Bjorn Legacy: Lomborg Urges Climate Inaction With Misleading Stats In Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal

The legacy of the confusion and misinformation spread by Bjorn Lomborg and Ruport Murduch’s Wall Street Journal is delay. In this case, it’s a potentially fatal delay in responding to a purely preventable, but nonetheless existential threat to modern civilization, a betrayal of “our children and future generations,” as Obama put it — JR.

Displaying his trademark doublethink, Bjorn Lomborg’s latest op-ed in the Wall Street Journal switches between recognizing the risks of climate change and rejecting the need for meaningful action in the near term. Lomborg incorporates misleading and discredited scientific information to justify dangerous delays in climate action.

The following is a guest post from Climate Nexus and the Climate Science Rapid Response Team (in PDF format here) via Climate Science Watch:

In WSJ op-ed, Bjorn Lomborg urges delay with misleading stats

Bjorn Lomborg’s latest op-ed in the Wall Street Journal displays a brand of doublethink that has become his trademark. He switches between recognizing climate change and its risks, to rejecting the need for meaningful action in the near term. While he makes several sensible recommendations in this op-ed, he also incorporates misleading and discredited scientific information to justify dangerous delays in climate action.

The claim:

Lomborg makes many statements that almost all climate scientists would agree with. These include:

  • Investments in hurricane resilience should be increased due to projected increases in storm intensity.
  • In the long run, the world needs to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Investments in renewable energy technology R&D should be dramatically increased.

However, Lomborg ends these common-sense recommendations with the conclusion that current investments in climate mitigation, including renewable energy subsidies, are wasteful. He uses a series of distracting and misleading statements about trends in extreme weather to minimize the risks we face and delay action.

The context:

  • The Wall Street Journal has a long history of reporting on the impacts of climate and environmental threats in their news pages, but minimizing and discrediting the same threats in their editorial pages.
  • In 2003, a Danish government committee found Lomborg guilty of scientific dishonesty. He was later cleared by a separate investigation, but he has been a controversial figure since.

The facts:

Lomborg’s statements on wildfires, drought, hurricanes, and economics are all extremely misleading.

  • On wildfires, Lomborg references only the number of global fires. Length of active wildfire season and total area burned are considered much more accurate metrics, and both have increased significantly along with global warming.
  • On drought, Lomborg is right that some areas across the globe have become more severely droughted, while some have become less so. This is consistent with climate predictions: dry areas get drier while wet areas get wetter. Lomborg implies that these changes simply cancel each other out, and can thus be ignored. In fact they are often devastating due to crop losses in the droughted areas and flooding in the wetter areas.
  • On hurricanes, Lomborg references Accumulated Cyclone Energy, which is still under debate as a way to measure overall hurricane activity. He also references a projected decline in damages as a percentage of GDP without stating that damages are increasing, just more slowly than GDP.
  • On economics, Lomborg implies in his op-ed that the climate problem can be solved solely through investment in research and technology. While economists are divided on the role of subsidies, nearly all agree that a price on carbon is necessary to drive innovation and change (including Lomborg himself).

Straight from the scientists:

“Lomborg loves to play the nit-picky ‘I’m the honest statistician’ role and then use this stance to imply that doing much of anything except R&D is a waste, ignoring the huge body of evidence that pricing GHG emissions can have large net benefits. We need to be putting a substantial price on our GHG emissions either with a cap and trade program or with a tax. AND we should be investing heavily in R&D on reducing the carbon and energy intensity of the economy. I’m quite sure that most economists, Republican and Democrat, would agree with these statements.”

William Shobe, Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Studies and a Professor of Public Policy at the University of Virginia

“Using number of global fires as a metric of climate-induced wildfire dynamics is wrong, in that most fires globally are human-caused for agricultural clearing. The better metrics are length of active wildfire season, which has increased by about 2 months in the western US in the last 40 years, and area burned, which has also doubled … Future projections indicate a dramatic increase in area burned.”

Steven Running, Regents Professor, Forest Ecology, College of Forestry & Conservation at the University of Montana, and Director of the Numerical Terradynamics Simulation Group

“The area of drought worldwide is not really very relevant when it is particular areas being impacted with greater and greater intensity … When those regions are particularly important to society, such as major grain-growing regions, the impacts can be very severe.”

Mike MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute, former senior global change scientist to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, former President of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences

“Lomborg’s allusions to hurricane response to climate change are misleading in a number of respects. While it is true that one published report indicates decreasing global accumulated cyclone energy (ACE), that report was based on a hurricane data set known to have strong biases outside the North Atlantic region. Independent analyses based solely on satellite data show that the proportion of high intensity hurricanes has been increasing in most places. As to the projected decline in hurricane damage as a fraction of GDP, an even casual reading of the relevant paper shows that while actual damage is predicted to increase in most places, GDP is forecast to go up even faster, so that the ratio declines. That paper’s projection of increased hurricane damage is consistent with numerous scientific studies that project increasing numbers of the most destructive hurricanes.”

Kerry Emmanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science at MIT

“The President did not refer specifically to hurricanes, but he did refer to extreme precipitation events. The Northeast region of the country has experienced a 75% increase in these events.  This means that routine nor’easters, especially when they follow storms like Sandy (that eliminate much of the capacity of natural protection from dunes and marshes) create much more damage … [NYC] has invested billions over the past few years in adaptation investments. Some have worked well, but some have been overwhelmed by recent events. Only slowing the pace of climate change will allow adaptation investments … to keep pace…

Gary Yohe, Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan University

12 Responses to Bjorn Legacy: Lomborg Urges Climate Inaction With Misleading Stats In Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal

  1. John McCormick says:

    How did that jerk get face time on a blog determined to shut him down.

    We know the bastard. We don’t have to waste kilowatts broadcasting him. Enough!

  2. @John McCormick–I agree that Lomborg isn’t worth wasting much digital ink on, but it’s important to summarize the errors in his latest missives so that those of us who may be asked to respond have ready responses at our fingertips.

  3. M Tucker says:

    Responding to folks like Lomborg is like trying to remove a hooked eel; very slippery and nearly impossible to get a hold of. But if you feel up to it good on ya!

  4. Ken Barrows says:

    Once he wrote that we have enough shale oil for 10,000 years, that’s when I knew that this man doesn’t do much analysis.

  5. John McCormick says:

    You’re so kind. Why don’t you just express some outrage.

    We CP bloggers are very under-outraged.

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    Lomborg has been debunked plenty of times, especially in a lengthy Scientific American piece about 5 years ago. Like an alcoholic relative, he just keeps showing up at our door.

    Bjorn reminds me of a Graham Greene quote:

    “Sometimes evil wears the face of a child”.

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    More publicity! It means that he’ll have to spend some of the filthy lucre that his Masters pay him on plastic surgery, some time in the near future, when his record will not endear him to millions.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Responding’ is pointless. This type, being, in my opinion, morally insane, simply regurgitate their lies and misrepresentations over and over, no matter how often they are exposed. It is what their owners pay them, richly, to do. Our response must be to craft laws, retrospective laws, with universal jurisdiction and no Statute of Limitations, and get them enacted somewhere and soon, to bring to justice those guilty of Crimes Against Humanity through ecological catastrophe. Then Lomborg could do something useful for once in his life, and spend the rest of it planting trees or making biochar, or painting roofs white. All while dressed in a fetching orange uniform.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Some things are rotten in the state of Denmark!

  10. Spike says:

    Like a Danish pastry, he’s always been a bit flaky. For those who haven’t come across it this site is good:

  11. Kaare Fog says:

    To those who think that Lomborg isn’t worth wasting much digital ink on:
    I am the author of the above mentioned web site Those who visit the site will see that I have used tons of digital ink on this person. Why ? Because that is the only weapon against him. Correct his misleading statements, his errors, his manipulations again and again and again and again. Will it ever end ? No, not as long as Lomborg lives. Will anybody supporting Lomborg ever become convinced that he is wrong ? No. So why do it ? Because, if he is not debunked again and again and again, more people who are naive at start will start to believe him, and once they have come to believe, they will stubbornly resist any attempts to change their minds. There is some kind of psychological mechanism here.
    Also, the documentation that he is wrong has to exist somewhere. And it has to be put on the net again and again, every single time, in all future. Therefore, thanks to Thinkprogress to do the necessary debunking this time.
    What he says in the op-ed is actually stupid. But read between the lines. What he says is: What should do all the right things. But – we shall not do them now. Only later. When will later be, then? Well, in 10 years it will still be not now, only later. In 25 years, it will still be not now, only later. And so on. Later effectively means never.
    What is the rationale behind this?
    Well, when you read between the lines, here and elsewhere, you will see that ALL recommendations from Lomborg have the consequence that the economic interests of the large fossil fuel companies are not impaired. It does not matter to these companies what Lomborg SAYS. What matters is his impact, i.e. the consequences of his recommendations. And here it is a quite OK strategy to postpone and postpone and postpone.
    It becomes more and more obvious that Lomborg somehow works for the interests of the large fossil fuel companies. It do not postulate that he receives any money from them – such money transfers have only been documented to a small extent. But I feel 100% certain that he works for them and that all that he does is motivated thus.

  12. Kaare Fog says:

    Allow me to write one more comment to those who get upset about Lomborg, or frustrated, or feel the debate is hopeless, or think that the only proper reaction is to ignore him:
    Do not have any emotions about Lomborg; it does not help anyone. Lomborg is like he is, and I feel sure that nobody will ever be able to change his attitude. Just notice:”Oh, there he is again, the same old Lomborg as ever”. And then think: OK, we have to do the debunking work again, once more.
    It is like weeding your garten. Do not get frustrated with the weeds, or angry at them. They do what weeds are supposed to do. And every time they pop up once more, it means that you have to do some work. And it will never end. As long as you have the garden, you will have to weed it.
    But try to imagine that you choose to ignore the weeds: In a few years, your garden will be a jungle, and the nice flowers, except the most hardy ones, will be gone.
    In the same way: Lomborg cannot be ignored. It is not an option.