Bjorn Lomborg: Saving the world from phony analogies

Wed, 2007-11-28 11:25Richard Littlemore
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Bjorn Lomborg: Saving the world from phony analogies

The unconvincing environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg stepped out today with a (password protected) Globe and Mail article likening the effects of climate change to the death toll from traffic accidents: it's something we could easily fix, Lomborg says, but we don't want to because driving around is too convenient.

Lomborg may be on to something when he starts talking about the intelligence of reducing speed limits: that would save energy as well as lives. But, typically, he takes the argument to an insane extreme, suggesting that addressing automotive safety would require us to reduce speed limits to five miles per hour. And having set up this patently goofy “cure” he quickly dismisses it as, well, patently goofy, and concludes that we should just go on as before, confident that we have canvassed the alternatives and judged them to be wanting.

The man doesn't merely miss the point: he drives by at express speeds and tries to carry us all along with him. First, climate change and traffic deaths are NOT analagous. We can kill an infinite number of people in traffic and (as long as we deal with the other environmental effects of automobiles) the world will remain habitable for humans. All you have to do is stay away from dangerous intersections.

But you can't stay away from climate change. The pollution that is being lofted into the air - by cars, coal-fired power plants and by hundreds of other fossil fuel-based sources - will find you wherever you try to hide. The downstream effects of shattered eco-systems and extreme weather events will seek you out. An UNinhabitable world is completely within the realm of possibility.

Lomborg suggests a worldwide .05-per-cent of GDP investment in research on non-carbon-emitting technologies. Great idea.

But that's his only idea. And whether the world's governments accept it or not, he is running around telling us that making any other effort to address climate change is unnecessary or economically inconvenient. He is, in short, nothing more than a patsy for those who want to do nothing - an extremist: the Industrialists' Environmentalist. It's hard to believe - no matter how willing he is to break big global issues into ridiculously little pieces - that he doesn't recognize what a toxic influence he is having on the chance for an intelligent international policy debate.


They had a bit about Lomborg on Global TV news last night, positioning him in the “middle” of the “debate”.

Middles of the debate makes him sound correct. You have the ‘two extremes’, the foolish climate skeptics and on the other side, the scientists. I really hope people don’t think he is balanced… the would be the worst thing ever.

I think that is exactly the impression he wants to give - that he is the balanced one while everyone else is having hysterics.

I am an avid reader of your blog and I must say that your are doing a wonderful job and your blog is great. I came across a blog post ’ Should national natural environments be commoditised for the sake of tourism? ’ and I though you should read it at

The guy has a Ph.D. in Political Science….which hardly makes him an expert on the environment!

Yes, Lomborg should have been a law school drop-out like Al Gore. Apparently that makes one an “expert on the environment”.

Gore pays attention to the real scientists. Lomborg just makes up his scientifc “facts”.

The one thing Lomborg does do is accept the scientific opinion on climate change. His divergence which does make him stand alone in some ways is in terms of the impacts of climate change or the total costs of it. Economic debates are beyond my scope but many things in nature have little to no economic value but have large biological value, so perhaps pure economic arguements are only relevant in their own realm……I duno I havent read anything of his writings to see if he takes into account the value of biological/ecological systems.

Carl, in order to reach the conclusions he does Lomborg lops off the high end of the projections, in effect keeping the worst consequences of AGW cheap enough to be tolerable. That is decidedly at variance with the science.

I have Lomborg’s unfortunate rant beside me and I wonder if anyone can help with these numbers. Lomborg argues for inaction with this statement:

“Global warming will cause problems on the order of half a percent of global GDP, although it is often irresponsibly oversold as a catastrophe.”

Does anyone know how much $ that would be, where he gets that number, and what a realistic estimate would be?

It’s an absurd statement when you consider that there is no stasis climate for infinite CO2 emissions. I mean in reality, if you continue increasing emissions, as we are, then the damage keeps increasing until at some point life on earth is no longer possible. Interesting if all that is worth only 1/2 a percent of GDP!

I don’t know about that specific figure; Realclimate discusses Lomborg in various posts such as this one:

(Edited to add:) You could ask these folks, they post a lot about the economics of climate change.

Lomborg, though not Canadian, probably reflects the Canadian middle ground; which is to do something, but not to get hysterical. Highly criticized by environmentalists, Lomborg more accurately reflects average Canadian views on AGW then press-hogging enviros do.

Paul, you make the common mistake of non-scientists (or people who either hate science or find it terribly boring) in assuming that there is always a middle ground in science. While this is often true in Politics, Law and other disciplines, it is not part of science.

Can you just imagine the following exchange in “Question Period” if Science followed the same rule as Politics?

Sharper than a liberal: “My research shows that water has the molecular structure of HO”.

Dion’t know very much: “My research shows that the structure is H3O.”

After much shouting and name-calling, they agree to a public enquiry and appoint a complete non-scientists to chair the enquiry. Several months and millions of dollars later the chairman presents his report. He cannot understand the chemistry behind the experiments that were carried out and tells the politicians to reach some “middle ground”.

Sharper than a liberal and Dion’t know very much retreat to an Ottawa bar and after the consumption of a few beers decide that the structure of water (in Canada) should be H2O.

Of course the structure of water, H2O, was not decided in this manner, but by carrying out rigorous and controlled experiments by people highly qualified to do so. Why should the science of climate change not be conducted in the same manner instead of the ridiculous way that politicians and their minions are trying to dictate to us?

There is no “middle ground” in science; just the same way there is no “middle ground” in pregnancy. There are some things which have yet to be decided but the science behind AGW is not one of these since all the published, peer reviewed science supports one side only, leaving nothing on the other side so there can be no middle.

Ian Forrester