Cool It – Lomborg Redux


Deonandia has discussed the iconoclastic Bjorn Lomborg several times before, most recently here. Lomborg, you will recall, is the political scientist who has, in my view, been misrepresented –or misrepresented himself– as an economist, a statistician and a climatologist. This is important, because Lomborg’s credentials are the foundation of his oft-cited “scientific” stance about the nature of Climate Change, one referred to repeatedly by the CC-denial set, desperately seeking high-level empirical evidence to support their business-biased positions.

Lomborg was catapulted into the public spotlight with the publication of The Skeptical Environmentalist, which describes, supposedly empirically, his journey from being a self-described left-wing academic to becoming a right-leaning climate change skeptic. Despite Lomborg’s subsequent claims, the book clearly placed him in the camp of so-called “Climate Change deniers”. Leading scientific journals, Scientific American and Nature –among others– dedicated many pages to debunking Lomborg’s claims. In this space, I, too, have criticized Lomborg’s imprecise methods. But the damage had been done: the public, and people who decide policy, are not moved by arguments of lack of scientific rigour; rather, they see a so-called scientist presenting them with so-called scientific data, communicated in a well-marketed and accessible manner, suggesting that things are not as bad as the less eloquent nerd set are claiming.

Then a remarkable thing happened. After years of being simultaneously demonized by the Green movement and celebrated by the Right, Lomborg subtly changed his message in his new book, Cool It. He now does not deny that Climate Change is real. He also does not deny that human beings are responsible for Climate Change. Instead, he argues that, since the actual extent of devastation of Climate Change cannot accurately be determined, we should not be focusing so many of our resources on this issue. Instead, he says, we should focus them on matters that affect us today, such as HIV/AIDS, water quality, malaria, housing and food shortages, etc.

On TVOntario’s The Agenda last night, Lomborg said of the Kyoto Accord that its cost is gigantic but its effect will be minimal, if at all measurable. This is a strong argument, and it makes sense. Yes, I said Lomborg’s present positions make sense. I am certainly not in favour of the Kyoto Accord, but rather of something more potent. Lomborg argues that since reducing emissions is politically impossible, and economically costly, we should be applying our political will to solving the problems of today, and on investing in research and development to replace the polluting technologies before 2050. Sound reasonable? Sure, when Lomborg sticks to his training –political science– he can make a lot of sense. It’s when he challenges the climatology and faultily conducts meta-analyses –something he does not do with his new position– that he falters and embarrasses himself. However, even in his new incarnation, he misses many key points:

  1. Lomborg assumes that the world is rational. The Rio Summit and Kyoto both failed, he argues, so any future attempt to make the world’s powers agree to emission standards will also fail. Thus the effort should be spent on eradicating AIDS and malaria, etc. Well…. if two summits backed by popular will failed, what makes him think that the world will be wiling to eliminate AIDS and Malaria instead, given that these things have been around for decades and centuries, respectively, and have no appreciable impact on the economies of the wealthy? A naive –or disingenuous– position, I believe. It’s more likely that the resources that would not be spent on emission reduction would instead be spent on expanding industrial economies.

 

  • Malaria, water quality, food shortages, etc, are all symptoms of larger concerns, among them unrestrained industrialization and Climate Change. Would Lomborg have us treat the symptoms rather than the diseases?

 

 

  • Kyoto and Rio, etc, are learning experiences. With each large political failure comes hope that we can get it right the next time. Two attempts is not a reason to quit trying.

 

 

  • It is beyond naive to assume that new technology will save the planet. Yes, we should continue to look for such new technology, but we cannot assume that it will arise. When the nature of civilization itself is potentially at risk, it seems to me that it’s worth our political will to try to focus on three fronts simultaneously: invest in R&D, reduce emissions now, and redouble our efforts to fix today’s problems, as well.

 

Despite these points, it is assured that Lomborg’s new position will form the rallying cry of the new wave of Climate Change deniers –to no longer doubt the phenomenon, but rather to deny the need to address it!

For more on the Lomborg debate, visit Putting The Heat on Lomborg and Skepticism Toward The Skeptical Environmentalist.

In other news:

From EK Hornbeck: James Watson, legendary co-discoverer of the DNA helix, is now claiming that black people are genetically less intelligent than other races. As EK put it, this will no doubt be his “Jimmy The Greek” moment. I will try to talk about this more later.

From Uncle D: India will be setting up a new university just for the children of NRIs (non-resident Indians, i.e. rich ex-pats). Oh dear.