23. How alarmed should we be about the environment? (Matt Ridley)

June 2022


This episode is about environmental alarmism. Alarmism means exaggerating danger and thereby causing needless worry or panic. These days the media is flooded with proclamations and predictions of ecological catastrophe. There is no doubt that our environmental challenges are many, and huge, and they certainly do present dangers. But are they being seen in the context of broader developmental challenges and associated trade-offs? Or in the context of humankind's past achievements, and our ability to adapt? And is alarmist rhetoric the best way to motivate action to deal with them? Among the people offering answers to questions like these, is this month’s guest on The Case for Conservation Podcast, Matt Ridley.

Matt was, until he retired last year, an elected member of the UK Parliament’s House of Lords. He’s been been writer and/or editor for The Economist and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications, and his non-fiction books have sold more than a million copies. They include "The Rational Optimist", "The Evolution of Everything", "How Innovation Works" and, most recently, "Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19". His 2010 TED talk, "When Ideas Have Sex", has been viewed more than 2 and a half million times, and he’s spoken on various other popular forums including, quite recently, the Jordan Peterson Podcast.

Links to resources:

Time stamps:

02:50: Matt's response to a Guardian article about climate change terminology

06:59: Species conservation and reports of species loss due to to climate change

13:35: A counsel of despair

15:32: The possible influence of funding in environmental rhetoric

17:40: How innovation helps conservation

24:40: How ecological footprint calculations may be misleading; finite resources

34:23: The Jevons paradox

35:42: The evolution of lightbulb technology; prehistoric technology without innovation

38:12: Which environmental issues are being neglected?

42:14: Invasive species as a driver of biodiversity loss

45:32: Is deforestation the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic?

48:27: Is there a link between environmental alarmism and theories of Covid-19 origins?