Bronze-level articleBjørn Lomborg

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I think that probably might be right, Bjørn, but I will just get so much more mileage out of criticising you.
—Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt after Lomborg asked to debate her on climate change
Bjørn, the posterboy of style over substance.

Bjørn Lomborg is a Danish academic, very controversial because of his writings on environmental issues. Lomborg is frequently cited as an economist, though his doctorate is in political science and he was a professor of statistics before turning his eye toward environmental economics.

Contents

[edit] The Lomborg fallacy

With respect to climate change mitigation, Lomborg presents the same false dichotomy in much of his output: There are limited resources, so we must choose between dealing with global warming or what Lomborg has decided are "more important problems." He considers AIDS and other diseases, starvation, malnutrition, and poverty to be more important problems than global warming, yet his framing of the issue treats global warming as a discrete issue, ignoring the fact that it will actually exacerbate the other problems he considers to be more important. Strangely, Lomborg spends most of his time and effort debunking these "unimportant" environmental concerns, writing tendentious books and setting up bullshit forums titled in such a way as to confuse the ignorant — he has done little to nothing to encourage greater spending on what he considers the really great problems.

Here's the ultimate irony: if the exact opposite of what he wants occurs (AGW is given paramount priority, say, like ozone depletion), he'll eventually be able to be claim that everything was indeed going to be fine from the start and those Malthusians were just panicking all along! This logical sidestepping is probably worth academic study.

[edit] The Skeptical Environmentalist

Lomborg is best known as the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and his cynicism concerning current approaches to environmental issues. While the book met with generally gushing reviews in the popular media, it was not so well received in the scientific press. But it's got over 3,000 footnotes, so it must be thoroughly researched and authoritative, right? Right?

[edit] Getting skeptical about science?

The book contains a litany (to borrow Lomborg's turn of phrase) of factual inaccuracies and substantial cherry-picking and quote mining of research.[1] Lomborg looks at a number of environmental issues and generally picks the most favorable citations he can find regardless of whether they're out of date, out of context, or if they in fact say the opposite of what he claims. Which should immediately raise alarm bells. Some of his more egregious and sweeping mistakes based on faulty analysis include:

  • Lomborg underestimates the rate of species extinction by an order of magnitude and concludes that extinction rates are not increasing.[2][3]
  • The use of reports that use differing definitions of forests to declare that deforestation was only slight over the second half of the 20th century. No, seriously, he tries to get away with saying "the world’s forests are not under threat."[4]
  • Discounting a number of negative effects of global warming such as rising sea levels and cherry-picking best-case scenarios.[5]

The thrust of Lomborg's argument is that a) environmental claims sometimes get overblown, and b) economic and technological innovation has and will continue to solve environmental problems. Both of these claims are true, but not to the extent that Lomborg would have the reader believe. On the first point, he often fails to differentiate between popular and scientific literature (he frequently cites secondhand popular sources in order to "debunk" environmental claims) and his numerous errors in reporting the scientific literature undercut the argument severely.

On the second point, he is correct in stating that life expectancy, wealth, and general standards of living have risen over the last century due to technological innovation. However, he also applies this argument to environmental conditions while failing to credit environmental standards and regulations for decreased pollution in some First World, industrial cities in addition to technology and development. Lomborg fails to take into account that this innovation is sometimes driven by the need to meet new standards. There are valid points in his argument that economic growth and technology can improve environmental conditions, but it's crippled by his gratuitous spinning of science.

[edit] DCSD and scientific dishonesty

In 2003, the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD) issued a report in reaction to numerous complaints about The Skeptical Environmentalist. It ruled:

Objectively speaking, the publication of the work under consideration is deemed to fall within the concept of scientific dishonesty. In view of the subjective requirements made in terms of intent or gross negligence, however, Lomborg's publication cannot fall within the bounds of this characterization. Conversely, the publication is deemed clearly contrary to the standards of good scientific practice.[6]

The Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (of which DCSD is a part) issued a statement repudiating the DCSD ruling due to procedural errors, largely over the definition of "scientific dishonesty" and whether DCSD had jurisdiction over a non-peer reviewed book in mass media.[7][8]

[edit] Cool it, Bjørn

Cool It is Lomborg's sequel to The Skeptical Environmentalist that was subsequently recycled into a documentary of the same name. Lomborg takes the same approach here as he did in his last polemic — cherry-pick all the low-end estimates and sprinkle various distortions on top of that.[9] A central flaw to all of his arguments in this book is that he assumes a warming of roughly 2.5 °C by 2100, which is toward the low end of the IPCC estimates, which take a 3 degree plus/minus 1.5 degrees for a doubling of carbon dioxide and set the best estimate range for 2100 at 1.8-4 degrees. Lomborg is sometimes mischaracterized as a climate change denier, though it would be more accurate to call him a "delayer" who falls back on denialist talking points when it's convenient. The book parrots a number of denialist canards, including the mythical increasing polar bear population,[10] sea level rise of one foot (or about 30 cm, which is still in the lower range of the 18-59 cm IPCC projections, which also don't account for worst-case scenarios such as the full ice sheet melt uncertainty),[11] and fewer deaths due to cold (it helps to ignore deaths from increased heat and infectious diseases caused by warming).[12] This, along with his cherry-picking of economic models that predict the highest costs for emission caps, causes Lomborg to seriously overestimate the cost of mitigation effects. Instead, he recommends investing largely in alternative energy (not something any environmentalist would disagree with anyway) and geo-engineering research to be paid for with a modest carbon tax.

[edit] Copenhagen Consensus Project

Lomborg set up a think tank called the Copenhagen Consensus Project (a misnomer, to be sure), which generally pushes wishful thinking about geo-engineering. Geo-engineering is largely seen as a last-ditch solution due to the fact that pumping the atmosphere full of massive amounts of sulfur as Lomborg favors may have loads of unintended consequences and doesn't deal with a number of problems created by increased carbon dioxide levels such as ocean acidification (the project tends to omit these considerations in its reports).

The think tank was set to close in July of 2012 after the newly elected Thorning-Schmidt administration cut its government funding.[13] However, luckily for Lomborg he had quietly set up a think tank called the Copenhagen Consensus Center in America that was doing well enough to pay himself $775,000 yearly[14] and that since it begun the CCC had attracted $4.3 million from "anonymous" donors with climate denier links.[15] (If you can't guess what these groups are at this point, you're not paying attention.)

[edit] Eco-terrorism!

In 2001, Lomborg was pied in the face by Mark Lynas during a book signing at Borders.[16]

[edit] See also

[edit] Too many external links

[edit] Commentary on The Skeptical Environmentalist

[edit] Skeptical Inquirer series

[edit] Commentary on Cool It

[edit] Copenhagen Consensus Project

[edit] Footnotes

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