Lomborg’s a real Nowhere Man
In Cool It, Lomborg writes about global warming — but the globe he is writing about certainly isn’t Earth. We’ve already seen in Parts I and II that on Planet Lomborg, polar bears can evolve backwards and the ice sheets can’t suffer rapid ice loss (as they are already doing on Earth).
On Planet Lomborg, the carbon cycle has no amplifying feedbacks — even though these are central to why warming on Earth will be worse than the IPCC projects. I couldn’t even find the word “feedback” or “permafrost” in the book [if anyone finds them, please let me know].
On Planet Lomborg, free from the restrictions of science, global warming is kind of delightful (p.12):
The reality of climate change isn’t necessarily an unusually fierce summer heat wave. More likely, we may just notice people wearing fewer layers of clothes on a winter’s evening.
On planet Earth, a major study in Nature found that if we fail to take strong action to reduce emissions soon, the brutal European heat wave that killed 35,000 people will become the typical summer within the next four decades. By the end of the century, “2003 would be classed as an anomalously cold summer relative to the new climate.”
Lomborg’s entire book takes place in a kind of fantasy land or Bizarro world. Aptly, on the last page is “A Note on the Type” that begins:
This book was set in Utopia …
In the second half of this century (from 2071 to 2095), a vast swath of the country would see average summer temperature rise by a blistering 9Â°F. Houston and Washington, D.C., would experience temperatures exceeding 98Â°F for some 60 days a year. Oklahoma would see temperatures above 110Â°F some 60 to 80 days a year. Much of Arizona would be subjected to temperatures of 105Â°F or more for 98 days out of the year — 14 full weeks. We won’t call these heat waves anymore. As the lead author, Noah Diffenbaugh, of Purdue University said to me, “We will call them normal summers.”
Since my debate with Lomborg was on a Denver radio station, I brought up the permanent-drought study. He didn’t deny it — he just said that if you look at the planet as a whole, it is going to get wetter. In Cool It, he has managed to find a study that concludes (p. 109):
The remarkable result is that global warming actually reduces the number of people living in water-stressed areas.
The original study is a tad more complicated. It warns that the hydrological model it uses “tends to overestimate the river flows in dry regions-by up to a factor of three” and, far more important, “it does not include a glacier component, so river flows in a cell do not include any net melt from upstream glaciers.” The study clearly states that the conclusion that the number of water-stressed people will drop “gives a misleading indication of the effect of climate change, for two reasons”:
Firstly, the increases in runoff generally occur during high flow seasons, and may not alleviate dry season problems if this extra water is not stored: the extra water may lead to increased flooding, rather than reduced water resources stresses.
Duh. The places where the rain increases see most of their extra water in the form of deluges, as I have noted before. Absent a vast new storage network — which Lomborg implies is a trivial matter — they’ll see no benefit at all. In fact, the increased flooding will be a nightmare, as Britain and China have found out.
Secondly, the watersheds that apparently benefit from a reduction in water-resources stress are in limited, but populous, parts of the world, and largely confined to east and southern Asia …
But those areas are precisely the ones that are going to suffer the most from the loss of the inland glaciers. Lomborg thinks the melting will increase runoff for a few decades, but in fact, China’s State News Agency reported in 2004 that “A potential silver lining in the form of additional water for China’s arid north and west has not materialized.” Why? “Much of the melted glacier water vaporizes long before it reaches the country’s drought-stricken farmers and again global warming is to blame.” Doh!
Lomborg himself acknowledges the following about the Himalayan glaciers: “with continuous melting, the glaciers will run dry toward the end of the century” (p. 58). But to Lomborg we’ll be so rich by then that “to a large extent this can be remedied by improved water storage but of course that would mean large extra costs” (p. 58).
Maybe on Planet Lomborg you can replace glaciers with improved storage, but on Earth, “global warming will reduce glaciers and storage packs of snow in regions around the world, causing water shortages and other problems that will impact millions of people,” according to a major review study led by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and published in Nature.
As the Independent reported earlier this year in an article titled “China’s water supply could be cut off as Tibet’s glaciers melt,”
Water from the mountain region feeds the Yellow, Yangtze and other rivers that feed hundreds of millions of people across China and South Asia.
But these are precisely the people who are supposed to get more water in the one study Lomborg cites.
Yes, he is a master cherry-picker.
As for agriculture, he claims “in worst-case scenarios” we will see a “7 percent [crop] yield decrease in the developing world and a 3 percent yield increase in the developed world” (pp. 104-105).
Maybe on planet Lomborg. On Earth, Lomborg has no conception of worst-case scenarios of global warming. Try this from British scientists: half the planet will be under moderate drought, and “one third of the planet will be desert by the year 2100.”
That will lead to mass migrations and millions of environmental refugees. And this result is based on a greenhouse-gas-emissions growth scenario that ignores key amplifying feedbacks: “In one unpublished Met Office study, when the carbon cycle effects are included, future drought is even worse.”
Lomborg can’t concern himself with true worst-case scenarios for global warming, because that would smash his entire argument to pieces. When a real economist examines such scenarios, they overwhelm all other aspects of cost-benefit analysis, which is Lomborg’s favorite weapon for arguing against taking action on climate change, as I will explore in a later post.
Get Grist in your inbox