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Bjørn Lomborg on global warming
September 1, 2010 9:33 AM   Subscribe

Global warming skeptic Bjørn Lomborg changes position, saying global warming is "undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today" and "a challenge humanity must confront." He says in a new book forthcoming this year that governments should levy a tax on carbon and spend billions annually on research for new technologies. I suppose it's hard to ignore when 10 of 10 key indicators show the world is warming, and Lomberg is not the first prominent skeptic to change position.

Lomberg's 2001 The Skeptical Environmentalist has been for better or worse very influential, creating a mini-industry of Lomberg'ian pros and cons through the 2000s. This about-face has not impressed all his critics, some of whom see a skilled self-promoter able to "play the media" by simply "adopting a position already held by millions of sensible people." Mike Childs in the Guardian says "It appears that the self-styled skeptical environmentalist is beginning to become less skeptical as he enters middle age."

Right wing media has often cited Lomberg, how will they react? It's possible Lomberg hasn't really changed his position. The Telegraph are distancing themselves saying Lomberg was always "a warmer" and this story of defection is a canard.
posted by stbalbach (37 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
He has a new book forthcoming? You don't say...
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:34 AM on September 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


The Telegraph are distancing themselves saying Lomberg was always "a warmer" and this story of defection is a canard.

The moon was always made of green cheese, the moon was always made of green cheese .....
posted by blucevalo at 9:39 AM on September 1, 2010


I guess the spigot of skepticism has run dry.
posted by benzenedream at 9:46 AM on September 1, 2010


This is great! A certain family member has been using this guy as undisputed proof that Global Warming is a scam; I can't wait to send him the link.
posted by cell divide at 9:48 AM on September 1, 2010


His first book said global warming wasn't happening. His second book said it was happening, but it would cost more to prevent than it would to mitigate the damage. His third book is going to say that global warming is happening and must be prevented at all costs.

Conclusion: Bjorn Lomberg is good at selling books.
posted by miyabo at 9:50 AM on September 1, 2010 [35 favorites]


I'm reminded of the ending of "Boob Men", when they made as much money removing implants as they ever did inserting them. Looks like a way to run a scam on a hot-button issue both coming and going, not unlike the Clinton-era 'elves' who try to make more money peddling their tell-all memoirs, with a "heavy heart" for what they'd done.
posted by hincandenza at 9:50 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


He has a new book forthcoming? You don't say...

Yes, just by virtue of the fact that he would dare to publish a book, obviously he's just trying to profit from lies. That is bad. Unless you're any other sort of American Capitalist, preferably a large corporation. Then, it's the way the free market works, and that is good.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:51 AM on September 1, 2010


in an apparent U-turn

I expect this to be spun as not a "u-turn" by Lomborg himself.

In part because Lomborg has never been traveling in just one direction.

I always thought he was in line with the consensus on the problem, a contrarian with his proposed answers.
posted by chavenet at 9:54 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Telegraph are distancing themselves saying Lomberg was always "a warmer"

We are at war with Eurasia. We have always been at war with Eurasia.
posted by Decani at 9:54 AM on September 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Right wing media has often cited Lomberg, how will they react?
Oh, probably about how they reacted when they were presented with evidence that the Acorn video was faked. They will publicize their error and move swiftly to repair the damage they've done.
posted by Killick at 9:58 AM on September 1, 2010 [16 favorites]


Better late than never.
posted by bearwife at 9:59 AM on September 1, 2010


The damage is fucking done (though I will probably get his new book to give to my father who never tires of referring to the Skeptical Environmentalist in any climate-change discussions we've had).
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:00 AM on September 1, 2010


Giving this book to a relative or previously unconvinced person is still going to result in a raised blood pressure in your own veins.

You: Hey dad, Bjørn Lomborg changed his mind.
Dad: So, those ivory-towered eggheads finally came up with some REAL evidence did they? Or has Bjørn merely bought into the conspiracy?
posted by DU at 10:03 AM on September 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


This guy sucks for changing his mind, and bringing his position into line with the (well-substantiated) hypothesis to which I also subscribe, in a manner that is incompatible with some amorphous definition of ideological purity that exists only in my tiny righteous snowflake heart and is therefore worthy only of scorn and run-on sentences.
posted by Mister_A at 10:06 AM on September 1, 2010 [12 favorites]


What the hell? Did the Telegraph really just publish an article with "ecotard" in the first sentence?

Their conclusion that Lomborg was always a "warmist" also seems to lie with Lomborg's respect for the scientific method. James Delingpole (the article's author) seems to believe that Climate Change is some sort of heavy-handed moralist debate that legitimately has two sides. This is not how science works. Lomborg was skeptical of climate change because there wasn't enough data....10 years later, there's more data, and he seems pretty thoroughly convinced.

I think it's safe to say that we can snip a corner off of James Delingpole's journalist card.

Also, was it really worth mentioning that Lomborg is gay? This may very well be the worst editorial I've ever seen.
posted by schmod at 10:07 AM on September 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


... not unlike the Clinton-era 'elves' who try to make more money peddling their tell-all memoirs, with a "heavy heart" for what they'd done.

Or:

Blair, 57, said he felt "desperately sorry" for the lives cut short, but said the mistaken belief that Saddam was hiding weapons of mass destruction was an "understandable error."
posted by Joe Beese at 10:09 AM on September 1, 2010


"The ecotard media...

Uh, technically, wouldn't the side arguing that the climate is not currently in a state of change but held in place by some sort of inertial retarding force be more accurately called "ecotards"?

Because if you're gonna toss words around to use as slurs, I'm gonna bat them back at you using the classic rubber/ glue gambit.
posted by quin at 10:13 AM on September 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Phht. Lore Sjoberg changed his mind? Typical.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 10:20 AM on September 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm skeptical.

Lomborg appears to think geo-engineering should be a key part of the mix. Keep belching away -- we'll sop it up with super sponges!

In other words, he's shilling for big capital-intensive solutions that will be won by the usual big capital bidders; and worse, which will allow the current big capital heavyweights to maintain their primacy.

We want to unshackle ourselves from those behemoths through diversification and decentralization. We don't want to be bound to them ever more tightly.

One thing's consistent between then and now -- his skeptical non-denialism of the early oughts serves the same interests his embrace of climate ameliorism serves today.
posted by notyou at 10:26 AM on September 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


stbalbach: "It's possible Lomberg hasn't really changed his position."

I'd be inclined to agree. From the Class M blog:
Even today, Lomborg continues to be dismissive of the basic facts. He is "deeply critical of the dominant, cutting-carbon approach," according to the Guardian. Instead, he wants us to spend $100 billion a year on improving the efficiencies and lowering the costs of clean renewables, and maybe give some geoengineering scheme a closer look. Neither accommodates reality. First, R&D is all very well, and necessary. But it is an indirect approach that will take decades to bring about real emission reductions. And just about everyone who has actually studied the problem agrees we need to begin bringing then down within five years. Only direct government action in the form of regulations and/or taxation has a chance of achieving that goal.
Geoengineering is another of Lomborg's pet solutions. It is a new field with plenty of unknown risks, and uncertain benefits. The type of firm that would be able to tackle the R&D in this field is the same type that has vested interests in the status quo. All of which reminds me of Reagan and Star Wars - there were plenty of scientists in the 80's saying the technology just wasn't there to intercept missiles from space, yet they shoveled truckloads of money towards solving a megaproblem that many knowledgeable people thought just wouldn't be solved in any near term.

I think this 'conversion' of his is a convenient sidestep in a dance of distraction. The servants of power will work on and support ideas that don't threaten existing power structures.

On preview, what notyou said.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:34 AM on September 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


tell you what Bjorn, donate ALL profits from your upcoming book towards this fight and I'll take you with something more than a grain of salt... maybe two gains even.
posted by edgeways at 10:36 AM on September 1, 2010


This is great! A certain family member has been using this guy as undisputed proof that Global Warming is a scam; I can't wait to send him the link.

This kinda gets to the crux of my ambivalence about Lomborg's aboutface. Because the thing is, cell divide, if you had a family member using Lomborg as "undisputed proof" that climate change wasn't happening, that family member probably won't be affected by this. Why? Because Lomborg never denied the existence of the problem. His whole schtick was that it was happening, but it probably wouldn't be too big a deal and would be way out of proportion costwise to fix if in fact we could, and our time and compassion and money was better spent on treatable problems like malaria.

I've been studying, writing and speaking about climate change for more than a decade (and almost exclusively for the last six years). I've seen myth after myth dispelled, pundit after pundit abandon the untenable there's-no-such-thing position but still maintain a contrarian point of view nearly as obstructionist. Carbon sequestration will solve it; solar doesn't work, we need nukes; we need to seed the upper atmosphere with sulphur dioxide; those eco-nuts want to take away our cars and turn our homes into communes and make us ride bikes made of soy protein chains; etc., etc.

There's no rational argument there, no basic agreement to limit discussion to verifiable fact. Jon Stewart pointed out the other night that Fox News was trying to demonize the "radical" financial backer of the "Ground Zero Mosque" despite the fact the guy is the No. 2 shareholder in News Corp. Climate denialists are like that. They are confirmation bias writ large, status quo bias inflated to planetary scale. They will cling to anything they can find to maintain the fundamentals of their worldview and carry on with business as usual.

In the energy industry, this is of course hugely profit-driven, but the fellow travellers with the coal companies and oil barons range from people afraid of change in general to people worried about their jobs, their stuff, their social status, their basic sense of how the world works and how it's fundamentally oriented. They are, I think, of a piece with Tea Partiers, Islamophobes, anti-immigration and anti-gay marriage zealots, all that fearful panicked lot. They feel the ground moving fast beneath their feet. They know the world emerging is not the one they've long known - demographically, economically, socially, even at the base level of climate - and they are possessed with a growing inchoate terror that they will not be able to find a comfortable place in that new world.

They are not wrong to be fearful. Twenty million Pakistanis have been displaced in just a few weeks, and they were saying on the CBC this morning that a land mass the size of Italy is underwater along the banks of the Indus today, and that flood is but a sneak preview of what the earth has in store for us. The fear this creates is a very, very dangerous political force. The challenge for those of us on the reasonable side of the climate and energy debate is to find a way to engage it, tame it, and move it in some kind of productive direction.

I remember thinking, within a couple of days of 9/11 if not just a few hours, that the smart thing to do would've been to round up like 10,000 American college students, send them to Peshawar with crates of books and supplies, and set up little American Freedom Schools right across the dusty refugee camp path from the madrassas. I dunno what the climate-energy-crisis shock force looks like, but it needs to start somewhere like that.

Alex Steffen at Worldchanging has mused about an "Outquisition" movement that points in that kind of direction. I was in Toledo, Ohio, recently. It is a shell of a city, a place where it would seem impossible to maintain the fiction that all was well in the republic. Its university, unbeknownst to much of the city itself and the whole of its state energy department, has very quietly developed possibly the most important advanced solar energy research cluster on the planet. German towns are now surrounded by thin-film solar arrays developed using innovations made by Toledo's glass industry. There's not a single commercial-scale installation in Ohio. In light of the challenges we face, that's just insane, the size of that oversight.

I used to dream of guys like Lomborg getting theirs. But you know what? Almost everything the dude ever wrote has been thoroughly and meticulously debunked by professional climate scientists - Realclimate.org did a particularly good job - and it has been sitting there a click away for years, and it has never made a lick of difference to the anxious, aging segment of the population who will not accept change.

Well, this has run on some. TL;DR version? I dunno. Something about the Scorpion and the Frog, I guess.
posted by gompa at 10:36 AM on September 1, 2010 [60 favorites]


"The ecotard media..."

Derail: James Delingpole has moved further to the right, at least journalistically, over the years. "Ecotard" is his rather craven attempt to generate some of the support and antagonism that have made Limbaugh and Beck rich. He's not the only one. Many journalists have looked in envy at the way Iain Dale has made a mini media empire for himself and perhaps wondered bitterly at how a sad, flaccid excuse for a journalist like Richard North has managed to carve a niche for himself by emulating the worst excesses of the rightist blogosphere in the US.

Underneath this, the Telegraph has moved much more to a freelance journo model, I guess in a bid to cut costs. It sacked a lot of its staff. Some, like Sam Leith, found themselves more at home on the left. Many of the political lot found a natural home on the harder side of the right, where they were made to look positively moderate after Mark Steyn and Barbara Amiel were forced to pack their bags.

Climate change itself isn't a very hot button issue in the UK until someone wants to build wind farms. At which point every nimby with green ink starts dredging up stats on how wind farms are useless because the wind doesn't always blow.


Anyway, back on topic: conversion is always a good selling point: see David Horowitz, David Brock etc.

and I apologise to David Brock for making this overt comparison
posted by MuffinMan at 10:40 AM on September 1, 2010


governments should levy a tax on carbon and spend billions annually on research for new technologies

Perhaps Lomborg could donate the proceeds of his previous bestselling books to kickstart this project.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:01 AM on September 1, 2010


Global warming skeptic Bjørn Lomborg

Lomborg's shtick as not been to question the reality of climate change but to argue that the cost-benefit-analysis of addressing climate change is not worthwhile and resources would be better spent elsewhere: this was basically a great line of argument for the end-game of climate-change denialism which was supposed to be "ok, we admit it, you were right, climate change is happening and it was caused by humans, but it's too expensive to deal with, so we should address other problems."

Interesting that he's made a big u-turn, actually, because he could have ridden that horse for a while longer.... unless the new line of argument is, "well, it's too late to do anything about, now, and those other problems we have are too expensive, as well. Hey, how 'bout some tax cuts?"
posted by deanc at 11:38 AM on September 1, 2010


Conclusion: Bjorn Lomberg is good at selling books.

And isn't too worried about having been a key player in crippling hte ability of humanity to avoid the problem, all for well-paid speaking gigs from large companies and political groups with a vested interest in "Fuck you all, I got mine".
posted by rodgerd at 11:46 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's okay. I'm sure when we throw all the bums out of Washington in the coming midterms, the new Tea Party majority congress in the House will swoop right in and get to work seriously on solving the problem, overcoming the bitter opposition of industry groups and the financial sector to push through a comprehensive, radical and all-inclusive set of new policies to tackle AGW and all our other energy and environmental problems in no time.

I mean, it's not like their retaking congress in the midterms was all part of some long term strategy that republican political operatives have had in place since the beginning of the current administration with some kind of crazy plan to completely shut down the Federal government once they retake congress, like they did for the entirety of Clinton's second term.

And it's not like the American people would be stupid enough (again) to blame the policy failures that result on the current Democratic administration and elect some radical right wing thug to the highest office in the land.

No, in the best case scenario, the Democrats get their asses handed back to them, and we elect an outsider to the White House (preferably a white guy with a boring name like John Smith or something this time, so we can quiet down the nut jobs on the right). And then we'll have so much less to complain about. So much less.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:09 PM on September 1, 2010


James Delingpole

Whatever the topic, that byeline should alert you to the fact that what follows will be the worst kind of contrarian bullshit. Delingpole - proudly standing up for oppressed institutions such as big oil and the Bullingdon Club.
posted by Jakob at 2:05 PM on September 1, 2010


I'm still unsure as to why a not-very-good statistician, without any training in a relevant field of climatology (for the science of ACC), biology (for the environmental impacts) or economics (for human adjustment costs), and who's been shown to be a scientific fraud, receives any coverage or legitimacy whatsoever. Is it because he seems pleasant and reasonable, at least when placed next to Discount Monckton and associated loons? Or simply because he's scandinavian, and they're always common-sense?
posted by wilful at 4:17 PM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lomborg always said that global warming was happening. He has not disputed that the current global warming is driven by human greenhouse gas emissions.

In The Skeptical Environmentalist he happily accepted the hockey stick graph of MBH98. It's in the book.

In Cool it he advocated spending 0.05% of global GDP or ~30Bn per year. He now advocates 100Bn or 0.15% .

There are others who are advocating similar proposals. Richard Tol and Roger Pielke Jnr (who was an IPPC author ) and The Breakthrough Institute.
posted by sien at 5:32 PM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


sien, you've been far too kind to him. He's a classic "concern troll", admitting ACC, but strongly questioning it at the same time, and vastly downplaying its likely impacts, despite having no relevant qualifications to do so. Here's the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty:

"Objectively speaking, the publication of the work under consideration is deemed to fall within the concept of scientific dishonesty. ...In view of the subjective requirements made in terms of intent or gross negligence, however, Lomborg's publication cannot fall within the bounds of this characterization. Conversely, the publication is deemed clearly contrary to the standards of good scientific practice."

In other words, he's too incompetent to have made so many mistakes maliciously, he can't claim any expertise so he's allowed to be so wrong.
posted by wilful at 6:16 PM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Right wing media has often cited Lomberg, how will they react?

I wonder how will the left wing media will react. When Andrew Sullivan realized and admitted his mistakes on Iraq, there were many who refused to aknowledge him. The same thing might happen to Lomborg.
posted by homunculus at 7:39 PM on September 1, 2010


At every stage he's taken the position that will get him the most attention. Seriously, this is professional contrarian territory; an extremely popular career choice these days with second-rate minds or lower who couldn't publish a word if they confined themselves to the quality of work they could do with intellectual honesty.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:29 PM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


So the guy who's spent his career attacking climate scientists has decided he was wrong all along, and has written his book.

I'm not going to read his book. I'm going to read the book written by one of those climate scientists who was right all along.

I'd be more impressed if he said, "I was wrong all along. Obviously I'm really bad at this environmental stuff. I'm giving it up and taking up dog grooming."
posted by eye of newt at 8:38 PM on September 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think he just took a big payoff from the people who run the Liberal Agenda. I mean, it's only 78 degrees today in early September. Global Warming is a LIE!
posted by Fezboy! at 7:39 AM on September 2, 2010


I guess the spigot of skepticism has run dry.

Is that what oil companies call their funding program for scientists? I wonder if there is any correlation between these "revelations" and a sudden drop of funding from those with vested interests.

(NOT benefiting from global warming in France yet)
posted by whatzit at 9:33 AM on September 2, 2010


> This guy sucks for changing his mind, and bringing his position into line with the (well-substantiated) hypothesis to which I also subscribe, in a manner that is incompatible with some amorphous definition of ideological purity that exists only in my tiny righteous snowflake heart and is therefore worthy only of scorn and run-on sentences.

No, he sucks because of this.
posted by Bangaioh at 7:39 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


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