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Bjorn Lomborg Strikes Again: Spreads Obfuscation about AGW Costs and Lethality

Lomborg is c_o_n_c_e_r_n_e_d
Environment • Views: 25,369

Bjorn Lomborg is at it again, spreading confusion about climate change and doubt about its lethality:

When Good Intentions Go Bad

“Two studies—one on genetically modified corn and one on climate change—demonstrate how scare tactics can backfire.”

Campaigners on important but complex issues, annoyed by the length of time required for public deliberations, often react by exaggerating their claims, hoping to push a single solution to the forefront of public debate. But, however well-intentioned, scaring the public into a predetermined solution often backfires: When people eventually realize that they have been misled, they lose confidence and interest.

Last month, there were two examples of this in a single week. First, French researcher Gilles-Eric Séralini attempted to fuel public opposition to genetically modified foods by showing the public how GM corn, with and without the pesticide Roundup, caused huge tumors and early death in 200 rats that had consumed it over two years.

[…]

The Séralini fiasco was only a week old when, the Climate Vulnerability Forum, a group of countries led by Bangladesh, launched the second edition of its Global Vulnerability Monitor. Headlines about the launch were truly alarming: Over the next 18 years, global warming would kill 100 million people and cost the economy upwards of $6.7 trillion annually.

These public messages were highly misleading and clearly intended to shock and disturb. The vast majority of deaths discussed in the report did not actually result from global warming. Outdoor air pollution—caused by fossil-fuel combustion, not by global warming—contributed to 30 percent of all deaths cited in the study. And 60 percent of the total deaths reflect the burning of biomass (such as animal dung and crop residues) for cooking and heating, which has no relation to either fossil fuels or global warming.

[…]

First off, Lomborg is just wrong in equating the two “studies”. Lomborg is trying to plant into the minds of his readers the following syllogism:

A: Estimates of deaths from AGW are just like the Seralini paper.
B: The Seralini paper is probably fraudulent.

Therefore estimating deaths from AGW is likewise fraudulent

The GMO “study” was published in a scientific journal, and it immediately brought criticism from other scientists and while it is being promoted by policy activists to change laws, the science community will get to the bottom of the Seralini controversy. Furthermore, the controversy over the Seralini paper has been noticed far and wide - for example, see here: Using junk science to promote Proposition 37

The AGW position paper Lomborg references is just that - a publication of an independent organization (sort of a cross between a think tank and an aid organization) called DARA:
[Link: daraint.org…]
and the very effort that Lomborg laments:
[Link: daraint.org…]
is upfront that they are tackling a variety of issues surrounding carbon. And, Lomborg seems to be looking at media headlines to pull his “scare” blaming, rather than the actual press release by DARA:
[Link: daraint.org…]

Now, one can quibble with the economic costs described in the DARA documents - as I keep pointing out, Economics really is the “dismal” science. DARA presents costs as percentages of GDP, but as anyone who has followed arguments over what constitutes “GDP” knows, the concepts of national economic valuations are fraught with issues.

And as we all know, not all “costs” in life can be meaningfully measured in a dollar amount.

Lomborg isn’t really doing a detailed rebuttal of the costs of AGW that DARA has offered but is trying to sweep the whole DARA position under the rug, because whatever DARA comes up with will be different from what Lomborg himself has claimed, in books and lectures, about the costs and impacts of AGW, and he doesn’t want to be shown to be wrong.

Furthermore, Lomborg uses his latest article to once again try to get people away from worrying about CO2, even though increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is far and away the principle means by which humans are modifying the climate.

Mostly, I suspect, is that DARA is bluntly stating that people will die because of AGW, and Lomborg tends to want and ignore the moral implications of such.

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10 comments

1 AK-47%  Sun, Oct 14, 2012 5:12:07am

Look, the data on evolution is 100 times more complete and convincing thatn that on climate change, and there are lots of people who do not accept it.

And I have not researched the correlation, but I am would not be surprised to find a large overlap between deniers of both.

2 Obdicut  Sun, Oct 14, 2012 5:35:21am

Hes' really one of the most annoying people in the climate change world. He presents himself as a reasonable, fair, unbiased scientist-- he's not a scientist, his bias is towards making himself money and keeping his name in the papers, and he gives cover to the worse deniers.

What an asshole.

3 b_sharp  Sun, Oct 14, 2012 11:22:32am

The Exec Summary is about the economic costs far more than about the deaths. Lomborg is using his own scare tactics.

4 Charles Johnson  Sun, Oct 14, 2012 11:42:10am

re: #2 Obdicut

Lomborg is also a master at bait and switch - he puts out statements indicating that he no longer doubts climate change, then continues spreading confusion exactly like before. The guy is a pernicious phony, pretending scientific expertise but actually with an agenda to subvert and undermine science.

5 tshinkle  Sun, Oct 14, 2012 8:59:49pm

In the end, all the name calling is as meaningless as the incomplete computer models turned out to be. What really matters is whether temperatures are rising to the extent to have a devastating impact on humanity. It has now been 16 years without any global increase in temperature.

Judging by the number of comments, even the LGF community has moved on from this issue, which is about to go the way of the hole in the ozone scare.

6 lostlakehiker  Sun, Oct 14, 2012 9:12:04pm

In this particular article, he just goes right past the key fact, which is that the work by daraint does not conflate deaths it expects as a result of fossil fuel use by ordinary paths (carbon monoxide poisoning, mining deaths, that sort of thing) with deaths it expects due to the global warming it will eventually cause.

Lomborg makes another mistake [this one, I will give him, is really a mistake]. He applies discount rates common to economics, to matters of the earth's climate.

Real interest rates of 2 or 3 or 4 percent have their place in the business affairs of the world. We are in an age, one of a few rare ones, where technological advances are coming thick and fast, and billions of people are stepping on to the scientific-technical escalator that is the industrial revolution. In such times, money now is more valuable than money later.

But over the broad sweep of human history, such eras are necessarily rare. A one percent interest rate over 2000 years will multiply values by somewhere just shy of a billion times. Now, think of it. NO WAY is a human life 2000 years down the road worth only a billionth of a life now. Nor can this be true of material things. We will not be able to get gold for cheaper than sand now costs, for example.

His unthinking use of discount rates into the distant future leads him to count as a trifle the harm that arrives after 2, 5, 10, or 20 centuries. But that's the under-the-water part of the iceberg. It's real, whether he wants to see it or not. It's real, whether he wants us to see it or not.

Even in the reasonably near term, this discount rate economics stuff poisons the discussion. A real, 2 percent return on wind energy is good enough. Ditto for solar. Considering the latent cost of global warming, a real 1 percent return is good. Even just breaking even is pretty good.

7 lostlakehiker  Sun, Oct 14, 2012 9:22:49pm

re: #5 tshinkle

In the end, all the name calling is as meaningless as the incomplete computer models turned out to be. What really matters is whether temperatures are rising to the extent to have a devastating impact on humanity. It has now been 16 years without any global increase in temperature.

Judging by the number of comments, even the LGF community has moved on from this issue, which is about to go the way of the hole in the ozone scare.

Your point? There's a trendline here. Temperatures are up, even if, from a cherry-picked starting point 16 years ago, they're flat. Arctic sea ice is down, and down drastically. That, too, is a relevant fact.

CO2 really is a greenhouse gas. It stands to reason that greenhouse gases cause greenhouse effects. If these don't show up right on schedule like clockwork, that's no big surprise: the earth's climate is a complicated beast and it has a lot of natural variability. The signal emerges only slowly from all that noise. But the signal is there. Far more record highs are being set nowadays than record lows. Glaciers are mostly in retreat. Arctic sea ice is in retreat. Lakes freeze later, thaw earlier. Migrations North are later, South, earlier. Plants bloom earlier, drop their leaves later. And on and on and on.

In the teeth of all that evidence, it is unscientific to insist that the one fact favorable to the case for not-worrying is the dispositive fact.

As to the dearth of comments on this article, if you haven't noticed, LGF readers are heavily invested in this election. Global warming isn't their main concern right now, or if it is, the link, or perceived link if you want to argue that Romney will usher in an age of economic and technical growth that will lead to mighty gains in wind and solar efficiency, between that concern and the upcoming election means that even so, the election is a top priority.

But I'm guessing you think Romney will oppose green energy and stifle it, and you hope so as well. I don't think so and I don't hope so, but I don't see him as better on the issue than Obama. Somewhat the other way around. Notwithstanding Solyndra and some other wrong-headed steps such as higher tariffs on Chinese solar and wind products.

8 freetoken  Mon, Oct 15, 2012 2:01:38am

re: #5 tshinkle

It has now been 16 years without any global increase in temperature.

That's just a false statement. You might as well claim the Earth is flat.

9 Charles Johnson  Mon, Oct 15, 2012 8:32:38pm

re: #5 tshinkle

It has now been 16 years without any global increase in temperature.

Liar.

10 Interesting Times  Mon, Oct 15, 2012 8:48:41pm

tinkle-troll is not only a liar, but a repetitious, stupid, boring one to boot:

Land & Ocean Temperature Percentiles Sep 2012


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