The Greentrashing* of Ridley

The press reaction to the annual GWPF lecture delivered by Matt Ridley at the Royal Society illustrates perfectly the insanity of the current state of discussion of climate change and all things environmental.

The rationally optimistic anti-green message transmitted by Ridley’s paper is derived entirely from the research conducted by Professor Ranga Myneni of Boston University, who has been publishing papers on detection of global vegetation cover since 1985. Matt Ridley has been writing about his work for two or three years since January 2013. Four years after Professor Myneni first announced (in an informal presentation) that the world was greening due to anthropogenic causes (mainly directly attributed to increased CO2, but also to warming and increased precipitation) his results finally appeared in the scientific press in the form of a letter to Nature Climate Change (Zhu et al 2016) in April this year.

This is obviously hugely important news if true, and in the past four years, only one scientifically qualified journalist in the world seems to have noticed it – Matt Ridley. With hundreds of journals employing specialist environment correspondents, and thousands of green blogs run by activists, think tanks, political parties, renewable energy companies, charities, energy consultants, public relations experts, conscence-stricken millionaires and whatnot, you’d think someone would be interested in the unexpected appearance of a blob of greenery twice the size of the USA. Apparently not. All recent press interest has focussed, not on the state of the environment, but the state of mind of Matt Ridley.

I turned to Google to test world reaction to the scientific bombshell represented by Zhu et al 2016. Unfortunately there are many many Dr Zhus and Professor Zhus, so I tried googling “Professor Myneni” instead, and turned up just one hit in news outlets: an article attacking a different paper from the GWPF by the Guardian’s Dana Nuccitelli from a year ago which quotes Professor Myneni as saying:

If one were to interpret the greening of the Earth as a good or a positive development then one must also accept that the accompanying climate changes (global warming, for example) and its physical (sea level rise) and biotic impacts (polar bears) as bad or negative developments. Again, in my opinion, this benefit of greening is not worth price of all the negative changes.

You get the gist. Too much greenery is bad for polar bears.

Googling “Ranga Myneni” turns up 67 mentions in news outlets in the past four years, thirty of them in English (and some of those from Chinese, or German media.) An analysis of them all shouldn’t be too difficult, and I may have a go. To give a flavour, the top mention this morning was an article entitled: “We’re Fertilizing the Heck Out of Our Planet and That’s a Bad Thing”, but there are supportive articles too, by Delingpole at Breitbart, and Ridley himself at the Spectator.

However, on a quick scan, most of the articles seem to be devoted either to attacking Ridley or to warning us that a flourishing green environment is not necessarily good for the environment.

The attacks in the mainstream press concentrate, not on the science and the terrifying prospect of a greener, more productive world, but on the suspicion expressed by Ridley that publication of the results may have been retarded because they don’t accord with the green agenda. Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute has demanded apologies all round; Michael Mann has denounced Ridley as a denialist coal baron; and the Met Office has issued a press statement criticising misinterpretation of the paper, without actually mentioning Ridley or the GWPF or giving any indication where these misinterpretations are to be found.

And of course Dana Nuccitelli in the Guardian has an article which takes us through the usual SkepticalSpambot list of accusations (Gish gallop, cherry-picking..).

But the most telling attack is probably the one from Professor Myneni himself in which he states, of his own research demonstrating that CO2-induced greening has added the equivalent of a continent twice the size of the USA to the planet: “there is no evidence to count on CO2 fertilization benefit” and: “Personally, I would not buy the fertilization benefit for the price of global warming.”

Further clues to Professor Myneni’s views are provided in an article by Lubos Motl about a petition launched by the good professor three years ago, with the ambitious target of a billion signatures. The petition reads:

Dear Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, We, the People of the Earth, request You to act judiciously and expeditiously to protect the Earth from anthropogenic climate change. Respectfully, People of the Earth.

Lubos, in his usual tactful style, comments:

you can’t fail to notice the complete detachment of this psychiatrically ill man from the real world, his complete lack of common sense. …Almost everyone will agree that Mr Myneni is a loon if he really expects to collect one billion of signatures. But similar loons have actually begun to influence the economic and other policies of advanced nations in the world. They have no clue about anything but they are already (mis)directing billions of dollars. Instead, they should be hermetically confined in safe rooms of psychiatric asylums.

Professor Myneni has been publishing research papers on global vegetation cover since 1985. He is the co-author of 263 papers, the early ones in his own name, later ones in the names of his colleagues and doctoral students. So far this year he has co-authored Zhu et al., Mao et al., Choi et al., Park et al., Yan et al., Bi et al., Yang et al., Chen et al., and Catalano et al. (Spot the odd one out. Clue: he’s from Barcelona you know. Actually, no, he’s from Rome.)

And Dr Zhu, who features as co-author on many of the papers, is from the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth; the Center for Applications of Spatial Information Technologies in Public Health; and the Key Laboratory of Alpine Ecology and Biodiversity, Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, at the Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth Science, all in Beijing, China.

The other 31 authors are from all over the place, but the first two authors are both from the Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth Science, Beijing, and four of the first five are from the Sino-French Institute for Earth System Science, Beijing. Tucked away in the paper is the fact that, while most of the greening of the planet (up to 99%, apparently) is due directly to CO2, some, in odd corners of the Earth, is attributed to the warming caused by CO2. And one of those corners is the Tibetan plateau.

* * *

Among the bits and bobs of pseudo-scientific cod psychological jargon the Greens like to cite (Gish gallop, Dunning Krüger…) when they’re dissing Ridley or anyone else who dares to step outside the consensus, one handy concept is significantly absent – Displacement Activity. This is what rats do in the lab when you mess with their heads by giving them conflicting signals. Unable to decide which lever to press to get at the cheese, they end up cowering in a corner scratching their bottoms.

Is this what our civilisation has come to? While the Chinese are poring over satellite maps wondering which bits of which continents to buy up to feed their population (and eventually, no doubt, the rest of us,) the West has been persuaded by environmentalism to indulge in a thirty year festival of mass bottom scratching.


*Greentrashing is like greenwashing, only dirtier.


  1. Mass bottom scratching and worse! Self-harming interventions like bio-fuels, windfarms, child-scaring, and suppressing or ignoring more important issues is part of the chronic behaviour of these troubled people and their misinformed followers and hangers-on. This post does the rest of us a favour by highlighting some of their reactions to publicity for a worldview lacking their compulsive apocalyptomania. By drawing attention to them, and so helping more people see how demented they are, this post can only speed the day for more of the benighted ones to open up to the help, and the information, they so badly need.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Geoff, as always a great write-up – if people are not telling you this enough.

    Ranga Myneni and his work were closely linked the Amazon die-off hypothesis that ruled the roost all the way upto the IPCC AR4. Myneni, with his MODIS image analysis capabilities, has been a key player in the Amazon/greening side of things in the climate debate. Not just Myneni – but the entire Amazon and global satellite researchers’ gang – have been very adept at playing the alarmism double game. They need funding to lauch the next satellite, with increased numbers of channels, better cameras, etc, etc. Myneni and his colleagues 100% know that global greening has occurred and they have known this for a long time.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Geoff C, Prof Myneni has loads of links to press coverage of Zhu et al:

    Google Translate translates the headline and subhead of the Vietnamese coverage as:

    The level of CO2 rise makes a greener Earth?

    What problem has two sides, and also the increase in CO2 has brought certain positive aspects.

    No doubt other press coverage managed to mention positive aspects of the research without incurring Prof Myneni’s wrath.

    IMNSHO, Ridley deserved to be slapped down because of his daft conspiracy theory and because (and I hate the lazy tribal ‘SkepticalSpambot’ jargon as much as anyone) of his cherry-picking, Gish galloping etc.

    Also IMNSHO, para 2 of Myneni’s response to Ridley was just squirrels and tribalism – almost a Gish gallop. Para 3 was just tribalism sans even squirrels.

    But then he was responding to someone who had questioned his professional integrity.

    Liked by 2 people

    Thanks Vinny, the page linking to press comments assembled by professor Myneni is precious. The reason I found so few is apparently because most media can’t be bothered citing the name of the researcher.

    Here’s the headline at Business Green: “Rising carbon dioxide is greening the Earth – but it’s not all good news.

    From the BBC report by Roger Harrabin: “Climate sceptics argue the findings show that the extra CO2 is actually benefiting the planet. But the researchers say the fertilisation effect diminishes over time. They warn the positives of CO2 are likely to be outweighed by the negatives.”

    But my favourite so far (well, I’ve only looked at three) is the Daily KOS, the folks who wrote two articles about how important it was to ignore us. See:

    It’s worth quoting at length. Remember, this is their news coverage of an important scientific finding by a fervent climate activist. He found that forests are spreading, crops blooming, and that millions of the starving have a better chance of being fed, thanks to CO2. And the response of this leftish news outlet? Crush the denialists.

    … the fact that an increase in CO2 levels can help plants grow is by no means news. Known as the CO2 fertilization effect, it has been incorporated into climate models for only slightly longer than fossil-funded deniers have claimed it’s been ignored… Every time new research quantifies some aspect of an increase in vegetation as CO2 levels have increased, it sweeps through the deniersphere like a fire through a drought-stricken forest. In the past, they’ve been assisted by mainstream media, which regularly failed to provide important context, namely that the fertilization effect diminishes over time…  No doubt aware of how much denial has been rooted in the CO2 fertilization effect, the press release wisely included a quote from one of the authors pushing back on the contrarian framing, even calling out Matt Ridley and Rupert Murdoch by name. This allowed BBC’s Roger Harrabin to write a story that nips the denier argument in the bud by stating clearly that CO2’s negatives will outweigh this positive. In addition, Professor Richard Betts has a comprehensive post at Carbon Brief about CO2 fertilization and climate change that fells this longstanding denier meme. Regardless, since they’re pining for whatever meager evidence they can get, deniers just couldn’t leaf this study alone. So while the study’s not exactly groundbreaking in subject, it is an interesting approach…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “Again, in my opinion, this benefit of greening is not worth price of all the negative changes.”

    Global greening is here, it is now, it is very likely a net benefit and a direct consequence of the recent increase in CO2. Global warming is here, it is now, it is very likely a net benefit and may be (or may not be) primarily caused by increasing atmospheric CO2. The ‘negative’ changes (SLR, sea-ice loss, bad weather, shrinking Chamois deer, increase in rapes etc. etc. etc.) are highly speculative/dubious and/or nightmarish projections generated by computer models.

    So what Myneni is basically saying is, he has more faith in the catastrophic and highly uncertain prognostications of climate change science and the equally uncertain attribution of climate change to currently happening ‘bad stuff’ than he does in his own solid research.

    Liked by 7 people

  6. Here’s a funny thing about the Zhu paper. Ridley’s original article in the Wall Street Journal
    based on Professor Myneni’s initial reports of the research findings, spoke of “roughly 50%” of greening being “due to carbon dioxide fertilization itself.” In the GWPF lecture he quotes the peer reviewed paper’s conclusion that “70% of the cause of greening was carbon dioxide – up from half.”

    Now what the paper (the link in the article above is to a paysite) says is this:

    Globally, the model factorial simulations suggest that CO2 fertilization explains the largest contribution to the satellite-observed LAI [Leaf Area Index] trend (70.1 ± 29.4%), followed by nitrogen deposition (8.8 ± 11.8%), climate change (8.1 ± 20.6%) and LCC [Land Cover Change] (3.7 ± 14.7%)

    So CO2 fertilisation is responsible for somewhere between 40.7% and 99.5% of greening, climate change itself (presumably warming and precipitation) for between minus 12.5% and plus 28.9%, and land cover change for between minus 11% and plus 18.4%.

    Thus, according to the paper, published more than three years after the initial findings, almost all the greening (99.5%) might be due to the well known fertilisation effect of CO2, while climate change itself and changes in land use might be having a negative effect on greening.

    Professor Myneni’s explanation for the delay in publication, given in his attack on Ridley at
    is slightly odd:

    Dr. Zhu returned to PRC in March 2013. His first job in PRC was with Chinese Academy of Sciences, which did not allow time to refine the preliminary results. A year later, he moved to Peking University as a Post-doctoral Fellow in Prof. Shilong Piao’s group. He was then able to work full-time on the attribution part and finally the paper was submitted in June 2015..

    According to the paper, all 32 authors “contributed to the interpretation of the results and to the text” (all ten paragraphs of it.) Dr Zhu alone performed the analysis, and (with others) designed the study, drafted the paper, collected data and prepared figures. Professor Myneni’s involvement was limited to study design and drafting the paper.

    Now study design, analysis, data collection and figure preparation were clearly over and done before Professor Myneni announced preliminary results in 2013. Did it really take two years to draft the paper – all ten paragraphs? What was there to do except add confidence limits, something for which I believe there are applications which can do it in a flash? How much to-ing and fro-ing did it take between Boston and Beijing to decide that the contribution of CO2 to global greening was not 50%, as originally announced, but somewhere between 40% and 100%, with climate change and land use having a possibly negative effect?

    For fans of “follow the money”, the bodies financing the project are also listed. China, Australia, Japan, Switzerland, the USA and Europe are all involved. A less primitive approach to the sociology of science would look carefully at other factors: the prestige accruing to Chinese scientists studying at a top American university and published in a top Western journal; the possible influence of a French-funded university in Beijing; the geopolitical importance of NASA and Boston University demonstrating the benefits of global warming to the underdeveloped autonomous region of Tibet: the invidious position of a climate activist and professor at a top American university whose work attracts Chinese researchers and Chinese finance, compelled to publicise research which counters his intimate convictions, and so on.

    I’m just a silly blogger wasting a Saturday afternoon. I really think a few thousand government-funded university sociology departments and think tanks should take up the baton.

    In the meantime, here’s a traditional Tibetan folksong praising the high-speed rail link between Lhasa and Beijing


    Early morning when I stand on the green meadow / I see a holy eagle in the rays of morning sunshine / soaring across the blue sky just like an auspicious cloud / bringing good fortune for the Tibetan people / At dusk when I stand on top of high mountains / I see the railway has stretched to my hometown / Huge dragons trudge mountains upon mountains / bringing good health to our snowy tableland / That is really a miraculous road to heaven / spreading the human warmth to the border land / then the mountains are no more high and the roads are no more long / All the people of China are gathered happily together / At dusk when I stand on top of high mountains / I see the railway has stretched to my hometown / Huge dragons trudge mountains upon mountains / bringing good health to our snowy tableland / That is really a miraculous road to heaven / guiding us to the paradise on the earth / The highland barley wine and butter tea will be more juicy / Happy songs are heard everywhere

    Have the citizens of Birmingham produced anything similar to celebrate their future high speed rail link with London? I don’t think so.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. We emit 40GtCO2 annually and 25% (10GtCO2) is absorbed by terrestrial ecosystems. That much was widely known (or narrowly denied, of course). And now it seems, some of that carbon has turned up in extra plants and leaves – what a surprise! Is that a good thing? It certainly seems so: if it didn’t happen atmospheric concentrations would be rising even faster. And more plants and leaves are a good thing, aren’t they? Well I guess it depends on the what and the where. If it is everything that was, in the same balance but bigger and healthier, perhaps. But it wont be, will it? If it is Kudzu covering your forrest, probably not.

    The thing about ‘greentrashing’ of Ridley is that he is a repeat offender. Every time he pops up he uses the same sort of distortions, is corrected widely, and pays no heed. But the greybeards in his audience are immune to the corrections. They love Ridley as he tells them what they want to hear. It’s a great gig.


  8. This rather reminds me of the first research report on Chukchi Sea polar bears since the late 1980s, which found – contrary to predictions – that the bears there were doing better with a longer open water season than they had done in the 1980s with a much shorter one.

    One of the authors of this new study authored a statement about the research (not a press release, since it was apparently not sent to the press).

    I commented: “Notice that all the prophesied doom and gloom [in the statement] comes first and the watered down good news is not mentioned until the very last sentence, which could hardly be more innocuous.”

    Here is the first paragraph (from August 22, 2013)

    “Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to polar bears. On May 15, 2008, the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) listed the bear as threatened throughout its range under the Endangered Species Act. If loss of sea ice habitat continues, most populations of this iconic species are expected to decline or disappear by the end of the 21st century. But the path to that point might not be straightforward. In fact, scientists expect a lot of variation in when, where, and how the effects of sea ice loss will appear. According to a new study, by some measures one of the Arctic’s nineteen polar bear populations is doing quite well.”

    Read the rest here:

    [It turns out a longer ice-free season allows seals to feed for longer during the summer (their critical feeding period) – more food for seals has meant healthier pregnant females over the following winter and abundant healthy seal pups the following spring. All that meant more food for hungry polar bears in spring, which is their critical feeding period. Who would have thought?]

    Dr. Susan Crockford, Zoologist


  9. Nino:

    “And now it seems, some of that carbon has turned up in extra plants and leaves – what a surprise! Is that a good thing? It certainly seems so: if it didn’t happen atmospheric concentrations would be rising even faster.”

    Well heck, if evolution had deprived the world of vibrant, abundant, widespread plant life and there was no carbon cycle as we know it, things could be much worse!


  10. What strikes me is how feeble the responses to Ridley’s talk have been. “Denier”, “Coal Baron”, “Northern Rock” seem to be the main arguments raised against him.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. After three years of ‘drafting’ the thirty-two authors still managed to get figure 1 mislabelled.


    What’s wrong with the labelling of figure 1? My problem is with Ridley’s figure 1 which he took from a presentation by Myneni 3 years ago. Assuming that in the last two colummns i= increase and D = decrease,I don’t understand how the percentages can be totalled. Shouldn’t they be averaged?

    Isn’t it odd that Myneni should use the polar bear example? It’s as if he hasn’t looked at the climate debate since Gore’s film cam out ten years ago.


  13. He’s like me – lacks patience for keeping up with what doesn’t fit his preconceptions.


  14. Nino – what’s not to like with greybeards? Is it age or hirsuteness you don’t like? Get with the diversity program, sonny!

    Less frivolously – give us your favorite Ridley uncorrected distortion (just the top one, please – life is short). Then we can judge how seriously to take you.


  15. Ridley is commenting on greening due to increased co2 levels.Thats a given science is settled that the gas is a plant food.All the crap about ya know polar bears and rampaging sea levels are still not proven and often disproved by a nonconforming planet and climate!


  16. Geoff, where does this absurdly low attribution of 99.5% come from?

    I’d say, and science would say, that something in the region of 120% of current greening is caused by man [-made carbon-dioxide molecules]. No, that’s not a misprint, o ye simpleminded doubters: it’s science. Why? Because without man [-made carbon-dioxide molecules], virtually most credible scientists think the planet would now be getting more purplish in hue.


  17. Brad
    I got the 99.5% by adding the estimated possible error to the authors’ best guess of the contribution of CO2 fertilisation to the global Leaf Area Index trend (that’s the new green splodge on the map the size of two USAs.) You can subtract it as well if you like, but that gives a different, much smaller number.

    99.5% is a jolly interesting number, because it leaves hardly any space for global warming to do us the slightest bit of good on its own. I mean, of the two USAs of new vegetation, 0.5% is the equivalent of just one average size state (say, Iowa) transformed from desert to pasture, and what use is that to anyone?


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