities, was different. The more I probed, the better their data seemed. They did not resort to the argument from authority.


Sometimes I disagreed with them or thought they went too far. I have yet to be convinced, for example, that changes in the output of the sun caused the warming of the 1980s and 1990s — an idea that some espouse.


So for the most part, I found myself persuaded by the middle-of-the-road, “lukewarm” argument – that CO2-induced warming is likely but it won’t be large, fast or damaging.


Then a funny thing happened a few years ago. Those who disagreed with me stopped pointing out politely where or why they disagreed and started calling me names.


One by one, many of the most prominent people in the climate debate began to throw vitriolic playground abuse at me. I was “paranoid”, “specious”, “risible”, “self-defaming”, “daft”, “lying”, “irrational”, an “idiot”.


Their letters to the editor or their blog responses asserted that I was “error-riddled” or had seriously misrepresented something, but then they not only failed to substantiate the charge but often roughly confirmed what I had written.


I have seen bad-tempered polarisation of scientific debates before, for example during the nature-nurture debates of the 1970s and 1980s between those who thought genes affected behaviour and those who thought upbringing was overwhelmingly important. That debate grew vicious.


What caused the polarisation, I realised then, was not just that people on one side read the articles they agreed with, reinforcing their prejudices, but something more. They relied on extreme distortions of their enemies’ arguments, written by self-appointed guardians of the flame on their own side, so they were constantly attacking straw men.

那时我意识到,引起两极分化的,不仅仅是一方的人读了他们认同的文章,加深了他们的偏见,还有其他原因。他们依赖于同自己站在一边、自命为星火护卫者【译注:guardians of the flame是一部著名英国漫画,讲述了一群大学生保卫地球的故事,此处作者暗讽那些气候危机论者自命为地球拯救者。】的人所写的文章来极度扭曲对手的见解,所以他们只是在不断攻击稻草人。

It’s the same here. Most of the people who attack me seem to think I am a “denier” of climate change because that’s what a few hyperventilating bloggers keep saying about me. It’s not, of course, true. It’s these flame guardians who polarise such debates.


The most prolific of them is a man named Bob Ward. Although employed at the London School of Economics, he is not a researcher or lecturer, but policy and communications director, somebody whose day job is to defend the climate orthodoxy in the media. Some might call him a spin doctor.

他们中最多产的是一个叫Bob Ward的人。虽然他供职于伦敦政治经济学院,但他既不是研究员也不是讲师,而是政策与传播总监,他每天的工作就是在媒体上捍卫气候问题的正统观点。一些人可能会把他叫做政治化妆师【译注:政治化妆师(spin doctor)是指政治公关顾问,其典型工作是,在危机公关中,通过以投合公众喜好的方式表述事实,而影响媒体报道和公众舆论】。

It appears to me that he feels compelled to write something rude about me every time I publish on this topic and although his letters to editors are often published, he throws an online tantrum if they are not.


He is hilariously obsessed with my peerage, lovingly reciting my title every time he attacks me, like a Bertie Woosterish snob.

他欢乐地痴迷于我的贵族地位【译注:作者是第七代Ridley子爵,并据此身份当选为上院议员】,每次攻击我时他都要满怀深情地提及我的头衔,好像我是个Bertie Wooster式的势利小人【译注:Bertie Wooster是在英国作家P.G.Wodehouse的小说Jeeves中反复出现的一个虚构人物,是位懒散无聊的富裕绅士】。

As an example of playing the man and not the ball, Ward and Lord Deben, chairman of the government’s official committee on climate change, are both wont to mock the fact that my Oxford DPhil thesis in 1983 was on the behaviour of birds.

作为一个对人不对事的例子,Bob Ward和气候变化官方委员会主席Deben上议员都常常嘲笑我于1983在牛津大学完成的博士论文是关于鸟类行为的。

Good luck to them but I notice they don’t mock the fact that the DPhil thesis of Lord Krebs was also on birds, earned in the very same research group as me: the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology.

祝他们好运吧!我发现他们并不嘲笑John Krebs议员的博士论文,那同样是关于鸟类的,而且和我的论文在同一研究机构完成:爱德华·格雷野生鸟类研究所(Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology)。

Lord Krebs is the chairman of the adaptation subcommittee of the committee on climate change.John Krebs, a fine scientist and superb lecturer, was the internal examiner of my thesis, which he praised at the time, after telling me to correct a couple of silly mistakes he had spotted in the calculation of a probability result. I did so.


Imagine my surprise when he recently told several separate people (who reported it to me) that I should not be listened to on climate change because my DPhil thesis, all those years ago, contained mathematical errors.


Lord May even used this argument against me in a debate in the House of Lords: that because I got a number wrong in a calculation 31 years ago, I cannot ever be right again. This is the kind of hilarious thing that happens to you if you come out as a lukewarmer.


Talking of the committee on climate change, last year Lord Deben commissioned an entire reportto criticise something I had said. Among other howlers, it included a quotation from the IPCC but the quote had a large chunk cut from the middle. When this cut was restored the line supported me, not Lord Deben.


When I pointed this out politely to Lord Deben, he refused to restore the excision and left the document unchanged on the committee’s website. Presenting quotations so they appear to mean something different from what they do is quite a sin in journalism. Apparently not in Whitehall committees.


I suppose all this fury means my arguments are hitting home. If they were easily demolished they would demolish them rather than try to demolish me. Many of the things that I was abused for saying have since proved to be right.


I was one of the first to write an article in the mainstream media (in The Wall Street Journal in 2012) arguing that the latest data supported much lower estimates of climate sensitivity (the amount of warming induced by a doubling of carbon dioxide levels) than those being assumed by the models used by the IPCC.


This produced the usual vituperation online from about a dozen high-profile science commentators with nothing better to do. Since then four papers (the latest being this one) have appeared in the scientific literature, authored by very prominent climate scientists, giving low estimates of climate sensitivity, some even lower than I had said. I am waiting for my critics to acknowledge that my story was sound.


I have never met a climate sceptic, let alone a lukewarmer, who wants his opponents silenced. I wish I could say the same of those who think climate change is an alarming prospect.



Marlo Lewis has provided a handy list of the range of opinions that come under the “lukewarmer” label. I subscribe to each of these in some form or to some degree:

Marlo Lewis提供了一份“温和派”观点的速览表。我或多或少同意这些观点:

“In general, I would describe a ‘lukewarmer’ as someone who:


  • Thinks anthropogenic climate change is real but very far from being a planetary emergency.
  • 认为人为因素引起的气候变化真实存在,但远不至于造成全球性危机
  • Takes due notice of the increasing divergencebetween climate model predictions and observations and the growing body of scientific literature challenging IPCC climate sensitivity estimates.
  • 注意到气候模型的预测与实际观测值之间越来越大的差异以及越来越多的科学论文挑战IPCC关于气候敏感性的估计。
  • Regards the usual pastiche of remedies — carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, renewable energy quota, CO2 performance standards – as either an expensive exercise in futilityor a ‘cure’ worse than the alleged disease (depending how aggressively those policies are implemented).
  • 把常用的补救措施——碳税、限额和交易、可再生能源配额、二氧化碳排放标准——看做是昂贵的徒劳之举。或是比所谓的疾病更糟糕的“疗法”(糟糕程度取决于这些政策执行得有多激进)。
  • Is impressed by — and thankful for — the immense albeit usually unsung benefits of the CO2 fertilization effect on global agricultureand green things
  • 谨记并感激二氧化碳对全球农业及所有绿色植物的巨大生长促进作用,虽然这一好处通常得不到称颂。
  • Recognizes that poverty remains the world’s leading cause of preventable illnessand premature death.
  • 认识到贫困仍然是世界上造成可预防疾病和过早死亡的主要原因。
  • Understands that plentiful, affordable, scalable energy (most of which comes from CO2-emitting fossil fuels) is essential to poverty eradication and progress towards a healthier, safer, more prosperous world.”
  • 理解到丰富的、廉价的、可量产的能源(大多数来自于释放二氧化碳的化石能源)对消除贫困和逐步走向一个更健康、更安全、更繁荣的世界至关重要。 Update 2:

The main point of my article was to draw attention to how ad-hominem, vicious and personal the attacks on lukewarmers now are from the guardians of the flame of climate alarm. Though I had a huge and overwhelmingly positive response, I could not have wished for a better example of my point than some of the negative reactions to this article.


An egregious example was the death threats I received from a Guardian contributor and Greenpeace “translator”, Gary Evans.

一个极端的例子是我从《卫报》作者兼绿色和平组织翻译Gary Evans那里收到的死亡威胁。

On 21 January The Guardian published an article by Dana Nuccitelli, specifically criticizing me. The article was illustrated with a picture of the severed head of a zombie. Beneath the article appeared the following comment from “Bluecloud”:

1月21日,《卫报》发表了Dana Nuccitelli的文章,特别对我提出批评。文章的配图是被砍下的僵尸头颅。文章下方有来自于网名为Bluecloud的网友的如下评论:

“Should that not be Ridley’s severed head in the photo?”


Bluecloud was challenged by another commenter with:

“Do you recommend that for all people that have a different world view than you?”



Bluecloud replied:


“We would actually solve a great deal of the world’s problems by chopping off everyone’s heads.

Why are you deniers so touchy? Mere calls for a beheading evolve such a strong response in you people.

Ask yourself a simple question: Would the world be a better place without Matt Ridley? Need I answer that question?”


问你自己一个简单的问题:没有了Matt Ridley的世界会变得更好吗?还用我回答这个问题吗?”

This showed that Bluecloud had not been misunderstood in his death threat. It occurred a few days before the beheading of a Japanese hostage in Syria.


At this stage a number of comments below the article had already been censored or deleted, including one from Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University, which read as follows:

如今该文章下的不少评论已被屏蔽或删除,包括一条来自萨塞克斯大学教授Richard Tol的评论,内容如下:

“Dr Ridley claimed that his writings inspire others to write about what he wrote. To illustrate his point, Ken Rice, Greg Laden and Dana Nuccitelli write about Ridley’s writings.

“Ridley博士声称他的作品能激发其他人围绕他的观点继续讨论。为了阐释他的观点,Ken Rice、Greg Laden和Dana Nuccitelli就写了关于Ridley作品的文章。

Dr Ridley claimed that there have been more attempts on his character than on his arguments. To underline this point, Pitchfork Anonymous smears his name.

Ridley博士说针对他人品的攻击多过针对他论点的攻击。为了强调这一点,Pitchfork Anonymous隐去了他的姓名。

Anyone who points out the irony of all this receives the same treatment.”


This was “removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our community standards”, though how it caused offence is hard to imagine. This shows that Bluecloud’s comment could have been removed by moderators had they wished.


Another commenter, “Adamke”, then pointed out that Bluecloud is Gary Evans, an environmental activist who works with Greenpeace and writes occasionally for the Guardian (where his profile states clearly that he posts as Bluecloud).

另一位评论者“Adamke”随后指出Bluecloud就是Gary Evans,他是一名环保行动主义者,与绿色和平组织有合作关系,偶尔向《卫报》供稿(其简介清楚地表明他用Bluecloud这一网名发文)。

Incredibly, this comment, outing Mr Evans, was then removed by the moderators, because apparently it was more offensive to the Guardian community than the recommendation that I be beheaded.


Astonished by this turn of events, I wrote to Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, complaining of the extraordinary double standard. He replied that the zombie picture had now been changed and the beheading comments removed. He said that he was “of course” sorry if I had been distressed.

震惊于这一变故,我写信给《卫报》主编Alan Rusbridger,投诉他们严重的双重标准。他回复我说那张僵尸的图片已经改掉了,斩首的评论也已被删除。他说如果我感到被冒犯了的话,他“当然”感到抱歉。

He refused to answer my question as to whether he had contacted Mr Evans with a view to finding out how serious his threat was, and refused to say whether the Guardian would in future use Mr Evans as a contributor. He said I should now appeal to the “readers’ editor” if I was unhappy with his reply.


I did so. I also drew Greenpeace’s attention to the actions of their associate and they issued a statement that read as follows: “The content and tone of the comments are completely at odds with the principle of non-violence written into our organisation’s DNA, and we would never condone that kind of language from someone working for Greenpeace or indeed from anyone else.”


No such statement emerged from the Guardian. Chris Elliott, the readers’ editor, took eleven days to reply to my email. He referred to the death threat as a “joke” and defended some of the actions of the Guardian, though said they should not have used that picture or allowed the death threats to go undeleted.

《卫报》没有发出此类声明。读者编辑Chris Elliott用了11天时间来回复我的邮件。他把死亡威胁说成是一个“玩笑”,还为《卫报》所采取的行动辩护,尽管他说他们不应该使用那张图片或者允许死亡威胁留在网页上。

Eventually, he published an article in which the Guardian apologised to me for not deleting the beheading tweet sooner, and quoting Mr Evans as apologising “for any trouble this may have caused to anyone involved”. This was approximately three weeks after the original comments had appeared.


This episode began with me noting that anybody who refuses to subscribe to the view that climate change is a very dangerous threat is treated as some kind of heretic to be persecuted, rather than a sceptic to be debated. The reaction has confirmed my point precisely.




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