More on the Lomborg Deception

If one follows Bjorn Lomborg closely — not for the feint of heart — one can argue that his position has not changed drastically, as some commenters noted (see “Lomborg flip-flop: “Climate change is undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today”).

But that assumes you ascribe a level of nuance to Lomborg that sometimes exists in his writing, but not in how the anti-science ideologues have used him throughout the years.  Below is an excerpt from Media Matters piece, “How will right-wing media react to former climate skeptic Lomborg?” that drives this point home.   Then I’ll repost a piece by Howard Friel, author of The Lomborg Deception, who explains why “Lomborg is not a responsible climate commentator.”

Lomborg: Global warming “a challenge humanity must confront”

… Previously, Lomborg said climate change “is emphatically not the end of the world.” In his 2007 book, Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming, Lomborg stated that while “climate change is a problem … it is emphatically not the end of the world.” He also contended that “the benefits from moderately using fossil fuels vastly outweigh the costs. Yes, the costs are obvious in the ‘fear, terror and disaster’ we read about in the papers every day, but the benefits, though much more prosaic, are nonetheless important.” Lomborg also suggested that the money spent combating climate change would be better spent in other areas that do more “social good.”

Right-wing media has frequently cited Lomborg to minimize threat of global warming

Conservative media figures and outlets have frequently cited or hosted Lomborg to downplay the potential danger of global warming; to make the point that attempts to prevent it would be overly expensive and ineffective; or to promote the idea that public officials should instead focus on more pressing issues. Fox example:

Lomborg appeared in 2006 Fox News special that centered upon purported lack of “scientific consensus about” impact of climate change. On May 21, 2006, Fox News aired a special titled Global Warming: The Debate Continues. As Media Matters has previously noted, the special gave viewers the impression that there is a significant divide among scientists regarding the cause and effects of global warming. One of these contributors was Lomborg, who claimed that climate change was not an imminent threat and that “the data, the facts tell you that many, many things are moving in the right direction.”

Now, of course, Lomborg writes, “man-made global warming exists” and “we have long moved on from any mainstream disagreements about the science of climate change.”

Beck hosted Lomborg to discuss how “our priorities are all mixed up” on climate change. On the September 21, 2006, edition of his CNN Headline News show, Glenn Beck hosted Lomborg to discuss how “our priorities are all mixed up” on climate change and his decision to switch from being an environmental activist to a “skeptical environmentalist.” On the show, Lomborg claimed that “climate change is happening, but the real question we have to ask ourselves is: How much can we do against it? And how much is it going to cost?”

Beck featured Lomborg in two-hour special on “the other side of the climate debate.” On May 2, 2007, Beck aired a two-hour special on “the other side of the climate debate” titled Exposed: The Climate of Fear. In the special, Beck introduced Lomborg as “an expert on the economic impact of global warming,” but noted that he is “not a scientist.” Lomborg said during the interview:

With global warming you’re going to see more heat deaths, but what most people don’t tell us is we’re also going to see much less cold deaths.

And actually, many more people die from cold than from heat, so for England alone you mentioned the number 2,000 people. Actually that’s what we expect will die from more heat waves in 2080, but what we have to remember is that 20,000 fewer will die from cold each year in 2080.

Now I’m not sitting and saying we should go for global warming, but I’m saying we need to know both.

He also said, “We worry intensely about climate change, but the point is we can do very little good at very high cost.”

NRO’s Goldberg called the science of the environmental movement into question citing research by Lomborg. In a May 20, 2008 column in the Los Angeles Times, National Review Online’s Jonah Goldberg criticized the “irrational” environmental movement for “claiming to be so much more rational and scientific than those silly sky-God worshipers and deranged oil addicts.” Goldberg used Bjorn Lomborg’s analysis of the Kyoto Protocol to bolster his argument by falsely suggesting that climate change is not a grave threat to the polar bear population. Goldberg suggested that, contrary to the statements of environmentalists, the polar bear population is “thriving,” and that, according to Lomborg, adopting provisions of the Kyoto protocol “would save exactly one polar bear.”

Lomborg repeatedly appeared on Hannity & Colmes to claim that effects of global warming are “exaggerated.” Lomborg was a guest on Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes twice in 2007 to discuss climate change and its potential effects [via Nexis]. On March 21, Lomborg criticized Al Gore for his “wildly exaggerated stories about what’s going to happen” and “using the catastrophe sense to push through legislation … that are actually fairly bad, in the sense that they will cost a lot and do very little good.” On September 4, Sean Hannity introduced Lomborg as an author who “debunks numerous popular myths about global warming, such as sea levels rising, decreasing polar bear populations and the recent increase of hurricanes.” In his appearance, Lomborg discussed rising sea levels that result from global warming and claimed that he doesn’t believe we will “incur a huge catastrophe” as a result.

NewsBusters writers frequently cite Lomborg in their attempts to minimize threat of climate change. On numerous occasions, writers at NewsBusters have criticized media reports on climate change using Lomborg’s writings and statements as evidence that “there are far more serious problems” than global warming “facing the planet.” For example, Noel Sheppard highlighted author Michael Crichton’s praise of Lomborg’s book, and said of Lomborg, “It is plain to see why Lomborg is such a controversial figure, as he is not afraid to call a spade a spade regardless of who might find such straight talk inconvenient.”

— Media Matters

It will be interesting to see if the right-wingers still keep holding him up as their ally.

Howard Friel, author of The Lomborg Deception: Setting the Record Straight about Global Warming, reminds us that Lomborg is no ally of those who want to avert catastrophic climate change.  This is reposted from Common Dreams with permission of the author.

Yesterday, London’s Guardian newspaper, an important paper with some of the West’s best journalists, including Johann Hari, Suzanne Goldenberg, George Monbiot, and Chris McGreal, printed a front-page feature article about a new book on climate change edited by Bjorn Lomborg, which mistakenly depicted him as a converted climate change activist.

The article began: “The world’s most high-profile climate change sceptic is to declare that global warming is ‘undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today’ and ‘a challenge humanity must confront,’ in an apparent U-turn that will give a huge boost to the embattled environmental lobby.”

The article then quoted Lomborg as follows: “Investing $100 billion annually would mean that we could essentially resolve the climate change problem by the end of this century.” In an accompanying interview, the Guardian described Lomborg as “the dissenting climate change voice who changed his tune.”

Has Lomborg really changed his tune? To answer this question, one would have to know the original tune, and listen to this new one with a more finely tuned ear. Unfortunately, the Guardian appears to have been misled by what Lomborg says in his soon-to-be published edited volume, Smart Solutions to Climate Change: Costs and Benefits.

In the Introduction to this new book, Lomborg wrote “it is vital to emphasize the consensus on the most important scientific questions” about global warming, and “we have long moved on from any mainstream disagreements about the science of climate change.” This indeed is a departure from Lomborg’s previous characterizations of consensus climate science, when in 2001 in The Skeptical Environmentalist he mocked the “dire” assessments by scientists and environmentalists about the threat of global warming, and in 2007 advised the world to “chill out” about climate change, and to “Cool It”-the title of his book that year-wherein he argued that man-made warming was “no catastrophe,” and there was little need to reduce CO2 emissions.

Three years later, and six months after the publication of a book that exposed his serial misrepresentations of climate science, Lomborg writes that we should no longer argue about climate science. That concession is thus more convenience than conversion. And Lomborg’s climate endgame-his opposition to reducing CO2 emissions-remains intact.

In his Conclusion to this new book, Lomborg writes: “Drastic carbon cuts would be the poorest way to respond to global warming”; “It is unfortunate that so many policy makers and [climate] campaigners have become fixated on cutting carbon in the near term as the chief response to global warming”; “It is easier to understand why a single-minded focus on drastic carbon emissions reductions has failed to work”; and “Kyoto has shown the futility of betting everything on rapid cuts in carbon emissions to very specific targets and timetables.” Thus, the Guardian did not serve its readers well by reporting that Lomborg is a newly minted climate activist who wants to spend $100 billion annually to “tackle climate change,” without making it clear that he is still opposed to reducing CO2 emissions.

Contrary to what Lomborg says, reducing CO2 emissions is essential as a policy response to climate change because it is the most dangerous and pernicious greenhouse gas. And there is abundant evidence that ignoring CO2 reductions as a response to climate change would be catastrophic

In February 2009, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that warming due to CO2 atmospheric concentrations is likely “irreversible” for a thousand years after emissions stop, that CO2 increases this century will “lock in” sea level rise for the next thousand years, and that a peak in CO2 atmospheric concentrations of 450 parts per million to 600 ppm would likely lead to “dust bowl” droughts in southern Europe, northern Africa, southwestern United States, and western Australia. (Solomon, et al., “Irreversible Climate Change Due to Carbon Dioxide Emissions,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 106, no. 6, February 10, 2009.)

We are currently at a CO2 concentration of about 390 ppm. In January 2009, the M.I.T. Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change projected a median CO2 concentration “without policy”-which essentially means without effective CO2 emissions reductions-of 860 ppm by year 2100. (Sokolov, et al., “Probabilistic Forecast for 21st Century climate Based on Uncertainties in Emissions [without policy] and Climate Parameters,” M.I.T. Joint Program, report no. 169, January 2009.)

An atmospheric concentration of 860 ppm by year 2100 without doubt would be a catastrophic outcome. Note in comparison, however, that Lomborg claims in his new book that his approach, which rejects a focus on CO2 reductions, “could essentially solve the climate change problem by the end of this century.”

In November 2009, the Copenhagen Diagnosis, which consists of more than two dozen IPCC scientists, most lead authors, reported that the 2008 CO2 atmospheric concentration of 385 ppm-not 860 ppm but 385 ppm-was higher than any time in the last 800,000 years, potentially higher than the last 3 to 20 million years, and that CO2 emissions were tracking worst-case emissions scenarios. It also reported that summer melting of Arctic sea ice has exceeded the worst-case projections of the 2007 IPCC assessment report, that global ocean surface temperatures were the warmest ever recorded for each of June, July, and August 2009, and that the Greenland ice sheet “may be nearing a tipping point where it is committed to shrink” with low reversibility. About the Amazon Rainforest, it reported: “If anthropogenic-forced [man-made] lengthening of the dry season continues, and droughts increase in frequency or severity, the system could reach a tipping point resulting in dieback of up to about 80% of the rainforest.” (“The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science,” Climate Change Research Center, The University of New South Wales, November 2009.)

In April 2008, a team of climate scientists led by James Hansen reported that to “preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted … CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm [per 2008] to at most 350 ppm,” and that “if the present overshoot of this CO2 target is not brief, there is a possibility of seeding irreversible catastrophic effects.” (Hansen, et al., “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” Open Atmospheric Science Journal, April 7, 2008 )

Despite all this and more not mentioned here about the certain catastrophic impacts of neglecting to reduce CO2 emissions, and despite his claims to have no further quarrels with climate science, Lomborg still argues, as he has over the past decade, that it is bad policy to focus on reducing CO2 emissions. While doing much over the last decade to assist the right-wing and industry-backed campaigns against global warming and CO2 reductions, Lomborg argues today that reducing CO2 is bad policy because it has not worked in the past. This goes beyond mere cynicism.

While spanning the globe for “smart solutions” to climate change and to improve the human condition, Lomborg ignores an obvious major source of human suffering, economic deprivation, human rights violations, and vast amounts of wasted money-that is, perpetual war and global military spending-which now totals approximately $1.5 trillion per year. While Lomborg argues on cost-benefit grounds, by citing a select group of climate economists, that it is too expensive for the world’s economies to reduce CO2 emissions, he voices no opposition to the state of perpetual global war and sky-high military expenditures.

Lomborg is not a responsible climate commentator, and it would be good if responsible news organizations finally figured that out.

— Howard Friel is coauthor with Richard Falk of Israel-Palestine on Record: How The New York Times Misreports Conflict in the Middle East (Verso, 2007), and with Falk of The Record of the Paper: How The New York Times Misreports U.S. Foreign Policy (Verso, 2004).

23 Responses to More on the Lomborg Deception

  1. Ron Broberg says:

    People often divide the ‘debate’ in toe binary a fashion.

    There are at least two debates: science and policy

    There are easily 4 different broad science positions
    -1. Denialism: There is no greenhouse effect
    -2. Minimalism: There is a greenhouse effect but the climate sensitivity due to feedbacks is probably lower than the IPCC predicts. Likely impacts are currently overestimated.
    -3. Consensus: IPCC AR4 WG1 is more right than wrong.
    -4. Catastrophism: Climate sensitivity due to feedbacks is probably greater than IPCC AR4 WG1. Likely impacts are currently underestimated.

    I am not as well versed in policy positions but broadly …
    -1. No policy: Its in God’s hand. It’s all natural cycles.
    -2. Mitigation: An ounce of prevention is cheaper than a pound of cure
    -3. Adapation: Can’t stop it so build infrastructure to anticipate it.
    -4. Geo-engineering: If its broke, fix it.

    By lumping the science and policy debate into only two categories (denialism and believers) and two responses (‘do nothing’ and ‘restrict CO2’), the real positions of real people often get hopelessly distorted.

  2. toby says:

    I take some hope from Lomborg’s flip-flop.

    The reason is that Lomborg always acts in the best interests of Bjorn Lomborg. When there was money to be made out of denialism, he did that.
    Now maybe he sees the way the wind is blowing, and there is profit in “honest-brokerism”.

  3. jyyh says:

    He is so very practical in his policy comments it is easy to forget he is also quite logical regarding science, by this i mean the logics does not always have to follow reality. Read some of his writings on cosmic rays and couldn’t find but a few things to object, and these might have been due the difficult language. This is one man I would not want to have as an opponent on the doctoral thesis defence.

  4. Toby (#2):

    You’re right about that. He’s a publicity hound. He’s also a good speaker and a very bright man. Unfortunately he is not a rigorous analyst, and it dismays me to have him taken so seriously by the media (if nowhere else).

    I debated him at Stanford in April and found him to be a very engaging person, but that doesn’t make his arguments any more correct. He hides behind the Copenhagen consensus and presents the results like there isn’t thirty years of peer reviewed literature on climate solutions that contradict much of what he says. He’s also very slippery whenever you try to pin him down.

    My guess is that his speaking gigs were becoming less numerous and he was looking for the next big boost in publicity. The contrarian changing his stripes is a nice story that the media always loves. Et voila!


  5. david freeman says:

    Lomborg was a self-aggrandizing opportunist before he flip flopped. He still is and climate realists should keep him at arms length. He could do us great harm by pretending to be an ally.

  6. #1– 3. Adapation: Can’t stop it so build infrastructure to anticipate it.

    As a PhD engineering hydrologist, I can say confidently that this is not happening. Even counting ARRA money, hydrolgic structures like bridges, culverts, swales, ditches, and irrigation projects are falling into disrepair so steadily that the coming climate changes will cause many disasters in disverse and dispersed parts of the US. There is no investment anticipating the need for adaptation (or modification) to climate change. None.

    We have had 30 years warning on ACC with no progress on the more expensive option, adaptation. I spent my career listening for the call for infrastructure investment and increased demand for my services. Crickets chirping.

  7. mike roddy says:

    Nice summary, David Freeman, #5.

    The meme among the less hairy fossil fuel investors such as Gates, Breakthrough Institute etc. seems to be to get the taxpayers to fund research. Don’t reduce the dividends for investors in coal and oil through a carbon price or reduction in subsidies, and don’t charge them for poisoning the atmosphere. It’s another way of saying we need to keep burning lots of coal and oil for a few more decades.

    The wealthy owners of this country are really quite remarkable. They are exactly like the princes who hung around Versailles in the 18th century- spoiled, indolent, and crazed with greed- but their genius has been in being able to hire the right people who are skilled in persuading the rabble to only point their pitchforks at each other.

    Lomborg’s switch is better than nothing, but barely. He can’t be trusted any more than Pielke, due to his body of work.

  8. Devin says:

    typo here: “feint of heart” should be “faint of heart”

  9. I’ll take the adaptation discussion one step further. If I had been consulted before the Nashville disaster, there would be no traditional justification to anticipate what happened. There would be no basis for the necessary investment to prevent or reduce the disaster.

    Absent a comprehensive Federal policy on climate change preparation, an individual community has no means to prepare itself. The data show a clear change in trend, but to what?

    In engineering hydrology, a greater than 500-year event is known as a “Noah Event”. Even at the risk of loss of life, there is no precedent to spend money in anticipation of an event with a recurrence interval of greater than 500 years. It will take a cultural shift in engineering practice to prepare for what is clearly happening.

    Mitigation must precede adaptation (modification) because mitigation is cheaper, more effective, and will define the parameters of needed future adjustments to hydrologic planning.

    If Lomborg is promoting adaptation and geo-engineering, he is setting up a smokescreen. The fundamentals of engineering hydrology dictate that design and planning are based on the data history. The data history leads to inadequate design if the record changes trend to a more severe condition. The data needed to establish the new trend locally (where particular structures would be proposed) will take time. This demonstrates that mitigation must precede adaptation and geo-engineering. A stable data history is the basis for decisions and design.

  10. Will Koroluk says:

    OT, but Easterbrook makes some points about scientists writing their own software that strike me as valid. But I’m no scientist–computer or otherwise. Does anyone here have comments?

  11. Colorado Bob says:

    Bjorn’s got a book to hump.

  12. Michael Tucker says:

    I think that right now most Democrats would agree that it IS too expensive economically to reduce CO2. No one wants to be blamed for an increase in the cost of electricity or higher prices at the pump. AND even the president would agree that it IS DEFINITEYLY TOO EXPENSIVE POLITICALLY to reduce military spending.

    Now that we have removed about 100,000 combat troops from Iraq the neo-con hawks are beginning to talk about what to do with Iran. Do not expect to hear anyone talk about reducing military spending in any serious way. However, do expect a full conservative attack on Social Security and Medicare.

    America seems to be following Lomborg’s advice to not spend money to reduce greenhouse gasses.

  13. James says:

    It’s a cliche perhaps but someone should tell Lomborg this old saying:

    Only when the last tree has died, the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we cannot eat money.

    Anyone, fancy updating this for the age of climate change?

  14. Tony Noerpel says:

    #12 Michael Tucker

    If you haven’t yet, read Arsenals of Folly by Richard Rhodes, 2007. We own a great debt to our neo-cons, over 10 trillion dollars.

    #13 James

    Don’t worry, there will not be any more money to eat either.


  15. Ben Lieberman says:

    I understand the reasons for doubt, but Lomborg does appear to have changed his position to at least some extent: isn’t that what we want?

  16. adelady says:

    The only positive is that he provides a basis for argumentation. He says – spend $100 billion a year on mitigation – which leaves the opening for other arguments. Like, should we keep on spending that other $500 billion a year on fossil fuel subsidies?

    And so on.

  17. John Hollenberg says:

    > I understand the reasons for doubt, but Lomborg does appear to have changed his position to at least some extent: isn’t that what we want?

    As the article makes clear, I don’t think he has really changed his position. He has re-positioned himself to appear more progressive, while in reality he is trying to block the steps that need to be taken to address the problem. In a lot of ways this makes him more dangerous than a straightforward denier.

  18. Deborah Stark says:

    Re: david freeman Post #5:
    “…..Lomborg was a self-aggrandizing opportunist before he flip flopped. He still is and climate realists should keep him at arms length. He could do us great harm by pretending to be an ally…..”

    Exactly right. Full stop.

    Frankly, I think we can expect a great deal more back-pedaling from established “sceptics” such as Bjorn Lomborg. They mean to keep right on doing what they’ve in fact been extremely successful at doing for the last 2-3 decades – WASTING OUR TIME.

  19. Deborah Stark says:

    I agree with John Hollenberg Post #17. Lomborg is absolutely not being honest with himself or with his fellow human beings. Given the seriousness of the issue at hand I find his recent tactical adjustment utterly despicable.

    By the way, it’s 82 degrees here in Boston, MA at 11:41pm EDT.

  20. Lewis C says:

    It is possible that Lomborg’s gambit of shedding his old profile and revealing a shiny new skin could backfire badly.

    One of the things sadly lacking in over 20 years of environmentalists’ campaigning on GW has been the necessary open discussion of just what are the imperatives imposed by our predicament.

    For instance, will a radical rate of cutting global GHG outputs resolve the problem, or not ? If not, then what are the additional tasks required to restore a stable global climate and resolve marine acidification?

    For instance, will the priority given to non-fossil energy deployments actually displace fossil fuel usage, or will any fossil fuels displaced continue to be bought and burnt elsewhere until a global treaty comes into force that sets a declining cap on each nation’s emission rights ?

    For instance, what is the best, and most widely endorsed, equitable and efficient framework for negotiating that essential treaty, and how could Washington’s fear of it be assuaged ?

    If debunking the diversionary non-solutions that can be expected of Lomborg-2 brings the movement to discuss these issues, rather than sidelining them in the interest of a spurious lowest-common denominator ‘unity’, then his current relaunch might actually prove beneficial.

    But it’s up to ordinary activists whether these discussions are at last undertaken, or whether the deniers will continue to be allowed to set their nihilist agenda for public debate.



  21. Joe,

    I really like the way Ron Broberg summed up the various positions and his comment makes for a good poll. Perhaps you could place a poll here?

    I am firmly in the #4 and #2 camp.

  22. I have always thought that the terms “sceptics” and “deniers” were unhelpful in describing what these people are actually trying to do, which is obstruct progress on preserving the wealth of nations.

    With the exception of a few failed states, the world is wealthier than it ever has been in history and there are more people who live longer and healthier lives than ever before. The only problem is the basis of this “wealth creation” has been the “grab/ shape/ ship and chuck” model of economic activity. All “costs” are inventions and which ones count are the ones we include in our rules of accountancy. Unfortunately, the cost of using the Earth’s resources and services has never been one of them. Thus we have a system where everyday people living their everyday life are not only invited to trash the planet but are assured it is “rational” behaviour because it is the “cheapest” option.
    The scale of the rethink we need about how we account for our economic behaviour to reward us for nourishing natural systems rather than exploit them to collapse is enormous but we must do it for otherwise the wealth that we have is fragile.
    I don’t have much of a view about Lomborg’s position past or present but a convert is a convert and they often have a disproportionate effect on bring others over too.

  23. How many times does one have to be bjorn again to officially claim “Lamaborg” status?