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Debunking a Climate-Change Skeptic 807

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

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  • by ralphbecket (225429) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @02:19AM (#31241298)

    I'm sure everybody here will be interested in reading Lomborg's response [lomborg.com] before forming an opinion.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TapeCutter (624760) *
      If lomborg had any faith in the veracity of his "science" he would publish it in peer-reviewed journals. As it stands his solitary journal publication [wikipedia.org] was in a sociology journal.

      Considering the mountain of propoganda surrounding the issue of AGW (on both sides) any sane spectator will quite rightly continue to ignore his rants until he has the balls to submit them to formal scientific scrutiny.

      This is not to say that your link is not informative in the current context and IMHO should be modded as such
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by benjamindees (441808)

        If lomborg had any faith in the veracity of his "science" he would publish it in peer-reviewed journals.

        You mean like the peer-reviewed journals that were systematically fixed by pro-AGW scientists in order to exclude dissenting researchers?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by iluvcapra (782887)
          Conspiracy!
      • by Puff_Of_Hot_Air (995689) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @03:18AM (#31241644)
        But he hasn't done any science. Or is that your point? His book has collated a whole bunch of other peoples research to make the argument "Yeah climate change is real and human made and largly negative, BUT, our attempts at reversing it are a fools errand". I mean, this is the sort of thing you do when you write a book. He hasn't done any original research, so what is there to submit to a journal? Your creating a crazy argument "You have to submit your research to peer-review!" "But I haven't done any research..." "AHA!".
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by TapeCutter (624760) *
          Not sure who the "he" is that you are refering to, neither have done any climate science but Lomborg claims he has and that his rants should be included in the IPCC reports.

          Lomborg paints himself a persecuted DaVinci, a lone voice of scientific genius against the harsh dogma of the establishment. Basically Friel has published a detailed book review debunking that picture, the journal of nature also reviews books and like Friel they do not claim them to be anything more than researched opinion.
    • by Puff_Of_Hot_Air (995689) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @03:12AM (#31241610)
      Reading that very lengthy rebuttal, one thing becomes clear. Howard Friel does not deserve our time or thought. If you are going to criticize someone's work, you need to be doubly careful that the things you take issue with are valid. Here it appears that the criticism is far less solid than the material it critisizes. This does not make the original material correct as a result, but truely; there is nothing to see here, move along.
  • by Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @02:26AM (#31241338)
    ...the flame war here will ensure there is.
  • by snowwrestler (896305) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @02:43AM (#31241442)

    It's well established that most people don't actually check footnotes[1]. Thus you can construct an original argument, footnote a few contained facts [2], and the presence of the footnotes lends an air of support to the entire argument [3].

    Without reading both books, I can't take sides on the merits. But I will say some of the stuff in TFA sets off my alarms--like spending a footnote on a WHO report just to cite the population of Europe.

    1 [wikipedia.org]

    2 [wikipedia.org]

    3 [wikipedia.org]

    • by Dobeln (853794) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:10AM (#31242680)

      http://www.lomborg.com/dyn/files/basic_items/118-file/BL%20reply%20to%20Howard%20Friel.pdf [lomborg.com]

      "Without reading both books, I can't take sides on the merits. But I will say some of the stuff in TFA sets off my alarms--like spending a footnote on a WHO report just to cite the population of Europe."

      When doing math, statistical sources matter. But here we have something substantial to discuss. Is Lomborg dishonest in this case? Read along for the answer!

      Friel: "But Lomborg's only source for these figures—a chart in the statistical annex of a 2004 World Health Organization report—contains
      no data on human mortality due to excess heat or cold. In fact, the words "excess heat" and "excess cold" make no appearance in the WHO document; neither does the word "heat," and the word "cold" appears only once in a reference unrelated to death due to excess cold.

      Lomborg's reference to the WHO document, which allegedly supports his claim that two hundred thousand people die each year in Europe from excess heat, reads in its entirety: "207,000, based on a simple average of the available cold and heat deaths per million, cautiously excluding London and using WHO’s estimate for Europe’s population of 878 million (WHO, 2004a:121).”

      However, page 121 of the 2004 WHO report—The World Health Report 2004: Changing History— which is what this source references, lists no data on cold- and heatrelated deaths per million, or for cold- and heat-related deaths in any context.

        Likewise, Lomborg's very next reference-to support his claim that 1.5 million Europeans die annually from excess cold - reads in its entirety: "1.48 million, estimated in the same way as total heat deaths."

      Thus, Lomborg's references indicate that page 121 of the 2004 WHO report is the source of his estimates of annual heat- and cold-related deaths in Europe; however, this page in the WHO report lists no statistics for either cold- or heat-related deaths. Consequently, there is no apparent basis here or elsewhere in Cool It for Lomborg's claim that 1.5 million Europeans die annually from excess cold. [LD, p. 86, emphasis added]

      Lomborg: "In fact, the text and first endnote in this section make it very clear where the figures are sourced from: “Based on the summary of the biggest European heat and cold study (Keatinge, et al., 2000, p. 672).” (p. 170).

      In the UK edition of the book, there is even a figure with the numbers, with the further explanation: “estimated in the text, using Keatinge et al., 2000:672.” (p. 233, CIUK) Friel’s claim that I relied on a WHO document that does not support my case is astonishing and profoundly disingenuous.

      I clearly used the WHO report solely to provide an estimate of Europe’s population (because WHO uses the standard geographical definition of Europe to the Ural Mountains).This is evident in the text that Friel himself quoted: “and using WHO’s estimate for Europe’s population of 878 million (WHO, 2004a:121).”

      Finding this study on Google Scholar took me all of two seconds using the reference provided by Lomborg (in his book).

      http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/321/7262/670 [bmj.com]

      The quote is confirmed by Google Books:

      http://books.google.se/books?q=estimated+in+the+text,+using+Keatinge+et+al.,+2000:672&btnG=S%C3%B6k+i+b%C3%B6cker [google.se]

      In short, from this example, picked by you - not me, it plainly evident that is Friels honesty or literacy that should be in question, not Lomborgs. This is likely to be representative of the "debunking" in its entirety, going from what I have read of the rebuttal so far.

  • by unitron (5733) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @02:50AM (#31241486) Homepage Journal

    So The Lomborg Deception isn't about some spy novelist's later works being heavily ghostwritten?

  • by brucmack (572780) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @03:23AM (#31241684)

    I haven't read his books, but I live in Denmark so Lomborg gets quite a bit of press here, especially under the climate change conference in December. In interviews he's always come across as a pragmatist more than a skeptic.

    He has two main arguments:

    1) Think about the return on investment.

    Let's say we can cool the earth one degree by spending a trillion dollars. Is it worth the investment? What do we really get out of it? How many other problems could have been fixed with that money?

    2) The current approach to fighting climate change is wrong.

    UN treaties and money aren't going to stop the developing world from using fossil fuels. The only surefire way to get off of coal is to develop something that is cheaper. Instead of giving money to developing countries to bribe them not to pollute, we should invest the money in new technology, so that in 10, 20, 30 years we can say "here, this is cheaper than coal and doesn't pollute".

    I think both of his points are important to consider, though I don't agree with him completely. There are risks to his solution - what if our investments don't bear fruit, and coal is still the cheapest energy source in 30 years? What if climate change causes political destabilization so we don't have enough time to get finished?

    I don't think anybody has a perfect solution, but I do think that Lomborg contributes positively to the debate.

    • by 10101001 10101001 (732688) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @05:04AM (#31242148) Journal

      1) Think about the return on investment.

      Let's say we can cool the earth one degree by spending a trillion dollars. Is it worth the investment? What do we really get out of it? How many other problems could have been fixed with that money?

      If it were a mere one trillion dollars for the whole world, it'd really be a drop in the bucket and well worth the investment. Aside from the issue of ROI, one has to consider the externalities of not spending the trillion dollars. Look at the mostly current financial/economic crisis. How much do you think that cost countries? How much do you think will be the cost of long-term shifting weather patterns? I'd imagine it might trivially be a lot more than most people would care to stomach compared to doing something now.

      2) The current approach to fighting climate change is wrong.

      UN treaties and money aren't going to stop the developing world from using fossil fuels. The only surefire way to get off of coal is to develop something that is cheaper. Instead of giving money to developing countries to bribe them not to pollute, we should invest the money in new technology, so that in 10, 20, 30 years we can say "here, this is cheaper than coal and doesn't pollute".

      Funny, but that's the main reason cap and trade is such a good idea. It causes developed countries to start polluting significantly less, raises the current costs of coal/oil/etc (inherently making long-term investments in other energy sources possibly viable), allows for the collected taxes to be pushed into new energy technology, and hopefully the result will be energy that effectively is cheaper than the coal/oil/etc's original price. Even if the whole energy technology step doesn't work to produce something cheaper than coal/oil/etc, the system will both have proven that you can still be a developed country using massively less amounts of coal/oil/etc per capita (meaning developed countries, mimicking developed countries, need not believe they'll tank for what might others seem a reckless course of action) and almost certainly have higher efficiency technology to export to other countries so they'll inherently use less coal/oil/etc (since the efficiency technology will have been created in a [mostly] market based system and should be generally economical sound anywhere).

      What if climate change causes political destabilization so we don't have enough time to get finished?

      We're going to see that anyways. China has already taken some pretty bold steps about securing oil supplies for its developing economy. That's a major reason for the great increase in the price of oil; that is, if China hadn't been securing and using those oil wells, other western powers would have for their still increasing oil consumption. You can only pump so much oil out of the ground at one time, and so at some point Americans and Chinese will no longer be able to simply expand through more oil extraction. At that point, increasing the efficiency of technology will be necessary. In the interim, both China and America's economy will suffer rather badly (the US needs ~2.5% economic growth yearly just to maintain itself and China needs something close to ~10%) as oil prices will skyrocket.

      We need to be developing alternative energies and efficiency technology now and not wait until "the market" takes care of things. "The market" doesn't take into consideration that while it might work hypothetically in a perfect world given enough time, in the real world a drastic short-term change in supply or demand can result in the sort of political instability that results in a lot of "force" upon a lot of people. And that can be very unpleasant for everyone involved.

      • You are right and I wish my mod points had not expired yesterday. The Republicans shouting "Drill, baby, drill" did not seem to understand that for Alaskan oil to work, the oil price would need to be much higher than it is now. They do not understand the increasing marginalisation of reserves.

        Compared to Europe and the Far East, oil consumption is very high. It takes about twice as much oil to transport an American a mile as a European or a Japanese. It takes twice as much oil to heat or cool large American

    • by Dobeln (853794) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:53AM (#31242902)

      ... is not his actual arguments (important as they may be), but rather that the attacks on him - in their viscousness, dishonesty and general rage-inducing pompousness - highlight how venal large swathes of the "scientific establishment" have become.

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @08:06AM (#31242996)

      He's not just saying "Nope, this isn't a problem, ignore it, don't worry, etc, etc." A person like that is much easier to dismiss. What he's saying is "Yes, this is a problem, but not a big one, and certainly not one worth all the money and effort being proposed to fix it. Instead, we should spend that on other things that would have a much bigger impact on quality of life." More or less he's not disagreeing with the fundamental premise or conclusion, he's disagreeing with the policies being proposed because of that.

      This drives the global warming proponents totally mad. Most of them seem to be of the opinion that what they have to do is convince people that global warming is real, and caused by humans. Once that is done, people should be willing to accept whatever policies they say are necessary. No questioning of the costs or the utility, they've proven the problem and now whatever they say needs to happen should happen without further question.

      So Lomborg has become one of their top enemies because he doesn't fundamentally disagree on the idea that the world is warming, just that it is worth while to try and solve when there are so many other problems to human life. For that, they hate him.

      That is one of the things that makes me question motives in this whole thing. I can understand exasperation with people who believe your research is incorrect/false/made up if your truly believe it is right. You think you've got it correct, done a lot of work in that regard, you get mad when people say "Nuh uh!". However, when someone is disagreeing not with that, but with the policies you demand and you get even more angry at them, well that makes me wonder: Is the research really what's important to you, or are you using it just to try and drive policies that you want, regardless of their use? It would seem to me that how to deal with the problem would be open for discussion, yet discussion of that generates the most backlash. Makes you wonder.

  • Give and take? (Score:3, Informative)

    by meburke (736645) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:20AM (#31242730)

    Having read Lomberg's response to the criticism, I'm more comfortable with his conclusions than I am with Friel's. However, the last word probably hasn't been written/spoken on the subject. Both sides of the argument fall short of absolute proof, but Lomberg seems to be a better mathematician.

    I am basing my opinion on incomplete information (as are all the posters on this topic) since, a. Friel's complete book is is not completely available to us and, b. it's a lot of dang work to analyze the books side-by-side in any case. Despite the lack of sufficient info, people will go out and vote (some of them anyway) and the minority of the voters and the general citizenry will be stuck with the results.

    The information at hand doesn't support a conclusion of immediate emergency, so I'm holding out against any hasty drastic actions that mostly serve to make Al Gore richer. The urgency is for more research done a manner that we can all trust, untainted by political considerations, BEFORE it becomes a real emergency. Legitimate scientists will examine all sides of the problem before recommending any long-term solutions.

  • by Dobeln (853794) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:22AM (#31242742)

    Friel, denouncing Lomborg on glaciers:

    "Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world (see Table 10.9) and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is Page 18 of 27 very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate. Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 km2 by the year 2035 (WWF, 2005). [IPCC, 2007c, p. 493]"

    How is that "settled science" working out for you Frielyboy?

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