A Calm Voice Spouting Climate Change Denial BS

Why is game theorist Bjorn Lomborg continually allowed a forum in our most respected newspapers to spout his anti-global warming claptrap? I understand why the Wall Street Journal prints him—he claims he’s an economist making a rational, economic argument against stringent regulation of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, and the Journal reveres economists, even phony ones. Monday’s Washington Post, the most illiberal newspaper in the U.S. with a reputation for being liberal, featured Lomborg’s arguments on its Op-Ed page. Lomborg cites a study by an economist, Richard Tol, that purports to find that it will cost $46 trillion to avoid expected climate damage costing just $1.1 trillion. Apart from the fact that economists, unlike scientists, can find that just about anything will cost just about anything, the study hasn’t been published yet. So we can’t even check the methodology. Lomborg insists that continued, nearly unregulated burning of fossil fuels must continue so that the world’s population can continue to enjoy the benefits of nearly unlimited energy from burning fossilized sunshine. Fossilized sunshine that, eventually, is going to run out. Lomborg concludes his essay: “To put it bluntly: Despite their good intentions, the activists, lobbyists and politicians making a last-ditch push for hugely expensive carbon-cut promises could easily end up doing hundreds of times more damage to the planet than coal ever could.” This is arrant nonsense. It equates human well being with the health of the planet Earth. As we are going to discover in brutal fashion in coming decades as Earth’s environment degrades under the weight of human economic activity, human well being very much depends on the health of the Earth, but the planet couldn’t care less about human well being. Lomborg is part of the climate change denial cabal that, I wrote recently, work to sow doubt and make up statistics. He’s not as over-the-top as Sen. James M. Imhofe (R-Okla.); in fact, he’s sweet reasonableness. His message is just as contemptible, though, and I don’t understand why he’s become the most respectable of a disrespectable lot.

Author: Rudy Baum

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  1. Mr. Baum:

    Your description of Lomborg has “anti-global warming” and “part of the climate change denial cabal” is overheated and, at best, inaccurate. Lomborg does not deny climate change; in fact, he says “There is no doubt that coal is causing environmental damage that we need to stop” and “Poor nations — the very countries that will experience the worst of climate damage — would suffer most.” These are not the words of a true CC skeptic (I object to the term “denier”, which has other connotations, as you well know.)

    Lomborg has long argued that the money spent on climate change should be spent elsewhere with more ROI; in addition, you completely leave out the core of his argument, which is that climate change is being used as a shield for protectionist activity.

    Fundamentally, you have conflated two questions: 1) is human fossil-fuel combustion causing temperature increases through increased CO2 emissions? and 2) is the general plan of cutting carbon emissions worth the long-term cost? If both answers are “Yes, absolutely”, then you’re Rudy Baum. If your answer is “Yes” to Q1 and “Maybe, probably not” to Q2, you’re Bjorn Lomborg.

  2. I beleive Lomborg is correct. He knows what is really at stake. This whole issue can be dealt with through regular legislation which encourages investment in renewable energy. But instead, governments around the world are taking this once in a lifetime opportunity to introduce a new tax called Cap&Trade. This is just like back in 1861 when income tax was introduced to pay for the civil war. That war has long been paid for but income tax remains. Cap&Trade will pay to ‘save the planet’, and long after the planet has been saved, Cap&Trade will remain. This is historic legislation, moving through the Senate right now. They pulled the wool over the eyes of the public in 1861, and now they are doing it again. Because Cap&Trade is so contensious, it may not pass the Senate and will languish there. Cap&Trade is not necessary, we can ahcieve action on climate without it. I suggest they dump the Cap&Trade componant and move on with the Waxman bill. There is too much money to be made on carbon, so I don’t see that happening and the Waxman bill could easily die in the Senate.

  3. Nice article, Rudy. I suspect part of the reason someone like Lomborg gets a platform at major publications is the false balance factor: some editors want to give “the other side of the story” – even if it scientifically false, distorted and immoral. And it won’t go unnoticed that ‘controversial’ articles bring in lots of visitors to click on ads.

    It should also be mentioned every time Lomborg appears with his constant message of “do nothing at all costs”, that the only reason he escaped censure for scientific dishonesty for his book from the Danish science ministry is that they assessed him to be incompetent on the subject. That, of course, has not stopped him carrying on peddling the same message to anyone who will pay to hear it.

    > Lomborg is part of the climate change denial cabal … he’s sweet reasonableness.

    That’s his somewhat successful ploy – to appear reasonable and appear to accept the science. Of course, he doesn’t accept the science – he cherry picks and distorts it for his own agenda. He takes the lowest estimates of damage from climate change – even if it is years out of date – and takes the highest estimates of cost and uses that to advocate doing nothing.

    I find him to be one of the most obnoxious of the Deniers, mainly because his sneaky tactics are more successful than those of the blatant, wingnut Deniers. He needs to be exposed each and every time he gets his vile opinions published.

  4. The problem with Lomborg’s argument is that cost-benefit analysis simply does not work on such lengthy time scales. It is the incorrect tool for the job. For example, if one looks at Tol’s meta-analysis paper posted on his website, he finds that the estimated social costs for a ton of carbon have ranged from $2 to over $1600, with an average of $93 and a standard deviation in excess of $200. What can we possibly hope to learn from this kind of information?

    The core of their problem is three-fold. First, the lengthy time scales causes any errors to be compounded tens or hundreds of times over. The economists are forced to guess at discount rates, economic growth rates, population growth rates, etc, and then extrapolate them into the distant future. Obviously, errors about these rates (and potential changes in them) will magnify many times over once compounded repeatedly. Second, they have to guess about future technological changes and commodity prices. There, their guess probably isn’t any better than that of the educated layman on the street. Just imagine Henry Ford and Teddy Roosevelt trying to predict 9/11, Pets.com, and credit-default swaps. For these economists to be correct about the climate change cost-benefit in 2100 is no less of an impossible task. Third, certain costs (and perhaps a few benefits) are difficult to quantify. For example, species loss. These are often outright ignored in their calculations, because you can’t really put a dollar value on them.

    Putting a bunch of sci-fi wild guesses into a complicated but incomplete model results in only one output – more sci-fi. That, unfortunately, is what Lomborg’s arguments are founded upon.

    To analyze this problem, we have to think about it from an entirely different angle, as the cost-benefit track simply cannot provide useful information. Instead, we must ask ourselves what we can do today that will benefit future generations. And surely, sucking up every last drop of fossil resources in order to fill our McMansions with SUVs and cheap junk from China is not one of them. However, conserving our non-renewable resources while diligently pursuing the sustainable technologies that they absolutely WILL need in some form will benefit them greatly.

    Few things we build today will survive until 2100. The most important thing we can leave the people of that time is information…and the information they will need is knowledge of how to live good lives sustainably. Let’s create that information for them.

  5. Rudy–Thanks for reminding me there are lots of people back home who really do see the dangers of climate change. Here in American Iraq (on the big bases) where FOX is actually considered news Lomborg’s opinions are what nearly everyone believes. And if you ever want to see a carbon footprint the size of King Kong’s, that footprint is on bases in Iraq. Everything runs on generators. I watched a mechanic crank up a 150hp diesel generator to run 110v. electric drill. The generator ran continuosly for hours. The drill for a minute once in a while. People drive up-armored Humvees to lunch. Huge generators growl continuously outside every office and living area. You can measure the diesel we burn in gallons per millisecond.
    Keep it up,

  6. @Chemjobber: You really should read Chad’s comment, which is a more nuanced analysis of Lomborg’s and other economic arguments by climate change deniers than anything I’ve written.
    @Klem: If you’re still sore about the income tax, we’re living in different universes.
    @DavidCOG and Chad: Great comments. Both of you have really added to the discussion.
    @Neil: I’ve finished “Idiot America,” post is below. Great book. Thanks for recommending it. Keep safe.

  7. Mr. Baum: And yet, Chad did not support your assertion that Lomborg denies climate change and its associated damage. In the two questions I posed above, Chad was speaking to Q2. You and I disagree as to Lomborg’s answer on Q1 — I think you are incorrect.

  8. My advice to energy policy makers here in Canada has been to offer research-grant-application amnesty to those scientists who want to jump from the IPCC gravy train before it hits that wall of public opinion.

    Let’s wait to see what the UN and its FCCC bureaucracy can extort from the assembled member nations in Copenhagen before placing bets based on the assumption that everyone sings from the same IPCC hymn book.

    Taxpayers in nations around the world are humming a different tune.

  9. I don’t see the people who deny man-made globalism as a “disrespected bunch”, as you call them. Informed people know that the largest scientific group in America (American Chemical Society) is part of that bunch and has asked for your resignation, Rudy Baum. This is a simple hit piece that only uses ad hominem arguments, stating nothing factual at all. Here are some facts for you Mr. Baum.

    The sun drives temp changes. I guess to you that is a silly assumption made up by “deniers” but just saying that isn’t good enough. Explain to me why Mars has heated co efficiently with Earth. Explain why the Sun is not a factor in global warming. Explain the irrelevance of the solar cycle and why historical rises and falls in temp that were caused by solar activity are not appropriate for this discussion.

    If 2000 scientists believe in man-made gw and 31000 believe in solar gw then how does man-made earn a consensus? http://www.petitionproject.org/index.php

  10. >Events are moving quickly on the climate-change front. In the past few weeks, there have been several major developments that, taken together, delineate pretty clearly how the political battle over climate change will play out in the coming months.

    The science of anthropogenic climate change is becoming increasingly well established. The scientific consensus on the reality of climate change has become increasingly difficult to challenge, despite the efforts of diehard climate-change deniers (for brevity’s sake, CCDs).
    As an increasingly committed CCD (as you put it), I would like your comments on the breaking news of emails from the CRU. Seems like even the most ardent AGW proponents are in the camp of deniers as they point out that they need to ‘hide the decline’ and resort to political and illegal measures to freeze out opposing viewpoints and destroy data protected under FOIA standards.

    I think you need to recuse yourself from representing the ACS as an organization and myself as an individual scientist when you propound your own political viewpoint. Adding a small blurb stating that your views are your own and do not represent the Society, does not absolve you from the misappropriation of the valuable pulpit that you are misusing.

  11. For the last week, I have looked at the C&EN website every morning to see if you are covering the scandal that has rocked the science of climate change, in which prominent scientists in that field have admitted in emails to hiding and/or destroying data that conflicts with their desired hypothesis. I have seen little, if any, coverage on it, despite the fact that my (liberal) fellow scientist brother-in-law assured me that the “industry rags” will be “all over” this story. Since you are not covering it (not even to explain why it shouldn’t be considered a big deal), I can only assume that C&EN is no longer an “industry rag” but something else. I now know that I was also right 10 years ago to quit my membership in the ACS in protest over your biased coverage of AGW even then.

  12. @JB – C&EN will be covering aspects of what has now been dubbed “climategate”. Look for an editorial on the matter in the Dec. 14 issue, as well as a more in-depth look at the science of climate change in the Dec. 21 issue.

  13. That’s good to know Rachel. I’m not a climate scientist, but I would also say to be careful in your “science of climate change” issue. I’m especially disturbed that the scientists at CRU no longer have much of their raw data. Since their credibility is now also shot with me, I would be hesitant to believe any conclusions drawn by other scientists off that data. (It is also my understanding that most climate change research is based off of only a few different sets of data, one of them being CRU data.) Even if there is a consensus of climatologists, if they arrived at that consensus by looking at fudged data, who cares.

  14. Thank you Rachel, I look forward to it. I can’t imagine how anything can be agreed to in Copenhagen in light of this news. The whole thing should have been cancelled.

  15. I am curious how the editorial board of C&EN and the ACS leadesr will address the revelations coming from the CRU at East Anglia. The content of the leaked emails raises many questions. One, about the quality of the data and the blatant manipulation of that data within the AGW camp. Two, about the abhorrent behavior of some of these individuals in attempting to subvert the peer review process. Finally, the most important question: if the data regarding global warming (as our Editor-in-chief would like us to believe) is so “unequivocal” why did it need to be so extensively manipulated ? The individuals at East Anglia presumably had access to data collected other sites as well, why did they not use these temperature measurements instead ? As a scientific organization the ACS enforces very strict guidelines for scientific standards with respect to its own journals. How can it then justify adopting a policy based on such shoddy (possibly nonexistent) data and expect its members to believe it and even support it? It remains to be seen whether our leadership steps back and takes an open minded look at the issue or continues to side with the pseudoscientific frauds at the CRU and similar institutions. Are we a SCIENTIFIC organization or a POLITICAL one? (I am afraid I already know the answer to my question)

    John Mayer