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Diary

Matt Ridley’s diary: Why a Guardian contributor wants me beheaded

Plus: The merits of coal, the fortunes of Northumberland and a mallard ménage a trois

30 May 2015

9:00 AM

30 May 2015

9:00 AM

Martin Williams, former head of the government’s air quality science unit, has declared that the reason we have a problem with air pollution now is that ‘policy has been focused on climate change, and reducing CO2 emissions, to the exclusion of much else, for most of the past two decades. Diesel was seen as a good thing because it produces less CO2, so we gave people incentives to buy diesel cars.’ Yet another example of how the global warming obsession has been bad for the environment — like subsidising biofuels, which encourage cutting down rainforests; or windfarms, which kill eagles and spoil landscapes; or denying coal-fired electricity to Africa, where millions die each year from the effects of cooking over smoky wood fires.

Greens are too hard on coal. If much of the world had not switched from wood to coal in the 1800s, we would have deforested the planet almost entirely. By 1860, Britain was getting as much energy from coal as a forest the size of Scotland could yield; today, we’d need a forest the size of South Africa. And coal produces less carbon dioxide than wood per unit of energy. I would say this, wouldn’t I? My ancestors were in coal from about 1700 and I still am, hosting a temporary surface mine on my land. It provides good jobs, lots of tax, a community benefits fund and an income windfall for local residents as well as me. Plus opportunities for spectacular restoration schemes, like Northumberlandia (look it up). It also helps keep electricity affordable.


The Guardian, unhappy that I said last week that its fossil-fuel divestment campaign was likely to hurt the poor, writes to tell me that it intends to have a go at me, rather than tackle my argument, by quoting an unreliable blogger about the amount I make from coal. I don’t own as much land as he thinks I do, nor share as little of the income with other residents, but I am under no obligation to invade others’ privacy by naming the sums. I always declare my interest when relevant. If I were getting similar money from wind or solar power — as I could if I approved of them — I’d be a hero to greens. It’s a strange world where the left likes rich people getting money only if it comes from a tax on poor people’s bills. (Meanwhile, part of the Guardian’s website is sponsored by a coal-mining company.)

Back in January, on the day a Japanese captive was beheaded by Islamic State, the Guardian published its previous attack on me over a picture of a severed zombie’s head. My crime was to write about how I had been furiously denounced merely for presenting the evidence that climate change is real but may not be net harmful — so the Guardian piece rather proved my point. Beneath the article online appeared two comments recommending that I be beheaded, and one revealing the writer of these comments was a Guardian contributor, Gary Evans. Astonishingly, the comment outing Mr Evans was deleted to protect him, while the death threats remained — until I complained.

Although the economy of the North-east is doing better than for many years, Northumberland’s old mining towns are still not prospering. My wife and I fund a charity that supports community projects mainly in Blyth, the port city that was built to export coal and in the 1990s became a drugs hotspot. Visiting one of these projects last week, the Silx Teen Bar, which gives 700 young people a year a place to hang out, a meal to eat and coaching in applying for jobs, I was encouraged. The bar’s been refurbished by volunteers, jobs are more numerous, heroin has faded, but legal highs are the new problem. Over tea and chocolate pizza, Jackie Long, the incredibly dedicated senior youth worker, told me what had happened to a young man I met on my last visit. Orphaned when his parents died from drugs, he relied on Silx from the age of 12 for food and friendship, and lived with his grandmother. Apparently she died recently and he drifted between evictions. Now he has a secure job and was recently named employee of the week. Silx was the family he came to show the certificate to.

The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera is opening at Kings Place in London in August. Where I sometimes go salmon fishing on the incomparably beautiful Coquet, there’s a mallard ménage-a-trois. For two months now, every time I have visited, two drakes and duck have been together in the mill race or below the dam. They are inseparable. I can tell they are the same birds from their markings. There’s no sexual jealousy, let alone necrophilia. They just keep on working the shallows for fly larvae beneath the tip of my fly rod. The rod is new and expensive. ‘There’s no pockets on a shroud,’ said David, my fishing companion, excusing my extravagance.

Matt Ridley’s books include Genome and The Rational Optimist.

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