Debunking Bj¸rn Lomborg — Part III, He’s a Real Nowhere Man

nowhere_man.PNGIn Cool It, Lomborg writes about global warming — but the globe he is writing about certainly isn’t Earth. We’ve already seen in Parts I and II that on Planet Lomborg, polar bears can evolve backwards and the ice sheets can’t suffer rapid ice loss (as they are already doing on Earth).

On Planet Lomborg, the carbon cycle has no amplifying feedbacks — even though these are central to why warming on Earth will be worse than the IPCC projects. I couldn’t even find the word “feedback” or “permafrost” in the book [if anyone finds them, please let me know].

On Planet Lomborg, free from the restrictions of science, global warming is kind of delightful:

The reality of climate change isn’t necessarily an unusually fierce summer heat wave. More likely, we may just notice people wearing fewer layers of clothes on a winter’s evening. (p.12)

On planet Earth, a major study in Nature found that if we fail to take strong action to reduce emissions soon, the brutal European heat wave that killed 35,000 people will become the typical summer within the next four decades. By the end of the century, “2003 would be classed as an anomalously cold summer relative to the new climate.”

Lomborg’s entire book takes place in a kind of fantasy-land or Bizarro world. Aptly, on the last page is “A Note on the Type” that begins

This book was set in Utopia….

Irony can be so ironic. Utopia is from the Greek for “no place” or “place that does not exist.” Lomborg is the nowhere man!

On Earth, if we listen to Lomborg and take no action anytime soon, then the amlifying feedbacks kick in, and the planet, including America, is going to hell — as a major 2005 study found:

In the second half of this century (from 2071 to 2095) a vast swath of the country would see average summer temperature rise by a blistering 9°F. Houston and Washington, DC would experience temperatures exceeding 98°F for some 60 days a year. Oklahoma would see temperatures above 110°F some 60 to 80 days a year. Much of Arizona would be subjected to temperatures of 105°F or more for 98 days out of the year–14 full weeks. We won’t call these heat waves anymore. As the lead author, Noah Diffenbaugh, of Purdue University said to me, “We will call them normal summers.”

With global warming, the Southwest is projected to enter a permanent drought after 2050, and the entire West to experience two to five times the wildfire devastation.

Since my debate with Lomborg was on a Denver Radio station, I brought up the permanent-drought study. He didn’t deny it — he just said that if you look at the planet as a whole, it is going to get wetter. In Cool It, he has managed to find a study that concludes:

The remarkable result is that global warming actually reduces the number of people living in water-stressed areas (p. 109).

The original study is a tad more complicated. It warns that the hydrological model it uses “tends to overestimate the river flows in dry regions–by up to a factor of three” and, far more important, “it does not include a glacier component, so river flows in a cell do not include any net melt from upstream glaciers.” The study clearly states that the conclusion the number of water-stressed people will drop “gives a misleading indication of the effect of climate change, for two reasons”:

Firstly, the increases in runoff generally occur during high flow seasons, and may not alleviate dry season problems if this extra water is not stored: the extra water may lead to increased flooding, rather than reduced water resources stresses.

Duh. The places where the rain increases see most of their extra water in the form of deluges, as I have noted before. Absent a vast new storage network — which Lomborg implies is a trivial matter — they’ll see no benefit at all. In fact, the increased flooding will be a nightmare, as Britain and China have found out.

Secondly, the watersheds that apparently benefit from a reduction in water resources stress are in limited, but populous, parts of the world, and largely confined to east and southern Asia….

But those areas are precisely the ones that are going to suffer the most from the loss of the inland glaciers. Lomborg thinks the melting will increase runoff for a few decades, but in fact, China’s State News Agency reported in 2004 that “A potential silver lining in the form of additional water for China’s arid north and west has not materialized.” Why? “Much of the melted glacier water vaporizes long before it reaches the country’s drought-stricken farmers and again global warming is to blame.” Doh!

Lomborg himself acknowledges for the Himalayan glaciers: “with continuous melting, the glaciers will run dry toward the end of the century” (p. 58). But to Lomborg we’ll be so rich by then that “to a large extent this can be remedied by improved water storage but of course that would mean large extra costs” (p. 58).

Maybe on Planet Lomborg you can replace glaciers with improved storage, but on Earth, “global warming will reduce glaciers and storage packs of snow in regions around the world, causing water shortages and other problems that will impact millions of people,” according to a major review study led by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and published in Nature.

As the Independent reported earlier this year in an article title “China’s water supply could be cut off as Tibet’s glaciers melt,”

Water from the mountain region feeds the Yellow, Yangtze and other rivers that feed hundreds of millions of people across China and South Asia.

But these are precisely the people who are supposed to get more water in the one study Lomborg cites.

Yes, he is a master cherry picker.

As for agriculture, he claims “in worst-case scenarios” we will see a “7 percent [crop] yield decrease in the developing world and a 3 percent yield increase in the developed world” (pp. 104-105).

Maybe on planet Lomborg. On Earth, Lomborg has no conception of worst-case scenarios of global warming. Try this from British scientists: half the planet will be under moderate drought and

One third of the planet will be desert by the year 2100.

That will lead to mass migrations and millions of environmental refugees. And this result is based on a greenhouse gas emissions growth scenario that ignores key amplifying feedbacks: “In one unpublished Met Office study, when the carbon cycle effects are included, future drought is even worse.

Lomborg can’t concern himself with true worst-case scenarios for global warming because that would smash his entire argument to pieces. When a real economist examines such scenarios, they overwhelm all other aspects of cost-benefit analysis, which is Lomborg’s favorite weapon for arguing against taking action on climate change, as I will explore in a later post.


14 Responses to Debunking Bj¸rn Lomborg — Part III, He’s a Real Nowhere Man

  1. Mike M. says:

    Ah, no one quite does hate and invective quite like a “progressive” who’s religion is questioned. You people are mentally ill, working yourselves into apocalyptic frenzy like some mad Christian fundamentalist. Normal people wonder why you WANT man to be responsible for global warming so badly. Will you all have to be hospitalized when temperatures cool off in a few years?

  2. John says:

    Mike M.

    Cost-benefit is the religion, neoclassical economics the disease.

    The enlightnement was the cure. So come on into the 21st Century, and help solve real world problems, instead of denying them.

  3. Joe says:

    To believe temperatures will cool off in a few years is equivalent to believing in voodoo or questioning whether we landed on the moon. Even Lomborg acknowledges that humans are causing global warming and that the planet will keep warming for decades if not centuries (depending on how quickly we act reduce greenhouse gas emissions).

  4. tidal says:

    Mike M.’s been a busy boy lately on the “Lomborg defense circuit”! See:

    Paradoxically, the title of Lomborg’s book is “Cool It”… Mike might want to take that advice to heart before he blows a gasket…

  5. bunty says:

    I’ve noticed that there seems to be rather golem army of denialists around, who descend on any article in the MSM or blogosphere and start filling the comments up with FUD, ad hominem (and ad baculem) strawmen, and drooling belligerence.

    It would be nice to think that it is actually part of some organised effort by oil company funded PR companies (MAKE BIG $ AT HOME POSTING ON COMMENTS ON THE INTERNET!!! CALL 1-800-SPINME NOW!!). But, it probably is just voluntary unpaid freelancers from the vast army of FOX news knuckle draggers; spurred into drooling rage-gasms by their rather pathetic terror–induced by the bogeymen of Science and Intellectualism and Progress.

    Fair-do’s to them though. I guess when you don’t have the facts on your side, all you got is bluster. It shows some sort of dogged initiative though. Going down kicking and screaming rather than surrender to the evil forces of Reality. ;)

  6. IANVS says:

    Mike M,

    You and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter are hardly “normal people”.

  7. Ronald Lindeman says:

    I just recently read Crichton’s “State of Fear” because somebody was talking about it. I didn’t realize how bad it was. Crichton has what I call “Rumsfeldian incompetence.” It’s a philosophy that you only have to be bold and brave and bad things won’t happen as part of it. That the future will be better because the past was not as good as today.

    Many people don’t get the idea that we can be worse off than before. They think all is okay if you have the correct political, religious or other belief. What they don’t realize is the world is a physical reality, we can suffer droughts, floods and rising ocean levels.

    The whole thing is more a philosophy struggle than a science struggle.

  8. shane says:


    Funny — I see a lot of “drooling belligerence” whenever someone challenges the presumptions behind climate change. Anyone who questions the models is labeled a heretic and summarily lambasted with invective rather than facts.

    I challenge anyone on this thread to answer this: If carbon emissions are the cause of climate change, then why haven’t we been able to empirically observe increases in the upper levels of the atmosphere? The blanket analogy only works if the data can irrefutably support it — and I mean as much data as you can get, not just the comfortable 50 years that Al Gore uses in the preponderance of his slick presentation.

  9. Joe says:

    Who contests the increase in CO2? Never heard that one before.

  10. shane says:

    Joe: Not contesting the increase in CO2 — contesting the correlation between CO2 and climate change. Show me the causal link.

  11. shane says:

    Please add the words “in temperature” following the word “increases” in my original reply.

  12. Jörg says:

    You quote 35.000 deaths for the European heat wave in 2003. This was a figure that was widely used so far. Unfortunately, a close analysis by a group of scientist led by the French “Institut National por la Recherche Medicale” found out recently, that more than 70.000 people died during that heat wave, in excess of “normal mortality”. Look at the press release here.

  13. Joe says:

    Jorg — thank you for that link!

  14. WantAClearDebate says:

    I’ve been concerned about global warming ever since I took a class about the state of the world in the late 80’s. As climate change has become an orthodoxy, however, the conversation has become filled with invective and personal attacks that make me distrust the arguments from both sides. The best version of this argument that I have seen is in “Physics for Future Presidents” which excoriates Al Gore’s argument, but nevertheless supports action to stop global warming. It is the only version of the argument that I have seen where a proponent actually acknowledges that climate modelling is a very inexact science, and may be very wrong, but action is nevertheless warranted given our best guesses as of today. A worthwhile read, and a great respite from the indignant name-calling that has become the bulk of this debate. I live in California, where most people I know will dismiss a book which is sceptical about environmental causes before even reading it, and I’m sure there are other parts of the country where the IPCC report is treated similarly. A real pity.