Open letter to the editor: A scientists' response to the WSJ "Complete Guide to the Climate Debate"

Posted on:  2015-12-02

The opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal by Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser (“Your Complete Guide to the Climate Debate” Nov. 27, 2015) is riddled with false statements, cherry-picked evidence and misleading assertions about climate science, according to an evaluation by a dozen scientists.

The article attempts to throw clouds of uncertainty around the hard facts about climate change that are agreed to by the scientific academies of every major country in the world and the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists. Here are just a few examples:

  •      The statement that the world has warmed at half the rate predicted in 1990 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is false. The IPCC predicted that warming between 2015 and 1990 would be between about 0.35 and 0.60 °C. The actual temperature change during that period is 0.5 °C. The statement, besides being false, also ignores that the world has already warmed a total of 1 °C since the start of the industrial revolution, and that as temperatures continue to climb, we are headed into territory not seen in thousands of years. The assertion that the world has been warmer several times in the past 10,000 years is not supported by the most comprehensive temperature reconstructions, and ignores the fact that a continued temperature rise this century will rapidly take the world beyond any climate experienced in that 10,000 year period.
  •      The statement that there has been no increase in the frequency or intensity of storms, floods or droughts also is flat-out wrong. A recently-released UN study found that both the frequency and intensity of storms and floods has increased over the past decade, and that weather-related disasters are occurring at almost twice the rate as they did two decades ago. The authors also ignore the clear increases in the most deadly type of extreme events caused by climate change — heat waves.
  •      The claim that Antarctic ice is increasing is based on an isolated paper that has numerous uncertainties associated with it and is contradicted by many other observations. But more importantly, everywhere on Earth, it is clear we are losing ice and that we have likely already entered a period of major ice shelf retreat, with no mechanisms in sight to stop this retreat over the next hundreds to thousands of years. As University of Bristol Professor Jonathan Bamber has written: “West Antarctica has been losing mass at an increasing rate since the 1990s and that trend looks set to continue. The Greenland ice sheet has also been losing mass at an accelerating rate since around 1995. These trends at both poles are huge signals that are unequivocal and uncontested.”
  •      Finally, the assertion that the cost associated with warming “does not significantly deviate from zero until 3.5°C warming” is one that hardly any scientists or economists agree with, and is contradicted by the overwhelming weight of evidence showing that the adverse impacts from climate change will far outweigh the benefits.

Ridley and Peiser are correct that the challenge of decarbonizing the world is enormous. But obfuscation about strongly supported scientific facts is not the solution.


Prof. Roger Bales, University of California, Merced; Prof. Jonathan Bamber, University of Bristol; Prof. Anthony Barnosky, University of California, Berkeley; Prof. Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford University; Prof. Steven Sherwood, University of New South Wales; Prof. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, University of California, San Diego; Prof. Eric Wolff, University of Cambridge


For more details about the scientists’ responses to claims made in this op-ed, please read our detailed analysis.

List of scientists who have contributed to this analysis:

Dr William Anderegg, Princeton University
Prof. Jonathan Bamber, University of Bristol
Prof. Anthony Barnosky, University of California, Berkeley
Dr Rasmus Benestad, The Norwegian Meteorological institute
Dr Alexis Berg, Columbia University
Dr Julien Emile-Geay, University of Southern California
Prof. Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford University
Dr Twila Moon, University of Oregon
Prof. Steven Sherwood, University of New South Wales
Dr Victor Venema, University of Bonn
Dr Emmanuel Vincent, University of California, Merced
Dr Britta Voss, U.S. Geological Survey
Prof. Eric Wolff, University of Cambridge

Science Feedback is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to science education. Our reviews are crowdsourced directly from a community of scientists with relevant expertise. We strive to explain whether and why information is or is not consistent with the science and to help readers know which news to trust.
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