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Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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PETM theory

Tropical forests became more diverse during the warm episode of 55m years ago.

A new paper in Science casts further doubt on the usefulness of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) as a warning of what we face from man-made carbon emissions. Tropical rain forests became more diverse, not less, during the warm spell.

The paleontologist who made this discovery told Science News:

"We were expecting to find rapid extinction, a total change in the forest," says study leader Carlos Jaramillo, a biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama. "What we found was just the opposite - a very fast addition of many new species, and a huge spike in the diversity of tropical plants."

So here is what we know about the PETM:

- the warming was gradual, about 5C over 10,000 years. That's about one-five-hundredth of the speed of warming at the end of the last ice age

- carbon dioxide levels increased but probably did not double

- tropical forests thrived

- it was 55m years ago when all sorts of things were different, including the shape and position of the continents

- nobody knows what caused it

And yet we are asked to believe that this is one of the strongest arguments for spending trillions of dollars that could be spent on allevi