Climate Science Rapid Response Team debunks Bjorn Lomborg’s Washington Post op-ed

UCS takes on Lomborg’s failed movie, Cool it

According to Box Office Mojo, in its premiere weekend, Bjorn Lomborg’s effort at disinfotainment, Cool It, scored a whopping $26,487 in ticket sales. In its 41 theaters, that’s a “$655 average.” In its second weekend, the movie expanded to 43 theaters, but its ticket sales fell to $10,734, about $250 per theater, a 60% drop.

I’m sure the Danish statistician would appreciate Box Office Mojo quantitative detail, but you don’t need to know much statistics to realize that not bloody many people are actually watching this movie.

In fact, the movie is just a clever loss leader for Lomborg’s bad ideas. 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.

The movie also gives newspapers a ‘reason’ to run more disinformation from the Danish delayer, not that they need much of an excuse (see “WashPost recycles another denier WSJ op-ed, this time from coal apologist Bjorn Lomborg. Funny how two new senior Post editors came from the WSJ”).


But at least that gives our redoubtable Brad Johnson a chance to test the new Climate Science Rapid Response Team:

In a recent op-ed in Washington Post, Bjorn Lomborg argued that efforts to reduce global warming pollution can wait, because “coping with climate change is something we know how to do.” To bolster that claim “” which goes against the consensus of practically every scientific body in the world “” Lomborg cited “the fact that the best research we have — from the United Nations climate panel — says that global sea levels are not likely to rise more than about 20 inches by 2100.” Lomborg concluded that “fears of a supposedly imminent apocalypse threaten to swamp rational debate about climate policy”:

“Obviously, whether it involves dikes or buckets of white paint, adaptation is not a long-term solution to global warming. Rather, it will enable us to get by while we figure out the best way to address the root causes of man-made climate change. This may not seem like much, but at a time when fears of a supposedly imminent apocalypse threaten to swamp rational debate about climate policy, it’s worth noting that coping with climate change is something we know how to do.”

Because Washington Post editorial editor Fred Hiatt did not bother to fact-check Lomborg’s column, the Wonk Room took on the task. We chose to test the new Climate Science Rapid Response Team, a scientist-run initiative to link top climate scientists with the media officially launched today. After we submitted questions about Lomborg’s claims to the team, we received comprehensive answers from three top climate scientists within 48 hours, even though we made our inquiries before the official launch.

In separate e-mail interviews (the scientists also offered to conduct phone interviews), the Carnegie Institution Department of Global Ecology’s Ken Caldeira, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Josh Willis, and Rutgers University’s Alan Robock independently confirmed that Bjorn Lomborg had misrepresented the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report.

Caldeira, who believes “one meter (or three feet) per century from melting ice sheets is probably in the right ball park” for future sea level rise, explained what Lomborg left out when citing the “20 inches by 2100”³ figure:

“Like mercury in a thermometer, seawater expands and rises as it heats up. Melting ice also causes sea level rise. The third assessment report considered only thermal expansion of the ocean and not melting glacial ice.”

Willis discussed the details of the IPCC report further:

“Bjorn’s claim that the IPCC report says that global sea levels are not likely to rise more than about 20 inches by 2100 is incorrect. You have to remember that the sea level projections in the 2007 IPCC report had a big asterisk by them. The report was very clear that the 20 inch projection was probably too low because it did not account for the kinds of dynamic changes in the glaciers and ice sheets that we see today. In fact, the IPCC report was careful to say that they could not place any upper bound on the amount of sea level rise that is likely over the next century.”

Robock’s response reaffirmed Willis and Caldeira. Furthermore, when asked the research the IPCC summarized still “the best research we have” on the likely range of sea level rise, Robock said, “Absolutely not”:

“Absolutely not. It was the best we had five years ago, but there has been a lot of work since then, including better observations of the rate of melting from Greenland and Antarctica and better models.”

Robock also explained that Lomborg mischaracterized the work of the world scientific community when he argued that those who call for the immediate reduction of global warming pollution are relying on “fears of a supposedly imminent apocalypse”:

“His choice of words is very alarmist and cherry-picking from other alarmists. The IPCC and the world scientific community do not say “supposedly imminent apocalypse.” They engage in rational debate. He is saying that extremists on one side are much more influential than it seems to me that they are. In fact it is the extremists who argue against any response to global warming who have been much more effective so far.

“He is also wrong in asserting that we know how to adapt to climate change. If that were true, nobody would be worried about it. How do we adapt to massive extinctions of natural species? How do we adapt to all the major coastal cities of the world having to deal with flooding from stronger storms and rising sea level? Dikes will not do it.

“And there are no geoengineering techniques that have ever even been tested, let alone shown to produce less risks than the risks of global warming.

“But I agree that adaptation is not a long-range solution. Mitigation is, but we have to get started immediately.”

Of course, none of this is actually news. At Real Climate, top sea-level specialist Stefan Rahmstorf explained the IPCC sea level numbers back in March, 2007. At Climate Progress, Joe Romm debunked Lomborg’s lies about sea level rise back in September, 2007. And climate scientists have been warning the presidents of the United States of the “vast geophysical experiment” of global warming since the 1960s, and calling for reduction in fossil fuel use by the 1970s.

– Brad Johnson

For more on Lomborg’s geo-engineering myths, see Caldeira calls Lomborg’s vision “a dystopic world out of a science fiction story.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists has posted a nice debunking of Cool It:

New Documentary on Bj¸rn Lomborg and Climate Change is Long on Opinion and Short on Facts, Science Group Says

Lomborg cherry-picks data to present skewed view of how we should combat global warming

A new documentary on climate change recently opened up in theaters. Titled “Cool It,” it features a Danish political scientist, Bj¸rn Lomborg, who has stirred up controversy in the past by questioning the urgency of addressing the problem.

The good news about “Cool It” is that it doesn’t dispute the reality of climate change. Lomborg accepts the overwhelming scientific evidence that burning coal and oil and destroying forests has overloaded the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, trapping heat that would otherwise escape into space, thus warming the planet and disrupting the climate.

Instead, the film argues against “fearing” climate change. It opens with animations and voice-overs from schoolchildren talking about climate change, including a child worrying that the Earth is getting “very, very, very, very, very, very” hot.

While the film features many interviews with schoolchildren to bolster its case, Lomborg fails to convey the urgent need to address climate change that scientists have identified. They have concluded that if we do nothing to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, we could lock in 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit of global temperature increase by the end of the century.

Below are just a few of the problems in the film.

Square peg economics for a round hole problem

Broadly, the film focuses on issues Lomborg argues should take priority over addressing climate change, including poverty, malnutrition, disease and clean water. In fact, those interrelated problems are only going to be more difficult to address in an increasingly warming world.

Lomborg also sees climate change through the narrow lens of classical economics. For example, he relies on traditional cost-benefit analysis, like weighing the economic benefits of a new bridge against to the cost of constructing it and, perhaps, the cost of relocating a few hundred local residents whose homes would be displaced by the bridge and new roads.

But as many economists have pointed out, climate change presents a unique challenge because actions we take (or fail to take) today will have grave repercussions for generations to come.

Engineering the climate-a dangerous proposition

Lomborg argues for more research on geoengineering, such as using a stratospheric spray of small particles to reflect sunlight from the Earth, to “buy time” while scientists and engineers develop new clean energy technology.

“Cool It,” however, does not explore the high risks and uncertainties of many geoengineering proposals. Reflecting sunlight, for example, would damage crop production worldwide because plants need sunlight to grow.

Lomborg accepts that climate change is real, but incorrectly discounts its threat

The film makes it clear that climate change is real and driven by human activities that overload the Earth’s atmosphere with carbon that traps excess heat like a blanket.

However, the documentary discounts the future consequences of unabated climate change and the economic costs and impacts on people and communities.

Lomborg criticizes the Kyoto Protocol, but doesn’t acknowledge it was never meant to solve climate change on its own There is nearly universal agreement that the Kyoto Protocol, as Lomborg says, is not enough to seriously address the problem of climate change. That is narrowly true, but the reality is that the Kyoto agreement was intended to be just a first step in a long-term global effort.

It did set up a framework for reducing emissions, but major emitting nations such as the United States and Australia did not ratify it, so its effectiveness was undermined.

Lomborg argues against specific clean energy policies and action in isolation, failing to acknowledge that they all could work together

At various points in the film, Lomborg cherry-picks a single action or clean energy policy, emphasizes its cost, and contrasts it with what he claims would be its relatively small impact on global temperatures.

For example, he criticizes the European Union’s renewable electricity requirement, hybrid cars and compact fluorescent light bulbs. However, he fails to mention what a full suite of policies and consumer actions could accomplish.

Multiple analyses (including UCS’s 2009 blueprint) have concluded that a combination of policies aimed at reducing vehicle emissions, boosting renewable electricity production, and increasing energy efficiency would dramatically lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Lomborg recycles the discredited claim about global cooling and misrepresents scientific research

“Cool It” includes a clip from a 1978 “In Search Of…” television episode titled “The Coming Ice Age.” The program was an interesting””but not always scientifically accurate””television show narrated by Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock on the original “Star Trek.”

“In Search of…” featured such topics as UFOs, Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster in a less than scientifically rigorous fashion.

For more, see “The global cooling myth dies again.”