What exactly is the difference between Lomborg and Shellenberger & Nordhaus?

Proving conclusively that we have a long, long way to go before the mainstream media stops promoting climate misinformation disinformation, the Washington Post gave global-warming delayer Bj¸rn Lomborg a front-page opinion piece in its Outlook section.

Lomborg repeats his nonsense about polar bears and sea level rise and why global warming (at least on Planet Lomborg) is no big deal, which I have previously debunked here and here and here respectively. He also claims Greenland’s “Kangerlussuaq glacier is inconveniently growing,” which is the opposite of what experts say here or here (if anyone has a source for Lomborg’s claim, I’d love to see it — not that Lomborg is a stickler for facts).

The reason for this post is not to debunk Lomborg again, but to answer the question posed in the headline. S&N don’t like being linked to Lomborg (see here) — who can blame them? — but I think the link is legitimate. Read Lomborg’s article. The similarities are scary. Like S&N, Lomborg acknowledges the reality of human-caused climate change. But like S&N, Lomborg attacks the climate strategy endorsed by most environmental groups:

Environmental groups say that the only way to deal with the effects of global warming is to make drastic cuts in carbon emissions — a project that will cost the world trillions.

Like S&N, Lomborg is “frustrated at our blinkered focus on policies that won’t achieve it” arguing at length that environmentalists have little to show for their efforts so far and “Proponents of pacts such as Kyoto want us to spend enormous sums of money doing very little good for the planet a hundred years from now.”

[Lomborg and S&N are convinced environmentalists have failed because they have the wrong strategy — neither appear willing to accept the possibility that a key reason environmentalists have failed is that the Deniers and Delayers have launched such an effective disinformation campaign, a campaign only now being (somewhat) effectively combated–notwithstanding Lomborg’s best efforts.]

Like S&N, Lomborg believes that instead of focusing on raising the price of carbon, “We need to reduce the cost of cutting emissions from $20 a ton to, say, $2.” Like S&N, Lomborg brings up China as a key reason for focusing on lowering costs. Finally, exactly like S&N, Lomborg argues:

The way to achieve this is to dramatically increase spending on research and development of low-carbon energy. Ideally, every nation should commit to spending 0.05 percent of its gross domestic product exploring non-carbon-emitting energy technologies, be they wind, wave or solar power, or capturing CO2 emissions from power plants. This spending could add up to about $25 billion per year but would still be seven times cheaper than the Kyoto Protocol.

Lomborg and S&N would seem a marriage made in heaven. To hold their views you must believe both 1) existing technology just can’t make a big dent in emissions at an affordable price and 2) there is “no looming apocalypse” (as Lomborg argues and as seems implicit in S&N’s repeated critiques of Gore’s supposedly apocalyptic vision — if S&N disagree, I’d love to hear it).

I strongly disagree with both statements — but I go further than simple disagreement, which is why I have spilled so much ink debunking both Lomborg and S&N. As long as Lomborg and S&N keep repeating their core positions and beliefs, they help undermine the consensus needed to achieve the urgent steps that could avoid apocalypse. In that sense, their disdain for the beliefs and the strategies of environmentalists is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Lomborg’s explicit message is — don’t worry so much about global warming. Unintentionally or not, S&N’s implicit message is the same.

Want to read more debunking of S&N? Here are Part I and Part II and Part III and Part IV.

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7 Responses to What exactly is the difference between Lomborg and Shellenberger & Nordhaus?

  1. john says:

    After reading the exchanges on Grist between Joe and Ted, it becomes obvious that Nordhause is trying to switch the terms of the debate to focus exclusively on the need for massive new puplic investments in breakthrough technologies.

    If that were the only bone of contention, I suspect there would be no debate. Having worked with Joe in the past, I can safely say no one has been more passionate — nor more efective — in arguing for increased investments in cleaner energy.

    But Nordhause tries to soft pedal the two other parts of his argument — 1)that taking regulatory action would be costly and ineffective, and 2) that we (implicitly) have time to wait for great new breakthrough techno- gadgets to be invented, refined, brought to commercial scale, and accepted by the market.

    It’s these latter arguements that are creating the disagreement — and that are so Lomborg-like. Now, it’s no wonder S&N try to deflect their other points are simply wrong. Unadulterated data doesn’t lie.

    Personally, I am extremely skeptical when people like Lomborg and S&N — obviously intelligent and informed folks — come up with a sensationalist and popular message like “don’t worry; be happy,” despite the preponderance of data showing the opposite. The cynical side of me believes there’s something else at work here. Such willful ignorance from otherwise intelligent people virtually screams for an explanation.

    Look at how quickly Lomborg’s book became a best-seller. Just as his previous “skeptical” book did — a book that was so thoroughly and convincingly disecredited that it became the intellectual equivalent of toilet paper. Some look at this and say, “He didn’t learn a thing,” but of course he did. He learned that being an iconoclast pays big bucks and gets you lots of attention. Just as those “eat all you want and still lose weight” books climb the charts, so will a message that says we don’t have to do anything, and everything will be ok.

    In the end, I believe this kind of position is seductive — it can lead to sophistry in the pursuit of fame, fortune, stature, and attention. And if you can wrap it in a positive message and convince even yourself it’s true — Wow. What a siren song.

    It’s always risky, and bit arrogant — to impute motives to people you don’t know, but on the other hand, some sort of explanation is required here — the entirely counterfactual conclusions that both Lomborg and S&N arrive at demand it.

    My guess is part of the answer lies in this seductive dynamic. There is another explanation — that both Lomborg and S&N are just idiots. But the skill of their arguments and the depth of their knowledge belies that.

    So I’d suggest this is yet another way in which S&N and Lomberg are alike.
    It’s a proven way to the best seller list, to talk shows, and ultimately to putting your name on the map. Lomborg’s selective use of facts — and the fact that this is his second sojourn into the land of sophistry — sugests he knows what he’s guilty of.

    It’s possible S&N have conned themsleves into believing their own jive — but jive it is, regardless of sincerity, motive, or stature.

  2. Paul K says:

    Your recent focus on delayers rather than deniers is good. Lomborg’s criticism seems to be based on a Kyoto type solution which has been rejected. S&N reflect the widespread reluctance to put all the eggs in the CO2 basket. They stand accused of undermining the consensus. Contrary to the predictions of economic upheaval until we are saved by now unknown innovation, you insist existing technology can make a big dent in emissions at an affordable price.
    A great political battle will soon be engaged. Change will come, but whatever the outcome, the changes won’t begin until at least two years from today. You have repeatedly said immediate action is necessary. How is that done? How do we achieve lower CO2 emissions next year compared to this? Given that it’s 60 votes to pass in the Senate, the consensus gets narrowly defined. I guess my question is, “Is there any proposal that would facilitate the reduction or non increase of any amount of CO2 that Senator Imhoff could support?”

  3. Joe says:


    Thanks for your comment.

    We are stuck doing nothing as long as Bush is President. Either the next president makes this their top domestic and international priority — or we are ruining this planet for the next 50 generations, possibly the next 500.

    Inhofe thinks this is a hoax — he’ll never support action. Many conservatives share this view but not all Republicans. If the conservatives vote in a block, they may be able to stop the necessary action. The result I think will be both catastrophic global warming and the ultimate destruction of the conservative movement.

  4. John Mashey says:

    1) No serious R&D manager “schedules” major innovative breakthroughs.

    You may recall Bell Laboratories: we generated an amazing set of innovations, but I guarantee you:
    we did research
    then we did development,
    then we did deployment,
    and we did not schedule research breakthroughs, and we didn’t do research by just throwing absurd masses of money around and hoping something worked. in time.

    MOST of what we did was continual, relentless improvements over many years. People won awards for saving .1% on gold contacts, which saved $10Ms/year. Executive management was pretty good at exploiting innovations when they happened.

    More money for research is good, especially since we’ve suffered some very poor investments if late; I’d certainly welcome more for better-than-corn biofuels, i.e., maybe like miscanthus, for example.

    2) I don’t think immediate action means that next year’s CO2 emissions are lower than this years, but first, that we start slowing the rise. It’s well known that while the US has a whole has ~ doubled the electricity use/person over the last 30 years, CA (and a few other states) have managed to stay flat … mild weather helps the level, except that the peak electricity use is in the summer afternoons for air conditioning, and warmer temperatures mean more air conditioning. i.e., keeping flat doesn’t come from having mild weather. None of that came from magic siliver bullets, just a lot of attention to detail.

    We’ll see if the EPA makes CA sue, which is likely this month.

    3) A lot of improvements can be made locally if htere is political will.

    Right now, PG&E [utility for Northern & Central Cal] is in the middle of giving away 1M CFLs … because the rules here in CA encourage utilities to help efficiency rather than fight it.

    4) I’m sure Inhofe will pass bills that generate less CO2 if they also burn more fossil fuels and don’t add to the costs by requiring sequesration.

  5. John McCormick says:

    Joe, you said:

    [The result I think will be both catastrophic global warming and the ultimate destruction of the conservative movement.]

    I say, the result will be the ultimate destruction of capitalism!

    Houston, at sea level, is home to 40 precent of America’s petrochemical industry and it is a safe bet that most of the world’s refinery and chemical infrastructure sit behind the coastal pier. They suffer the common fate of a 1, 2 or 10 meter sea level rise.

    Am I being too pessimistic or maybe nit-picking?

  6. Earl Killian says:

    John Mashey said “mild weather helps the level”. I am not sure if you are implying that California’s weather helps it have such low per capita electricity use, but that does not appear to be a significant factor. Since the ten lowest per capita electricity use states in 2003 were Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, Alaska, New Hampshire, Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island, and California, I don’t see much weather correlation. There is a much better correlation with being a blue state vs. red state than with weather. To see this, look at page 14 of .

  7. John Mashey says:

    Oh, good point Earl.

    I’ve run into people who’ve said “Oh, that’s because California has mild weather” so I was heading that off.