I enjoyed reading Matt Ridley’s “The Rational Optimist“, which I thought offered plenty of food for thought especially for an inveterate ‘glass half-empty’ pessimist like me. However, his article in The Times (19th Oct) which you can find on his blog caused me to rank him above Jeremy Clarkson on my list of candidates for Public Enemy #1.
It’s not that I disagreed with what he was reporting – the beneficial effects of increased CO2 levels. Who am I to argue with the likes of Freeman Dyson (whose “Disturbing The Universe” is one of my all time favourites), and Indur Goklany? No, what troubled me was where he allowed it to take him.
Graphics like the one below have at last persuaded the majority that we’re heading for a disastrous ‘Anthropocene’ era, even if that realisation has not yet had much impact on the habits of the general population. Still less on those with the means to do something about it but with countervailing short-term vested interests.
Take a good look at that plot. Which way are we heading? Imagine it not as a snapshot, but as a frame in a video that has no Pause. It’s hard to believe it’s possible to look at it and not feel alarmed, but Matt Ridley is positively gleeful. Because some of the initial effects of rising CO2 levels are beneficial.
That we are still travelling headlong towards the possibility (some would say, with some justification, probability) of a runaway greenhouse effect that would turn our planet into another Venus does not get so much of a mention.
Matt Ridley is undoubtedly rational. For all I know, he may well accept the dangers inherent in our continuing to use fossil fuels at an ever-increasing rate. He may allow himself a little concern as the world’s population continues to expand and become generally more prosperous (and hence more energy-demanding). What his article fails to demonstrate is wisdom, for he must know that the stubbornly irrational minority who choose to deride even the possibility of catastrophic climate change will be encouraged in their views.
It not only lacks wisdom, but also a sense of responsibility and for that reason I can only think of Matt Ridley as The Reckless Optimist.