The Cult of Bjorn Lomborg

en: Danish Political scientist Bjørn Lomborg. ...
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As world leaders gather in Cancun, it’s no coincidence that Bjorn Lomborg is traveling the world to promote Cool It, a new documentary that features his long-time efforts to undercut so-called climate alarmism.

As Lomborg stops in Toronto to deliver his feel-good message – that we really shouldn’t worry too much about climate change – the Canadian media fawns and swoons. It reveals the genius of Bjorn: just tell people exactly what they want to hear. Just be happy and keep doing what you’re doing. Everything’s fine.

Toronto Star film critic Peter Howell, obviously sighing with relief, forgets about critiquing the film and gleefully quotes Lomborg as he proceeds to tell it like it is:

We’re not going to be spending trillions of dollars. We’re not going to change our lives. Lots of people say we should fly less, heat less, and put on a sweater. But it’s not going to happen. People are happy to say that for other people, but not themselves. I’m a vegetarian, but I don’t expect other people not to eat meat.

It’s just one of Lomborg’s many refrains, as he supposedly steers people toward pragmatic common sense and away from climate fear-mongering.

Depending on the debate partner or the day, he could argue the above, or he could suggest that we should concentrate on more important things, such as disease, poverty and hunger. Or he could say that the effects of climate change won’t be so bad anyway. He might ask: Are you affected by climate change right now? Of course you’re not. So why worry?

Lomborg’s arguments have been dissected and dismissed in many different places – most recently by the Union of Concerned Scientists – and he takes up a great deal of space in desmogblog.com‘s disinformation database.

Clearly, he hits a nerve. The question is why.

Lomborg has never published a peer-reviewed article on climate science, yet he’s sure the issue is overblown. When pressed on the point, he completely agrees that global warming exists, and that it is caused by humans. But he’d still like to play it down, and imply that it’s not really a problem.

Here’s a typical example of his line of argument, from Lomborg’s commentary in the Globe and Mail in September:

The point isn’t that we can or should ignore global warming. The point is that we should be wary of fear-mongering. More often than not, what sounds like horrific changes in climate and geography actually turns out to be quite manageable. In research funded by the European Union, climate scientists Robert J. Nicholls, Richard S.J. Tol and Athanasios T. Vafeidis recently studied what would happen in the unlikely event that the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed. The result, they found, would be a sea-level rise of 20 feet over the next hundred years – exactly Mr. Gore’s nightmare. But how calamitous would this really be?

Not very. According to these scientists, a 20-foot rise in sea levels would inundate about 16,000 square miles of coastline and affect more than 400 million people. That’s a lot of people, to be sure, but it’s hardly all of mankind. In fact, it amounts to less than 6 per cent of the world’s population – which is to say that 94 per cent of the population would be unaffected. And most of those who do live in the flood areas wouldn’t even get their feet wet. That’s because the vast majority of those 400 million people reside within cities and other areas that could – and would – be protected relatively easily. (Remember Tokyo?) As a result, only about 15 million people would have to be relocated. And that’s over the course of a century.

Anyone else see a problem with this line of reasoning? It would affect more than 400 million people, but that’s a fairly small percentage of the world population, so it’s ok? But what about all the other ice sheets affecting sea-level rise? What about all the other climate effects, such as extreme weather events and changing drought and flood patterns that would affect agriculture worldwide? How many more people could be affected? And what kind of dangerous tensions will arise when these people are forced to migrate to new places?

Lomborg’s analysis is devoid of these difficult questions, because he’s already decided where he stands on the issue, and he’s simply looking for the easiest way to justify it, excuse it and otherwise explain it away. He’s simply telling people exactly what they want to hear.

That may not seem too problematic at first blush. But it is. The fact is that Lomborg craves attention, and he will always garner it with respect to climate change. Not because he has genuine things to say about the topic, but because he’ll always take whatever opposing view makes him stand out.

That’s precisely why he’s been thrust to the forefront of this debate. First, because there are so few credible climate skeptics out there, so he’s a big fish in a virtually non-existent pool. Second, because he just wants the attention so bad. He’s the Tom Cruise of climate skeptics. I can even imagine him jumping on a couch at his next high-profile interview.

It’s not such a problem when your teenager acts out and contradicts everything you say, but it would be if the stakes were as high as they are with global warming. It’s this shameless self-promotion that explains Bjorn Lomborg’s popularity, and it’s why he drives environmentalists and scientists nuts. He’ll say whatever he needs to say to continue being the go-to guy providing a token “on-the-other-hand” analysis in media portrayals of climate science.

I’d even go so far as suggest that in a world of climate skeptics, he’d be your righteous tree hugger. That alone, beyond all his dubious arguments and disingenuous claims, is reason enough to be skeptical of Bjorn Lomborg.


Fraser Los is a contributing editor with thegreenpages.ca

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