A false choice from a familiar skeptic
Courtesy of Lomborg.comBjorn Lomborg — Danish statistician, self-styled “Skeptical Environmentalist,” and long-time Grist nemesis — found his way onto the New York Times op-ed page over the weekend, arguing that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a hopeless cause and that public money is better spent on research and development of renewable energy.
He claims Americans don’t much care about global warming (according to a recent Pew survey) and notes that international negotiations have so far failed at producing emissions cuts — neither of which, we say, is a reason not to devise a better climate treaty. He concludes that the “smarter, more realistic strategy” is to fund technological breakthroughs in solar and wind energy.
“Kyoto-style emissions cuts can only ever be an expensive distraction from the real business of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels,” writes Lomborg, the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.
It’s a classic Lomborg argument — deliberatively provocative and presenting several worthy goals as an either/or choice. Choose either emissions caps or R&D, he proposes. You can’t have both.
Lomborg makes no mention of the tremendous potential that carbon regulation has to raise money for clean energy R&D. Nor does he acknowledge how regulation raises demand for clean energy, in turn driving tech breakthroughs. (This ground is well-trodden by Dave Roberts and Joe Romm — take it from them.)
Lomborg made his name in 2001 by publishing The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World, a 540-page attack on conventional green wisdom. It suggested that supposed environmental crises — including global warming — were “phantom problems” drummed up by the environmental old guard to serve its own ends. That prompted Grist to respond with “A skeptical look at The Skeptical Environmentalist,” a special series in which experts scrutinized Lomborg’s claims in their fields.
Did much debunkery ensue? Oh yes it did. Nobel-winning Climatologist Stephen Schneider exposed Lomborg’s selective use of statistics in his climate analysis. Energy expert David Nemtzow called out Lomborg for knocking down a straw man of fossil fuel scarcity. Biologist E.O. Wilson blasted holes Lomborg’s “stop worrying” analysis of species extinction. And more.
As Schneider complained eight years ago, the most vexing question might be how Lomborg keeps getting such high-profile attention. And that prompts a question about the New York Times‘ rationale for going to Lomborg for this essay. He is, basically, a climate change denier. Granting him space on the NYT op-ed page is yet another example of the media treating a scientific matter as just another political topic fit for debate. One wonders, would they grant the same privilege to the wackos who think HIV doesn’t cause AIDS?