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Scientific American mag did a thorough slammer piece on this Doomer and this is his response. Buzz down to SciAm's reponse to his repsonse.
........... The Skeptical Environmentalist Replies
Recently Scientific American published "Misleading Math about the Earth," a series of essays that critized Bjřrn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist. Here Lomborg offers his rebuttal.
After Scientific American published an 11-page critique of my book The Skeptical Environmentalist in January, I’ve now been allowed a one-page reply. Naturally, this leaves little space to comment on particulars, and I refer to my 32-page article-for-article, point-for-point reply at www.lomborg.org and on the Scientific American Web site (www.sciam.com).
I believe many readers will have shared my surprise at the choice of four reviewers so closely identified with environmental advocacy. The Economist summarized their pieces as “strong on contempt and sneering, but weak on substance.”
The book was fundamentally misrepresented to the readers of Scientific American. I would therefore like to use this opportunity to stake out some of the basic arguments.
I take the best information on the state of the world that we have from the top international organizations and document that generally things are getting better. This does not mean that there are no problems and that this is the best of all possible worlds, but rather that we should not act on myths of gloom and doom. Indeed, if we want to leave the best possible world for our children, we must make sure we first handle the problems where we can do the most good.
Take global warming, where Stephen Schneider berates me for neglecting and misunderstanding science and failing to support the Kyoto Protocol. But in my book I clearly use the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as key documentation, and all the uncertainties notwithstanding, I accept that science points to anthropogenic global warming. (This is in contrast to the contrarians who deny global warming or indeed to early work of Schneider, who suggested that we could be heading for a new ice age.)
Schneider claims that I don’t understand the research in studies by Richard S. Lindzen and by the Danish solar scientists. Yet Lindzen replies: “... at one fell swoop, Schneider misrepresents both the book he is attacking and the science that he is allegedly representing.” And the solar scientists: “It is ironic that Stephen Schneider accuses Lomborg of not reading the original literature, when in his own arguments against Lomborg he becomes liable to similar criticism.”
With global warming our intuition says we should do something about it. While this intuition is laudable, it is not necessarily correct—it depends on comparing the cost of action to the cost of inaction and the alternative good we could do with our resources. We should not pay for cures that cost us more than the original ailment.
The Kyoto Protocol will do very little good—it will postpone warming for six years in 2100. Yet the cost will be $150 billion to $350 billion annually. Because global warming will primarily hurt Third World countries, we have to ask if Kyoto is the best way to help them. The answer is no. For the cost of Kyoto in just 2010, we could once and for all solve the single biggest problem on earth: We could give clean drinking water and sanitation to every single human being on the planet. This would save two million lives and avoid half a billion severe illnesses every year. And for every following year we could then do something equally good.
Schneider tells us that we need to do much more than Kyoto but does not tell us that this will be phenomenally more expensive. His attitude is the sympathetic reaction of a traditional environmentalist: solve the problem, no matter the cost. But using resources to solve one problem means fewer resources for all the others. We still need the best information on science, costs and benefits.
Take biodiversity. Thomas Lovejoy scolds me for ignoring loss of species. But no. I refer to the best possible U.N. data, and I accept that we are causing species extinction at probably about 1,500 times the natural rate. But unlike the traditional environmentalist who feels we have to do whatever is needed to stop it, I also ask how big this means the problem is. Answer: Over the next 50 years we might lose 0.7 percent of all species. (This contrasts both to contrarians who deny species extinction and to Lovejoy’s wildly excessive warning from 1979 of a 20 percent species loss from 1980 to 2000.) By the end of this century the U.N. expects we will have more forests, simply because even inhabitants in the developing countries will be much richer than we are now. Thus, the species loss caused by the real reduction in tropical forest (which I acknowledge in the book) will probably not continue beyond 2100.
Take all the issues the critics did not even mention (about half my book). We have a world in which we live longer and are healthier, with more food, fewer starving, better education, higher standards of living, less poverty, less inequality, more leisure time and fewer risks. And this is true for both the developed and the developing world (although getting better, some regions start off with very little, and in my book I draw special attention to the relatively poorer situation in Africa). Moreover, the best models predict that trends will continue.
Take air pollution, the most important social environmental indicator. In the developed world, the air has been getting cleaner throughout the century—in London, the air is cleaner today than at any time since 1585! And for the developing countries, where urban air pollution undeniably is a problem, air pollution will likewise decline when they (as we did) get sufficiently rich to stop worrying about hunger and start caring for the environment.
While I understand the traditional environmentalist’s intuitive abhorrence of prioritization, I believe that the cause of environmentalism is not well served by the Scientific American feature, clearly trying to rubbish the whole project. If we want to build an even better tomorrow, we need to know both the actual state of the world and where we can do the most good. I have made an honest effort to provide such an overview, based on science and with all the references clearly cited.
John Rennie, editor in chief of Scientific American, replies:
Disappointingly, Lomborg has chosen to fill his print response with half-truths and misdirection. Perhaps in this brief space he felt that he could do no better, but critics of The Skeptical Environmentalist also find such tactics to be common in his book. He implies that he has been wronged in getting so little space; our 11-page set of articles is a response to the 515-page volume in which he made his case, and which was widely and uncritically touted in the popular media. (Long before our article, for instance, The Economist gave him four unanswered pages for an essay.) So far it is the scientists who are having a harder time getting equal space for their side. Anyone still interested in this controversy will find on www.sciam.com our original articles and Lomborg’s detailed rebuttal of them, along with refutations to his rebuttal.
Lomborg and The Economist may call them “weak on substance,” but our pieces echo identical criticisms that have been made in reviews published by Nature, Science, American Scientist, and a wide variety of other scientific sources—not venues where insubstantial criticisms would hold up.
Lomborg’s stated proof that he understands the climate science is that he relies on the IPCC’s report, but the argument of Schneider (and other climatologists) is of course that Lomborg picks and chooses aspects of that report that he wants to embrace and disregards the rest. Lomborg boasts that he isn’t a global-warming denier, but how is that relevant? The criticism against him is not that he denies global warming but that he oversimplifies the case for it and minimizes what its consequences could be. The reference to Schneider’s theories about global cooling reaches back three decades; all good researchers change their views as new facts emerge. How does this bear on the current debate except as personal innuendo?
As in his book, Lomborg repeats that the Kyoto Protocol would postpone global warming for only six years. This is an empty, deceptive argument because the Kyoto Protocol isn’t meant to solve the problem by itself; it is a first step that establishes a framework for getting countries to cooperate on additional measures over time. The cost projections Lomborg uses represent one set of estimates, but far more favorable ones exist, too. Given that the additional antiwarming steps that might be taken aren’t yet known—and so their net costs are impossible to state—it is premature to dismiss them as “phenomenally more expensive.”
As Lovejoy’s article and others have noted, Lomborg’s simplistic treatments of biodiversity loss and deforestation are inappropriately dismissive of well-grounded concerns that those numbers could range far higher. (And why resurrect a claim in a paper that Lovejoy wrote 23 years ago when he and others have far more recent estimates?) Moreover, one problem of Lomborg’s statistical methodology is that it tends to equate all items within a category regardless of how valuable or different the individual elements are. For example, there may be more forest in 2100 than there is today, but much of that will be newly planted forest, which is ecologically different (and less biodiverse) than old forest.
When Lomborg restates the number of lost species as a percentage of total species, is he simply showing the true size of the problem or is he perhaps also trying to trivialize it? By analogy, in 2001 AIDS killed three million people, with devastating effects on societies in Africa and elsewhere. But that was only 0.05 percent of all humans. Which number is more helpful in setting a public health agenda for AIDS? The answer is neither, because numbers must be understood in context; Lomborg creates a context for belittling extinction problems.
Lomborg is being disingenuous when he protests that our authors did not even mention half his book. As our preface to the feature stated, we asked the authors to comment specifically on just four chapters. The flaws in those sections alone discredit his argument.
Environmental scientists are all in favor of setting priorities for action; Lomborg pretends otherwise because he disagrees with the priorities they set. Even if his effort to describe the “actual state of the world” (a naive goal, given the world’s complexity and the ambiguity of even the best evidence) is honest, his argument is not credible. And by sowing distrust of the environmental science community with his rhetoric, Lomborg has done a severe disservice not only to those scientists but also to the public he has misinformed.
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-- Carlos (email@example.com), April 27, 2002
I have recently finished the second reading of my copy of The Skeptical Environmentalist, and I must admit to being astounded at some of the facts that Bjorn Lomborg has presented. I researched the section on energy in some depth, and found that every conclusion drawn by Lomborg is absolutely correct.
Don't be misled by the writers at SciAm, Lomborg does not claim that the state of the world is as rosy as his detractors would have us believe. What he does conclude is that the world is not as bad as the media and many environmental organisations keep stating. In many cases he is able to show that the world is improving in relative terms, and he also attempts to put many facts into perspective.
He has been berated for using commonly available material rather than peer reviewed items, but his commonly available material is often UN or IPCC documents, or references to publications such as Science or Nature.
This book is a must read item for anyone who is truely interested in the environment.
-- Malcolm Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 27, 2002.
"improving in relative terms"
This is very strange thing to say. Improvement is a relative term. To determine improvement, you look at the present relative to the past. If the present is better, you have improved. If it is the same or worse, you have not improved.
However, deteriorating at a slower rate in the present than the the rate of deterioration in the recent past is not "improving" and it never will be. That is an Orwellian use of the language.
-- Little Nipper (email@example.com), April 28, 2002.
Actually, it all depends on what your interpretation of ‘better’ is.
-- FatOlsonLand (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 28, 2002.
2002 'warmest for 1,000 years'
By Charles Clover, Environment Editor (Filed: 26/04/2002)
THE first three months of this year were the warmest globally since records began in 1860 and probably for 1,000 years, scientists said yesterday.
Dr Geoff Jenkins, director of the Meteorological Office's Hadley Centre, said the record on land and sea was consistent with computer predictions of the effects of man-made global warming.
The three months were about 0.71C warmer than the average for 1961 to 1990, itself the warmest period for 1,000 years according to ice-core analysis, he added.
The record warm period was the more remarkable because there was no sign of the cyclical El Nino in the tropics, which has attended the succession of record warmest years in the past decade.
The global record comes in the wake of observed changes in the British climate since 1900: a lengthening of the growing season for plants by one month in central England, a temperature increase of 1C, and a 10cm sea level rise.
Margaret Beckett, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, said: "In recent years more and more people have accepted that climate change is happening and will affect the lives of our children and grandchildren. I fear we need to start worrying about ourselves as well."
She was speaking at the publication of a report, The UK Climate Impacts Programme, a joint venture between her department, the Hadley Centre, and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia.
Scientists, who compiled different scenarios for high, medium and low emissions of greenhouse gases, predicted the following changes in the British climate by 2080:
A rise in average temperature of 2-3.5C, probably with greater warming in the south and east. Generally, the climate will be like Normandy, the Loire or Bordeaux, according to the amount of global emissions. Hot days in summer will be more frequent, with some above 40C (104F) in lowland Britain under the high emissions scenario. Summer rainfall will decrease by 50 per cent and winter rainfall increase by 30 per cent under the highest emissions projection. Snowfall will decrease throughout Britain, by 90 per cent in Scotland according to the highest greenhouse gases scenario. Sea levels will rise by 26-86cm (10-34in). The probability of a storm surge regarded as extreme will increase from one in 50 years to nine in 10 years under the high emissions scenario.
A cooling of the British climate over the next 100 years because of changes to the Gulf Stream is now considered unlikely.
Mrs Beckett said some of the predicted impacts were already irreversible, but others could be slowed by international action under the Kyoto climate treaty.
-- (email@example.com), April 28, 2002.
Little Nipper, Improving in relative terms is the correct term in this case. Consider a city with a population of 1 million people 20 years ago which experienced 20 murders per year. Today that city has a population of 3 million people and experiences 30 murders per year. The actual number of murders has increased but in relative terms the murder rate has dropped from 20 per million to half of that at 10 per million. The doomers will state that serious crime has got worse, but the realist will say that it is improving.
Wefirstname.lastname@example.org: This is a very interesting report and I must admit that I was rather surprised by the claims. In fact I was so surprised that I decided to check on the raw data to see if it is in fact correct.
I went to National Space Science and Technology Center to get the raw data from 1979 and analyzed it in excel by averaging all monthly data into a three month rolling average. I then sorted the rolling average in descending order.
What I found is that Jan, Feb, Mar 2002 were indeed among the warmest Jan, Feb, Mar recorded. But not the warmest. 1998 has that honour. And far from an anomaly of 0.71C, the actual 3 month anomaly was 0.228C.
Of all 3 monthly periods, Jan Feb Mar 2002 rated as the 19th warmest since 1979.
From this data I can only conclude that perhaps Dr Jenkins is being rather dishonest. Either he has deliberately misstated the data and conclusions, or, even worse, he is deliberately not admitting that there is an alternative set of data that contradicts his claims. Or more likely the newspaper report has misquoted him by omiting the fact that this result is solely based on surface data and neglcts the more accurate lower troposhere data.
Either way, statements such as this immediately lose any authority if they are incomplete and/or misleading.
The item also raises more questions than it answers. Questions such as:
What was the temperature 1000 years ago, and what did mankind do to cause temperatures higher than today?
Where are these temperatures of 1000 years ago recorded, and what type of instrument was used to measure them with such accuracy?
What happened to the medieval warm period?
-- Malcolm Taylor (email@example.com), April 29, 2002.
Just my opinion: I read the Scientific American essays but not the book they discuss and on that alone I thought 3 of the essays made a case, more or less, and one just said "I'm a big expert and I disagree" but made no case.
Lomborg's situation looks like this to me---he sees people clearly misusing statisitics, but cannot tell if they know their own disciplines well enough that their gut feelings are reliable even if their justification is silly. When he calls them on it, they refuse to acknowledge their error, increasing his suspicion. As far as I can tell Lomborg does not claim the expertise to draw solid conclusions, he is only debunking other work and the debunked people mostly set up a straw men in attacking Lomborg rather then correcting the errors he finds.
Of course, I may be projecting my own opinions---I tend to favor the environmentalist policies but disbelieve their models of the environment.
-- dandelion (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 01, 2002.
Pots, kettles, black & all that stuff 'eh dandelion?
Malcolm, my copy is on its way.
-- Carlos (email@example.com), May 02, 2002.
Well! Lomborg's book was in their database! Still, it's ordered.
-- Carlos (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 02, 2002.
Yeah, Carlos. Lots of pots and kettles. Maybe some food in some of them although, if so, it was over the fire a bit too long.
-- dandelion (email@example.com), May 03, 2002.
“Of course, I may be projecting my own opinions---I tend to favor the environmentalist policies but disbelieve their models of the environment.”
Words of wisdom from another self-promoting wannabe named ‘dandelion’. Seeing how as the policies were shaped by the models, ya might wanna rethink that statement there, Crab Grass.
-- Weeds (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 03, 2002.
As far as I can tell the policies are not shaped by the models. There appears to be enough flexability in the models to adjust them to fit the expected results. I judge that experts are more likely to expect the correct result than non-experts.
I went to a talk once where an economist explained why she was confident in a model based on over 100 parameters, but only 30 to 40 data points. It sounded ridiculous to me. Climate models seem closer to this level than to, say, light reflection models.
I favor the environmentalist views because they seem to err on the side of caution and I like a cautious approach to things. After all, I am still eating my Y2K food.
-- dandelion (email@example.com), May 04, 2002.
With the disclaimer that I do not know anything at all about environmental warming, cooling or anything, just have a doomer side that pokes up on rare occasions ;-), I've been known to suspect (in my more doomer moments) that Lovejoy was correct in his first assessment that we are headed into a natural ice-age. When that assumption is made, the news about global warming is even more catastrophic.
Dandelion, I have to ask... Pleurisy? Is this an old herbal remedy? Do you use the root, the leaves or the flower?
-- Tricia the Canuck (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 07, 2002.
I once read an essay where the writer talked about being small and asking persistently after the names of all the flowers. Her/his (can't remember the gender of the writer) grandfather always called the dandelions by the name golden pleurisy and made out that they were very special flowers.
If you want a cure for pleurisy, you need the pleurisy root, otherwise known as the North American milkweed. I have no personal experience with this folk remedy and am unsure how to even use the root, but I do know from eating milkweed buds that not all milkweed plants are the same. There are different, very similar looking kinds and the edible ones are hard to distinguish from the ones that make you very nauseous.
-- dandelion (email@example.com), May 07, 2002.
"....but I do know from eating milkweed buds that not all milkweed plants are the same"
Which raises the question: why were you eating milkweed buds?
-- (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 07, 2002.
At the time I was living for a few summer weeks in a farmhouse with no address, no phone, no TV reception, no running water in the kitchen, far from the grocery store, with a garden, fruit trees gone wild and occasional wild plants supplying a good share of the food for the household. It was idyllic except for the evening after one unfortunate meal.
-- dandelion (email@example.com), May 07, 2002.
All I knew about dandelions is that they can be eaten for salad greens early in spring, and that some people make dandelion wine (I've no idea how). Oh, and that there weren't any in Zambia and we didn't miss them 'til we got back to Canada :-)
Milkweed, huh? I don't really need a cure for pleurisy at present, but ya never know when knowledge will come in handy.
-- Tricia the Canuck (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 12, 2002.