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