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The Skeptical Environmentalist 688

-cman- writes: "The issue of human impact on the global environment is one -- if not the most --important and divisive issues of our generation. There are two key questions involved; is human activity having a major impact on the climate of the Earth? What, if anything should be done to minimize that impact? It is within the lifetimes of most of Slashdot's readers that we begin to get answers to these questions. We will either begin to make policy and economic changes to protect the environment or we won't. And towards the middle and end of this century we will begin to see real-time data to validate some of the predictions being bandied about by environmental scientists. Amid all the uncertainty that the above two questions generate comes a new book, The Skeptical Environmentalist; Measuring the Real State of the World.." Read on for the rest of -cman-'s review.
The Skeptical Environmentalist
author Bjorn Lomborg
pages 540
publisher Cambridge University Press
rating 8
reviewer -cman-
ISBN 0521010683
summary This book takes a careful look at existing environmental data, with some surprising conclusions and resulting controversy.

The book has caused quite a stir in the circles of environmental activism. Bjorn Lomborg, coming from a green background, has thoroughly reviewed much of the work in the field and raised some concerns about the quality of the consensus analysis and conclusions. Sample chapters and further defense of his work can be found at www.lomborg.com

Disclosure Statement: I am a small 'g' green. I am a member of the Viridian Design Movement if not of the Green Party USA. I hold as a matter of fact that dependence on hydrocarbons is unsustainable for both the developed world and as a path to long-term growth for the developing world. I strongly believe that it is a moral imperative for humanity to preserve as much of the planet's natural beauty and habitat as possible. My general impression with the state of climate studies is that human activity is probably having an effect on the global climate. To what extent is a matter still open for debate in my opinion. But hey, its OUR PLANET we're talking about, so why take chances? That said, I also consider myself to be just as rabid an empiricist. I detest being led about by phony data or false conclusions, and I will not support any cause that cannot bring itself to tell the truth to the public about its data and agenda. If the current data does not fit my model of how life should be, I know that I shouldn't blame the data or the messenger. So, I am trying to be as objective as possible here, but I am coming from the green end and analyzing this work in that light.

Lomborg is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Aarhaus in Denmark. His specialty, indeed his only other major academic paper, is in the field of game theory. Lomborg -- once upon a time a deep green himself -- set out in 1997 to debunk the claims of economist Julian Simon, a environmental degradation doubter. He found that much of the data had a tendency to support Simon. This lead him to a thorough review of much of the major scientific work in four major areas of "the environmental litany" (Lomborg's words).

  • We are depleting a finite supply of natural resources.
  • The human population continues to grow, threatening our ability to feed the teeming billions.
  • Species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate, deforestation is accelerating and fish stocks are collapsing.
  • The air and water are becoming ever more polluted.

The result was The Skeptical Environmentalist. In each of these areas, Lomborg looks at a broad swath of the scientific work done to date to support these claims and finds them wanting. He gets very specific and points out numerous errors of omission as well as slanting of the data and just plain making up results to fit the hypothesis. Lomborg accuses environmental scientists of behaving more like lobbyists trying to put the best possible spin on an issue by manipulating the facts. He also takes to task a credulous media for swallowing this tripe hook, line, and sinker, as it were. Sadly, in some key areas Lomborg has -- either through ignorance or purposefully -- committed errors of omission and selective data use to make some of the same mistakes in analysis, and this very much reduces his credibility.

The first thing that sets the book apart from almost all nonacademic works in the area is the completeness and openness of the research. The book is copiously footnoted. Because of this it is clear from some of the attacks on Lomborg that his critics have been unable to muster the stomach to give it a thorough read, as many make totally false claims about Lomborg's inclusion or reference to specific studies and specific cases. If for no other reason, this completeness makes The Skeptical Environmentalist a valuable resource for anyone interested in environmental science. It is a very complete bibliography of the current work in the field. There are over 2,900 end notes in this 500 page book.

The thing that makes the environment such a slippery public policy subject is its uncertainty. Although the state of our understanding of climate and ecological complexity grows each year, it is still unable to predict with any certainty future events. The only thing that will prove a particular set of data is the future. At which time, of course, it is impossible to take preventative action.

It is probably quite understandable that environmental scientists would take great umbrage at both Lomborg's cheek and his conclusions; seeing how they pose a threat to a consensus of opinion about the state of the global environment and the degree of risk human activity poses. These are people with years of interest vested in their research and in using that research to try and get through to public and politicians who show a lot of reluctance to take on the problems and potential threats of human impact on the environment.

Lomborg quite correctly points out in his chapter on pollution that the worst pollution effects are the results of the early and middle stages of industrial development. Here he states that things are getting better in the developed world and as technology advances, the environmental impact of human activity will be reduced. He acknowledges that something must be done to help the developing world find a different path of development than that already taken by the developed nations. Lomborg takes the green movement to task here for trying to do everything at once; forcing developing nations to spend on "clean" technologies while spending on health and economic development for the poor nations. After wading through what must have been a mind-numbing torrent of cost-benefit analysis data, Lomborg says that choices must be made, political and financial resources are finite and some levels of protection cost more than they are worth. However, one must deeply fault Lomborg's cost-benefit analysis for not making a good attempt to elucidate the cost of environmental degradation per se but instead focusing on pure human property and health costs. What price does one put on the stability of the Gulf Stream currents? What is the actual opportunity cost of one barrel of oil considering it comes from finite supply for which the actual amount is unknown and the burning of which causes environmental costs we can only approximate? These questions have vexed economists for decades, but the answers are surely not zero.

Lomborg's big picture of the general shape of the global climate and of biodiversity is one that debunks most of the more extreme forecasts. In this he has produced valuable analysis. But by his own admission he has skipped over local trends and impacts that have profound social and economic implications. For example, while stating that the actual rate of species extinction over the next 50 years is more likely to be 0.7% rather than the 20-50% numbers bandied about by the World Wildlife Fund et. al., he misses the threat of local species crashes such as that of Atlantic Cod that nearly ruined the fishing industry Eastern North America and Northern Europe in the 1980s and the resulting threat to previously unfished stocks as industrial fishing operations switched to roughy and so on.

The big picture and long-term focus also misses the boat on another key issue. Recent analysis of deep-ice core samples at the poles and in Greenland have shown that in the past, the climate has changed very sharply and very rapidly; on the order of several degrees of average temperature in a decade or less. These changes are probably due to snap changes in the ocean currents caused by salinity levels and minute temperature deviations that, when they go over a certain level "trigger" such events as the mini-Ice Age of the 1500s to mid-1800s. Lomborg completely bypasses addressing the fact that even the minimal human environmental impact he says the data supports could be enough to tip the balance in these areas. And should such evens occur, even Lomborg would admit they would be economically and politically devastating. Perhaps it is his rigid attention to what is measurable that prevented him from addressing this issue. There is too much uncertainty involved to begin to assess whether or not we even can prevent such "trigger" events and thus begin to make cost-benefit analysis of preventative measures.

The most shocking thing about The Skeptical Environmentalist is not its heretical views (in the eyes of greens) however, but the reception it has received among the environmental movement. Instead of praising its depth and using its own errors to show the way forward the community has -- in the grand tradition of the left eating its young -- gone after Dr. Lomborg with a furious anger. Recently, when Dr. Lomborg showed up at Oxford university, the author of an environmental study with a competing view shoved a pie in his face. In its January 2002 issue, Scientific American devoted 11 pages (electronic copies are US$5.00) to attacking the book, its author and his conclusions.

Not surprisingly, the free-market loving Economist has taken up the defense of Dr. Lomborg with both a lead opinion piece and a feature in the February 6th issue. In addition, the magazine had Lomborg pen a "by invitation" piece in August, 2001, a rare honor. The New York Times has also come to his defense with a "Scientist At Work" puff piece in November, 2001.

But by attacking the book and the author so shrilly, the environmental community risks its own hard-won credibility. It acts just as Lomborg accuses it, like lobbyists with an axe to grind, not cold-eyed, empirically-minded scientists. Lomborg's study has its flaws, as does any environmental study. But those flaws should be attacked on their merits alone. At its worst, The Skeptical Environmentalist merely muddies the waters of scientific and public consensus on global human environmental impact. At its best it provides a crucial reality check for those who seek profound social and economic changes in the name of preserving environmental sustainability.

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The Skeptical Environmentalist

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  • Here is a link that has a thorough rebuttal of the work.
    http://www.gristmagazine.com/grist/books/lo mborg12 1201.asp

    Also see this article in the January 2002 edition of

    Scientific American

    Misleading Math about the Earth

    The book The Skeptical Environmentalist uses statistics to dismiss warnings about peril for the planet. But the science suggests that it's the author who is out of touch with the facts.

    • This is interesting... apparently The Skeptical Environmentalist was published in Danish four years ago, and had already been shredded.
      http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:6w MQiTS9HjQC: www.au.dk/~cesamat/debate.html+&hl=en

      Also here are other rebuttals,
      http://www.ucsusa.org/environment/lomb org.html

      I've read rebuttals from four different sources, and rebuttals for the same section focus on different, but equally devastating flaws.

      • Yes, but (Score:3, Informative)

        by SimonK ( 7722 )
        The book published in Denmark was less complete than that published in the UK and USA. It also contained several errors that have been corrected, as well as some that have not.

        I seriously recommend that you read the book as well as the rebuttals. Many of them badly misrepresent Lomborg's case.
    • by Phanatic1a ( 413374 ) on Friday February 22, 2002 @01:09PM (#3052261)
      The rebuttals posted at that site aren't really very good. The ones I read before I gave up in disgust were mostly arguments by assertion, with little concrete evidence given to support them, no footnotes or references to studies or data that I could see, and laced with a strong flavor of ad hominem, as in Devra Davis's "rebuttal," which she leads off by saying:

      "You know what they say about people who become statisticians? They lacked the personality to become accountants."

      That's not the dispassionate and unbiased practitioner of science speaking; that's someone with an axe to grind.

      I'm not defending Lomborg's research; indeed, I haven't read the book. But what's utterly disgusting is the means by which the established viewpoints have chosen to attack it. Scientific American even went so far as to claim it was "defending science" against Lomborg's claim.

      That's a repugnant attitude to take. Science is a method, a process of determining what is true, and if Lomborg's arguments are faulty, his analysis shoddy, and his conclusions flawed, than the proper application of science will demonstrate that and we will all be the better off for it.

      But if, as Scientific American seems to think, science is something that takes a position of advocacy on complex issues, then science is far less likely to be useful as a process for examining that issue, and everybody loses.

      Shame on SA. The Spectator has a nice piece on the controversy at:
      http://www.spectator.co.uk/article.php3?table =old& section=current&issue=2002-02-23&id=1602

      • Science is a method, a process of determining what is true, and if Lomborg's arguments are faulty, his analysis shoddy, and his conclusions flawed,...

        and if he claims that his conclusions are "scientific" then surely a rebutter is defending science?


        • No (Score:3, Insightful)

          by SimonK ( 7722 )
          Lomborgs claims are well within the remit of science. It behooves anyone who believes him to be wrong to reply as a scientist, not as a high priest trying to cast the impostor out of the temple. Its not like he's claiming the invisible sky pixie is going to save us or something.
      • Actually SA didn't indicate that "science is something that takes a position of advocacy on complex issues".

        They simply published a series of rebuttals by experts that pointed out factual and analytical errors in the book.

        It's not that science should take a position of advocacy, but rather that science shouldn't be misinterpreted in order to strengthen a position of advocacy.

        And that's exactly what Lomberg's done - he's misinterpreted science in order to push his own beliefs.

        • by Phanatic1a ( 413374 ) on Friday February 22, 2002 @01:52PM (#3052712)
          They simply published a series of rebuttals by experts that pointed out factual and analytical errors in the book.

          The rebuttals published by SA pretty uniformly acknowledged that Lomborg had his facts right; they attacked his person and questioned his conclusions.

          Then SA refused to publish Lomborg's answers to those criticisms. Then when Lomborg posted his answers to those criticisms on his web site, SA threatened to sue him for violating its copyrights because he reproduced the criticisms in his answers.

          Again: Shame on SA.
  • by PowerTroll 5000 ( 524563 ) on Friday February 22, 2002 @12:40PM (#3051989)
    I agree with of Lomborg completely.

    In the NYC area, the reverse is essentially true.

    Cormorant Population Boom [state.ny.us]

    The 1998 State of the Environment Report [epa.gov] shows declines in pollution across the board.

    NY State spending billions for environment [nycanal.com]
  • I think the Bush administration and other global-warming naysayers should keep that old saying in mind. Yeah, perhaps there isn't sufficient proof that we're screwing up the climate. But the stakes are so high, even if there's only a 1 in 1000 chance that global warming is likely, then it's a risk that should not be taken.

    The real point, of course, is that those who oppose the global warming theory usually have economic interests that would be hurt by the development of alternative energy sources. As usual, follow the money!
    • Okay, so there's a 1 in 1000 chance that global waming may happen, and then's there some chance that it's bad (there's good evidence that it could be good as well). So it's a try or maybe have some bad stuff... that may kill us all, but we're all guessing. But there's a pretty good chance that making any systematic changes that would stop the "impending doom" would take years to implement in an economically sound way. The more draconian approaches would definetly hurt economic growth and industries, as many renewable technologies are still being refined. And we all know that global economic down turn can be bad (hint: look at WWII, but add some nuxes).

      Oh, and guess what. The environmental lobbies and scientists have financial interests too. They get paid for studying stuff that matters. If there's no problem, they get no funding. Remember the Ozone-hole threat back in '92? NASA blew that one way out of proportion. It actually shrank! But they did get some good money to do research.

      I'm not saying scientists are evil capitalists; many of them are good people with good intentions, but the only way they get funding is by making a threat out of a situation that may not be a threat at all.

  • Point, Counterpoint (Score:5, Informative)

    by skatedork ( 139277 ) on Friday February 22, 2002 @12:46PM (#3052040) Homepage

    As a non-fan of Mr. Lomborg, I'd like to offer up a few links:

    Anti-Lomborg [anti-lomborg.com] - Responses to Bjorn's environmental writing

    Debunking Pseudo-Scholarship: Things a journalist should know about The Skeptical Environmentalist [wri.org]

    Union of Concerned Scientists examine The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjørn Lomborg [ucsusa.org]

    • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Friday February 22, 2002 @01:04PM (#3052213) Homepage

      Most of the resources you point to are hatchet jobs much like the pie-in-the-face that proudly adorns one of them.

      I have not yet Lomborg's book, but have followed the debate in science journals (as well as the Economist). While some scientists have engaged him on intellectual terms, the majority of the opinions have been nothing of the sort, stoopoing down to the questioning of his credentials (which nobody would question if he had just published a pro-global warming article).
  • by PHAEDRU5 ( 213667 ) <instascreed&gmail,com> on Friday February 22, 2002 @12:49PM (#3052074) Homepage
    I subscribe to Mother Jones *and* the American Spectator, basically to see what the extremists at both ends are saying.

    Since I became a subscriber I know, based on my junk mail, that my name has been sold to donor solicitation lists of the left and the right.

    So, every month I get mail from Jerry Falwell, etc., about how the Homosexual/Abortion/Socialist lobbies are destroying the U.S. These compete with mail from NARAL, NOW, PFAW, etc., about how the Heterosexual/Anti-Abortion/Capitalist lobbies are destroying the U.S.

    (Aside: now that I think about it, I do get a lot more mail from the left than from the right. More religious fervour, I guess.)

    My point is that the only way these people can raise money is by scaring the bejesus out of those who can be scared.

    The environmental lobby is no different: it scares to raise money.

    What's great about this book is how it demonstrates the lies in the propaganda.

    Of course, he'll never be forgiven for that. And my guess is, from a survey of my junk mail, that there will be a lot more people out to trash him than to support him. Poor sod.

  • Cheek, etc. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gowen ( 141411 ) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Friday February 22, 2002 @12:52PM (#3052103) Homepage Journal
    It is probably quite understandable that environmental scientists would take great umbrage at both Lomborg's cheek and his conclusions
    Scientist don't take umbrage at his cheek or (directly) his conclusions. They take umbrage at his science. Basically, he isn't very good at it. His research is full of errors, (sometimes very basic ones. At one point he quotes an absolute figure as a percentage because he is unfamiliar with the different conventions for decimal places between the US and Europe). He selectively quotes (and misquotes) source material to support his claims. Frankly, he's a self publicist, and if his pseudoscience reduces the amount of research into the very real possibility of irreversible, catastrophic, climate change, a very dangerous one.

    As an aside, lets just apply Occam's Razor. Here are the two possible alternatives:
    1. Lomborg is wrong
    2. There is a massive (indeed, worldwide) conspiracy of scientists, suppressing their real knowledge, intent only on scare mongering to preserve their funding

    (Full Disclosure: I am a Geophysical Fluid Dynamicist, so I could be part of the conspiracy [TINC] myself)
    • Re:Cheek, etc. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Friday February 22, 2002 @01:12PM (#3052298) Homepage
      His research is full of errors,

      This is an overstatement of the facts. Many rebuttals take shortcuts in what would otherwise be hard work: debating each of Lomborg points. Those rebuttals overemphasize minor gaffes that are bound to appear in a research piece encompasing such a large subject. (By that count The Evolution of the Species by Darwin has more errors per page than Lomborg).

      Reality is the majority of the basic facts are right, it is the interpretation of those basic indicators that needs to be discussed.

      Your average environmentalist assumes a priori that the environment is deteriorating. Lomborg accurately points out that prima facie the data is not there.

      Btw. this would not be the first time that environmentalists were wrong in something that they took for granted, as they were when they predicted humanity would run out of oil by the mid 90s.

      The interpretation of the facts requires further debate though.
    • by SimonK ( 7722 )
      No conspiracy is required. Lomborg is exactly with the scientific consensus in most of what he says. His criticisms are mostly of the interpretations that have been made of the scientific data.
  • I am on the middle ground in this issue, however I do a few things to ensure that I am at least trying to make a small difference: (basic stuff of course)

    1) I try to car pool as often as I can. Living in Atlanta, our traffic here is so bad that the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicles) lane is a smart choice so I don't have to leave at 5AM to get to work at 7:30.

    2) I don't litter. I avoid throwing anything on the ground, and pick stuff up I see when I can.

    3) I try to recycle as much as I can reasonably do.

    The problem with #3 is that from what I have seen, the apartment complex I live in does a great job with the different containers for recycling, but when the garbage company comes along, they throw EVERYTHING in the back of the garbage truck and take off. So, all our local efforts aren't doing a damned thing. Anyone else seeing this problem?
  • by OxideBoy ( 322403 ) on Friday February 22, 2002 @12:53PM (#3052117) Homepage
    I disagree wholeheartedly with the insinuation that the Scientific American critique of this book was an "attack." Readers, please do not be swayed by this horribly biased statement. Several environmental scientists dissected Skeptical Environmentalist's methodology, statistics, and conclusions, and the reviewers found many, many weak points not only in the author's facts but also his logic. The tone varied from reviewer to reviewer, but all the reviewers seemed to take the book pretty seriously.

    The truth of the matter is, climatology, geology, etc. do not have the luxury that physics, molecular biology, and other "benchtop" sciences have in that, in the latter fields, it is mostly possible to construct the systems in question in the lab and probe them. However, testing most major hypotheses in climatology is simply not possible as they would require altering the climate in a deliberate manner which is neither possible nor desireable.

    Personally, I am of the opinion that we need to enforce much stricter emission, land development, and recycling standards not because I believe that these activities are damaging the environment, but because they indisputably might be damaging the environment.

  • Who Let the Dogs Out at Scientific American? [cato.org] by Patrick J. Michaels.

    It's just another perspective.

  • is that in most cases, there are benefits beyond "saving the planet" to living a more Green lifestyle. Most Green design not only provides environmental benefit but also benefits such as self-sufficiency, health benefits, or even just creature comfort (a good natural-lighting design in a building can immesurable enhance the space, for example).

    Even beyond Global warming, there are a slew of inarguable truths that indicate a stance that is green-er (not Green, but greener) is necessary. Ever taken a trip to a solid waste facility? All those guys can talk about is how they are running out of space because of all the unnecessary trash we generate. In areas such as that, greener developements (less packaging, for example) saves everyone money! yes, money! believe it or not, green lifestyle can actually be economically feasible.

    The only question on my mind is, when the oil starts getting low OR we no longer have a decent source (presumably because the oil producing nations have a "shortage"), is America going to retain its status against now-developing countries that are doing it right from the beginning? Are we larger enough to convert when necessary?

    If not, we need to start planning, because we have an achilles heel, and its name is oil, no matter how you slice it.
  • What is our impact on our own homes and neighborhoods?

    Loud music (human mating calls), exhaust from neglected cars (human laziness), and poor city infrastructure (human political greed) all take their toll on our ability to live in comfort and thrive as human beings. No matter what the Earth does in reaction to our behavior, I definitely know that we are actively spoiling our environments.
  • As far as global warming/climate change, we really have no idea what "normal" is. Is it what we have had in the last 1000 years? Well, we have had "mini-ice ages" during this period. Some climatologists believe that we are still in an ice age epoch, but merely between specific events. Also, what is normal solar output? We know that this varies considerably, and appears to have periodic changes that can be predicted (sun spot cycle). If solar output varies even slightly, that would have more effect on our climate than any amount of coal burning.

    In other words, it is pure folly to speculate on small measures of time, and say, "This is NORMAL climate." We don't know what normal is.
  • by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <kepler1@COBOLhotmail.com minus language> on Friday February 22, 2002 @01:03PM (#3052204)
    OK, fine. As a scientist and reasonable person, I must admit the possibility that our activities are having absolutely no effect on the environment, and the measurements of climate change are just part of the small natural oscillations in our system. I must admit this possibility, because we don't have enough evidence yet, and to dogmatically cling to a belief without evidence does us no credit, and is the mark of a different ideology.

    But on the other hand, look at the problem from a practical perspective. Suppose that global warming is "false" (ie. we're not causing it). Then our actions now have no effect and by reducing emissions, curbing pollution, we do nothing (except improve our own cities, etc. a little bit). But if the phenomenon is real, and our actions now make it better or worse, then by continuing on our present course, we are making the problem worse.

    Given these choices, in the absence of information, isn't it more logical to bet on the second? Isn't it safer to assume the worst case scenario? I.e. let's stop doing the things that people suggest may be harming the environment, because if they actually do, we'll be screwed in 50 years? And if they're not harming the environment, we did no harm anyway?

    Do some people not understand this logic??
    • Given these choices, in the absence of information, isn't it more logical to bet on the second? Isn't it safer to assume the worst case scenario?

      Yes it is and we should definitely err on the side of caution as you suggest. Just don't go around saying that the sky is falling if it ain't.
    • I must admit the possibility that our activities are having absolutely no effect on the environment ..

      Demonstrably false. Check out the skylines of Los Angeles and Houston. The smog that hangs over these cities and causes the National Weather Service to issue routine air quality alerts are most definitely not caused by small, natural oscillations in our system. Now, granted, this does not immediately extrapolate into evidence that human activities are affecting the climate on a global scale, but at the very least, it shows that those who claim that human activities do nothing to affect the environment are clearly out to lunch.
    • The same logic underlies Pascal's assertion that one should believe in God in the absence of direct evidence to the contrary because the cost of disbelieving is so high if you're wrong. I didn't buy that argument and I don't buy this one either.

      The reasons for curbing environmental impacts must be based on believable evidence. The only question is where to set the "believable" threshold. I would put myself in the still-waiting-but-worried-enough-to-buy-a-Prius camp.

      Unfortunately, the book's author seems to believe not only that the evidence to date fails to support the conclusion that the impacts are real, but that they in fact already support the opposite conclusion.
    • Given these choices, in the absence of information, isn't it more logical to bet on the second?

      If it's free, sure. It isn't. As the greens are fond of pointing out, we have limited resources. It follows we should spend them where it's most likely to help - I suspect 3rd world debt relief is a better buy for humanity than radical emmisions reductions of the same cost.

    • You are right that there is a cost to taking action. It will probably be slower growth, economic contraction even, perhaps. But at the risk of taking a superior attitude about the US economy -- I think we could stand to contract a little bit and maybe not keep our place as the biggest proportional consumer of everthing on the planet. I know that everyone likes growth, but it was never guaranteed, was it? It seems to me we're driving ourselves crazy right now, with businesses (and therefore our people) trying to make a profit wherever there's any to be had, regardless of how worthwhile that particular endeavor may be.

      I'm sure that's a controversial statement, but here's my reasoning. The US is certainly a leader in many industries, but for the most part my opinion is that we sure waste a whole lot for that which we produce. In essence, a bulk portion of the population is a leisure/service society. Do we really need so much productivity going into things like marketing, sales, junk?

      Cycles of contraction and growth are necessary to keep people grounded with a sense of proportion. Just look at spending habits and the dot com busts -- when Silicon valley was awash with money, it drove the whole place into an unsustainable cycle of inflation and surprisingly, poverty. The contraction now has restored some sanity to that area. I think we (the US) might benefit from a contraction. It might reorganize our priorities...
    • There's multiply reasons why global warming could be great

      #1. It's keeping us out of an ice age. I believe the historical record indicates that we're past due for the next ice age.

      #2. Back in mideval times, it was much warmer. In fact, there was actually green plants on greenland! That's where it originally got the name. Has anyone know how hot it is in the Jungle? If it's so hot, why is there so much biodiversity? See next point.

      #3. Increased heat leads to increased percipitation and more rain. That's why jungles have so much life - it's the rain. Increased circulation of rain could help increase vegitation (think crops too)

      #4. Reglaciation. You know how warming is suppose to melt the ice caps? Well, if there's more rain, it's postulated that there will be more percipitation over the ice caps. Hence, more glaciation, to combat the minimal loss due to heat increase (which makes a small difference when it is already so cold)

      #5. Most warming is at night. This is great for crops, as it protects against early frosts.

      There are lots of other reasons why it's goo, these are just some of them.

      • Um, no. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Watts Martin ( 3616 )

        Greenland got its name as a joke from its discoverer (Erik the Red, IIRC). He found both Iceland and Greenland and reversed their logical names deliberately, to steer others away from the one that was actually green.

        And, no, global warming would not be good for us. The ocean currents on the planet would shift radically, and weather patterns would follow. This would Really, Truly Suck. And we haven't gotten to coastlines receding, but as someone who lives in a coastal Florida city, I can assure you it'd bother me.

        There's an old joke abut George Bernard Shaw being bothered by a female fan at a party, until he asked her, "Madam, would you sleep with me for a million dollars?" She repliced, "Of course." "Then," he asked, "would you sleep with me for ten?" She was offended, saying, "What kind of woman do you think I am, Mr. Shaw?" He replied, "We've already established that, madam--we're just haggling over the price."

        I think of this a lot when I listen to the debate on global climate change. The majority of the scientific community recognizes that there is a trend to global warming and that human activity does affect climate. The debates now are--or should be--establishing just what the correlation is between the two.

        The problem is that at least in some models--which seem to be supported by empirical evidence--ecosystems absorb a lot of abuse until they're overloaded and collapse abruptly. This means that dire warnings can always be put off--look, things obviously aren't that bad, the sky hasn't fallen, you Chicken Little!--until the catastrophe the Chicken Littles were warning about happens. And, like the Y2K problem, public health and airport security, spending on preventive measures definitionally appears to have no effect: success means things continue as they are without catastrophe. You only see failures.

    • by mesocyclone ( 80188 ) on Friday February 22, 2002 @02:40PM (#3053120) Homepage Journal
      supernova87a states: "Given these choices, in the absence of information, isn't it more logical to bet on the second? Isn't it safer to assume the worst case scenario? I.e. let's stop doing the things that people suggest may be harming the environment, because if they actually do, we'll be screwed in 50 years? And if they're not harming the environment, we did no harm anyway?"

      In fact, this principle is starting to be used by environmentalist to justify all sorts of policies that they otherwise cannot support with evidence.

      The problem with this principal is that in an uncertain, complex system, your actions to mitigate harm may themselves cause harm. Environmentalists have a narrow definition of harm - for example they rarely recognize that their actions may harm or even result in the death of those people who are at the edge of existence economically. The banning of DDT is one example - with the death rate from maliaria around a million a year now, when it was much lower before. Did anybody do a "least harm" analysis there?

      Furthermore, it is unscientific in the sense that it is really saying "We don't have proof of X, but we are going to act as if X is true, and take actions that force people to change their behavior as a result."

      For example, if in fact the costs of CO2 mitigation are high, they may lead to significant damage to third world economies. This would lead to increased environmental damage in the third world areas as those people are more desperate and less able to import what they need... so they strip more forests, overfish more fish, etc. They also have more kids - the greater the uncertainty of survival of kids, the more kids people have. The result: population growth.

      The correct thing to do is do a cost benefit analysis (a phrase detested by environmentalists), and to account for these uncertainties.

      The other important thing to realize is that we have greatly reduced the amount of most pollutants (with the exception of CO2 if one buys the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis). But environmentalists are pushing for zero pollution (which means zero technology which means zero population).

      The biggest problem with the environmental movement is that it is not satisfied with success. You don't need to go to "The Skeptical Environmentalist" to find out that pollution in many areas is vastly decreased from previous levels. Another problem is that the environmental movement invariable sees progress and capitalism as the villain. As a result it is blind to the fact that increased prosperity leads to decreased birth rate (one of the main goals of environmentlaists), and that it leaves society with the option of considering environmental choices without killing people in the process

      Another problem with the environmentalist movement is that much of it has been hijacked by extremists who use it as a weapon against capitalism. Thus we have every project obstructed by these "environmentalists." For example, here in Arizona there was a project to build a toxic waste incinerator (a *good* thing for the environment since it would destroy most of the toxicity). Greenpeace sent agitators down to block the project, and it was ultimately shelved. That incinerator would have been out in the middle of the Sonoran Desert ( a *good* place - far from people).

      Finally, I would comment that most environmentalists in this day and age cannot do a good job of answering the question of "why preserve the environment?" Or more directly, "why preserve this particular aspect of the environment?" One tends to get answers that imply that it is an absolute good (essentially in a religious sense) to preserve the environment. But that sort of reasoning gives no guidance as to how to do that (other than the mass elimination of the human race - also advocated by some environmentalists). Also, the *good* that can come from environmental change is always discounted. I have friends who research the beneficial effects of increased CO2 on plants. They have trouble getting funding due to the politicization of the global warming issue. Nobody wants to find good outcomes!

      Nor can they define what a desirable environment is. Some want us to go back to the hunter gatherer days (ignoring the fact that those hunter gatherers caused major species extinctions and major environmental change). Some simply want us to freeze and preserve the current environment in whatever state it is (ignoring Darwin essentially). Others want man to have no impact on the environment. A few want to preserve the environment for the future (I would call the more reasonable of these "conservationists" as opposed to environmentalists).

      Almost none recognize that man *is* part of the environment and the actions of *man* are by definition "natural." Recognizing that allows more rational choices to be considered. It leads us to force a definition of goals for the environment, and that can allow us to do benefit/harm analysis (called cost-benefit analysis technically but that term is hated by many environmentalists, probably because of both their anti-capitalist feelings and their absolutism).

  • I would consider myself an envornmental skeptic... not that I don't believe pollution, etc is a problem. It clearly is.

    My skepticism lies with this: I see a lot of "solutions" that only make the problem worse, and I see these being endorsed by those who should know better. (I haven't read the book, but I probably will; I want to hear what he says).

    Recycle, Reuse and Reduce.

    By far the most important of these are Reuse and Reduce. Recycling is a band aid to fix things when people don't, or won't, do the other two.

    It begs a lot of questions: is it better to use a 20-year old vehicle sparingly, or should I buy a new, high-milage vehicle and feel good about my "contribution" to the envornment?

    Certainly Industry wants me to buy a new product when a perfectly good one already exists. But is this a good solution? The question is hardly ever asked (and I'm not saying I know the answer; I am saying why is the default answer always seem to be: make more stuff, because it's "better" than the old stuff?).

    Recycle aluminum cans? Why is this the "green" solution, when it costs as much in energy (electicity, at least some of which is coal-fired) to make aluminum as it does to recycle it? Why not use less aluminum?

    I hope he asks and attempts to answer some of these questions; I would be interested in his conclusions.

    Thanks for reading my post; now I have to go back to surfing with my own [personal heavy-metal laden, coal-burning, disposable] enviormental nightmare (a computer)...
    • It actually takes much, much less energy to recycle aluminum than to make it. It makes economic sense to recycle aluminum for this very reason.

      Glass, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. Melt sand, or melt glass - both roughly comparible. Glass is heavy, hauling it requires energy. Of course it is important to remember that the energy cost of hauling it is the same whether it is recycled or disposed of at the end point, so there's really no getting around that cost.

      If your point is that reducing consumption is better than recycling, well, sure. The same folks who push for recycling push for reducing uneccessary packaging.

      Both recycling and reduction of consumption can work to lower the stream of crap being disposed by landfill. Cities don't push in this direction for simple knee-jerk fuzzy-wuzzy environmental reasons. My city (Portland, OR), for instance, ran out of real estate for landfills about a decade ago and now sends its garbage to a landfill 90 miles away. This is relatively expensive. Diverting material from landfills not only reduces that expense but equally important it extends the lifetime of our current landfill facility.

      Most of the anti-recycling analyses I've seen ignore these benefits. If recycling had been in place throughout the postwar years here in Portland we'd still be trucking our garbage five miles to the landfill, rather than 90.
  • by uncadonna ( 85026 ) <mtobisNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday February 22, 2002 @01:04PM (#3052222) Homepage Journal
    It would be a good idea if someone were to write a book on the excesses and gullibility of the environmental "movement" but this isn't it. Rather this book actually tends to attack legitimate environmental science.

    In the area where I have the most background, climate change, it takes the usual corporate apologists' position, that the outcome will be at the (IPCC = Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) consensus level or more benign, and then piles up evidence on the more benign side.

    Well, the thing about the consensus opinion is that it is based on the entire pile of evidence, not just half of it. By the definition of best estimate, for each piece of evidence showing a more benign outcome there is a less benign outcome.

    Now here's the sticky part - the consensus is the median estimate of physical changes due to human alterations of the environment. It's not an average and it's certainly not a cost-weighted average. As I used to try to argue endlessly on sci.environment, the right policy is based on the economic risk, which is weighted toward worst-case scenarios. Cost increases nonlinearly with perturbation, and small perturbations may have negligible costs. This means that the sound and economically valid response should be weighted more heavily toward more pessimistic scenarios. It's simple cost/benefit risk analysis.

    When I make this argument, "environmentalists" don't buy it because risk analysis often doesn't match their preconceptions. They have come to the point where they distrust basing any decisions on statistical analysis of evidence, which of course is a completely idiotic position. On the other hand the "wisdom of the free market" forces don't buy a risk analysis of climate change because, well, it inconveniently argues to interventionist policies, and they have a preconception (equally idiotic) that no rational analysis can ever point to government intervention in the marketplace, so there has to be something wrong with the rational argument since it reaches the wrong conclusion.

    The point here isn't that there is no book to be written about political correctness, sheepish credulity and factual wrongheadedness among environmentalists. There is one, just as there is another to be written about their opponents. Politics is not science, though, and apparently political books sell better than science books that threaten preconceptions on all sides.

    The problem is that this book appears to be just one more piece of trash on the vast heap of conclusion-first polemics, not a cure for it.

    • Just curious: Have you read the book?
    • A much better rebuttal than the one in Scientific American, if I may say so, and the climate change rebuttal was much better than the other three.

      Do you have links to your work or similar analysis?

    • by mesocyclone ( 80188 ) on Friday February 22, 2002 @03:06PM (#3053317) Homepage Journal
      The general principal which you advocate is valid, and I wish environmental advocates would use it (but they won't, because it conflicts with their real agenda).


      The problem with the IPCC data as fuel to your approach is that the weighted average itself is biased. For one thing, the field has been largely led by climate modelers, even though the validity of the models is highly questionable. Climate models, like weather models, have a lot of "tweak factors" which are used to adjust for factors that the model cannot incorporate. This means that models are tweaked to produce a match to history, and then their forecast is used.

      But the historic timeline is too short for statistical valid matching, and as some paleoclimatologist friends of mine have shown, full of very dubious data. On top of that, this approach is based on the same fallacy as that of a successful mutual fund manager: chance predicts that some models will have good historical track records (as it does for mutual fund managers). Selection (publication selection) leads those models to be included as the best forecasters (fund managers are given more money if they have good track records). And yet the underlying physical model (trading theories for the fund managers) are unlikely to be very accurate, and the outcome may be strictly a result of the operations of chance (See Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in the Markets and in Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb for an odd but insightful look at this).

      This is one reason that the IPCC consensus estimate changes significantly (and not in a convergent direction) from one report to the next.

      When we add to this the politicization of the field, and the resulting funding and publication bias, the situation gets even worse.

      Thus, the weighting factors are very hard to get right.

      In addition, a cost/benefit analysis requires a good analysis of the cost of remediation. In the environmental area, most analysis goes towards the "benefit" (degrees of avoided warming per century, or in your case, avoided economic losses from pessimistic outcomes). But little focus is given to the cost (economic impact with trickle-down costs). Since the economic system seems to be as hard to predict as the climate, this means that we need to take the most pessimistic views of the economic cost of remediation into our cost benefit analysis also!

      BTW... most of the better arguments I have seen against CO2 reductions are not by free market extremists, and I think you mischaracterize those of us who end up siding with the corporations. All but a very few free market advocates understand that there are externalities - costs which are passed outside the market system with no corresponding cost inside the system, and that the market does not deal well with externalities (unless they can be internalized). Thus we know that invoking the wisdom of the market to solve some economic goals is just as silly as invoking the wisdom of environmental absolutism.

      BTW... it might surprise you to know that there is a lot of big corporate support for CO2 remediation. For example, Enron tried to get the bush administration to *support* the Kyoto Protocol (fortunately they got nothing for their money). Other companies have done the same. The reason is simple self interest - they see an advantage for themselves in the post-Kyoto environment. In the case of Enron, they wanted to trade in emissions credits, which Kyoto would greatly increase. They also had lower carbon fuels in their inventory than many competitors, which gave them a competitive advantage.

      An acquaintance of mine, who stopped researcher and started business as a Global Warming consultant to business, recently was lamenting that nobody wanted to hear his anti-Kyoto message any more becaus they had figured out how to profit from Kyoto. So those who imagine that big business is killing Kyoto in the US are not well informed.

      There are ways in which the market can help, however. For example, privately owned forest land is definitely treated better than public forest land, because the owner has a long term investment in it. This is a market "solution" to some environmental issues (not including biodiversity on that land). Likewise, both sides have recognized that tradeable emission rights are a good way to reduce emissions if reducing emissions is really worth the cost of the program.

      On a side note, most environmentalists do not get up in arms against farming unless it is "corporate farming" or uses "nasty chemicals." And yet, farming has transformed the landscape of the northern hemisphere more than any other act of man, and smaller farms requires more land per amount of crop produced than the more-efficient larger (often corporate) farms! Framing has destroyed (transformed?) huge swaths of environment. This bias shows the marxist viewpoint of much of the environmental movement.
  • Mod this up (Score:2, Informative)

    Anybody remember this story at K5 [kuro5hin.org]? It's a compilation of all the sources saying how wrong Lomborg is.

    P.S. K5 reviewed this book [kuro5hin.org] back in August.

  • Gee, the scientific priesthood had declared that the weather gods are angry and want some sacrifices made to atone for the sins of humanity and set things right again. You can be sure the anti-business enviro's are going to claim the benefit of every doubt. We've already been thru the Freon/Ozone hole thing, which is mainly a 'screw the US' ploy while Mexico and other 3rd world dumps still pump out tons of the stuff. But, whoever they choose to sacrifice, someone's going to make bundles off it, they always do.

  • THE SHIN-RA are poisoning the earth and we got to do something about it!
  • by Genus Marmota ( 59217 ) on Friday February 22, 2002 @01:11PM (#3052285)
    Picture humanity as a group of monkeys sitting on a high tree branch, with a hungry lion waiting paitiently below. A small group of monkeys is sawing furiously away at the branch they all sit on. "We need more lumber!" they shout. Another other group is in a state of panic, shouting "Save the tree! Save the tree!" But most of the monkeys are doing what monkeys generally do: scratching, having sex and looking around for food, completely uninterested in the other two groups.


    On my office cube I have a graph of the ice core data from Vostok, Antarctica. The graph of mean planetary temperature change looks like a roller coaster. Goddess sure does like to mix it up. What's striking about it is that for the last 12,000 years or so, we've had an anomalously stable and warm trend. Just about the time humans figured out how to grow wheat and live in villages.

    Did humans cause global warming? Well, I don't think there were that many campfires back in the paleolithic. How bout the other way round? Maybe the stable, warmer temperatures made possiblee the "stupid human trick" of huge cities based on domesticated crops?

    My unscientific take on it is that the climate is a big 'ol complicated chaotic system. If you're betting your civilization on linear trends persisting very long in any direction, then you're lookin to get spanked. And you haven't looked very hard at the data. I'm as green as the next bumper-sticker-sporting, recycling vegetarian. But I think we're just clever monkeys in the end.

  • by rcs1000 ( 462363 ) <rcs1000 AT gmail DOT com> on Friday February 22, 2002 @01:13PM (#3052305)
    There is no doubt that the Skeptical Environmentalist contains many errors. But it contains a lot that is useful, and it does not pretend to be a book about science. It is a book about the statistics used by certain people to support certain arguments.

    Sometimes the stastics used are dubious: the Economist themselves ran a story on how the world's figures on fish production were flawed because of massive misrepesentation from China. (http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?Story_I D=885936) As a result of this, one whole chapter of the book is glaringly wrong.


    The reaction to the book does the environmentalists great disservice. Rather than rationally approaching it from the point of view of the statistics, and admitting that - in a few cases - statistics used to back up a points were wrong, the environmental movement has reacted hysterically. Normally sensible people have attacked Lomberg as an agent of big business, the oil companies, etc.

    This is wrong. Attack Lomberg for his errors, do not get caught up in some hysterical conspiracy theory.

    And talk about statistics. The book is about statistics, not about global warming. It may well be that global warming is worse than expected, but attacking him for having a different point of view (and that alone) is wrong.

    Just my $0.05...

  • There are a whole slew of different environmental problems between developed economies and non-developed and developing ones. Remember the problem with the Great Lakes 30 years ago? I belive the worst was Lake Superior, which was polluted so bad it was considered unsafe to swim in. Now its full of pleasure boaters and fishermen on the weekends, thanks to a massive enviormental clean up of the factories along its shores. This is part of the transition from a middle-industrialized to a modern industrialized economy.

    Now, however, the Great Lakes are facing more subtle problems, like rising temperatures from suburban sprawl runoff, causing certain species of fish to move deeper in the lake, cutting off food supplies for other fish, etc. etc. This is mroe of a modernized economics problem, extremely difficult to find a solution, but also not as outright dangerous (at least in the short term) as the problem of old.

    As the world becomes more developed (and I'm an optimist, I firmly belive that eventually Africa, South America, and parts of Asia will finally begin to advance to our current standards of 1st world coutnries), we will probably face less of these outright dangerous problems, and more of the "long-term potentially dangerous but we dont know what the effect will be and we don't even know how bad it really is sort".

    The question then becomes are we going to be honest about the dangers, and what we know about them. Do we have the courage to say "We really don't know if global warming is occuring, and if it is, we really don't know what that means. Given the best of our information, here's what we can say...". Kudos to the Skeptical Environmentalist for being brave enough to face down the status quo and introduce some much-needed uncertainty and honesty.
  • ...according to the magazine Scientific American.

    The magazine offers several reviews (each by a scientist reviewing the part of the book that covers the science they know best) plus an overview of the book.

    The long and short of the criticisms are that the book ignores lots of works, cherry-picks results from works he does sites (ie, he only mentions the results that back his claims), and that he fails to understand most of the statistics he uses to argue with.

  • Over the years the following has been the consensus of the scientific community at one time.

    1. We are on the verge of a man made ice age because of the amount of pollutants we are putting into the air (circa 1970)

    2. The earth is flat

    3. The earth is the center of the Universe

    4. People with mental handicaps should be sterilized to prevent more mentally retarded children from being born

    5. The age of the earth is (insert favorite number here)

    Look at who and how environmental scientists are funded. They are for the most part funded by governments. The same governments that would only fund research into why certain illicit drugs were bad for you and cut funding to any study that found a use for said illicit drug. This is not about objective science it is about getting funding, it is about ego and it is about power. Look at my sig, I said that because I have personally watched people in the scientific community ignore data that does not agree with THEIR OPINIONS. Some try everything in their power to suppress data that suggests their hypothesis is wrong. They have to because their ego's are too big and their funding depends on them being PERCIEVED as correct.

    Science should be about objective analysis of the data. That is often not the case, it's about cliques and popularity and grants. Newton is turning in his grave.

    • There was no scientific consensus in the 1970s that we were on the verge of an ice age due to pollutants. That's a lie made up by those on the right who wish to discredit the current scientific consensus in regard to global warming.

      Scientists, by any modern definition, have never argued that the earth is flat. In fact the earth has been known to be round for thousands of years, and in fact attempts were made to measure its diameter.

      Scientists proved that the earth isn't the center of the Universe. It certainly wasn't the Pope who discovered this.

      You are right that some scientists were active in the eugenics movement. Far more weren't.

      The fact that the estimate of the age of the earth has varied over time is evidence of science at work. Do you have a problem with this?
  • I would say "Everything is a weighting of cost/benefits. Do you stay at home, not moving, not eating, never doing anything -- because of the possible danger of any action? No, we go about our lives having weighed the risks versus the costs of avoiding them. Do you really believe that we have the power to destroy the environment? That is ridiculous. We have the power to change it a little. Also remember that many studies have shown that for every place that is damaged by a measurable increase in global temperatures (if it occurs and is not a statistical blip) there are just as many that will be improved. Some places may get drier, but others will bloom."

    Try actually studying some of the research (and analysis by both sides and neutral, if you can find them, observers) instead of sticking to the USA Today headlines. The comments I have read have mostly demonstrated that the shrill cries of the big-business, big-money environmental lobby have managed to overpower all calls for an objective study of these issues.

  • by dada21 ( 163177 ) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Friday February 22, 2002 @01:33PM (#3052519) Homepage Journal
    My views on the environment are fairly anti-libertarian in many ways, but I believe 100% that the libertarian solution carries the only solution to it.

    When land is owned publicly, it is treated badly. When you want to find the worst perpetrators of the environment, you'll find commercial businesses polluting on public land that they lease.

    By taking the libertarian road, and privatizing all land, you're now give businesses and people a vested interest in keeping the value of the land high, not low. Just like a renter of an apartment takes generally worse care of the place than a condo owner, the same is true of a company or an individual who may one day want to sell the land for its value.

    If everyone owns their land rather than leasing it from a public entity, you now have civil protection against someone polluting your land. Some big industry pumps poisons into their river that end up in your groundwater? Now you can sue. Currently, when a business pollutes on leased government land, who do you sue? The government? These are the same guys that leave loopholes in the law so that their buddies CAN pollute.

    The people who think that there is no way that pro-environmental scientists aren't harboring a conspiracy are nuts. Every science I've had the ability to witness has some "global" conspiracies that are used in order to keep people "needed" that business. The environment is no different.

    The worst polluters in the world are socialist governments. That's a fact. The most pristine forests in the world are on private land. That's a fact. Some of the forest preserves in Central American that are privately owned are so much cleaner than the public land residing next door to them that its scary that people really want our government running the forest preserve system.

    If you want to protect or preserve some land, find others who agree with you, and set up a private land trust. Its happening more and more around the world, AND IT WORKS.

    If you want the air cleaner, then get government out of the air regulation. End the EPA. If a business is pumping chemicals into the air, its up to the third party watchdog groups to monitor it, and let people know. When there is legal evidence that a company is harming land or individuals off of their property, then a civil lawsuit can entail. End of story.

    Sure, there are flaws in my "world," but the flaws in today's world are obvious: environmental protection laws hurt small individual landowners, as the large business either lease their land from government, or get such amazing loopholes granting to them in the laws, that they actually can pollute more, not less.

    • when land is owned publicly, it is treated badly there is no evidence for this claim as a general one about human society. you have perhaps heard of the book "the tragedy of the commons", which was one of the first to expound this idea, and suggest that private ownership of land resulted in better caretaking. unfortunately, the book was wrong, and even the author now acknowledges that he did not do enough cross-cultural or a deep enough historical review before writing the book. there are hundreds of examples from human cultures throughout history where public ownership of land has resulted in better treatment of the land and its resources. what typically goes wrong is when there is a breakdown in the cultural traditions that ensure proper stewardship, and nothing to replace them. a google search for "tragedy of the commons" will provide many links to the anthropological and historical research to support what i have said here.
    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday February 22, 2002 @04:34PM (#3053962) Homepage Journal
      Given a certain discount rate (that is to say assumptions about the time value of money), it is often economically rational to liquidate the land, for example in many kinds of mining operations. Likewise, farming or fishing practices that may not be sustainable over a twenty year or longer horizon may be economically rational based on their increased immediate productivity to the individuals making the decisions about how to exploit a resource.

      In theory, as land is degraded, the marginal value of the remaining undespoiled land goes up, providing a disincentive from despoilation. Except that there may not be any mechanism for a land owner to recoup this value. The land owner rationally bases his exploitation decisions based on excludable benefits and costs -- that is how he will benefit as an individual and pay as an individual -- no matter how affected he his by the costs of exploitation and benefits of preservation on a global scale.

      The tragedy of the commons shows that, in absence of an effective means of rational cooperation between people, private ownership and exploitation is more productive and sustainable. However, in many respects the commons is inescapable: we live on one planet, in one biosphere, dependent on one hydrosphere, drawing all our our biological wealth from a common pools of biota and environmental systems. So, duly considered and democratically adopted limitations on the exploitation of these common resources would be good thing.
  • by Kraft ( 253059 ) on Friday February 22, 2002 @01:34PM (#3052529) Homepage
    ... yesterday [www.jp.dk] (in Danish).

    According to the article, Lomborg was charged with (directly translated) "scientific dishonesty*", which means "acts or ommissions whereby there in the research happens forgery or alteration of the scientific message or gross deception of a person's contribution in the research".

    The charges fell the same day Lomborg is applying for the position of director of the newly founded Institute for Environmental evaluation in Denmark, by the council concerning scientific dishonesty.

    *dishonesty is not really the correct word in English. It's more "dis-HONOUR" than "dis-sincerety".
  • Excellent review and critique. And it sounds like a very thought provoking book.

    We really don't have enough critical thinking going on in the environmental sector. It's a whole lot of bandwagon, dogma, and emotional fervor.

    I think of myself as environmentally responsible, but I really don't buy in to most of the propaganda that is out there. I mean, I agree that we should clean up, stop polluting the air, water, ground, and space, and help developing nations get to where we are in a cleaner way than we did.

    But many environmental activists, especially the global warming nuts, just refuse to recognize some basics of science. The global environment is a chaos system. You cannot predict its behavior, and therefore you cannot predict how it will respond to particular stimuli. It changes all the time, always has, even before mankind infested all corners of the planet.

    These measurements of half degree changes in the average global temperature quoted by panic-inducing lobbyists as proof that we are destroying the world are an example of the logical fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc, or "after this therefore because of this".

    I really believe that many of them think the ends justifies the means, and they will say anything and scare anyone just to accomplish their goals. And mostly I agree with those goals. But that kind of tactic is arrogant, non-democratic and dangerous. Responsible people go about creating change by educating and convincing. Those who think they know what's best for everyone and are willing to force their solution without convincing everyone of its validity should be feared, watched, and held to the standards of our open society.

    • The global environment is a chaos system. You cannot predict its behavior, and therefore you cannot predict how it will respond to particular stimuli.

      This may come as a surprise to you, but this is exactly the point of view held by those "global warming nuts" (err ... climatologists) who suggest we err on the side of caution if we err at all.

      Global warming is a fact. The degree to which we contribute to it is arguable, but non-zero.

      Most importantly, we can't be certain what the effect will be for the very reasons you state. The reasonable response? Slow down pace at which we execute this particular experiment in atmospheric chemistry.

  • Myself I find Lomborg's work makes environmental action more fruitful. I much prefer positive outlooks. "Hey. things are getting better: lets keep doing things to make them keep getting better" instead of "Things are terrible. We're all going to die. Let's go trash our local MacDonald's so that we postpone the date of the world ending by a couple of minutes."

    Works like this are important because they attempt to help people make choices.

    For instance: on page 80 he references estimates that 2 million people die and 0.5 billion people get sick every year because of lack of access to clean water and sanitation.

    How about global warming? Page 291. "Even a small decrease in winter deaths would greatly outweigh a small heat death increase."

    Obviously a contrived example. But the book is great for being able to looks things like this up. 1/3 of the book is reference!

    Lomborg would be the first to admit that there's lots of room for improvement: he would agree that 2 million deaths is unacceptable. He comes to the conclusion that we should take action on global warming.


  • One thing surprises me: Bjorn Lomborg seems to accept that Carbon
    dioxide emissions cause 2-3C warming. I'm not there yet.

    The uncontrolled, ex-post atmospheric models hardly convince me, but
    the correlation of temperature with CO2 over millenia is intriguing.
    But have you ever opened a warm soda can?

    The 8C air temperature swing would affect rain and the oceans about
    the same amount. Atmospheric Carbon dioxide swings from 200 to 300 ppm
    which is coincidentally just about the decreased solubility at
    increasing temperature.

    So which is the chicken, and which the egg? If the Earth heated up
    from some exogenous cause (solar, geothermal, geomagnetic), then CO2
    would rise as an effect not a cause.

    A statistics professor would say "Correlation does not prove
    causality". Why doesn't Bjorn?

  • by streetlawyer ( 169828 ) on Friday February 22, 2002 @01:40PM (#3052585) Homepage
    But by attacking the book and the author so shrilly, the environmental community risks its own hard-won credibility. It acts just as Lomborg accuses it, like lobbyists with an axe to grind, not cold-eyed, empirically-minded scientists.

    But ... but ... why doesn't Lomborg risk his credibility for attacking the environmentalists so shrilly? Could it be that there's one rule of debate if you're saying things that appeal to the people who own the media which decide who has "credibility" and one rule if you're saying things they don't like?

    You certainly can't tell me that Lomborg is unfailingly polite in his attacks on environmentalists because he's not.

    That's why he got a pie in the face by the way; not for authoring a "rival study", but because he had basically accused this guy of saying things he knew to be untrue in order to get government grants. If you accuse people of what amounts to fraud in public, you have to expect some comebacks, and you shouldn't pretend that people are only attacking you back because they can't handle your message.

    In any case, this article is mis-sectioned. What kind of a "book review" spends about two thirds of its length ranting on unrelated political issues related to other peoples' views about the book and half that much tlaking about the book itself?

  • I have not read the book, but I have read some of the criticisms, so I will discuss some issues which are relevent without claiming anything about the book.

    As a scientist, I can tell you that analysis and presentation of data is treacherous. The best scientists will sometimes find their preconceived results regradless of the actual data. All scientists must try to present their results in the best light in order to keep working. In a small subfield, researchers are often personally acquainted and are intimately familiar with the analysis techniques, so they are capable of seeing what valid results lie underneath the veneer.

    This is my most difficult problem with climate change. I do not work in that field, and I can't personally analyze the validity and importance of various claims. This makes it very hard for me to have an opinion. I can point out two problems, though.

    Numerical models of things such as weather or resource consumption are complicated. At best, the model can be shown to be consistent with past trends. But any model is only valid over a range of parameters. Outside of this range, the believability of the results drops to nothing. Furthermore, the ability to reproduce short-term variations is no indication that the model will be a valid predictor of long-term trends. We must constantly skeptically re-evaluate these results.

    (Dont't misread me; I think that a huge and dangerous climate change is on the way unless we drastically change how we live in the environment.)

    Enough for now...

  • About time (Score:2, Interesting)

    by letxa2000 ( 215841 )
    It's about time we see more work like this published.

    Environmentalists have been spewing whatever "facts" they want for years and, as mentioned in the intro, the media has bought it hook, line, and sinker.

    There are two guilty parties here:

    1. The environmental "scientists." They claim to be scientists--and many even are, by title. But I also feel a scientist has a responsibility to the truth of what he reports. When scientists start using their title as "scientist" to pass off unsubstantiated theories and hypothesis as verified results, they've lost all credibility as scientists and really ought not to be able to call themselves "scientists" anymore. They are liberal environmentalists with an adgenda and already know the results they want before they perform the "experiments."

    2. The Media. We all know the media is biased. Nothing new. But when it comes to the environmentalist movement it's incredible how much latitude they are given by the media. An environmentalist can release a press report "Study shows that farting may contribute to the ozone hole." The news reports it as fact. You read the story and the report a little more closely and you find out that a study has shown that farting has increased 20% in the last decade and the ozone hole has increased 19%... so it MIGHT be possible the farting caused the ozone hold expansion. There's no distinction made by the media between cause and effect and just random correlations of data.

    In all, the whole environmentalist movement is tainted by bad scientists who report what they want to beleive, not what the data proves, and by the media that blindly reports whatever these people spew without due diligence in reporting the validity of the claims.

    Is it a good idea to reduce pollution? Sure, the days look nicer when there's a nice blue sky above us. Is it a good idea to conserve energy? Sure, saves on the construction of new plants and saves us money. Should our cars be more efficient? Sure, it'll let us stop at the gas station less frequently, save us money at the pump, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

    Do I think that the ice caps will melt and flood New York City and Los Angeles if I drive my car too much? No.

    Do I think it's the end of the world if some unknown bug species in Brazil goes extinct? No, many species have come and gone over time, this is nothing new.

    Do I think huge and powerful hurricanes are going to become common because of global warming? No.

    Do I believe environmental models that, every time more and more factors are taken into account show less and less environmental change? No.

    Do I believe environmental models that don't even take into account the affect of CLOUDS??? Come on.

    Get the facts straight and then let's talk about what can or should be done. In the meantime, the environmentalists can do their part by trashing their old polluting VW Buses and getting a more efficient, cleaner car that's been produced in, say, the last 10 or 15 years!

  • Excellent Review (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SimonK ( 7722 )
    Thank you. I've been wanting to write one for ages, and now you've done it for me, and written pretty much exactly what I would have done. Now, if you'd just post it to kuro5hin, that would be even better :)

    A couple of random points: Are you sure that Lomborg's cost-benefit analyses ignore costs to the extent you imply ? My understanding is that he's included all effects that could impact humans, but ignored those that only impact the natural world. Of course, such analysese are tricky, and arguable completely worthless, so there's no guarantee he has got it right. However, in principle, if the lesser-spotted fenge cricket of outer mongolia has no known impact on human wellbeing, it seems quite defensible not to consider its loss a cost.

    I agree that catastrophic changes, such as switching ocean currents, or positive feedbacks, are very serious possibilities. These kinds of things, where the probability is low or unknown, but the potential consequences are catastrophic, are the hardest issues to deal with. I cannot buy into the "precautionary principle", that we must avoid possible problems, even if there is no evidence that there really is a problem, because it seems to undermine out standards of evidence.

    I agree absolutely about the treatment Lomborg has received. It is a disgrace. The number of scientists who have butted in merely in order to dismiss his credentials, or complain at even having to respond, and then obviously failed to even read the book is appalling. It is equally appalling how many people on the "other side" have picked up Lomborg and equally misrepresented him as being completely opposed to all environmental controls. Unfortunately all these misrepresentations, which oddly enough turn out to be very similar, show up in the comments here. On that note:

    Lomborg does not claim everything is fine. Nor does he claim all environmental research is fraudulent. Indeed, he cites lots of it. Although many of his critics have accused him of abusing statistics, very few such claims appear to be supported (one or two are). Its just easier to snicker "lies, damned lies, and statistics" than it is to engage in a serious argument. A few serious errors in the book have been spotted by various people, but these do not, in fact, damage the book as a whole.

    To see that, you have to understand the skeleton of the argument being made. This breaks up into bits. The first "big picture" claim is that most people believe things that are just plain wrong about the state of the world: that population is growing out of control, or that disease is more prevelant now than ever before. Lomborg refers to this broadly eroneous picture of doom as "the litany". Environmentalists tend to play on this, even though they often know it to be incorrect, because it helps their cause. Lomborg takes them to task for this.

    However, Lomborg also makes a series of other, largely unconnected, claims about the scientific consensus in different fields. For instance, he disagrees with many biologists about species extinction rates, and with the IPCC about the Kyoto treaty, but agrees with the UN about population growth. These various claims stand or fall alone, and although they reinforce the overall case that most people have an exaggerated idea of how bad environmental problems are, attacking one does not destroy the whole thesis of the book. In different fields, Lomborg is either with the consesus, but that consensus has failed to penetrate the media and acitivist organisations (population), differs only slightly from the consensus, but believes the political action being taken is wrong (global warming), or opposes the consensus because he believes it to lie on statistically shaky foundations (species extinction).
  • It is within the lifetimes of most of Slashdot's readers that we begin to get answers to these questions.

    It depends on how long slashdot will stay alive not ? Will the OSDN survive that long...will the internet...

  • I rather hope that global warming is real. Imagine - natural changes generally take place over thousands or tens of thousands of years. If global warming is real and extreme, I might be able to witness widespread planetary alterations in my lifetime! How exciting!

  • by geekotourist ( 80163 ) on Friday February 22, 2002 @03:48PM (#3053642) Journal
    In general, if complaints about a study/ article / book include "misquoting," you can verify if the complaints are true. Good authors don't misquote, instead they give an accurate quote and then demonstrate why the quote is wrong.

    I haven't read the book, and only a few of the reviews in Scientific American / other mags, but now I'll have to find the time. Of all the accusations, the one of misquoting is the worse one. Anyone can be bad at science or statistics and write about it- peer review will reveal the weaknesses and a good scientist will admit their mistake and go on. But misquotes makes someone else look bad- you've tied them to a strawman and they have to prove they aren't the strawman's maker while simultaneously demolishing it. You're forcing them to look defensive, even though, in fact, they have no reason to be defensive, because the misquote isn't their real argument.

    A good review of quotations and misquotations used in arguments is in the proposed talk.origins (creation evolution) Misquotations FAQ [mmcable.com].

"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain