Green Skepticism About the Skeptical Environmentalist

Nothing annoys ideological green doomsayers more than pointing out that most global environmental trends are positive. And few people arouse green ire more than Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (2001) and Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming (2007). Newsweek's science reporter (and Al Gore fangirl) Sharon Begley is now touting the latest effort to "debunk" Lomborg: Howard Friel's The Lomborg Deception which will be published by Yale University Press next month. The Begley column opens:

In naming roustabout, lumberjack, ironworker, and dairy farmer America's “worst jobs,” CareerCast.com omitted one whose awfulness is counterbalanced only by its public-spiritedness: fact-checking Bjørn Lomborg.

The Danish political scientist won fame and fans by arguing that many of the alarms sounded by environmental activists and scientists—that species are going extinct at a dangerous rate, that forests are disappearing, that climate change could be catastrophic—are bogus. A big reason Lomborg was taken seriously is that both of his books, The Skeptical Environmentalist (in 2001) and Cool It (in 2007), have extensive references, giving a seemingly authoritative source for every one of his controversial assertions. So in a display of altruistic masochism that we should all be grateful for (just as we're grateful that some people are willing to be dairy farmers), author Howard Friel has checked every single citation in Cool It. The result is The Lomborg Deception, which is being published by Yale University Press next month. It reveals that Lomborg's work is "a mirage," writes biologist Thomas Lovejoy in the foreword. "[I]t is a house of cardsFriel has used real scholarship to reveal the flimsy nature" of Lomborg's work.

Fair and balanced? Oh well. Nobody's perfect (including me), but I think there are good reasons to be skeptical of this latest attack on Lomborg. But first, I can't help but note that a foreword from Lovejoy on the scientific accuracy of environmental trends is pretty laughable. As I have previously reported:

At a 1979 symposium at Brigham Young University, Thomas Lovejoy, former president of The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment announced that he had made "an estimate of extinctions that will take place between now and the end of the century. Attempting to be conservative wherever possible, I still came up with a reduction of global diversity between one-seventh and one-fifth." Lovejoy drew up the first projections of global extinction rates for the Global 2000 Report to the President in 1980, which asserted that between 1980 and 2000: "Extinctions of plant and animal species will increase dramatically. Hundreds of thousands of species -- perhaps as many as 20 percent of all species on earth -- will be irretrievably lost as their habitats vanish, especially in tropical forests." If Lovejoy had been right, between 15 and 20 percent of all species alive in 1980 would be extinct right now. No one believes that extinctions of this magnitude have occurred over the last three decades.

Talk about "flimsy," but let's move on. Begley cites three examples from Friel about Lomborg's errors, e.g., polar bear population trends and climate change, human deaths from heat versus cold, and the implications of Antarctic ice shelf disintegration. You can read Begley's reporting and judge for yourself. (With regard to polar bears, let's assume that Begley's reporting of Friel's analysis is accurate and that Lomborg's sourcing is, how should one put it, thin and misleading. However, I do note in passing that a 2009 review article in the journal Environmental Reviews cited literature that found that only four of 13 Canadian polar bear subpopulations were declining, four were stable, three were increasing, and two were unknown. Canada is home to about 60 percent of the world's polar bears. Since Cool It was published in 2007, Lomborg couldn't cite this literature, but Begley could have.)

No doubt Lomborg's work contains inaccuracies - all books do - but as one might say about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report, a few errors do not invalidate the overall argument. In any case, you can read Lomborg's rebuttal to some of Friel's claims and make up your own mind.

For more background, you may also want to take a look at my 2002 debunking of the first scurrilous attacks on Lomborg's work by green ideologists in Scientific American.

Disclosure: I am not too popular with ideological greens either.

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  • ||

    "In naming roustabout, lumberjack, ironworker, and dairy farmer America's “worst jobs,” CareerCast.com omitted one whose awfulness is counterbalanced only by its public-spiritedness: fact-checking Bjørn Lomborg."

    That has to be the sorriest lead to an article I have ever read.

  • JSinAZ||

    My new favorite word is "tendentious".

  • ||

    Why no picture of Begley? Is it because she looks like she hasn't been able to take a shit since the Fourth of July?

    No wonder she's an Al Gore fangirl. They both look like the only sexual release in their lives is giving a good scolding.

  • ||

    She is not really easy on the eyes.

  • ||

    Is that Ed's wife?

    If so, karma's a bitch.

  • ||

    Sadly no. Begley's wife is actually reasonably bangable for a woman her age. And no there is no justice or karma in this world.

    http://www.life.com/image/81573997

  • BeesInTheBrain||

    I would agree if it wasn't for the "ya I wear the strap on in the family" look in her eyes.

  • ||

    Well she is married to Ed Begley Jr. I mean somebody has to own the dick in the family.

  • prolefeed||

    I would agree if it wasn't for the "ya I wear the strap on in the family" look in her eyes.

    For some people, that's a feature, not a bug.

  • ||

    Same page has a flashback photo essay on Ed Gein's house.

  • ||

    That Life Magazine site is great. You can waste an afternoon there. I wonder if anyone lives in Ed Gain's old house? I wonder if it stand abandoned.

  • ||

    I don't know the sourcing, but I did find this:

    Gein's house was burned to the ground March 27, 1957, shortly after it was learned that an entrepreneur planned to open it as a tourist attraction called "The House Of Horrors."

    http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/13463

  • ||

    Right after I posted that I got to the second to the last picture in the life magazine spread and it said that it was burned down.

  • Warty||

    Whaaaaaaa??? A moralizing scold turns out to be an unpleasant hag with frown-lines on her face? I would never have guessed.

  • zoltan||

    Funny, the non-scold (Lomborg) is not too terrible on the eyes (for those who find the Scandinavian look appealing).

  • Old Mexican||

    "Los perros ladran, Sancho! Luego Cabalgamos!"

    The dogs are barking Sancho, thus we are riding!

    Same shit. The enviro-scam is crumbling around us, so they lash out.

  • ¢||

    In any case, you can read Lomborg's rebuttal to some of Friel's claims

    It's too long for you?

  • ||

    Already read it and found it persuasive.

  • ||

    For those to lazy to read the fine refutation - his initial critique is that Friel didn't actually read his book as claimed. He backs this up with substantial and persuasive evidence; as Friel claims that Lomborg provides no evidence for statements in the introduction which later consume entire chapters with hundreds of references. Like the earlier Scientific American controversy, his rebuttal is worth a read. It definitely buttresses Lomborg's credibility

  • hamilton||

    +1. Lomborg delivers a helluva bitch slap.

  • ||

    Agreed. It's quite persuasive. It appears as though Friel is either too mathematically inept to have written a factual book involving mathematical figures, or he's purposely being deceptive.

    I think he wrote The Lomborg Deception hoping few people would actually read it, but simply notice the title and plant a seed out doubt in their minds next to the name "Lomborg".

    (i.e., the propaganda value of the title is all he was after.)

  • ||

    It appears as though Friel is either too mathematically inept to have written a factual book involving mathematical figures, or he's purposely being deceptive.

    These are not mutually exclusive alternatives.

    -jcr

  • Almanian||

    It's too long for you?

    THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID!!!

    **you asked for it**

  • BeesInTheBrain||

    **you asked for it**
    That's what he said.

  • ||

    "That's what he said."

    That's what the person I shot said. Seriously can people stop with this stale meme?

  • ||

    For people who claim "deniers" are akin to creationists, these AGW retards sure don't like evolution themselves, since they are constantly carping on about species going extinct...which is part of, you know, EVOLUTION.

    Also, NutraSweet, there has been shown to be a correlation between being an ugly motherfucker and being a statist fuckhead. I cite Episiarch's Intensive Study of Statists' Appearance as Judged on a Scale of Attractiveness, judged solely by me, and my vast experience of skiing technique looks.

  • ||

    For people who claim "deniers" are akin to creationists, these AGW retards sure don't like evolution themselves, since they are constantly carping on about species going extinct...which is part of, you know, EVOLUTION.

    Decades ago when I was taught science we were told that ecosystems were anything but fragile. We were taught that as plants and animals were unable to adapt to their changing environment they became extinct, only to have their ecological niche filled by an animal or plant that could adapt.

    Now the Chonys of the world would have us believe that ecosystems are always just on the edge of collapse, when even a cursory knowledge of geological history shows how the Earth has been in constant change since it's birth.

  • ||

    has been in constant change changing

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Now the Chonys of the world would have us believe that ecosystems are always just on the edge of collapse, when even a cursory knowledge of geological history shows how the Earth has been in constant change since it's birth.


    Yosemite Valley used to be covered by a glacier.

    I am sure a few native animals got the shaft as that glacier shrank.

  • Marc||

    No, they're fine with evolution, but the species has to go extinct for the right reason.

    OK: Meteors, climate change in the past, predation by or competition with non-human species (particularly if the cuter species wins)

    Not OK: climate change in the present, predation by or competition with humans

  • ||

  • ||

    I could have lived without seeing that.

  • ||

    He looks like a zombie ape.

  • ||

    Holy crap J sub D. Was that really necessary?

    *shudders*

  • ||

    That poor guy....I mean, My God!...

  • Sean W. Malone||

    That guy is *my* congressman.... Please feel sorry for me.

  • ||

    AGW deniers, I don't think Lomborg agrees with you:

    "Global warming is real and man-made. It will have a serious
    impact on humans and the environment toward the end of this century.
    [CI, p. 8]"

  • Tony||

    For people who claim "deniers" are akin to creationists, these AGW retards sure don't like evolution themselves, since they are constantly carping on about species going extinct...which is part of, you know, EVOLUTION.

    There's so much stupid contained in this brief paragraph it's almost impressive.

  • Old Mexican||

    No doubt Lomborg's work contains inaccuracies - all books do - but as one might say about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report, a few errors do not invalidate the overall argument.

    What's good for the goose is good for the gander, right? Logic and Reason have not been deterrents for the watermellons, ever.

  • Almanian||

    Seek and destroy - when the envirobots resort to this, good indication you've won the argument.

  • ||

    There are lots of really kind-hearted, well-meaning progressives out there who enjoy a central "live and let live" world view and only embrace progressive views because they believe threats to their beliefs come more from non-government sources than the government. They are nice folks, tolerant of a great number of people of different views and backgrounds, and was proud to call many of them friends.

    However the things that made them such good friends are precisely the things that prevented them from having more influence on the tone and direction of the progressive movement. They don't like confrontation, they are exceedingly tolerant of differing views and don't get mad or hold grudges when you argue with those views.

    The end result is the people in the progressive movement with tyrannical impulses tend to have seized control of the movement's tone and direction. They essentially bully their ways into leadership positions, and then lob decrees from on high from which no deviation will be tolerated.

    I'm reminded of this from my own experiences, but the most high profile example I can remember was what happened to Bjorn Lomborg (himself a progressive at the time) when his first book came out. Rather than taking what he was saying at face value and learning from it in order to strengthen the environmental movement, the decision was made that Lomborg had to be destroyed at all costs.

    I kind of have a hippie disposition as I try and get along with everybody. It's probably a weakness on my part. But this was one subset of people there was no getting along with. They weren't interested in anything but making you do what they wanted you to do, because they knew they were right dammit.

    It's a shame really, because I think rank and file libertarians and rank and file progressives have more in common than the current public debates hint at.

  • Brian E||

    I usually find common ground right up until the point where they start slobbering all over Obama's toodleoo, even if it directly contradicts something they argued for not five minutes before. They're all partisan hacks.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "I]t is a house of cards…Friel has used real scholarship to reveal the flimsy nature" of Lomborg's work."

    "Real scholorship", eh?

    And where's the proof that Friel is any sort of authority on determining what the facts are than Lomborg?

  • MP||

    A 27 page fisking has got to be some sort of record.

  • ||

    "In fact, the IPCC said no such thing. Friel apparently misunderstood an IPCC chart that described an experiment where [carbon-dioxide] concentrations were held constant at year 2000 values.” What Friel doesn’t seem to have realized is that holding concentrations constant is different from holding emissions constant."

    It is pretty brutal. That is just page 2. How does a mistake that elementary manage to get past an editor?

  • ||

    Even more brutal is his treatment on economics. Friel repeatedly takes Lomborg to task for not citing numbers that are clearly derivable from the source by simple math, but the pinnacle of this is the discussion of the cost of providing safe water to the poor. Lomborg uses present value calculations to compare long-term costs and benefits (80 billion dollars today = 4 billion per year forever). This simple economic reality completely baffles Friel, so he claims the numbers are completely unsupported. This is pretty basic stuff. He really has no excuse for being unable to follow basic High School and even Elementary School math.

    It is one thing to publish stuff like this in a blog, but to go to print with a book... wow. don't they employ fact-checkers and editors?

  • ||

    Wow. I think time value of money is what maybe 8th grade math if that? Apparently he didn't have any fact checkers or editors. The publisher figured since the book was PC, it wasn't necessary.

  • Sam Grove||

    You said that again.

  • ||

    Even more brutal is his treatment on economics. Friel repeatedly takes Lomborg to task for not citing numbers that are clearly derivable from the source by simple math, but the pinnacle of this is the discussion of the cost of providing safe water to the poor. Lomborg uses present value calculations to compare long-term costs and benefits (80 billion dollars today = 4 billion per year forever). This simple economic reality completely baffles Friel, so he claims the numbers are completely unsupported. This is pretty basic stuff. He really has no excuse for being unable to follow basic High School and even Elementary School math.

    It is one thing to publish stuff like this in a blog, but to go to print with a book... wow. don't they employ fact-checkers and editors?

  • Marc||

    The Skeptical Environmentalist was claimed to have been thoroughly debunked before (provoking a lengthy rebuttal by Lomborg). Makes you wonder why it needed to be done again.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Marc,

    Because the Cause is falling apart. The watermellons need to lash out against wahtever convenient target they can find.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    That Scientific American outburst attacking Lomberg's original book was the greatest self-inflicted intellectual wound I've ever encountered. Blood everywhere! "Science defends itself ..." as though Science were some hapless virgin in the clutches of a foul fiend from the north. I've always discount enviromentalists' claims by about 90% since seeing that memorable issue.

  • ||

    Before the AGW deniers up in this bitch start proclaiming Lomborg their hero:

    "Global warming is real and man-made. It will have a serious
    impact on humans and the environment toward the end of this century.
    [CI, p. 8]"

    Let the backtracking and Lomborg trashing begin!

  • ||

    "I am not too popular with ideological greens either."

    And that's precisely why we enjoy reading your stuff, Ron.

  • ||

    Ron:
    Is this supposed to be a citation of the scientific literature ?

    "However, I do note in passing that a 2009 review article in the journal Environmental Reviews cited literature that found...”

    Or just a way of saying some vanity press journal slapped together by the usual suspects from K-Street referred to another paper they subsidized ?

    Gore-bashing can be fun- witness the inclusion and subsequent redaction of the runaway extinction graphs iyou refer to n past and present editions of Earth In The Balance, but it's no substitute for looking up impact indices –peer-review challenged baba science like the Glacier Comix the IPCC got caught invoking underpins less than 1% of the report, ( maybe 10 paragraphs out of ~ 3,000 pages ) but Morano & Michaels blithely cite even worse guff while ignoring the A- B- and C-list learned journals

  • ||

    "...most global environmental trends are positive" ?!!! Where in the world did you get that?

  • Sean Dougherty||

    I blogged this at my business jouranlism site as well but I had to give Begley credit, she showed her work and advanced an argument that could be debated.

    http://seanreadsthenews.typepa.....unker.html

  • ||

    It's stuff like this that allows conservatives to claim that environmentalist is a religion. They are treating Lomborg like a heretic. He can't just be wrong; he has to be evil.

  • AndyB||

    The article that you linked to in Environmental Reviews seems to contradict your assertion of polar bear populations. It quite clearly states :
    "Based on the best available information, COSEWIC concluded that polar bear was a species at risk in Canada, formally advising the federal government of its assessment of special concern in August 2008. COSEWIC identified the primary threats facing polar bear to be: (1) reduction in sea ice, caused by climate change, particularly for subpopulations in the southern part of the species’ range; (2) overhunting for subpopulations shared by Canada and Greenland; and (3) habitat threats from industrial development. Inuit have also observed deteriorated ice conditions in some areas (e.g., reduction in multi-year ice, fewer icebergs, thinner ice, earlier ice break-up) and have expressed concerns about the consequences that changes in sea ice may have on polar bears (Atatahak and Banci 2001; Dowsley 2005; Keith et al. 2005; NTI 2005)."

    You need to actually count the total number of polar bears rather than the number of stable populations. The stable populations tend to have smaller numbers of bears and are managed to allow controlled hunting.

  • ||

    However, I do note in passing that a 2009 review article in the journal Environmental Reviews cited literature that found that only four of 13 Canadian polar bear subpopulations were declining, four were stable, three were increasing, and two were unknown.


    Ronald, what exactly were you "passing" when you noted this?

    The whole point of the article you cite is that COSEWIC does not acknowledge the significance of sub-populations of polar bears in assessing whether overall populations are at risk.

    "Based on the best available information, COSEWIC concluded
    that polar bear was a species at risk in Canada, formally
    advising the federal government of its assessment of
    special concern in August 2008."


    It looks like you just scanned article for a chart that you thought supported your position without actually reading it.

  • ||

    Bailey has done a Lomborg: http://scienceblogs.com/deltoi....._check.php

    People like Bailey are so blinded by their hatred for anyone to the 'left' of them that they need to resort to idiocy, lying and denial of reality to build an argument. Weird.

  • ||

    Lombog is one of those parasites who hang around every controversy. and try to triangulate the issues. He agrees with the science of Global Warming, but not the implications.

    I despise the way he parades concern for the underdeveloped world, but does not really give a rat's ass. The underdeveloped are only a convenient prop to him.

    Fraud.

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