The Lomborg Deception: The Septical Environmentalist (sic) says 16 feet of sea level rise wouldn’t be so bad, absurdly claims it would only “force the relocation of 15 million” people

Another op-ed by Bjorn Lomborg, another Gish Gallup of non-stop disinformation. The good news is that the task of debunking the Septical Environmentalist (sic), has been made easier by the publication of whole book dedicated to that tedious task, The Lomborg Deception.

And yes, “Septical Environmentalist” is not a typo. Sure, it may seem like a mistake to use the word “environmentalist” to describe Lomborg. But it’s the very fact that he calls himself an environmentalist while dedicating his life to spreading disinformation and delaying serious action on the seminal environmental issue of our time that makes him septical. What else would you call the Typhoid Mary of anti-science syndrome (ASS)?


Lomborg’s op-ed,”Cars, bombs and climate change” repeats many of his favorite howlers, and adds some new ones. Let’s start with one of his favorite targets, one I’ve covered many times (see “Debunking Bj¸rn Lomborg “” Part II, Misrepresenting Sea Level Rise”), but here with a new bizarre twist:

If we actually face, as Al Gore recently put it, “an unimaginable calamity requiring large-scale, preventative measures to protect human civilization as we know it,” then no price would be too high to pay to stop global warming in its tracks. But are the stakes really that high?

The answer is no. Even the worst-case scenarios proposed by mainstream climate scientists — scenarios that go far beyond what the consensus climate models predict — are not as bad as Gore would have us believe.

For example, a sea-level rise of five meters — more than eight times what the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expects, and more than twice what is probably physically possible — would not deluge all or even most of mankind. Of course, such a rise would not be a trivial problem.

It would affect about 400 million people, force the relocation of 15 million, and imply costly protection of the rest. But it would certainly not mean the end of the world. Estimates show that the cost in terms of adaptation would be less than 1% of global GDP. In other words, the price of unchecked global warming may be high, but it is not infinite

Maybe this version of the Gish Gallup — “drowning the opponent in half-truths, lies, straw men, and bullshit to such a degree that the opponent cannot possibly answer every falsehood that has been raised” — should be called the Lomborg leap.

Lomborg knows that entire argument is crap best flushed down a septic system. Why?

First, he never puts a date on when the 5 meters would occur. You won’t find any serious climate scientist who says that five meters is not physically possible. The IPCC’s 2007 Synthesis Report says on this subject (click here), “Partial loss of ice sheets on polar land and/or the thermal expansion of seawater over very long time scales could imply metres of sea level rise” and “Rapid sea level rise on century time scales cannot be excluded.”


Second, if he means 2100, then he knows the the IPCC clearly states “models [of sea level rise] used to date do not include uncertainties in climate-carbon cycle feedbacks nor do they include the full effect of changes in ice sheet flow.” He knows there have been about a half-dozen major studies that “expect” much higher levels of sea level — see Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100 and this excellent new RealClimate post “Sealevelgate.”

Third, 5 meter of sea level rise would “force” the relocation of many more than 15 million. Absent uber-costly adaptation, it would force the relocation of 300 to 400 million. Now Lomborg can assert that people would spend hundreds of billions of dollars so people wouldn’t be forced to move, but that isn’t what the literature says.

Even in the Netherlands, a rich country with extensive experience in flood protection, where much of the country is already below sea level, a study interviewing Dutch experts about two different scenarios of 5 meter sea level rise over 100 years concluded:

Both scenarios indicate that the Southwest and Northwest of the Netherlands would be abandoned after the sea level rise. Although most experts believe it is geo-morphologically and engineering-wise possible to largely maintain the territorial integrity of the Netherlands, there are some reasons to think that such is not likely to happen. The costs of such works would be enormous, annually a few percents of GDP.

Another 16-coauthor study led by Richard Tol (!) “Adaptation to 5 m of sea level rise” (again with expert interviews) concluded:

The face of London would change dramatically, while the Rhine and Rhone deltas would be largely abandoned. In the case of Rhine, this would imply a major relocation of population and industry for one of the world’s bigger economies. Compared to other climate change impacts, this is a very large impact. Note that France, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands are not particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise. Large impacts in these countries, imply much larger effects elsewhere. Although we do not know the probability of a WAIS collapse, let alone how this probability responds to greenhouse gas emission reduction, this does present itself as a clear case for precautionary emission abatement.


So the Rhine and Rhone deltas would be largely abandoned. What do you think is gonna happen to Bangladesh and poor countries?

Here’s 5 meters SLR on Florida (and New Orleans) and Southeast Asia:

It is conceivable that you could put a 10 meter levee system around Miami to deal with SLR and storm surge, but let’s remember two crucial things. First, this is hurricane alley and everybody knows what happened to another major city that was under sea level and hit by a massive storm surge from a major hurricane. In the 5 m SLR scenario, the planet is probably 5°C warmer and that means more Category 4 and 5 hurricanes (see “Nature: Hurricanes ARE getting fiercer “” and it’s going to get much worse”). And remember, the land currently surrounding Miami protects it from hurricanes coming from other directions. Ff you turn Miami into Singapore, aren’t an island (or a city behind a moat), then any approaching hurricane, even those from the south and west, won’t weaken before landfall.


But hurricanes are NOT the reason why cities will be abandoned under a multi-meter SLR scenario — and I don’t think the threshold is 5 m SLR over a century, it is probably under half that.

There are basically two scenarios for multi-meter SLR. Expected (i.e. “slow”) and unexpected (i.e. fast). In the unexpected scenario, very rapid SLR over a short period of time, say a couple of decades, obviously people haven’t had time to prepare, so abandonment and “forced” relocation is almost a given.

In the “expected” scenario, abandonment is probably more likely. That’s because this whole notion of 5 m of sea level rise is misleading. There aren’t any plausible scenarios where sea levels rise of 5 meters over a century simply stops. Indeed, I don’t think there plausible scenarios where sea level rise of 2 m over a century simply stops:

In just the 1.4 meter case, sea levels are probably rising 1 inch a year or more by 2100.

Note: We are currently on the A1F1 emissions trajectory (see “U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm “¦ the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” “” 1000 ppm”). And if we listen to Lomborg, we’ll pretty much stay on track for 800 to 1000 ppm this century.

In the 5 meter (16-foot) SLR case, sea levels probably reach a rise of more than 2 inches a year — maybe 2 feet a decade for a long, long time (see NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years”).

And don’t think this can’t happen:

So the notion that a 16-foot SLR would only force the relocation of 15 million is absurd. Indeed, if the analysis by Rahmstorf in other leading peer-reviewed studies is correct, we’re looking at 100 million “forced” relocation by centuries end just from SLR. [That doesn’t count the relocation from the loss freshwater supplies from inland glaciers and Dust-Bowlification.]


And if you think the West Antarctic ice sheet is stable, well, I’ve been meaning to blog on a recent study that suggests otherwise, but for now, let me just quote the New Scientist magazine from January:

A major Antarctic glacier has passed its tipping point, according to a new modelling study. After losing increasing amounts of ice over the past decades, it is poised to collapse in a catastrophe that could raise global sea levels by 24 centimetres.

Pine Island glacier (PIG) is one of many at the fringes of the West Antarctic ice sheet. In 2004, satellite observations showed that it had started to thin, and that ice was flowing into the Amundsen Sea 25 per cent faster than it had 30 years before.

Now, the first study to model changes in an ice sheet in three dimensions shows that PIG has probably passed a critical “tipping point” and is irreversibly on track to lose 50 per cent of its ice in as little as 100 years, significantly raising global sea levels.

The team that carried out the study admits their model can represent only a simplified version of the physics that govern changes in glaciers, but say that if anything, the model is optimistic and PIG will disappear faster than it projects.

The time to ignore Lomborg is now!