Lomborg- Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Neil Jones neil at nwjones.demon.co.uk
Sat Dec 15 05:54:36 EST 2001

Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark

A skeptical look at The Skeptical Environmentalist
12 Dec 2001
Before the terrible events of Sept. 11 nudged our national mood towards
nouveau-earnestness, skepticism was the disposition of the day. Bred in the
swamps of transparent consumer manipulation, untrustworthy political
leaders, and information overload, skepticism stamped a permanent question
mark onto the brows of Generation X and seemed poised to become the
watchword of our nation.

The cultural tides may have turned somewhat in recent months, but skepticism
remains central to our national character. In the opinion of Grist Magazine,
that's a good thing: No mind should be above changing, and no precept should
be protected from scrutiny. Hence this special issue on Bjorn Lomborg's The
Skeptical Environmentalist.

Lomborg, an associate professor of statistics at Denmark's University of
Aarhus, applies the doctrine of doubt to environmentalism and concludes that
most of the movement's sacred cows are, to put it bluntly, bull:

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 causes.

The Skeptical Environmentalist
By Bjorn Lomborg
Cambrige University Press, 496 pages, 2001
That is a serious charge, and as such it must be taken seriously. To date,
the mainstream media have done just that -- but they have also taken the
book at face value, with little or no critical analysis. A Washington Post
reviewer raved about its "magnificent achievement"; the New York Times, the
Economist, and others were equally gushing.

Grist wondered how the book would hold up under more rigorous scrutiny, and
asked respected scientists and leaders in their fields to address the
allegations in The Skeptical Environmentalist. By bringing a healthy dose of
skepticism to Lomborg's own claims, the resulting compilation fights fire
with fire; we leave it to our readers to determine who gets flambeed.

Biologist E.O. Wilson -- two-time Pulitzer prize winner, discoverer of
hundreds of new species, and one of the world's greatest living
scientists -- debunks Lomborg's analysis of extinction rates.

Stephen H. Schneider, one of the foremost climate scientists in the United
States, discredits Lomborg on global climate change and takes Cambridge
University Press and the media to task for publishing and praising a

Species diversity
Norman Myers, an Honorary Visiting Fellow of Oxford University, a member of
the U.S. National Academy of the Sciences, and a recipient of several of the
world's most prestigious environmental awards, looks at Lomborg on
biodiversity and concludes that he lacks even "a preliminary understanding
of the science in question."

Lester R. Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy
Institute, reviews Lomborg on population and concludes that his analysis is
so "fundamentally flawed" that other professionals would do well to
disassociate themselves from his work.

Emily Matthews, a forest expert and senior associate with the World
Resources Institute, shows that Lomborg reaches wildly inaccurate
conclusions about deforestation by fudging data or failing to interpret it

Al Hammond, senior scientist at World Resources Institute, criticizes
Lomborg for mischaracterizing the contemporary environmental movement and
committing precisely the sins for which he attacks environmentalists:
exaggeration, sweeping generalizations, the presentation of false choices,
selective use of data, and outright errors of fact.

Human health
Devra Davis, a leading epidemiologist and environmental health researcher,
acknowledges that environmentalists have made some errors but argues that
Lomborg, too, is seriously mistaken about how the environment affects public

Energy expert David Nemtzow, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, says
Lomborg wastes his time battling a straw man: Virtually no one in the
contemporary environmental movement disputes that fossil fuels are abundant,
Nemtzow argues; in fact, it's precisely their abundance and their impact on
our ecosystems that's the trouble.

Neil Jones- Neil at nwjones.demon.co.uk http://www.nwjones.demon.co.uk/
"At some point I had to stand up and be counted. Who speaks for the
butterflies?" Andrew Lees - The quotation on his memorial at Crymlyn Bog
National Nature Reserve


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