Bjorn Lomborg Says Cool It!: Getting our priorities right on climate change and the world's top problems

At Reason's 40th anniversary event, held in Hollywood on November 14 and 15, "Skeptical Environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg kicked things off with an engrossing 30-minute presentation about man-made climate change and the best ways to prioritize and solve global problems ranging from water shortages to poverty to malaria.

The author most recently of Cool It, Lomborg is also the force behind The Copenhagen Consensus, a path-breaking approach toward effecting efficient solutions to the planet's most pressing issues. "At the end of the day," says Lomborg, "this is about saying, Yes, global warming is real. It's often massively exaggerated, which is why we need smarter solutions.... Let's pick them smart, rather than stupidly. And also, let's remember that they are many other problems in the world that we can fix so much cheaper and do so much more good....If this is really a question about doing good in the world, then let's do real good-and not just make ourselves feel good about what we do."

Go here for Reason magazine's recent interview with Lomborg, who has been named one of the "100 the most influential people on the planet" by Time, a "global leader for tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum, and "one of the 50 people who could save the planet" by The Guardian.

For Reason's coverage of Lomborg, go here. For our environmental coverage, go here.

To embed this video at your own site, go here.

For an audio podcast, go here.

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  • Lefiti||

    Jesus Christ, let's latch on to the contarian climatologist who can tickle our ears on climate change and give our cherished dogmas some wiggle room.

  • ||

    what is Lomborg's stance on nculear power?
    I can't seem to find any straght answer.

  • Warty||

    Jesus Christ...our cherished dogma

    Heh.

  • Egosumabbas||

    If by "we" he means individuals through voluntary contributions, then sure!

  • ||

    contarian climatologist

    Lomborg is an economist.

  • Chris||

    Wow. Just wow. I liked when he started rambling about how global warming will save lives due to extreme temperatures and then tossed out the disclaimer that "of course there are other problems with global warming but we need all the information to make good decisions". A strawman for the uninformed. This man is in showbiz with gross simplification and dishonest reframing as his instruments... Not a nickle of truth to it but certainly more than a dollar for him.

    Congratulations to him for creating this media persona of the guy saying "we need to look for smart solutions!" Hurrah!

  • ||

    Is Lomborg indeed a contrarian climatologist, considering that (1) he's not a climatologist, and (2) he acknowledges the reality of global warming?

    This man is in showbiz with gross simplification and dishonest reframing as his instruments...

    If you'd even peeked at The Skeptical Environmentalist, you'd know that he's not one for gross simplification. I'm not sure what "dishonest reframing" is supposed to mean.

  • ||

    If you're actually interested in saving peoples' lives, spend money on clean water and sanitation projects.

    If the water is coming in your front door, you might consider relocating. Duh.

  • ||

    I'm not sure what "dishonest reframing" is supposed to mean.

    Translation: "disagrees"

  • Lefiti||

    If climate change means current rates of growth are unsustainable, guess why a doctrinaire libertarian rag woould want to tout Lomberg. He's just a stand in for Confirmation Bias, the diety of all true believers.

  • Ben Kalafut||

    The man who was let off of scientific dishonesty charges on two technicalities has gone from "OMG ITS A SCAM" to "Don't do anything about it" and we're supposed to trust him?

    Add to that the silly use of the word "consensus" to describe the opinion of a hand-selected bunch that was presented with limited options, and it's clear that this man is getting way more attention than he deserves.

    When Lomborg has the guts, Ronald Bailey style, to admit to his dishonesty in Skeptical Environmentalist (summed up neatly, elsewhere, by Kare Fog) I might bother to pay attention to this slimeball. Until then, climatologists and mainstream development economists are already providing enough insight on this topic to render Lomborg superfluous.

  • joe||

    from the posted interview (there's way more concerning this controversy interview, these are just lomborg's final remarks on the matter):


    "I'm still surprised by the number of people who will reference the first part, that I was condemned for scientific dishonesty, and ignore the fact that it was later overturned on the fact that there was absolutely no evidence. If anything, it seems to indicate that there was a strong wish without any good arguments to indict me."

    ben, you say it was a technicality, he says there was absolutely no evidence. where's the disconnect? why is there no mention of the case itself on the lomborg errors website? (i may have missed it).

    i am interested in what you have to say because i'm shocked that this controversy even exists. i had no idea until i read the comments here. i'm not trying to be a douche or anything either, i'm genuinely curious. but i am a douche in the sense that i lack the extensive knowledge or time to do the research myself. thanks.

  • Tim Lambert||

    The problem with Lomborg is that he systematically misrepresents the science. For more details see my post at ScienceBlogs: So what's wrong with Lomborg?

  • joe||

    sigh. i hate when this happens. thanks.

  • ||

    The problem with Lomborg is that he systematically misrepresents the science. For more details see my post at ScienceBlogs: So what's wrong with Lomborg?

    That was interesting. But in the interview referenced there, the interviewer pushed him really hard on just the one point (which made me suspect they didn't get past the introduction), and it seemed to me like he defended himself reasonably well. You'd have to work harder than that to convince me that he systematically misrepresents the science.

    In any case, to me what's great about Lomborg is that he dared to come out and say that when it comes to dealing with environmental problems, there are economic tradeoffs whether you like it or not. Even if it should turn out that he's a charlatan when it comes to the science (and I doubt that's likely, since he doesn't seem that dumb or that evil), this point remains unrebutted.

  • Chad||

    Lomborg is wrong, for several reasons

    1: He claims global warming is "often exaggerated". This may be true, but it is at least equally often vastly under-estimated. The mere fact that he only points out one side reveals his bias. The truth is that it could be anywhere from "pretty much nothing" to "apocalyptic", with most scientists placing the most likely outcome between bad and worse.

    2: His entire methodology of using cost-benefit analysis is a failure for anything occuring over long time spans. This is because such analyses "discount" the future (ie, a dollar next year is worth, say, 95 cents today), and the argument about this discount rate utterly dwarfs any other factor in the analysis. Rather than being a scientific and economic exercise, it breaks down into freshman philosophy instead.

    3: All the other items to which he compares climate change are charity. While it is sad that people in Nigeria lack micronutrients, it is by no means my fault. Climate change darned well is. This implies an entirely different level of responsibility on my part, and makes the two rather incomparible.

  • Hot Hot Heat||

    It doesn't take a Weatherman to tell which way the wind blows-

    Bob Dylan

    Al Gore only does his shtick out of concern for the future of his progeny and all of mankind.

    Lomberg on the otherhand does his shtick out of 'get-rich-quick' concern for only himself.

    Al Gore won a Nobel Prize. Lomberg? A celebrity on reason.tv

    Ask any joe on the street who is who (Gore vs. Lomberg) and maybe the chestnut that all this global-warming skepticism is a plot hatched by a vast corporate conspiracy will get roasted on an open fire.

    c'mon folks, the real corporate conspiracy we should be listening to is the massive bailouts going on as I type this message.

  • ||

    It seems like people are reasoning with their pre-concieved stance.

    Lomborg is neither right nor wrong. He just gives an alternative way to look at the problem.

    The claims that he is scientifically dishonest is simplifying things into the extreme. He has plenty of scientists behind him, are they dishonest to?

    The fact is that we don't know enough to conclude anything yet. Anyone who claims that is the ones that are dishonest.

    Now the real issue is this.

    There seem to be two main moral stances from the political correct these days.

    One is that we need to do something about the environment.

    Another is that we need to get people out of poverty.

    You can't both have you cake an eat it.

    To get people out of poverty requires that they get access to the goods that a global market deliver, to get a global market running requires that we pollute. There is no way around that.

    Increasing sustainability even by 100% is not going to even come close to solving that more and more people gets access to the benefits that have previously belonged to the developed world.

  • Jacare Sorridente||

    I suppose it isn't surprising that most of the comments are just knee-jerk reactions to shallow perceptions.

    Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus is a brilliant approach that seeks to overcome the biggest problem in public policy as it addresses the allocation of funds: the proposals with the most buzzwords and tied to the latest scientific fad tend to get the funding.

    Lomborg's approach is to allocate funds based on where they will do the greatest good. Gee, what a concept! Too bad politics is all about image, otherwise something useful might actually get accomplished.

  • Chad||

    Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus is a brilliant approach that seeks to overcome the biggest problem in public policy as it addresses the allocation of funds: the proposals with the most buzzwords and tied to the latest scientific fad tend to get the funding. Lomborg's approach is to allocate funds based on where they will do the greatest good. Gee, what a concept! Too bad politics is all about image, otherwise something useful might actually get accomplished.

    It isn't a "brilliant approach". It is as old as the hills. The problem with cost-benefit analysis is that while it works well in some limited circumstances, in other cases, it breaks down entirely. Why? Because disagreement about the underlying assumptions causes more variability in your output than the actual phenomenon you are studying. At that point, your conclusion is simply determined by your assumptions, and not the data, which implies that the whole process really isn't telling you anything.

  • Russ||

    Any global warming "my fault"? No. It is not. "Warming" does not equate with "fault of humans." Human contribution is minimal. This is not a moral issue. It is not an issue to be trusted to the State. It is not a religion. It is not an excuse for statism/collectivism. I would say more but my feelings about those who seek to squash human progress in favor of massive increases in governmental control over our lives would encourage me to say some not-so-nice things.

  • jeff||

    He just wants to treat the symptoms and not the problem? If you add up the cost of treating every symptom of global warming it will be an expensive, never ending effort. And there's no way to "fix" problems like the rain forest drying up.

    That said, he's spot on with his talk about people freaking out and making stupid decisions like producing ethanol.

    We should treat pollution as a legal matter. No one is allowed to pollute our air and they need to be fined for doing so.

  • Paul M.||

    Al Gore only does his shtick out of concern for the future of his progeny and all of mankind.

    Lomberg on the otherhand does his shtick out of 'get-rich-quick' concern for only himself.


    Are you truly unaware that Al Gore's investment company owns a very large stake in a carbon-credit trading firm? Read the story at this link:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/rbssEnergyNews/idUSL0490971420080604

    Gore therefore benefits personally from advancing the concept of AGW. When he divests himself of that and all similar investments and performs all his speaking engagements gratis, then I'll consider listening to what he has to say about global warming. But not one moment sooner.

  • Ben Kalafut||

    The Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty found the _Skeptical Environmentalist_ dishonest but let Lomborg off because he has no competence or claim to competence in the physical sciences. There's technicality number 1.

    The case against the publication itself was dismissed by the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation on appeal on further technicalities. Ronald Bailey recently remarked that the complaint was found "devoid of argumentation" but didn't look into what that meant: the MSTI ruled that the DCSD needed to have presented argumentation supporting the climatologists' claims against Lomborg. They didn't do so. Lomborg is now amplifying that further, to "absolutely no evidence". The evidence is all over the place; Kare Fog's website is a good place to start.

    MSTI further found that DCSD wasn't clear on whether dishonesty had to be deliberate or if dishonest claims resulting from incompetence sufficed, and that it wasn't clear that Skeptical Environmentalist was a scientific publication.

  • Ben Kalafut||

    Treating CO2 pollution as either a tort or an offense punishable by fine doesn't work very well. It's rather unlike dumping dioxin into the groundwater; a little CO2 is alright but a lot fouls the nest. One could assign to every person a quota and fine for going over that quota, but it is impossible to enforce, and moreover it is not likely to be economically optimal for every person to emit the same amount of CO2 (or methane).

    There's a sort of scarcity that arises--only so much CO2 can be added to the atmosphere per year without harming others--and we know that markets are the best way of dealing with scarcity. That isn't to say that the "green tax shift" doesn't look enticing, nor is it to say that any carbon market is good. The Europeans have given us a good example of what not to do, and "offsets" further foul things up, too.

    The trouble with this "Copenhagen Consensus" is that it doesn't look at climate policy in earnest--an earnest look involves time and modeling, not talk-arguments at a conference-- and attempt to decide the best. It is rather given a straw-man response to climate change and asked if it is worthwhile as compared to e.g. malaria prevention.

    A straw man and a nonsequitur. How fun!

  • Chad||

    Russ | December 10, 2008, 11:39am | #

    Any global warming "my fault"? No. It is not. "Warming" does not equate with "fault of humans." Human contribution is minimal.


    I am sorry, but you are simply wrong. The scientific community overwhelmingly disagrees with you, and has a mountain of data to back it up. You seriously need to ask yourself why you can't believe data when it contradicts your ideology.

    Ben Kalafut | December 10, 2008, 4:58pm | #

    Treating CO2 pollution as either a tort or an offense punishable by fine doesn't work very well. It's rather unlike dumping dioxin into the groundwater; a little CO2 is alright but a lot fouls the nest. One could assign to every person a quota and fine for going over that quota, but it is impossible to enforce, and moreover it is not likely to be economically optimal for every person to emit the same amount of CO2 (or methane).


    It is not difficult to enforce at all. The vast majority of CO2 emissions pass through a few bottlenecks - refineries, coal mines, etc. We can tax them there with good accuracy. Remember, it doesn't need to be perfect in order to be better than doing nothing.

  • ||

    i'm impressed with lomborg, i mean, only a few years after Bill Gates left his job to be more involved in combating malaria and publicizing the rational behind it... but i kid - nomi klein still has a better understanding of economics than mr lomborg has of the ecology...

    one of my favorite parts of The Skeptical Environmentalist is about species extinction... E O Wilson himself has responded to that - but of course, we never got an answer back, not in this lecture and not in his new "book". Here is E O Wilson:



    My greatest regret about the Lomborg scam is the extraordinary amount of scientific talent that has to be expended to combat it in the media. We will always have contrarians like Lomborg whose sallies are characterized by willful ignorance, selective quotations, disregard for communication with genuine experts, and destructive campaigning to attract the attention of the media rather than scientists. They are the parasite load on scholars who earn success through the slow process of peer review and approval. The question is: How much load should be tolerated before a response is necessary? Lomborg is evidently over the threshold.

    Lomborg's estimate of extinction rates is at odds with the vast majority of respected scholarship on extinction. His estimate, "0.7 percent over the next 50 years" -- or 0.014 percent per year -- is an order of magnitude smaller than the most conservative species extinction rates by authorities in the field. Here is my brief response to the analysis of extinction rates in The Skeptical Environmentalist.

    Before humans existed, the species extinction rate was (very roughly) one species per million species per year (0.0001 percent). Estimates for current species extinction rates range from 100 to 10,000 times that, but most hover close to 1,000 times prehuman levels (0.1 percent per year), with the rate projected to rise, and very likely sharply.

    Read on (link above)

    how does lomborg discuss the problem of biodiversity? stop shooting polar bears. no mention of the ecosystem itself. i appreciate his shout out that there are often cheaper solution than we think. i also think that there are often cheaper short-term solutions than say cap™ or concentrating on the climate change part of the core problem. protecting hot-spots for example is cheaper, more urgent and effective in my book.

    but why does he have to belittle a problem in order to make a valid point? he DOES mislead ever viewer on the biodiversity problem again, not even understanding how bad it is in every sense possible. polar bears. stop shooting them. please...

    Google CEO Eric Schmidt, in front of the Commonwealth Club in Nov 2008, was only one of many who have pointed out that global problems have often one solution. he really thought "smartly" about it and concludes that tackling climate change is cheaper than doing nothing. now that is truly interesting, no? in contrast to the blabla from lomborg? Eric has a much better scientific record and credentials and business planning as well. clean water is still number one - but this is coupled with cheap, clean and unlimited energy - which is coupled with climate change and warfare and ...

    i do not know environmentalists who see these as either or issues... for the past decades - it has been environmentalists who have usually also been fighting for better/cheaper malaria and aids treatments etc it was those non-environmentalists who usually had reasons against.. well everything.

    now - as we accept that we have to do something against trashing the planet, globally - we are thinking of ways how to.. never mind. if some people have to sell their "new" awareness in disguise: yes, i changed my mind, you are right about that nature thing, but look - we should also do this and that and help here too and it might be even betta...

    no funk you very much. i prefer straight arrow people who have never seen and thought in such mutually exclusive concepts in the first place. i like people who change their minds if.. it is genuine.

    if lomborg had understood the science behind environmentalism - he would know that we are talking about a point-of-no-return possibility here and now. mixing this with "how much good could we do in africa with this money" is like "if only every american would spend less on X then..." usually libertarians do not like this. especially when science points in the direction that we have not panicked enough and are still no panicking enough.

    we should not panic as after 9/11 because we cannot afford to reach a 9/11 in this metaphor in the first place. but maybe we should panic as after the discovery of the ozone layer hole? or before the houseing bubble.. no wait.

    what do you call lomborg himself among the scientific community - somebody who spreads panic and makes money with it. an extremist. no. nobody wants to panic. but "if we are only told one side..." wow.. how much projection fits into one body? with the Skeptical Environmentalists it was exactly like that: one side, lomborg's, against thousands of peer-reviewed-scientists. he has learned some of his lessons and has adopted to new realities. good for him. if he can - so can humanity, even if we have to disguise it in the beginning..

  • ||

    a little more inside into the Danish Ministry of Science scam.. the Danish scientists should have ignored lomborg's non-science. the problem with titling mr lomborg scientifically dishonest as willfully ignorant and selective was that:

    a) it was never clear if he published The Skeptical as "science" in the first place
    b) when you are not sure if you are dealing with science or just personal thoughts - it is is virtually impossible to define "objective scientific dishonesty". ie it can never be clear whether "distortion of statistical data" had to be deliberate or not

    btw - when lomborg is addressing all those environmentalists out there who should rather think of malaria. he is basically addressing an impressive list of economists who have suggested c&t or a Pigou club in the first place. as chad has pointed out, lomborg should try to convince them that global subsidies, charity and state R&D are better options than the market approaches currently discussed.

    i have no idea why Reason still seams to promote lomborg. there are much funnier stand up comedians. from an ecological point of view he thinks like a lamarckian marxists, from an economical point of view he is not much better...

    PS: i have technical problems with posting when I use a safari browser and a Mac. anybody else here with the same issue?

  • ||

    Chad,

    Thanks for writing a clear and concise response to this article. I would love to know more about your background. As a reformed ideologue, I am interested in becoming more adept at aligning my beliefs with the facts, and not the other way around.

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