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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.
|—(Then) Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt after Lomborg asked to debate her on climate change|
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.
He is to the debate what Dr. Oz is to medicine, a rodeo clown who frames his information to give audiences what they want (a quick- fix miracle cure) and cries censorship when confronted by actual scientists.
- 1 The Lomborg fallacy
- 2 The Skeptical Environmentalist
- 3 Cool it, Bjørn
- 4 Copenhagen Consensus Project
- 5 Eco-terrorism!
- 6 See also
- 7 Too many external links
- 8 References
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 (Anthropogenic global warming is given paramount priority, say, like ozone depletion), he'll eventually be able to 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.
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?
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. 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.
- 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."
- Discounting a number of negative effects of global warming such as rising sea levels and cherry-picking best-case scenarios.
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.
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.
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 (though it was published by Cambridge University Press).
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. 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 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates, which take a 3°C (±1.5°C) for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide and set the best estimate range for 2100 at 1.8°C to 4°C. 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, 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), and fewer deaths due to cold (it helps to ignore deaths from increased heat and infectious diseases caused by warming). 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 the suggestion that shifting from fossil fuels to renewable ones is somehow separate from mitigation of global warming is rather bizarre anyway) and geo-engineering research to be paid for with a modest carbon tax.
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. 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 and that since it began, the CCC had attracted $4.3 million from "anonymous" donors with climate denier links. (If you can't guess who and what these groups are at this point, you're not paying attention.)
- Lomborg's homepage
- Lomborg Errors
- The Lomborg Deception, Australian Broadcasting Corporation
- Book Review: The Lomborg Deception, Sharon Begley, Newsweek
- Willful Idiocy: Unpacking Lomborg's Climate Nonsense, The Way Things Break
- Deltoid: Lomborg Spreads DDT Ban Myth (yes, flirting with DDT denial, Bjørn?), Misinformation from Lomborg, So What's Wrong With Lomborg?, The Australian's War on Science XXI
Commentary on The Skeptical Environmentalist
- Misleading Math About the Earth, Scientific American. Lomborg's response, and response to the response by John Rennie.
- Debate over The Skeptical Environmentalist, University of Colorado
- A Skeptical Look at The Skeptical Environmentalist, Grist special series
- More heat, less light on Lomborg. Nature 421, 195 (16 January 2003)
- Review by the Union of Concerned Scientists
- Rorsch et al. On the Opposition Against the Book The Skeptical Environmentalist by B. Lomborg, Journal of Information Ethics, Spring 2005. (An academic defense, albeit lukewarm, of Lomborg.)
Skeptical Inquirer series
- Skeptical About The Skeptical Environmentalist, Richard M. Fisher
- The Skeptical Environmentalist: A Case Study in the Manufacture of News, Matt Nisbet
- Follow-up to Matt Nisbet, John Stahle
Commentary on Cool It
- Can Anyone Stop It? Bill McKibben, New York Review of Books
- Salon: Hot Air, Interview with Lomborg
- 'Cool' Climate Film Takes on 'Truth', Andrew Revkin, The New York Times
- On Hurricanes and Global Warming, Don't Cool It Too Much, Chris Mooney
- Let's Keep Our Cool About Global Warming, Lomborg in Skeptical Inquirer (Imagine the reaction from the authors above.) Response by Chris Mooney.
- Bjorn Lomborg's Cool It Documentary Full of Ozone Sized Holes, Daily Green
Copenhagen Consensus Project
- This Is Neither Scepticism Nor Science - Just Nonsense, The Guardian
- Copenhagen Review, John Quiggin
- The Copenhagen Distraction, OSS Foundation
- Real Climate: The Copenhagen Consensus, A Biased Economic Analysis of Geoengineering
- The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World by Bjørn Lomborg (2001) Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521010683.
- There are far too many to list here, but a catalog of errors can be found at Lomborg Errors' section on The Skeptical Environmentalist.
- On Bjorn Lomborg and Extinction, Grist
- See also the National Research Council's report In the Light of Evolution, Volume II: Biodiversity and Extinction
- On Bjorn Lomborg and deforestation, Grist
- Ch. 24: Global Warming, Lomborg Errors
- DCSD report
- Lomborg celebrates ministry ruling, BBC
- Criticisms of UVVU, Lomborg Errors
- Cool It (2010) IMDb.
- Once again, there are loads of factual inaccuracies. See Lomborg Errors' section on Cool It.
- How Will Global Warming Affect Polar Bears?, Skeptical Science
- The IPCC Sea Level Numbers, Real Climate
- Positives and Negatives of Global Warming, Skeptical Science
- Bjorn Lomborg's climate sceptic thinktank to close, The Guardian
- Which is, well, shitloads for a statistician.
- The Millions Behind Bjorn Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus Center US Think Tank, DeSmog Blog
- Lomborg cream pied by Mark Lynas
- Article is behind a paywall