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Still Bjorn: Now that his movie has bombed, Lomborg is back to telling folks “Go Ahead and Guzzle”

By Joe Romm on December 14, 2010 at 6:20 pm

"Still Bjorn: Now that his movie has bombed, Lomborg is back to telling folks “Go Ahead and Guzzle”"

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Bjorn Lomborg’s effort at mass miscommunication, Cool It, looks like it will go down as one of the great box office bombs in history.

According to Box Office Mojo, in its first month (from 11/12 to 12/12), the movie made a whopping $61,967.  Last Sunday, for instance, the movie played in 10 theaters and made a total of $279.  Ouch!  You don’t have to be a statistician like the Danish delayer himself to figure out that nobody is watching and somebody has lost a bundle of money.  We’re talking Heaven’s Gate, The Adventures of Pluto Nash and Gigli territory.

Lomborg has no natural audience because conservatives don’t like the fact that he pretends to believe in global warming science and progressives don’t like the fact that he doesn’t actually want to do anything about global warming except diss the people who do.

The movie is just a clever loss leader for Lomborg’s bad ideas, as I noted (see Climate Science Rapid Response Team debunks Bjorn Lomborg’s Washington Post op-ed).  A film is a ticket to widespread media attention, far more than even a new book provides.  For instance, the movie means that credulous reviewers who don’t follow the energy and climate debate closely will write columns that millions will read (see “Cool It and plausible deniability“), compared to the, uhh, hundreds that are flocking to the film.

Lomborg continues to spread disinformation, this time in Slate, with another laughable effort to disempower the masses, “Go Ahead and Guzzle.  Face it: There’s not much any one person can do about climate change.”  It is rather pathetic that Slate doesn’t fact-check its pieces and just lets Lomborg make up head-exploding crap like this:

Activists like Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio have for years argued that individual actions, such as driving more-economical cars or using more-efficient light bulbs, are a crucial element in the effort to address global warming. The United Nations’ climate panel and the International Energy Agency echo this sentiment, insisting that higher energy efficiency could reduce energy consumption by up to 30 percent””making improved efficiency an effective remedy for climate change. But is this really true?

Huh?  Or, rather, triple huh???  Gore has been accused of many things, but the claim that he hasn’t been focused on getting nations to act is beyond ridiculous.  Gore is the one who flew into Kyoto on behalf of the Clinton administration to make a global deal possible in 1997.  Gore is the one who has been devoting the last two years of his life and his Alliance for Climate Protection to getting a U.S. climate bill.

Lomborg is the one who has been trying to kill a national and global deal (as he does again gratuitously at the end of this piece).  Now he’s trying to dissuade individuals from acting.

Second, equally ridiculous, Lomborg imples that the only individual action people can take is to become more efficient, as opposed to, say using more renewable power.

Third, and the most ridiculous of all, he asserts that the only way to achieve energy efficiency is through individual action, whereas it is transparently obvious that much of the energy efficiency that we have achieved to date has been through goverment appliance standards and fuel economy standards.

Nothing Lomborg says is even an approximation of the truth.  Here’s his next two paragraphs:

Here’s something to think about. In the early 1970s, the average American expended roughly 70 million British thermal units per year to heat, cool, and power his or her home. Since then, of course, we have made great strides in energy efficiency. As the Washington Post recently reported, dishwashers now use 45 percent less power than they did two decades ago, and refrigerators 51 percent less. So how much energy do Americans use in their homes today? On a per-capita basis, the figure is roughly what it was 40 years ago: 70 million BTUs.

This surprising lack of change is the result of something economists call the “rebound effect.” It’s a phenomenon familiar to urban planners, who long ago discovered that building more roads doesn’t ease traffic jams””it merely encourages more people to get in their cars and drive.

Huh?  Huh?  Huh?

In fact, Lomborg has failed to describe the rebound effect in either of those paragraphs.

People are considerably richer than they were 40 years ago, and honest statisticians certainly correct for the fact that richer people tend to use more energy, partly because richer people have bigger homes and partly because richer people have more gadgets.  (And their use of efficient appliances is responsible for only a tiny fraction of their increase in wealth, so it isn’t a big part of this wealth effect).

What Lomborg is describing ain’t the rebound effect.  The rebound effect would be if homeowners bought three times as many refrigerators as they did in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when refrigerators used three times as much energy, as this famous chart (famous in efficiency circles, at least) shows:

And in the context of this discussion, it is ludicrous to call building more roads an “efficiency” measure or to call the failure of building more roads to ease traffic the rebound effect.

And so we get this inanity:

The underlying principle is a counterintuitive fact of life. You might think that learning to use something more efficiently will result in less use of it, but the opposite is true: The more efficient we get at using something, the more of it we are likely to use. Efficiency doesn’t reduce consumption. It increases it.

Uhh, no.

Good studies on the rebound effect are hard to find, since there are so many confounding factors, but one of the best recent analyses in the heavily studied area of fuel economy standards, “Fuel Efficiency and Motor Vehicle Travel: The Declining Rebound Effect” finds only a very small effect.

Of course, Lomborg goes on to cite the work of Harry Saunders and colleagues from DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories” on lighting.  This was debunked on CP by Evan Mills, a leading scientist and widely-published expert on energy efficiency at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (see “Efficiency lives “” the rebound effect, not so much“), which concluded

Bottom Line: When people save money from next-generation lighting retrofits, they will have more than enough other things to spend it on than buying a pair of sunglasses and cranking up the light.  The only rebound effect we need to worry about is how public understanding of emerging technologies can rebound from misinformation.

But that doesn’t stop Lomborg from his final disinformational disempowerment:

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that swapping our current car for a Prius or replacing our incandescent lights with energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs will strike a meaningful blow against climate change. The real fix to this problem will come when governments focus on research and development aimed at boosting the proportion of green-energy sources in overall consumption.It may be reassuring to believe there are cheap and easy things we can do as individuals to stop global warming or that the answer is to continue chasing a chimerical global agreement on carbon cuts, as in Cancun. But the real action we can take is to press our politicians to put smarter ideas on the table.

And so, at the end of it all, Lomborg says ‘no’ to individual action and ‘no’ to government action to reduce emissions now, but ‘yes’ to precisely the same Siren song that George W. Bush sang (see Bush climate speech follows Luntz playbook: “Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah”).

Indeed, in his famous 2002 memo on how conservatives could pretend to care about global warming without doing anything about it, GOP spinmeister Frank Luntz wrote:

Technology and innovation are the key in arguments on both sides. Global warming alarmists use American superiority in technology and innovation quite effectively in responding to accusations that international agreements such as the Kyoto accord could cost the United States billions. Rather than condemning corporate America the way most environmentalists have done in the past, they attack us for lacking faith in our collective ability to meet any economic challenges presented by environmental changes we make. This should be our argument. We need to emphasize how voluntary innovation and experimentation are preferable to bureaucratic or international intervention and regulation.

The point is to get conservatives and deniers and delayers to use the technology, innovation, and R&D argument to beat back the strategies that might actually solve the problem.  As useful as more R&D is, if it is used as a cudgel against efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now, it makes catastrophic climate change all but inevitable (see “The breakthrough technology illusion“).  As an aside, it makes serious geo-engineering solutions all but impossible (see Caldeira calls Lomborg’s vision “a dystopic world out of a science fiction story”).

Shame on Slate for publishing this garbage.

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25 Responses to Still Bjorn: Now that his movie has bombed, Lomborg is back to telling folks “Go Ahead and Guzzle”

  1. John McCormick says:

    Limbag is one of the more treacherous people of 2010. Time Magazine doesn’t have an award for Treacherous Person of the Year but he has my vote.

    John McCormick

  2. Richard Brenne says:

    “Still Bjorn” is the greatest English/Danish/obstetric pun ever.

    [JR: December is pun headline month on CP!]

  3. caerbannog says:


    We’re talking Heaven’s Gate, The Adventures of Pluto Nash and Gigli territory.

    What about Howard the Duck??? You left out Howard the Duck!

    [JR: Interestingly, Howard isn't on this list of List of biggest box office bombs. "Losses have been estimated from the revenues returned from box office sales worldwide subtracting the total costs of the movie including production, marketing, and distribution costs, although many studios do not provide official marketing costs." Howard bombed, but it didn't cost that much to make -- which may be a closer parallel to "Cool it."]

  4. Ben Lieberman says:

    Of course we need both individual action and government action. It’s not Lomborg’s point at all, but the think globally act locally paradigm will not be sufficient in the case of global warming unless we act both globally and locally.

  5. Anna Haynes says:

    How are the “five questions for Lomborg” coming along, that Andy Revkin solicited a month ago? (link)

    ( I realize Andy’s probably been plenty busy with Cancun, but as one of the askers I *am* curious )

  6. Barry says:

    “Go Ahead and Guzzle. Face it: There’s not much any one (person, city, state, nation, continent, industry, NGO, leader, utility, military or Grand Poobah) can do about climate change.”

    OK, everyone who can’t stop climate change all by themselves should get out of the pool now.

    How is it that a statistician can’t grasp the difference between “sufficient” and “necessary”?

    To achieve a safe climate is it “necessary” that everyone cuts their unsustainable levels of fossil fuel pollution? Uh, yeah.

  7. David B. Benson says:

    Gosh, am I the only person to watch Howard the Duck in a moviee theater?

  8. Christopher S. Johnson says:

    I’m no economics expert, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I would think that the huge missing piece that makes efficiency NOT cause MORE use, is that energy would have a higher price (like from a carbon tax or whatever). Then, in ideal conditions, the consumer is using less energy but paying the same bill like nothing had happened.

  9. David B. Benson says:

    Christopher S. Johnson @9 — Consider
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox

    [JR: Not!]

  10. Ed Hummel says:

    Lomborg is probably one of the most dangerous people in the world right now. Whereas Limbaugh and Beck sound like obvious windbags to all except their fans, Lomborg comes across sounding quite reasonable to the average person who doesn’t really know what he’s actually talking about, but still believes him because he sounds so “sincere” and amiable. He’s the perfect messenger for the deniers in our un-scientific age. That makes him one of our most dangerous foes.

  11. Lou Grinzo says:

    Since we have a movie theme going…

    Lomborg’s actions remind me of that scene in Broadcast News where Albert Brooks explains to Holly Hunter that the devil won’t be this obviously evil, snarling creature, but a really nice guy with influence over many people who corrupts us just a little at a time.

  12. Anna Haynes says:

    Recommendation: if you don’t think a page is worth visiting, add rel=”nofollow”
    to the link.

  13. Robert Brulle says:

    Joe:

    Not to defend the disinformation from Lomborg, but the Jevons paradox or rebound effect is a serious issue of concern. There is a lot of recent literature out there on this which I have listed below. This is a serious issue, and cannot just be dismissed.

    Robert Brulle

    A good summary of the literature appears in:

    Herring, H. and S. Sorrell (eds) (2008), Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Consumption: Dealing with the Rebound Effect, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke

    A simple google scholar search for Jevons or Rebound turned up 148 articles on this topic since 2009.

    One key article is:

    Sorrell, S., J. Dimitriopolous and M. Sommerville (2009), ‘Empirical estimates of direct rebound effects: a review’, Energy Policy, 37, 1356-1371

    Also, see the lectures online at: http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/support/tiki-index.php?page=ReboundEffect&highlight=rebound

    [JR: Robert, I linked to a major study on rebound. Jevons is another matter. I'll have to do my long overdue post on the "Reverse Jevons Effect."]

  14. Gord says:

    So let me get this straight

    We upgrade our 1920s house with good insulation, a water boiler for domestic hot water / heating and new windows and the like. Over 5 years our savings have been about 25.9 mega Watt-hours in natural gas energy (2505 cubic meters times 10.35 kWh per cubic meter).

    All our data is published here:

    http://www.theravinaproject.org/project_papers.htm

    You will want to read the paper: Household Thermodynamics July 2010.

    So since we fall prey to the ‘rebound effect’ we naturally run our house much hotter, like a sauna, over the winter time. Whoa!! We didn’t know we could do that … just think, pina coladas all year long at 43 Lat!!

    We are just so old fashioned … all we did was keep the $300 a year savings in our pockets. How stupid of us!

    Happy Holidays folks,

    Susan and Gord at The Ravina Project

  15. Neven says:

    One (theoretical) paradox that bothers me: when I use less energy, there will be more energy left. This means that energy will be cheaper, and that means that my neighbour will leave all his ppliances on stand-by, buy that bigger plasma screen and put his garden full of christmas junk.

    And when I buy renewable energy, but I only use a minimum I’m not helping the utility to compete with the fossil fuel peddlers. I should use a lot so they make more money.

    That’s weird, eh?

  16. The Wonderer says:

    Neven, that bothers me too, and I learned that theory in Economics 101 with supply and demand curves. Absent broad (bipartisan) pressure and motivation for individual action (I’m thinking WWII-like), significant reductions in demand are difficult with the status quo. The solution to all of this, of course is to fix the supply curve by putting an end to subsidies of carbon, and an additional price on carbon to make up for other externalized costs (especially that of global warming).

  17. Jevons may be an over simplification.

    I prefer the notion that our species is essentially in its adolescent phase.

  18. Miguel mendonca says:

    I once spoke to someone whose son studied with lomborg. They said he had an insatiable appetite for attention, and just wanted to be famous. This explains a hell of a lot.

  19. Raul M. says:

    City lights, then all the way to county lights.
    All night long, gee, you never know, one of
    Those county or city leaders might need to
    Go out in the cold night along well, one of
    Those many streets.
    Turn those lights off.!!!!

  20. Sime says:

    I have no problem with this “Go Ahead and Guzzle” idiom, there is nothing wrong with it at all AS LONG AS…

    You use your brain and guzzle from a well that is both clean and free which I rather suspect Mr Lomborg neither uses or does. To put this into context I would recommend you all go here http://www.builditsolar.com/ and then get those DIY hats on and go for it.

    I particularly like both the space heating (cansolair) systems and the hot water systems as they are cheap to build and very efficient. Personally I am just have to build me one of these big bunnies as Scott’s system is just spot on, looks great and proves just how resourceful Americans are when they decide to go for it http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/SpaceHeating/24by8Collector.htm in my case this has the bonus that it will negate the necessity for oil (not what Mr Exxon, BP, Shell, etc want, which is a actually a really, really, really, good reason to do it right now).

    So you scamper off and build one of the above and it costs you around $1000 dollars or about £633 notes, you have load of fun building it with the family and guess what you get hot water for heating and bathing etc and if you built it big enough it never costs you another penny!

    Yeah it’s FREE… for 20 years or so you basically do not have to pay for hot water as it’s free, that’s no monthly bills for hot water, or for heating your house during the day or night, did I mention that it’s FREE oh and it’s clean and you don’t have to pay for it…

    Tea party people will be having trouble with the science and with the free bit and of course it won’t work because it’s science but fear not they are… well wrong… nothing new there then move on people.

    So you shove air into this little black box full of cola cans at 42F and it comes out at up to 220F and it’s all for free and it’s not witchcraft (really Christine it’s not) it’s common sense and the “Appliance Of Science” here is how we know it will work http://www.youtube.com/user/richallenmusic#p/u/23/2Cm-cbOWvSs and YOU can heat your house with it… for free!

    With a diverse array of these systems – Hot water, space heating, PV, wind, geo, etc you can basically zero your bills (and if you hook back to the grid actually make cash) and be clean and believe it or not (regardless or what the deniers will say) you do not have to compromise your life style you just have to think smart and go about things in a different way.

    Why are people so scared of FREE energy, just go get some and “Guzzle Baby Guzzle” and don’t pay the oil companies a penny while you do it, which is probably not what Sarah “Shill Baby Shill” ever had in mind!

    If you tell people they can’t guzzle they will tune you out because lets face it they want to guzzle (particularly the current generation), if on the other hand you tell them they can guzzle but they need to do it “this way” because it’s responsible, clean and cool they will more than likely listen and join in, hell this tech is seriously cool, it really runs free once built, and it really does work, and boy does it work!

    All that is required is some good marketing to sell it to people, now go build one and have fun doing it, and when you have finished show your friends and help them build one and before you know it everybody will be at it.

  21. Sasparilla says:

    A quote comes to mind from an old presidential campaign in the US that seems especially apt whenever Bjorn opens up his mouth and we hear something out of him:

    “There he goes again…”

    I agree with the other commenters on how dangerous his message is (i.e. you don’t really need to do anything) and I would move that this is actually an excellent preview of the 2nd part of the one two punch of the deniers, as it becomes more and more obvious to the public that climate change is happenning we’ll probably hear more of this line from the deniers. Ol’ Bjorn’s message is a great preview of marketing (from the corporate sponsors of deniers) to come.

  22. Not A Lawyer says:

    I saw Howard the Duck in the theater!

    I’ve never understood the “technology” argument. At least not the way Luntz et al frame it. Isn’t energy efficiency part of that as well? Smart grid, smart meters, smart appliances, etc.?

  23. Barry says:

    Christopher S. Johnson (#8) and Joe get the dirty energy solutions right.

    From what I’ve read on it, the “jevon’s paradox” maybe has some effect (not close to 100% though)…but ONLY when energy prices stay flat or fall.

    The primary driver of energy consumption is PRICE, not some mythical “paradox”. Look at charts of energy price vs consumption!

    This is why the primary solution to climate pollution has to be to raise the PRICE of climate polluting energy sources. A PRICE on carbon.

    To make this affordable and acceptable to the public it requires EFFICIENCY gains so people can do the same things using less energy while spending the same amount.

    People don’t want to buy “energy”…they want to get things done in their lives.

    And people can’t afford to spend a lot more on energy as $140/barrel showed us. “Jevon’s paradox” requires stable pricing to have any effect.

    A classic example is what Jerry Brown did decades ago in California. Faced with rising demand and a string of nukes on the drawing board, he opted instead to raise the PRICE of electricity while pushing through a series of EFFICIENCY laws. It worked. Californians energy use has declined drastically relative to other states that kept prices low and avoided efficiency.

    RAISE PRICE + INCREASE EFFICIENCY = SAME TASK + SAME COST + LESS ENERGY

    Efficiency is essential to sell carbon pricing to public and to preserve a level of economic stability that will allow carbon pricing to remain in place.

  24. scatter says:

    “I’ll have to do my long overdue post on the “Reverse Jevons Effect.”"

    Very overdue! Grist has a piece on Jevons today:

    http://www.grist.org/article/2010-12-15-if-efficiency-hasnt-cut-energy-use-then-what

  25. FedUpWithDenial says:

    Richard Pauli (#17) –

    You’re absolutely right, Jevons is an over simplification, actually an extreme case of one-track thinking. When one-track thinking becomes completely twisted, looping around in circles to negate itself the way Lomborg’s “Bjørn-again” reasoning does, what we see is Lomborgianism at its most inane and idiotic. Every second thought of Lomborg is a reductio ad absurdum of the preceding thought. In addition to being an overgrown adolescent who never learned how to think clearly and correctly, Lomborg is a professional attention-getter who has sold his soul to the Devil (metaphorically speaking) in exchange for a brief little fame—and eventually, infamy—becoming at once a fool and a liar in the service of the preposterous nonsense he peddles to the world. He’s putting on an act, and the harmful nature of the act makes him a bad actor in every sense of the term. So far, he’s fooled a great many people in addition to fooling himself.

    The bottom line is that there is no “Jevons effect,” let alone paradox, except in the unreal world of one-dimensional economic make-believe. Obviously, we should invest heavily in energy efficiency at the same time as we use the power of government (sorry!) to force energy conservation by (i) taxing carbon (thus making fossil fuels more expensive) and (ii) curtailing energy usage by such means as ceilings or limits on fossil-energy availability in conjunction with very high prices (equivalent to luxury taxes) on waste and overconsumption.

    Without too much more delay in facing the inevitable, it must finally be understood and accepted by the public that we are in the Great Climate War, and that WWII-style sacrifices will be necessary to deal with the interconnected complex of problems we have—the CO2 problem, the energy problem, the rich world’s overconsumption problem, the intolerable divide between rich and poor in the world’s richest country, the declines in real manufacturing and exports that worsen the U.S. balance of payments, and society’s consequent money problems (SEE: budget deficit, national debt, etc.). Necessary measures in the U.S. include a permanent end to the Bush tax cuts as well as the cessation of imports of conventional oil from the Middle East (at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars per annum) as well as an end to the transport (by pipeline or other means) of unconventional oil from the Canadian tar sands.

    The U.S. economy in particular needs to go on a crash carbon diet—and not in some imagined future, but starting as soon as possible, meaning about now. How about that?