Is Fear of Global Warming and Environmental Catastrophe Exaggerated? - Philip McShane - 26 March 02 : LUSENET : Theology and Creation : One Thread

A recent book by Bjorn Lomborg entitled "The Skeptical Environmentalist" has given rise to popular discussions in newspapers, some of which claim that fears about climate change, environmental disaster and about reduction in biodiversity are greatly exaggerated.

Lomborg himself summarizes his position as follows:

"We will not lose our forests; we will not run out of energy, raw materials, or water. We have reduced atmospheric pollution in the cities of the developed world and have good reason to believe that this will also be achieved in the developing world. Our oceans have not been defiled, our rivers have become cleaner and support more life. ... Nor is waste a particularly big problem. ... The problem of the ozone layer has been more or less solved. The current outlook on the development of global warming does not indicate a catastrophe. ... And, finally, our chemical worries and fear of pesticides are misplaced and counterproductive."

Lomborg's book has been discussed in detail on various web sites. Put under the microscope, his views are less than compelling. See especially the following, where experts in each of the various fields that Lomborg examines reject Lomborg's analysis (all this is one "word"):

This site also has numerous links to other discussions of the book.

Within the past couple of weeks, the Larsen B icefield in Antartica broke up into the sea. See the article in the "Scientific American" (the following address is all one "word"):

One scientist commented: "Since [1998], warming on the peninsula has continued and we watched as piece-by-piece Larsen B has retreated," David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey says. "We knew what was left would collapse eventually, but the speed of it is staggering." Over the course of 35 days, 3,250 square kilometers of shelf area disintegrated--an area larger than that of Rhode Island."

I think one should take Lomborg and newspaper articles based on him with a grain of salt!

-- Anonymous, March 26, 2002


I have read the above. I can understand the original question. When you read Sean McDonagh's books on the environment, it is quite depressing. As I read the material, I wonder, are things that bad. If so, we are in deep trouble. A question, when can we do, I ask myself what can I do. Apart from doing the usual recycling which I do at present, bottles, cans, paper etc. what can I do as an ordinary person. If nothing else, this course has made me so aware of what we are doing to the environment, but is it as bad as Sean McDonagh portrays?

-- Anonymous, March 27, 2002

Cathy, I think it can get as bad as Sean McDonagh's writings suggest. We can only do our bit and if everyone were to start there things would improve. A little like the ants - everyone doing their job and the work gets done.! Jackie

-- Anonymous, March 27, 2002

What's Lomborg's pedigree? When I hear of someone like him, my first question is 'who benefits most from what he has to say?'


-- Anonymous, April 02, 2002

Lomborg, an associate professor of statistics at Denmark's University of Aarhus.

Here is the list of different experts who discuss Lomborg's views in the website mentioned above:

Extinction Biologist E.O. Wilson -- two-time Pulitzer prize winner, discoverer of hundreds of new species, and one of the world's greatest living scientists -- debunks Lomborg's analysis of extinction rates.

Climate Stephen H. Schneider, one of the foremost climate scientists in the United States, discredits Lomborg on global climate change and takes Cambridge University Press and the media to task for publishing and praising a polemic.

Species diversity Norman Myers, an Honorary Visiting Fellow of Oxford University, a member of the U.S. National Academy of the Sciences, and a recipient of several of the world's most prestigious environmental awards, looks at Lomborg on biodiversity and concludes that he lacks even "a preliminary understanding of the science in question."

Population Lester R. Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute, reviews Lomborg on population and concludes that his analysis is so "fundamentally flawed" that other professionals would do well to disassociate themselves from his work.

Forests Emily Matthews, a forest expert and senior associate with the World Resources Institute, shows that Lomborg reaches wildly inaccurate conclusions about deforestation by fudging data or failing to interpret it correctly.

Statistics Al Hammond, senior scientist at World Resources Institute, criticizes Lomborg for mischaracterizing the contemporary environmental movement and committing precisely the sins for which he attacks environmentalists: exaggeration, sweeping generalizations, the presentation of false choices, selective use of data, and outright errors of fact.

Human health Devra Davis, a leading epidemiologist and environmental health researcher, acknowledges that environmentalists have made some errors but argues that Lomborg, too, is seriously mistaken about how the environment affects public health.

Energy Energy expert David Nemtzow, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, says Lomborg wastes his time battling a straw man: Virtually no one in the contemporary environmental movement disputes that fossil fuels are abundant, Nemtzow argues; in fact, it's precisely their abundance and their impact on our ecosystems that's the trouble.

So what? In a review of the politics behind the statistics, Grist Assistant Editor Kathryn Schulz argues that Lomborg's real goal is to divide the left and discredit the environmental movement.

Note: I originally raised the question because of the popular newspaper articles which followed Lomborg uncritically. A closer look (as usual) uncovers many problems.

-- Anonymous, April 12, 2002

At the risk of replying too often to my own question, I just want to signal the continuing controversy over Lomborg's book. This time the forum is "Scientific American". Here is what they write:


"Skepticism toward The Skeptical Environmentalist The recent publication of The Skeptical Environmentalist, a book by Bjørn Lomborg (Cambridge University Press, 2001), ignited an international controversy. Lomborg, a Danish political scientist with a background in statistics, argues in his text that claims made by environmentalists about global warming, overpopulation, energy, deforestation, species loss, water shortages, and a variety of other issues are exaggerations unsupported by a proper analysis of environmental data. His message was widely publicized in the popular media and championed by political commentators traditionally opposed to environmentalist policies.

Outraged voices within the mainstream scientific community quickly answered, however, that Lomborg’s work was deeply flawed. His text, they said, misrepresented the actual positions of environmentalists and scientists, and his analysis was marred by invalidating errors that include a narrow, biased reading of the literature, an inadequate understanding of the science, and quotations taken out of context.

In its January 2002 issue, Scientific American published the feature "Misleading Math about the Earth," in which four environmental experts—Stephen Schneider, John Holdren, John Bongaarts and Thomas Lovejoy—criticized The Skeptical Environmentalist’s arguments on global warming, energy, overpopulation and biodiversity. Lomborg has since written a detailed online rebuttal to our feature; we also have some responses to that rebuttal.

Readers can find all of these documents here:

The original Scientific American feature, "Misleading Math about the Earth."

[Note: the following are internet links. You can find the internet addresses by going to the Scientific American web site: lJpDUWEiopspitJloHgLFohmtHpsDJhtEaEYZY

Note, too, that the above all goes on one line, and there is no space etc. after the question mark]

Lomborg's rebuttal that appears in the May 2002 issue of Scientific American.

Lomborg’s detailed response to our article in PDF format.

Editor John Rennie’s response to the Lomborg rebuttal.

John Holdren’s response to Lomborg.

Links to more comments on The Skeptical Environmentalist.

An additional selection of readers' letters."


-- Anonymous, April 16, 2002

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