Debating Bj¸rn Lomborg, global warming delayer

I taped a debate with Lomborg today on a Denver radio station. I’ll post a link when it will be broadcast on the Internet. I’ll be interested to hear your reactions.

I have long thought it is pretty much impossible to win a 1-on-1 debate on climate change with anybody who knows what they’re doing, who knows the literature and is willing to make statements that are not really true but can’t be quickly disproved. After all, the audience is not in a position to adjudicate scientific and technological issues, so it just comes down to who sounds more persuasive. And Lomborg is quite good at sounding reasonable — he doesn’t deny the reality of climate change only its seriousness.

Lomborg is more of what I term a delayer — the clever person’s denier. Lomborg is especially persuasive because he is so clearly concerned about reducing suffering and death in the Third World.

Yes, dammit, we should do more to provide developing countries with clean water and protection from mosquitoes — but Lomborg thinks global warming is at the bottom of the list of things we should be spending money on right now. Such delay is the road to ruin. As Tim Flannery put it:

By empathizing with those who are concerned about climate change and poverty, and trying to persuade them to divert their energies, Cool It is a stealth attack on humanity’s future.

Lomborg’s book is already #53 on Amazon, and #1 in the categories of climate changes, public policy, and conservation. Contrarian books do well these days. The #2 climate change book is a hardcore denier treatise, Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years ! [Yes, the title makes no sense — if global warming is unstoppable, then why did it stop 1500 years ago?]

Lomborg’s book, Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming, is painful to read, but quite short. I read it quickly for the debate, and will read it more closely tomorrow while I await selection for jury duty. I will do a thorough debunking in the coming days, since I do think progressives will need to know how to respond to Lomborg’s clever arguments — and I will need some way to restore my blood pressure to normal after reading it twice.

23 Responses to Debating Bj¸rn Lomborg, global warming delayer

  1. Shannon says:

    Joe, you bring up a good point that is just as true in print as it is on the air- that once a denier makes an erroneous claim about climate change that reaches the population, the damage is already done. Our side would never make such unqualified claims because we are fundamentally represented by the scientific community. The other side believes fundamentally that the ends justify the means. In a radio or TV “debate” there is no way to assess the value of a claim in real time. In print, the media does not take the responsibility to understand the science before publishing erroneous information promoted by the deniers. This is a very effective trick that the right wingers have mastered and we could use it to our advantage too, if we had no soul. It seems that they let the people with some credibility who are non-essential make these claims. These people are easy to lose if they cease to be useful.

    I think we need to learn to talk to the public persuasively, using the science we know, but not trying to sell them on the science. Hopefully the public will become disgusted with the right wing and that could go a long way with climate change education.

  2. Ron says:

    I thought this was interesting – The Old Farmer’s Almanac is predicting 2008 will be the warmest year of the past century. Of course, their prediction isn’t based on CO2 levels; it’s based on sunspots, weather-watching and folklore.

    Maybe next year we’ll finally have the doubleplusungood hurricane season the Believers are hoping for.

    Whaddya think?

  3. Lou Grinzo says:

    Ron: I won’t presume to speak for anyone else here, but here are my views on hurricane seasons:

    1. I sincerely hope they don’t get worse in terms of human impact.

    2. After reading everything I can find on the topic, I’m convinced that a warmer climate will indeed lead to stronger hurricanes, and possibly more of them. Warm water is the fuel for hurricanes, etc.

    3. I have no doubt that the hard core deniers would refuse to change their minds on CC no matter how bad hurricane seasons or rising sea levels or melting Arctic ice or ocean acidification became. As I’ve said before, there will be 10 feet of water on the streets of NYC and palm trees growing in Alaska and the deniers will still refuse to budge.

  4. Paul K says:

    Lomborg is not a delayer. He is an insteader. His narrowly drawn studies refer only to maximum benefit of public expenditures. The solution to AGW involves public policy that may not necessarily include increased public spending. So it is really apples and oranges. One common factor among problems rated higher than AGW is imperviousness to market solutions. The establishment of a market is seen as the best instrument for CO2 reduction.

  5. Joe says:

    Actually, he is a delayer. He seeks to delay action on climate change. And he adopts all the same strategies as the rest of the delayers. Yes, he says he would like to spend money on other priorities, but since one can only do one thing at a time?

  6. Ron says:

    As the human population grows, especially in hurricane-prone areas, the human impact from storms WILL increase. We are already seeing this, even if we aren’t seeing increased hurricane activity.

    I think you may be wrong about the ‘deniers’ though, Lou. If they (we) were to see 10 feet of water in NYC or palm trees growing in Alaska, I do think that would give many folks something new to think about. So far, though, that (or anything even remotely similar) has not been seen. All we have seen is dire warnings, but pretty weak results.

    Some say that climate is changing faster than the models predicted, but to a ‘denier’ that just means the models are flawed; it doesn’t establish cause and effect. Perhaps something else is going on besides a CO2-driven change. Hopefully not all climate scientists are being taken in by the talk of a ‘consensus’ and are still working on the issue.

    And as far as predictions go, the Old Farmers Almanac has a much better track record than the models. Models show what they are programmed to show. It’s quite possible that the theory of CO2 being the driving force is erroneous, or at least not the most important factor.

    Maybe the scientists need to factor in sunspots and folklore …..

  7. Mark Hadfield says:

    “And as far as predictions go, the Old Farmers Almanac has a much better track record than the models.”

    Really? How did it do on the global cooling after Mt Pinatubo?

  8. Ron says:


    I’d guess that the Old Farmer’s Almanac didn’t see the eruption coming. Did any of your sacred climate models see it coming?

    The Almanac’s predictions are based on cycles mostly, with some folklore thrown in. Sun cycles, primarily, not volcanic cycles. Their predictions do pretty well over all, though, without factoring in volcanoes and carbon dioxide.

    I realize that the Believers have mostly discredited the idea of climate cycles, but the old school approach still has its merits – it’s just very difficult to craft legislation around, sell books, or generate much hysteria.

  9. IANVS says:


    Actually, the science has determined with a very high level of confidence that GHG from human activities is the principal cause of global warming despite the cooling trend of solar activity. And the more the climate scientists earnestly research and study, the more solid evidence they find that AGW and its effects are probably worse than the models indicate so far.

    An intelligent, prudent citizen would heed the conclusions and warnings of the scientific community before the Farmer’s Almanac or folklore.

  10. Ron says:


    Many otherwise intelligent, prudent citizens seem to believe Al Gore’s hysterical warnings of 10 feet of water in NYC, even though no credible scientists are predicting such.

    My point is simply that it’s probably not prudent or particularly intelligent to bet everything on the ‘settled science of global warming’ when the Old Farmer’s Almanac can out perform the best climate modelers.

    Serious scientists take a serious look when their models significantly deviate from observed reality.

    Just some food for thought; but of you’re already full, I understand.

  11. mk says:

    Does anyone have a link to an awesome academic paper by a leading climate science researcher that strongly contributes to the evidence for climate change?

  12. Shannon says:

    Rather than list one academic paper, as academics tends to build on a series of papers, I think there are two exceptional sources of information that show concrete evidence of climate change that the average person can identify with.

    First: Check out the very telling updates to the 1990 USDA hardiness maps prepared in 2006 by The National Arbor Day Foundation at “based upon data from 5,000 National Climatic Data Center cooperative stations across the continental United States.” The National Wildlife Federation website at lets you slide between the years to show the difference in temperatures and zones between 1990 and 2006. Global warming has already made some areas warmer and some colder.

    Second, visit the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) for updates on the unprecedented extend of Arctic Sea Ice melting at This year has the lowest extent ever- 1 million square kilometers below the previous minimum in 2005. There are several animations of the loss of sea ice that are extremely powerful that you can find using a google search. They are updated all the time.

  13. Joe says:

    I am fond of James Hansen’s work:
    Here is one link:
    If you search “Hansen” on this website, you’ll find a bunch of others.
    Good luck!

  14. Ron says:

    Shannon or Joe,

    Would either of you have links to any articles that explain or establish the science behind the theory of rising carbon dioxide levels causing global warming?

    Consider me more of a ‘doubter’ than a “denyer”. As long as you don’t push propaganda and disinformation at me, I’d be willing to learn.

    Speaking of which: I enjoyed your comments at the beginning of this thread, Shannon. You said something about ‘our side would never make unqualified claims’. Does this mean that you guys have abandoned Al Gore and some of his unsupportable warnings? Is he no longer on your side?

    If so, kudos to you. People may begin to take you more seriously. Look at me – I’m willing to consider the idea that CO2 can cause climate change. Just please show me the science; cause and effect, you know.

  15. Ron says:

    So is the idea that CO2 causes global warming more of an article of faith than an established scientific theory? Sort of like asking a Muslim how he knows the Koran is really the word of Allah?

    I guess that’s pretty much what I thought.

  16. Ron says:

    Thanks for the reading. It was interesting, if a bit tough for this layman.

    It appears that the assertion that CO2 causes global warming and climate change is a hypothesis; not even a full-fledged theory.

    The only way to test such a hypothesis is through models, obviously, but even you will admit that the models do a poor job of actually predicting what goes on with climate.

    Therefore, it’s still in the hypothesis stage and hasn’t graduated to a theory.

    I know you take this as underestimation of the problem, and proof of the theory, but this is erroneous. That is your opinion, and you could be right, but it’s not based on the science.

    The models don’t work well because one or more assumptions in the hypothesis are incorrect. And it could turn out that the assumption about CO2 is incorrect.

    But, like I said, it does not look like a solid theory at any rate.

  17. RP says:

    To doubters such as Ron, its important to point out that science never “proves” anything. Scientists gather evidence and build an argument for the most likely explanation of observed phenomena based upon the interaction between theory, analysis, and experiment. In the case of global climate change, the case is already very strong and it seems likely to get stronger with additional evidence and analysis. How strong does it need to be before we act, given the potential consequences of our failure to act??

  18. General Specific says:

    Ron says: “It appears that the assertion that CO2 causes global warming and climate change is a hypothesis; not even a full-fledged theory.”

    It is a fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that, everything else equal, increases the temperature of the planet as it increases in the atmosphere. There is no question about it.

    There is a question about the relationship between global temperature and CO2 when everything else is not equal (absorption by the ocean, etc).

    So at minimum Ron can admit that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

  19. Bob Friedrich says:

    It is truly a shame when one cannot read something that does not support ones view without immediately shouting “denier”. Lomborg does not deny that global warming is real. Rather than going to the excitable extremes seen so often in our worldwide press, he does not sit idly by and claim that this is a doomsday scenario. Some points he makes that are worth consideing.
    If the artic sea ice melts there will not be a rise in sea levels. Why? Because the sea ice displaces the same volume of water in a solid form as it would in a liquid form. Basic physics.
    There are 13 sub-species of polar bears. Two are declining in numbers, while the overall population is increasing. The two sub-species that are declining live in the Beaufort Straits area where the temperature has declined.
    Is he correct when he says that in 1975 major newspapers and scientific journals predicted another Ice Age? I have not had the time to research this, but if true, where does all the furor about global warming having been occuring for some time, but was not recognized come from?
    Is he correct when he points out that the politicians who decry global warming and its effects make their goals for a time when they will not be in power, and defer the costs to future generations?
    Has the temperature really gone up in Great Britain despite their proclamations about global warming and what they are doing to stop it?
    If global warming will lead to more malaria deaths in sub-saharan Africa is Lomborg correct in his analogy that when Malaria was a major threat to other nations, our own being one of them, we “solved” the problem with medicines and different means of eradication? Can these approaches not be followed in other parts of the world? Is he wrong to suggest that they should be applied in other parts of the world, and if they are, that there is a good liklihood that they will be successful?
    If Lomborg so off base when he suggests that we should be spending more on R&D to move us away frm our dependence on fossil fuels?

    Lomborg is not a “denier”, nor is he a “delayer”. He makes some very interestig arguments about prioritizing how we approach a problem that effects the entire world. Are we better off spending enormous funds on one problem while we ignore less costly solutions for problems that global warming will cause?

    Why do nations not join together to ban the production of CFCs? Approximately 60 million pounds of CFCs find their way into the market each year – $1.5 billion dollars worth of the stuff. It will not be banned in third world countries until 2010. CFCs eat away at the ozone layer and will be around well after we are all gone. Could those who decry global warming not do something about this specific danger?

    Give everyone their fair due. Do not simply label someone negatively because they have a different point of view. Where would we be as a people if we regarded all science in that manner?

  20. Joe says:

    Never said he was a denier, just a delayer, which he is. I’ve debated him. He’s a smart, well-informed guy — too smart not to know the real truth.

  21. zanardm says:

    Are we effectively approaching a transition zone from ‘Oligocene to Eocene’ ?

    Pre-industrial era, CO_2 has been considered as ~280 ppm. Current value is ~387 ppm.
    Some projections are for CO_2 to rise to ~540-970 ppm by 2100 (90 yrs away). Upper range of 970 ppm would represent
    2.5 x current value. Would this represent an accelerating curve?
    Are we increasingly accelerating through a transition zone,effectively in reverse, from ‘Oligocene to Eocene’ ? The Eocene to Oligocene transition 35 million years ago
    has been estimated to occur at ~750 ppm of CO_2. Paleocene-Eocene was a greenhouse time of probably essentially no ice on the planet. For subsequent Oligocene one has cooling and onset of glaciation. If indeed the current upper limit projections of 970 ppm is reasonable, might one have commencement of melting of East Antarctica in 100’s of years, rather than thousands of years? With perhaps a lower limit of 100+ yrs before any significant melting
    of East Antarctica?

    Total surface area of ice in all of Antarctica (east and west) is ~ 13,720,000 km^2, with average thickness of 1.6 km.; giving ice volume of 21,952,000 km^3.
    Ocean surface area is 361,132,000 km^2 (70.8% of planet surface area).
    Volume_ice /S.A._ocean = h ; ~ 22 M km^3 /~361 M km^2 = .06 km. Thus for total melting of Antarctica, and even distribution over all oceans, one would have increased sea level rise of .06 km.1 meter is 3.28 ft.1000 m.=3280 ft. So .06 x 3280= 199 ft sea level rise. But if West Antarctica’s earlier contribution is ~11 ft (3-4 m.), then sea level rise from later process of East Antarctica complete melting, would be ~ 188 ft or 57 meters. 100 meters equaling 328 ft. Would prudence suggest entertaining and planning for a worse case scenario?

    Paul N. Pearson, Gavin L. Foster, & Bridget S. Wade
    Nature 13 September 2009
    Atmospheric carbon dioxide through the Eocene-Oligocene climate transition

  22. 2012 Doomsday (2008)

    On December 21, 2012 four strangers on a journey of faith are drawn to an ancient temple in the heart of Mexico. For the Mayans it is the last recorded day. For NASA scientists it is a cataclysmic polar shift. For the rest of us, it is Doomsday.


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