[EAS]Environmental Skepticism

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Sat Dec 15 18:42:37 EST 2001

Subject:   Environmental Skepticism

Dear Colleagues -

A recent book by Bjorn Lomborg "The Skeptical Environmentalist",
Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0521010683>, lauded by the
New York Times and The Economist, has stirred much controversy.
Lombord, of Denmark's University of Aarhus where he is associate
professor of statistics (and uses lots of them in the 496 pages of his
book), concludes that most of the environmental movement's claims are

> "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 claims that these and other worries are "phantom problems"
created or inflated by the environmental movement for its own ends,
with the result that time and money are diverted from other, needier

There have been many angry refutations from many quarters, but a
special issue of GRIST Magazine
<http://www.gristmagazine.com/grist/books/lomborg121201.asp> offers a
coordinated collection of some nine essays by notable scientists, such
as E.O. Wilson on "Extinction", others on climate, species diversity,
population, forests, statistics, human health, energy, plus one on
environmental politics, in detailed response to Lomborg's conclusions.

I have not yet read most of that issue, but find it sufficiently
noteworthy to bring to your intention. It will be an arduous debate.
Responses to Lomborg's massive dose of statistics can often not be
made by more statistics. Rather, the validity of the context for
statistical evidence will have to be discussed in arduous detail. Much
of this is good, since in the mix of science and politics (and what
isn't such a mix today?) positions are often exaggerated. But I do
have sympathy with the opening plaint of E.O. Wilson's essay: "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."

At this time of writing student grad. school recomendations and
getting used to making rankings, I would estimate that the
noteworthiness of this environmental debate is in the "once per
decade" league. Have a look, or bookmark the material for future


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