Thursday, May 11, 2017

Matt Ridley's conclusions on climate change arise from his own perspectives

When one comes across an article on the Internet like the one I read today by Matt Ridley in the respected (if staunchly conservative) Spectator magazine, it can easily throw off some core beliefs, so convincing and categorical do they seem. As usual, though, a little more research and perspective is required.
Ridley's article, boldly entitled "Wind turbines are neither clean nor green and they provide zero global energy", purports to be a damning exposé on how much CO2 is released in the production of supposedly green wind turbines, and just how little energy wind and other renewables produce in the overall scheme of things. It is well-written and appears authoritative, but it just seemed a little too glib and self-serving, so I did a little investigating.
For example, just who is this Matt Ridley? It turns out he is a Conservative English peer (i.e. he sits in the House of Lords), who also happens to be a journalist. He has written extensively about genetics, but his latest obsession seems to be with climate change and renewable energy, about which he is highly skeptical. Partly because of his connections and partly because he writes quite well, Ridley has published a whole host of articles in the Times, the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American and the Spectator, as well as having conducted several high-profile radio interviews in the UK, and delivered many interminable speeches in the House of Lords. He is in no way a scientist or a climate or engineering expert, and he just happens to have extensive (although undefined and undisclosed) interests in the coal industry.
So, does what he says hold water? Carbon Brief recently asked a selection of scientists and energy policy experts to comment on Mr. Ridley's views, and they did so with gusto, the results of which can be read in detail on Scribd. The upshot is that many of Ridley's claims and assertions need to be taken with a substantial grain of salt.
I also did a bit of checking of my own, with particular reference to Ridley's claims about the carbon footprint of wind turbines. I found much research and a variety of opinions, although none quite as emphatic and dire as Mr. Ridley's contentions.
For example, one such article, from closer to home, comes from the Sakatchewan Community Wind organization, and looks in detail at the carbon and energy payback of wind turbines within the notoriously coal-friendly context of Saskatchewan. Their meta-study concludes that, taking into account their whole lifecycle (including the extraction and manufacture of raw materials, the manufacture of the turbines, blades and tower, and their transportation, erection, operation, maintenance, dismantling, recycling and disposal), wind turbines pay back, both in terms of energy produced and carbon dioxide produced/averted, in just 6 months.
What a difference an alternative perspective makes to publicly available data! The take-away from all this, of course, is: "don't believe everything you read on the Internet". Another conclusion is: "if it looks too good, or too bad, to be true, then it probably is". And, finally: "check sources and do your own research". But who has the time or energy for that?

No comments: