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George Monbiot’s attack on me in the Guardian is very misleading

George Monbiot’s recent attack on me in the Guardian is
misleading. I do not hate the state. In fact, my views are much
more balanced than Monbiot’s selective quotations imply. I argue
that the state’s role in sometimes impeding or destroying the
process that generates prosperity needs to be recognised, as people
from enslaved ancient Egyptians to modern North Koreans could
testify. But as I mention in my book, I don’t think that free
markets, especially those in assets, should be completely
unregulated. I do argue that free and fair commerce has the
power to raise living standards.

Unlike Monbiot’s article, my book isn’t about me. It’s about the
billions of other people in the world who, through ingenuity,
exchange and specialisation, have generated remarkable

Monbiot, remember is the man who once wrote: “every time someone dies as a
result of floods in Bangladesh, an airline executive should be
dragged out of his office and drowned.” (see, George, two can play
at selective quotation).

Still, Monbiot goes on to make a number of specific charges
against things in my book that he thinks are wrong. Here are my

First Monbiot claims that the economic success of South Korea
and Taiwan was down to protectionism and industrial strategy rather
than free trade. Yet, as this article demonstrates, these two countries
not only adopted more modest, more market-friendly and more
progressively dismantled intervention than Latin American or East
European countries, and found that many of their interventions
failed to produce the desired results (ever heard of Taiwanese
cars?), but in fact they probably thrived despite, rather than
because of their industrial policies:

However, no matter how the relative
weights are assigned, the experience of East Asia, supported by
recent research on growth, has convinced many observers that an
outward-looking development strategy, particularly a dynamic export
sector, is conducive to growth.

It is clear from the East Asian
experience that economies that have adopted sustained
outward-oriented trade strategies have experienced economic
performance superior to those that have not. This suggests that
other emerging markets should pursue a development strategy that
relies on integration with the world economy, rather than one that
relies on insulation.

Next Monbiot claims that he cannot find evidence that Enron
funded climate alarmism. Perhaps this email, cited in the source I quoted,
helps. It is from an Enron official who attended the Kyoto climate
treaty talks in 1997:

Through our involvement with the
climate change initiatives, Enron now has excellent credentials
with many “green” interests including Greenpeace, WWF, NRDC,
GermanWatch, the US Climate Action Network, the European Climate
Action Network, Ozone Action, WRI, and Worldwatch. This position
should be increasingly cultivated and capitalized on

Next, Monbiot claims that Howard Friel’s book attacking Bjorn
Lomborg proves that there are significant errors in Lomborg’s work.
Friel’s book is itself packed with significant errors and is easily
answered in Lomborg’s rebuttal, available here. Lomborg’s conclusion is as follows:

By his own account, Friel was aiming to
write a book that would show that my work “is grounded in highly
questionable data and analysis, and that there is little if any
factual or analytic basis” for it.

In his longest chapter, Friel attempted
to argue that my arguments were not supported by my source
material. He claimed that endnotes were “missing” when they clearly
exist, misread source figures and tables, relied on a
misrepresentation of both my text and source material, and tried to
shift the argument by claiming that I should have written about
topics that he personally found more salient.

Next, Friel attempted to engage with my
arguments on climate change. He did not participate in the
relevant, constructive discussion about the economic arguments
central to Cool It, but instead made a series of confused and
confusing arguments. I was disturbed by his reliance on
cut-and-pasted source material that often did not even match the
topic that he was responding to. It was troubling to find that he
was unable to differentiate between different sources of
information. This was why he placed such great stock in news
reports rather than peer-reviewed pieces, and is also why he placed
credence in arguments such as the now debunked claim that the
Himalayan glaciers would entirely disappear before 2035. I was
alarmed to find that Friel was unfamiliar with economic basics such
as the discount rate, but was more alarmed that his demonstration
of this lack of knowledge could make it to print.

Monbiot should be embarrassed to be relying on a source of this

Next Monbiot claims that recent temperature rises are the most
rapid since instrumental record began. Notice the word
`instrumental’. My point was partly that ice cores reveal much,
much faster natural temperature rises in the past, during Dansgard
Oeschger episodes in Greenland, for example. Yet even with this
let-out Monbiot is wrong. Here is Dr Phil Jones of the University of East
Anglia, answering a question from the BBC’s Roger Harrabin:

A – Do you agree that according
to the global temperature record used by the IPCC, the rates of
global warming from 1860-1880, 1910-1940 and 1975-1998 were

An initial point to make is that in the
responses to these questions I’ve assumed that when you talk about
the global temperature record, you mean the record that combines
the estimates from land regions with those from the marine regions
of the world. CRU produces the land component, with the Met Office
Hadley Centre producing the marine component.

Temperature data for the period
1860-1880 are more uncertain, because of sparser coverage, than for
later periods in the 20th Century. The 1860-1880 period is also
only 21 years in length. As for the two periods 1910-40 and
1975-1998 the warming rates are not statistically significantly
different (see numbers below).

I have also included the trend over the
period 1975 to 2009, which has a very similar trend to the period

So, in answer to the question, the
warming rates for all 4 periods are similar and not statistically
significantly different from each other.

Here are the trends and significances
for each period:



(Degrees C per decade)


















Next, Monbiot claims that I am wrong to say that 11 of 13 polar
bear populations are not declining. The trouble with polar bears is
that nobody really knows the truth and lots of different claims are
out there. Monbiot cites one study, more recent than the one I
relied on, but it’s hotly disputed by many. Here is the view of Daniel Shewchuk,
environment minister of the Canadian Nunavut territory:

Shewchuk said while the Nunavut
government originally agreed with the special-concern listing, it
changed its position after consulting with Inuit hunters and others
on a recent community tour.

“Through direct consultation, they are
unanimous in their belief that polar bears have not declined,”
Shewchuk said.

Scientists on the committee have argued
that although Canada’s polar bear population has improved over the
last 50 years, the future of the species could be threatened by
climate change and receding sea ice.

Furthermore, I know of nobody who disputes the polar bear
numbers have hugely increased (from maybe 5,000 to over 20,000)
since the 1960s.

Next Monbiot accuses me of `blatant cherry-picking’ when I cite
examples of how the environment has improved. Here is what I
actually said so the reader can judge if I am doing anything other
than claiming that `in many places’ environmental trends are

` Well all right, says the pessimist,
but at what cost? The environment is surely deteriorating. In
somewhere like Beijing, maybe. But in many other places, no. In
Europe and America rivers, lakes, seas and the air are getting
cleaner all the time. The Thames has less sewage and more fish.
Lake Erie’s water snakes, on the brink of extinction in the 1960s,
are now abundant. Bald eagles have boomed. Pasadena has few smogs.
Swedish birds’ eggs have 75 per cent fewer pollutants in them than
in the 1960s. American carbon monoxide emissions from transport are
down 75 per cent in 25 years. Today, a car emits less pollution
travelling at full speed than a parked car did in 1970 from

Readers may be curious why I chose Lake Erie’s water snakes.
Because they were cited by Paul Ehrlich, who himself did research
on them, in The Population Bomb in
1968 as follows: ‘You see, Lake Erie has died…the snakes are almost
gone.’ Yet, the US federal government is considering whether to
remove the Lake Erie water snake from the endangered list, not
because it is extinct, but because its numbers in Ohio have
rocketed from less than 2,000 in 1999 to more than 12,000

Monbiot is entitled to his opinions but he has found precisely
zero `excruciating errors’ in my book.



By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  Uncategorized