Tag Archives: Bjorn Lomborg

Bjorn Lomborg’s Academic Credentials Examined

I don’t care that the director or CEO of an advocacy organization concerned with poverty is an active academic. Indeed, my view of active academics is that many are largely incompetent in areas of life other than their specialized field. If that. So really, if you told me there is this great advocacy organization out there run by a well established active academic I’d figure you had that wrong, or I’d worry a little about the organization. On the other hand, everyone should care that university positions be given to active academics with credentials. So, when the University of Western Australia got paid off (apparently) to give Bjørn Lomborg a faculty position everyone looked at the UWA and said, “WUT?”

That was a situation up with which the members of that university community would not put, to coin a phrase, and the public outcry put a quick end to it. This is appropriate, because according to a new post by Stefan Rahmstorf at RealClimate, “… apart from one paper in 1996, Lomborg has never published anything in any field of science that was interesting or useful to other scientists, or even just worth the bother of contradicting in the scientific literature.”

I’ve talked about Lomborg here before. Here I noted,

There is currently a twitter argument happening, along with a bit of a blogging swarm, over a chimera of a remark made by John Stossle and Bjorn Lomborg. They made the claim that a million electric cars would have no benefit with resect to Carbon emissions. The crux of the argument is that there is a Carbon cost to manufacturing and running electric cars. When we manufacture anything, we emit Carbon, and when we make electricity to run the cars, we emit Carbon, etc. etc.

Lomborg is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. But here I want to focus on one aspect of why he is wrong that applies generally to this sort of topic….

We also talked about how Lomborg is wrong on electric cars here. Lomborg has been stunningly wrong on climate change, which is mainly what he is known for these days (being wrong on climate change, that is). And his wrongness on sea level rise and Bangladesh is not only stunning as well, but also, downright dangerous.

Stefan’s post looks in detail at two things (and in less detail at many other things). First, is the question of whether or not Lomborg is an actual practicing academic with a good publication record and all that. He is not. Stefan’s analysis is clear.

Second, is a more detailed look at Lomborg, sea level rise, Bangladesh, and all that. This is especially interesting because Stefan is one of the world’s leading experts on sea level rise. He has two peer reviewed papers on the “top ten most cited” on the Web of Science (which has well ove 40,000 sea level rise related papers), which are heavily cited. Stefan’s post is a must-read because of Stefan’s overview of sea level rise, aside from the stuff about Lomborg. Go read it.

So go read the post, learn about Bjørn Lomborg’s academic qualifications, how wrong he has been about sea level rise, and some other good stuff.

I suspect we are not going to see much more about Bjørn going forward.

Bjorn Lomborg’s WSJ Response to Nixing of Australian Project

Bjorn Lomborg has written an Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal lamenting the decision of the University of Western Australia (UWA) to nix previously developed plans to accept a $4 million dollar payment from the conservative Australian government, to be matched by university money, to implement a version of Lomborg’s Copenhagen Institute there, to be known as Australia Consensus.

See: Bjorn Lomborg Is Wrong About Bangladesh And Sea Level Rise

See: Bjørn Lomborg WSJ Op Ed Is Stunningly Wrong

See: Are electric cars any good? Lomborg says no, but he’s wrong.

Lomborg’s scholarship in the area of climate and energy related policy has been repeatedly criticized and often described as far less than adequate. A typical Bjorn Lomborg missive on climate or energy policy seems to include instance after instance of inaccuracies, often taking the form of a statement of fact with a citation, where that fact or assertion is not to be found in the citation. Many regard his policies as “luke warm.” From the highly regarded Sketpical Science web site:

…examples of Luckwarmers include Matt Ridley, Nic Lewis, and Bjorn Lomborg. The University of Western Australia has been caught up in a major Luckwarmer controversy, having taken federal funds to set up a center from which Lomborg was expected to argue that the government’s money would be better spent on issues other than curbing global warming. In a sign that even Stage 3 climate denial is starting to become untenable, the resulting uproar forced the university to cancel plans for the center.

The UWA project received a great deal of critisim, and was seen by many as a move by Big Fossil to water down academic and government response to the critical issue of climate change. Graham Readfearn, writing for The Guardian, notes:

Danish political scientist and climate change contrarian Bjørn Lomborg says the poorest countries in the world need coal and climate change just isn’t as big a problem as some people make out.

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott says “coal is good for humanity” and there are more pressing problems in the world than climate change, which he once described as “crap” but now says he accepts.

So it’s not surprising then that the latter should furnish the former with $4 million of taxpayer funds to start an Australian arm of Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre (CCC) at the University of Western Australia’s business school.

The Australian project was shut down after severe criticism from the global academic community as well as students and faculty within UWA. Predictably, Lombog had characterized this as an attack on free debate. From the Op Ed, “Opponents of free debate are celebrating. Last week…the University of Western Australia canceled its contract to host a planned research center, Australia Consensus, intended to apply economic cost-benefit analysis to development projects—giving policy makers a tool to ensure their aid budgets are spent wisely.

While Lomborg blames “activists” for shutting down the center, it is more widely believed that the project was criticized because, based on prior work done by Lomborg, any ensuing “cost-benefit analyses” would be academically weak and policy-irrelevant.

Central to the difference in overall approach (aside from allegations of poor scholarship) between Lomborg and many others is how poor or developing nations should proceed over coming decades. Lomborg seems to advocate that these nations go through the same economic and technological evolution as developed nations, building an energy infrastructure based mainly on fossil fuels, in order to industrialize and reach the standard of living presumed desired by those who live in those nations. The alternative, of course, is that development in these regions be done with lessons learned from the industrialized and developed world. We don’t ask rural Kenyans to install a wire-based analog phone system before using modern digital cell phone systems. With respect to energy, developing regions should implement clean energy with smart distribution rather than building hulking coal plants and committing for centuries to come to expensive and extensive electric grid systems that are now generally regarded as outdated.

Lomborg says enough about mitigating climate change effects, and developing green energy technologies, to be able to suggest that he supports these ideas when he is pushed up against the wall, as with the nixing of the Australian project. But his regular statements on specific policy points, frequent and well documented, tell a different story.

Lomborg claims that much of the policy development of the Copenhagen Institute is not even about climate change. To the extent that this is true, it may be part of the problem. As development occurs, energy is key. With development of energy technologies, climate change is key. Lomborg’s approach that the Copenhagen projects are mostly not about climate change is not an argument that he is doing something right. It is evidence that he is doing something wrong, and at the same time, is apparently unaware of this.

It is very important to remember, as this conversation unfolds, that the objections to Lomborg’s work, and to spending vast sums of money to support it, are only partly because of differences in approach. These objections also come from two other things. One is a sense that Lomborg is detached from scholarship and good analysis.

Graham Readfearn has documented academic response to Lomborg’s work. Here is one example:

Dr Frank Jotzo, director of the Centre for Climate Ecnomics and Policy at the Australian National University, was once invited to write a paper for Lomborg’s centre in 2008, which was sharply critical of how the cost of the impacts of climate change were treated.

He told me:

Within the research community, particularly within the economics community, the Bjorn Lomborg enterprise has no academic credibility. It is seen as an outreach activity that is driven by specific set of objectives in terms of bringing particular messages into the public debate and in some cases making relatively extreme positions seem more acceptable in the public debate.

And, regarding energy policy vis-a-vis the Big Fossil,

…we had a look at Lomborg’s claims that the world’s poorest were crying out for more fossil fuels which, Lomborg argued, were the only real way they could drag themselves out of poverty…the positions Lomborg takes on these issues are underpinned by a nasty habit of picking the lowest available estimates of the costs of climate change impacts.

Last year, when Lomborg spoke to a coal company-sponsored event in Brisbane in the shadow of the G20 talks, Lomborg suggested that because the International Energy Agency (IEA) had developed one future scenario that saw growth in the burning of coal in poor countries, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa, that this somehow meant that fossil fuels were just what they needed.

Yet Lomborg ignored an important rejoinder to that assessment, which had come from the IEA itself, and which I pointed out at the time.

The IEA said its assessment for Africa was consistent with global warming of between 3C and 6C for the continent by the end of this century.

Lomborg’s prior written works could be, and actually have been (I am told), used in coursework on analytical approaches to policy as bad, not good, examples. And, although Lomborg often associates himself with Nobel Prize Winners (and rarely fails to note that) he is not known as a high powered, influential scholar in his area. A recent citation analysis of Lomborg’s work backs up that concern:

…I combed through his Google Scholar entries and dumped all the duplicates, I ignored all the magazine and newspaper articles (e.g., you can’t count opinion editorials in The Wall Street Journal as evidence of an academic track record), I cut out all non-articles (things Lomborg hadn’t actually written), omitted any website diatribes (e.g., blog posts and the like) and calculated his citation profile.

Based on my analysis, Lomborg’s Google Scholar h-index is 4 for his peer-reviewed articles. If I was being particularly generous and included all of Lomborg’s books, which have by far the most citations, then his h-index climbs to 9. However, none of his books is peer-reviewed, and in the case of his most infamous book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, it has been entirely discredited. As such, any reasonable academic selection committee would omit any metrics based on opinion-based books.

So, the best-case scenario is that Lomborg’s h-index is no more than 4. Given his appointment to Level D (Associate Professor) at a world-class university, the suggestion that he earned it on academic merit is not only laughable, it’s completely fraudulent. There is no way that his academic credentials had anything to do with the appointment.

Even a fresh-out-of-the-PhD postdoc with an h-index of only 3 or 4 would have trouble finding a job. As a rule of thumb, the h-index of a Level D appointment should be in the 20–30 range (this would vary among disciplines). Despite this variation, Lomborg’s h-index is so far off the mark that even accounting for uncertainty and difference of opinion, it’s nowhere near a senior academic appointment.

The other problem people see with Lomborg’s efforts is the sense that the Copenhagen Institute is a bit of a sham, and that Lomborg is not selling informed expertise, but rather, snake oil. From a recent analysis of the status of the Copenhagen Consensus Center:

Copenhagen Consensus Center is a textbook example of what the IRS calls a “foreign conduit” and it frowns strongly on such things. It may also frown on governance and money flows like this…

CCCMoney2

…more than 60% went directly to Lomborg, travel and $853K promotion of his movie. According to Wikipedia it grossed $63K…

Even in a simple US charity, poor governance and obvious conflicts of interest are troublesome, but the foreign element invokes stringent extra rules. Legitimate US charities can send money to foreign charities, but from personal experience, even clearly reasonable cases like foreign universities require careful handling. It is unclear that Lomborg himself is a legitimate charity anywhere, but most of the money seems under his control. One might also wonder where income taxes are paid.

CCC seems to break many rules. Foreign citizen Lomborg is simultaneously CCC founder, president, and highest-paid employee. Most people are a little more subtle when trying to create conduits…

This is apparently the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Copenhagen Consensus Center USA, 262 Middlesex St, Lowell MA .
This is apparently the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Copenhagen Consensus Center USA, 262 Middlesex St, Lowell MA .
Both the flow of money and sources matter when thinking about a non profit research or policy institution. From DeSmog Blog:

A billionaire “vulture capitalist” and major backer of the US Republican Party is a major funder of the think tank of Danish climate science contrarian and fossil fuels advocate Bjørn Lomborg, DeSmogBlog has found.

New York-based hedge fund manager Paul Singer’s charitable foundation gave $200,000 to Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) in 2013, latest US tax disclosures reveal.

That was about a third of the CCC’s donations for the year 2013.

Lomborg, who claims to not be a climate skeptic, is the author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” and the book and movie “Cool It

Bjorn Lomborg Pulled From Australian Consensus Centre Project

Over the last several weeks we’ve seen the University of Western Australia accept a $4 million dollar Federal grant to develop a “Consensus Centre” in the mold of Bjorn Lomborg’s non profit, with Lomborg as a key player. Lomborg has been heavily criticized for his lack of scholarship and seemingly biased policy related to climate change and related issues. There was heavy opposition in the Australian academic community to this project. Under pressure from peers and colleagues, Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson has announced that the project is cancelled. In a message published on the UWA University News site, the Vice-Chancellor notes:

The mail drop in Massachusetts which apparently fronts for Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus Institute.
The mail drop in Massachusetts which apparently fronts for Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Institute.

… it is with great regret and disappointment that I have formed the view that the events of the past few weeks places the Centre in an untenable position as it lacks the support needed across the University and the broader academic community to meet its contractual obligations and deliver value for money for Australian taxpayers.

I have today spoken to the Federal Government and Bjorn Lomborg advising them of the barriers that currently exist to the creation of the Centre and the University’s decision to cancel the contract and return the money to the government.

More here: University of Western Australia Cancels $4 Million Federal Government Contract For Bjorn Lomborg’s Consensus Center

Lomborg in Oz

I’ve written here about some of Bjorn Lomborg’s work, generally critical of it. But the Abbot Government in Australia apparently likes what Lomborg is doing well enough to have earmarked $4 million (in some currency or another) to ensconce a version of his academically questionable enterprise right in the middle of Australian academics.

I would like to write this up for you so you can learn all you need to learn about it, but Graham Readfearn has already done an excellent job reporting this. I strongly urge you to go and read: Australian taxpayers funding climate contrarian’s methods with $4m Bjørn Lomborg centre.

What are you doing here, you are supposed to have left by now to read this. Go.

Bjorn Lomborg Is Wrong About Bangladesh And Sea Level Rise

Human caused greenhouse gas pollution is heating the Earth and causing the planet’s polar ice caps and other glacial ice to melt. This, along with simply heating the ocean, has caused measurable sea level rise. Even more worrisome is this: the current elevated level of CO2 in the atmosphere was associated in the past with sea levels several meters higher than they are today. Even if we slow down Carbon pollution very quickly, we can expect sea levels to be at least 8 meters higher, eventually. How soon? Nobody knows, nobody can give you a time frame on this because the rate of melting of the major glaciers in Greenland and the Antarctic is hard to measure. All we know for sure is that the rate of melting is speeding up, and that in the past, the current level of atmospheric CO2 has typically caused a very large amount of melting.

Bangladesh is low country. A very large percentage of the country is on the Bangladesh Plain, which is almost entirely below 10 meters in elevation. This is where a large portion of the population in that country lives, and where a large portion of the food is grown. The greenhouse gas pollution we have caused so far is sufficient to virtually guarantee that Bangladesh will become a very small country over the next generation or two. Much sooner than that, though, sea level rise in the region will affect, and is already affecting, freshwater reserves. We expect the largest tropical storms to become larger and more intense as an effect of human caused global warming. Sea level rise makes the storm surges from those events worse. So of immediate concern and becoming more of a problem every year is the threat of deadly and damaging tropical storms exacerbated by warming of the seas and increased sea levels.

The deadliest tropical cyclone on record occurred in Bangladesh; that was the Great Bhola Cyclone of 1970, which killed up to one half of a million people. The second deadliest cyclone known hit Bangladesh and India in great antiquity. Eight of the ten deadliest known tropical cyclones hit the region. So, tropical cyclones are already a problem in Bangladesh, and sea level rise and increased cyclone strength are going to make that much much worse.

Bjørn Lomborg, in a recent interview, told Bangladesh, the country, not to worry too much about global warming, and instead, to focus on other problems. He equated concern over sea level rise in a country where sea level rise is a very significant problem with immorality. While Lomborg may be correct to point out the obvious – that Bangladesh has a lot of problems in public health and other areas to worry about – he is wrong to suggest that sea level rise in that low lying country can be addressed just as the Dutch have managed the sea in The Netherlands.

Lomborg seems to not know much about sea level rise. He once noted that sea level rise had stopped, or even decreased, by referring to a single year’s worth of data (see graphic above). That statement and his suggestion that sea level rise should be a low priority in a country that may be the most threatened by sea level rise in the world (aside from island nations) is reminiscent of a statement by J.R. Spradley, a delegate at an international conference on climate change in 1990, speaking about sea level rise in Bangladesh. He was quoted in the Washington Post as saying “The situation is not a disaster; it is merely a change. The area won’t have disappeared; it will just be underwater. Where you now have cows, you will have fish.” (Washington Post, December 30th, 1990.)

Part of Lomborg’s argument is typical for him. He generates a straw man by equating concern over climate change with concern over a meteor about to smash into the earth. In the interview he said,

Projecting scary scenarios are probably unhealthy to deal with real issues. Now, if there was a meteor hurtling towards earth, we should tell people. If there was really something destroying the earth we should definitely be telling people and doing something about it. My point is if you, for instance, look at climate change, it is often portrayed as the end of the world. But if you look at for instance the UN climate panel, they tell us by about 2070 the total cost of global warming is going to be somewhere between 0.2 and 2% of the GDP. And that emphasises what I am trying to say – global warming is real, it is a problem, it is something we should fix, but it’s not the end of the world.

The problem with this is that sea level rise is, essentially, the end of the world, if you are Bangladesh.

The most troubling part of Lomborg’s statements is that he equates the Netherlands with Bangladesh. The Netherlands is about 25% below sea level, but the sea is kept back by dikes. Other than their cheese, chocolate, love of splitting the restaurant tab, this is probably what the Dutch are most known for. Indeed Dutch engineers were drafted into managing water related problems around the world for centuries. So maybe the Dutch can help Bangladesh keep the Indian Ocean off it’s turf when that ocean is 8 meters above the present level. Lomborg looks to the Dutch to do just this:

… how much of a problem is [sea level rise in Bangladesh]? The Dutch has shown us 200 years ago, you can handle sea level rise fairly, easily and cheaply, you can do the same thing here and you will do the same thing here. Remember when people say, global warming is a big problem and we need to put a wind turbine here – any amount of wind turbine or solar panels that we are going to put in the next 50 years, are going to have absolutely no impact on the sea level rise that towards the end of the century. They may make a tiny difference towards the 22nd century, but if want to do anything about sea level rise, it’s all about adaptation. Globally there seems to be actually less ferocious hurricanes, one measure is accumulated cyclone energy, which is sort of a good global estimate and it’s actually been at some of the lowest levels since we started monitoring in the 1970s. There is a theoretical argument that you will see slightly fewer but slightly stronger hurricanes towards the end of the century. Again, this is not by any means the end of Bangladesh.”

The Netherlands is about 41,543 square kilometers in size with about 17% of that reclaimed from the sea, this and other land kept dry by dikes. Bangladesh is about 147,570 square kilometers. The Netherlands does not get tropical cyclones very often. Bangladesh gets the worst of them. There are geological differences between the regions that matter as well. Bangladesh is, essentially, a giant delta (I oversimplify slightly) which means that part of is is sinking all the time even while the sea level goes up. Flooding along rivers becomes a big problem with sea level rise. Both regions have rivers. Bangladesh, however, is a country made out of rivers, and among them is the Ganges, which is the world’s third largest river by discharge. Bangladesh probably has more problems with flooding than any other nation. In 1988, 75% of the entire country of Bangladesh was covered by a flood.

It is estimated that a 1 meter rise in sea level would take about 17.5%, or 25,000 square kilometers, of Bangladesh. I’m a little unsure of that estimate (and others I’ve seen) because different researchers count or don’t count large regions of the country that are already flooded by the sea. Another estimate gives 16% of the land to the sea with a 1.5 meter sea level rise. (You can explore various scenarios here if you like.) In any event, an 8 meter rise in sea level, which is expected long term, would take a very large part of the country, displace most of the population, and destroy most of the agricultural land. In case it is not obvious, let me note that as sea level rise threatens Bangladesh, it also threatens The Netherlands, which might keep the Dutch rather busy in their own homelands.

It is also important to note that sea level does not treat all coastlines equally. Some areas are being affected more than others. A report in CBS news recently noted, “Seas are rising more than twice as fast as the global average here in the Sundarbans, a low-lying delta region of about 200 islands in the Bay of Bengal where some 13 million impoverished Indians and Bangladeshis live. Tens of thousands … have already been left homeless, and scientists predict much of the Sundarbans could be underwater in 15 to 25 years.”

The Dutch reclaimed so much of the sea, and developed defenses against storm surges and flooding, over a period of centuries. During much of this time, The Netherlands was a major player in the European economic theater, acting as a center during the development of the world economic and colonial systems of the 17th and 18th centuries. To suggest that somehow Bangladesh can do what the Dutch did while the entire world is also busy adapting to sea level rise is absurd.

Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute has done quite a bit of research on the potential effects of sea level rise, focusing on California (see, for example, Heberger M, Cooley H, Herrera P, Gleick P, Moore E (2009) The impacts of sea level rise on the California coast. California Climate Change Center, Sacramento, California. Paper CEC–500–2009–024-F). I asked him what he felt about the Lomborg interview. He said, “So a rich Dane tells poor Bangladeshis to stop whining and just ‘handle’ sea level rise, because that’s what the rich countries do? The reality, of course, is that even in rich countries, the poor will suffer most from sea-level rise. In our analysis of the risks to California from even modest SLR over the coming decades, nearly 500,000 people – disproportionately communities of color and low-income people – will be affected. And the cost of protecting them far exceeds the money available for coastal protection.”

There is also an absurdity to Lomborg’s assertion that we (our species) and Bangladesh (the country) should put off the global project of keeping the Carbon in the ground. We don’t know how long it takes for a warming planet to melt polar glaciers, but we do know that there is a pretty well established relationship between CO2 levels and global temperature, and between global temperature and sea levels. We know this from looking at numerous case studies from the past. It turns out that the relationship, ultimately, between CO2 levels and sea level rise is sigmoidal. Below about 400ppm, as CO2 levels rise, sea levels rise rapidly. Then, between about 400ppm and 650ppm, they rise more slowly, then above that level, the rate increases again.

Now, I want to pause for a second and clarify a very important point. We are now at 400ppm. This does not mean that sea levels will start to rise slowly. The expected sea level stand for 400ppm is probably close to 8 meters above the current level. In other words, the adjustment of sea level to CO2 that we expect should be very rapid, as fast as it generally goes (or nearly so) over coming decades. Once that level is reached, and CO2 continues to increase (and it will), then there may be a slowing down as we approach but have not yet reached about 650ppm.

So, what is absurd about Lomborg’s assertion? If we forestall efforts to keep the carbon in the ground for now, we will power through that range of decreased (but continuing) ultimate increase in sea level rise between the 400 and 650 levels of CO2, and nearly guarantee returning to the higher rate, and ultimately, seeing sea level rises in the tens of meters in coming centuries.

In his interview, as well as in a brief Twitter exchange we had, Lomborg made another error, one we often seen made by lesser informed people engaged in the climate or energy conversations. Lomborg seems to think that there is a fixed amount and class of resources and that one problem must be addressed at a time. But that is not how it works. First, there are resources primarily available for one thing such as public health, while other resources may be more generally applied. Also, we can in fact address more than one problem at once. I asked Professor Michael Mann, climate scientist, what he thought about Lomborg’s interview, and he told me, “Bjorn Lomborg is a master of the false choice, often claiming that dealing with climate change will somehow detract from our ability to deal with other societal problems. In reality, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can and must work on solving numerous societal problems. In reality, climate change exacerbates most of those problems. It is a threat multiplier. Lomborg conveniently ignores that!”

Speaking of the same problem, Peter Gleick told me, “Lomborg’s classic argument that other problems like disease are far more important than climate change and sea-level rise is a common Lomborgian false dilemma. Society can, regularly does, and must tackle multiple problems at once. This is like saying that because a patient has a broken arm the doctors shouldn’t treat her life-threatening pneumonia. Patently nonsense.”

I would add that increased flooding, decreased food supply, the mass exodus of people from inundated regions, etc. will create far more disease and starvation related public health problems than Bangladesh has at the moment. Forestalling or reducing the extent of this sort of disaster has to be a high priority.

Which brings us to the question of development. Bangladesh, like so many other countries, is likely to become more and more electric over time as it develops. Lomborg seems to want that to happen with the use of fossil fuels rather than clean energy sources. But, one of the obstacles to switching from fossil Carbon based energy to clean energy in the developed world is that our infrastructure is already set up to exploit mainly fossil Carbon based sources. In nations or regions where the use of energy is being developed every effort should be made to ensure this is done with clean energy. That is independent of any local or regional issues with sea level rise. This is what makes sense and this is what we have to do.

Lomborg is often wrong. I’ve noted this before (see: Are electric cars any good? Lomborg says no, but he’s wrong. and Bjørn Lomborg WSJ Op Ed Is Stunningly Wrong). Climate Hawks critiques Lomborg’s Bangladesh strategy here noting issues I did not cover above. Scientific American published a stunning takedown of Lomborg’s book here. Recently, Steven Newton of the National Center for Science Education expanded on that critique in a note about the support of Lomborg’s approach by the anti-science Discovery Intitute.

And in his statements on Bangladesh, he is wrong again.

ADDED: I’m adding a note to address, collectively and once, a number of comments that have been posted (some moderated) about scales of time.

This post is not about reconciling geological time with day to day time. I make as an assumption, in dealing with sea level rise, the idea that all recent estimates of polar glacial melt are at best minima, and fail to get at the real problem. I feel this is true because of my bias towards paleoclimate. I see in the ancient record changes in sea level stand that seem to occur over time periods that don’t look like a few mm a year of melting. I may be wrong, but the paleo record is pretty hard data while the melt estimates are a very preliminary stab at a very large problem that we are only starting to get a handle on.

This is not the point of the present post, but several commenters, who generally deny the importance of climate change and would prefer that we do nothing about it, seem to feel a) it does matters if large proportions of Bangladesh or other low lying countries are obliterated in 30 years or 300 years. The people who will be affected ten instead of 2 generations from now don’t matter; b) the ultimate multi meter rise in sea level, which will happen, is beyond their level of credulity, so they argue from that position that therefore a one meter rise in a region that is mostly about one meter above sea level does not matter; and c) feel that our ignorance of how to reconcile geological time scales of climate change in paleoclimate (mostly) is somehow evidence that there is not change; d) as usual, failure to accept the muddled yammering that arises from these starting points constitutes a lack of true scientific rational thinking, or a liberal bias, or some other such hogwash.

There is a handful of other annoyances that come with this group of deniers, but that’s mainly it. So, now, the questions you have had, are having now, or may have in the future, have been address in this area.


If you want a higher resolution copy of the graphic at the top of this post, click through to HERE then click on the graphic.

Other posts of interest:

SUNGUDOGO_cover_art_colorFACE-223x300Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, set in the Congo.

Bjørn Lomborg WSJ Op Ed Is Stunningly Wrong

Bjørn Lomborg wrote an opinion piece that is offensively wrong

Bjørn Lomborg is the director of the conservative Copenhagen Consensus Center. He is author of two books that seem to recommend inaction in the face of climate change, Cool It, which appears to be both a book and a movie, and “The Skeptical Environmentalist.”

This is apparently the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Copenhagen Consensus Center USA, 262 Middlesex St, Lowell MA .
This is apparently the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Copenhagen Consensus Center USA, 262 Middlesex St, Lowell MA .
He is well known as a climate contrarian, though I don’t subscribe to the subcategories that are often used to divide up the denialists. Let’s just say that if governments followed Lomborg’s suggestions for addressing climate change, civilization would not do well. If you think anthropogenic global warming is for real, important, and something we can address, then you won’t like Lomborg’s ideas much. Same with energy. He gets that wrong too.

Lomborg is or was funded by the Kochtopus and its various associates.

Get the facts on climate change straight

Lomborg’s blog is titled “Get the facts straight,” so when I saw him use that phrase in a recent Op Ed at the Wall Street Journal, I spit coffee all over my keyboard. Why? Because Bjørn Lomborg did not get the facts straight. In fact, he got the facts related to the topic of his Op Ed, titled “The Alarming Thing About Climate Alarmism: Exaggerated, worst-case claims result in bad policy and they ignore a wealth of encouraging data” so wrong we are left wondering how he could be so wrong. Is Lomborg very badly informed, or is he making stuff up? And, if the latter, why would he do that?

Anyway, I saw his Op Ed as an opportunity to Fisk, and so Fisk I did.

Climate change models have done a good job estimating future climate change

Lomborg writes:

It is an indisputable fact that carbon emissions are rising—and faster than most scientists predicted.

No they aren’t. They are rising fast, and that is really annoying, and maybe if you go back far enough in time you can find predictions that are way off, but CO2 emissions are rising, unfortunately, pretty much as fast as the very people someone like Bjorn Lomborg might call “alarmists” have been claiming they would. The following graph is from here.

1_IEAvsSRES_2011

Lomborg continues …

But many climate-change alarmists seem to claim that all climate change is worse than expected.

Dog_Whistle_Dog_Is_AlarmedI love the term “alarmist.” It is a dog whistle. If someone calls a mainstream scientists an “alarmist” you better check your wallet. Anyway, yes, mainstream science, in many areas, has been discovering of late that certain areas of climate change are perhaps worse than expected or happening faster. However, I can’t think of anyone who thinks that “all climate change is worse.”

This ignores …

No, it doesn’t ignore anything because it did’t happen. The premise is false. Anyway…

…that much of the data are actually encouraging. The latest study from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that in the previous 15 years temperatures had risen 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit. The average of all models expected 0.8 degrees. So we’re seeing about 90% less temperature rise than expected.

This is incorrect. The rise in temperature over the last 15 years has been within the expected range. The rate of increase over any given 15 year period of time varies, as expected, but there is nothing like the ten to one ratio of predicted to observed Lomborg claims. According to a Climate Nexus post, responding to Lomborg’s assertion,

The difference between model estimates and observations is completely accounted for by natural variability and fits within the range of modelled uncertainty. The reality is that there is no inherent bias in climate models that make them over-estimate the effects of human activity. A recent study that combined 114 possible 15-year trends since 1900 found there was nothing statistically biased in the way that model data differed from observed global mean surface temperature measurements. According to the study’s co-author, Piers Forster, “cherry picking” the most recent 15-year interval to refute climate change modeling is misleading and obscures the long-term agreement between the models and measurements.

What’s more, short-term variation does nothing to change the fact that we are experiencing a dangerous rate of global warming, with nine of the 10 hottest years on record occurring since 2002 and NOAA and NASA officially declaring 2014 the warmest on record. So Lomborg’s insistence that we not worry about climate flies in the face of the record temperatures we’re experiencing.

Bjorn Lomborg, get your facts straight!

Now, returning to Lomborg…

Facts like this are important …

No they aren’t because they are not facts. They are thing you made up. Anyway…

The effects of climate change in the Arctic are more rapid than expected; The Antarctic is also warming faster than the rest of the planet

…because a one-sided focus on worst-case stories is a poor foundation for sound policies.

As would be a one sided focus on fabricated best case scenarios, or even a manufactured balance between to sides of a non debate.

Yes, Arctic sea ice is melting faster than the models expected. But models also predicted that Antarctic sea ice would decrease, yet it is increasing.

That is misleading. It seems reasonable to guess that with global warming change would happen in a similar way in both polar regions, but the two ends of the earth are very different from each other. To a person who does not know much about climate or sea ice it makes sense that both poles will experience reduced summer sea ice. But there are many factors that determine sea ice distribution, including factors that might be changed as a result of global warming that increase sea ice as well as those that decrease it. Also, the often cited increase in Antarctic sea ice is often stated without quantification next to a statement about Arctic sea ice decrease, leading to the impression that there is a balance, where the total global sea ice is constant. This is not true, though by omission of proper context, Lomborg’s statement might allow some to think it is. The amount of sea ice added to the Antarctic is smaller than the loss in the Arctic.

Antarctic sea ice increase does not indicate cooling at that end of the earth. Rather, the Southern Continent and the sea and air around it have been warming, rather dramatically, faster than the global rate of warming, as is the case with the Arctic. Yet, the sea ice maximum has increased. From Skeptical Science:

If the Southern Ocean is warming, why is sea ice increasing? There are several contributing factors. One is the drop in ozone levels over Antarctica. The hole in the ozone layer above the South Pole has caused cooling in the stratosphere (Gillet 2003). A side-effect is a strengthening of the cyclonic winds that circle the Antarctic continent (Thompson 2002). The wind pushes sea ice around, creating areas of open water known as polynyas. More polynyas leads to increased sea ice production (Turner 2009).

Another contributor is changes in ocean circulation. The Southern Ocean consists of a layer of cold water near the surface and a layer of warmer water below. Water from the warmer layer rises up to the surface, melting sea ice. However, as air temperatures warm, the amount of rain and snowfall also increases. This freshens the surface waters, leading to a surface layer less dense than the saltier, warmer water below. The layers become more stratified and mix less. Less heat is transported upwards from the deeper, warmer layer. Hence less sea ice is melted (Zhang 2007).

Antarctic sea ice is complex and counter-intuitive. Despite warming waters, complicated factors unique to the Antarctic region have combined to increase sea ice production. The simplistic interpretation that it’s caused by cooling is false.

Recent research has made an even more direct link between Antarctic warming and Antarctic sea ice expansion. “NOAA said in a news release Tuesday that “as counterintuitive as expanding winter Antarctic sea ice may appear on a warming planet, it may actually be a manifestation of recent warming.”” – read this for all the details.

So, Bjorn Lomborg, do try to get your fact straight, which in some cases requires knowing more about the science you are referring to so you don’t make middle-school level mistakes.

The rate of sea level rise is going up

Back to Bjørn…

Yes, sea levels are rising, but the rise is not accelerating—if anything, two recent papers, one by Chinese scientists published in the January 2014 issue of Global and Planetary Change, and the other by U.S. scientists published in the May 2013 issue ofCoastal Engineering, have shown a small decline in the rate of sea-level increase.

No, the vast majority of research on glacial ice melt shows an increase in rate. Other research shows that there are areas in Antarctic previously thought to be essentially unmeltable to be meltable, eventually.

The first paper Lomborg refers to tries to understand the details of short term variability in sea level rise. It does not say that there is a decline in rate of sea level rise. The paper looks only at changes between 1993 and 2003, not long term trends, so it really couldn’t address that issue. The paper shows rapid changes in the rate of sea level rise over short periods of time. Recently, there was a stark drop in rate because thermal expansion temporarily slowed. There was also a recent stark increase because Australia stopped drinking in rain (an effect of huge global warming induced drought) so the ocean got bigger. Very recently, according to the paper Lomborg cites, there has been “rapid recovery of the rising [sea level] from its dramatic drop during the 2011 La Niña [which] introduced a large uncertainty in the estimation of the sea level trend…” source

The second paper Lomborg refers to states, “Whether the increased sea level trend of approximately 3 mm/year measured by the satellites since the 1990’s is a long-term increase from the 20th Century value of approximately 1.7 mm/year or part of a cycle will require longer records; however, the negative accelerations support some cyclic character.”

Not only is it important to get your facts straight, Bjørn, but also, if you cite a source as saying something, please don’t misrepresent it.

Droughts are more likely, or more severe, with global warming

Back to Bjørn…

We are often being told that we’re seeing more and more droughts, but a study published last March in the journal Nature actually shows a decrease in the world’s surface that has been afflicted by droughts since 1982.

Check your wallet. First, the study Lomborg cites does not examine changes in drought over time, so it can’t say what he says it says. The study, rather, looks to develop a “global integrated drought monitoring and prediction system” because, as the authors state, “Each year droughts result in significant socioeconomic losses and ecological damage across the globe. Given the growing population and climate change, water and food security are major challenges facing humanity.”

One can understand that someone who does not know much about drought would make the mistake Lomborg made. The drought situation is complex. The vast majority of the land surface of the earth has not, and probably can not, experience drought, so talking about percentages of the Earth in drought or not in drought is misleading at best. Places like the American Southwest and California are always dry, so when drought occurs in such an area it is very real but hard to identify against the backdrop of large scale and long term climate. If the surface area of the earth in drought is less since 1982, that would be nice. The study Lomborg cites primarily examines data beginning in 1982, so he probably didn’t get that idea there.

Recent papers published in a compendium of the American Meteorological Society included research linking drought to climate change. Climate change has probably had effects that predate the 1980s, so looking at droughts since 1980 may not be valid. Finally, much of the concern we have about drought is about a handful of current problems (i.e, Australia and California) and about future drought. In February 2014, the science advisor to the President of the United States, John Holdren, wrote:

In my recent comments about observed and projected increases in drought in the American West, I mentioned four relatively well understood mechanisms by which climate change can play a role in drought…

The four mechanisms are:
1. In a warming world, a larger fraction of total precipitation falls in downpours, which means a larger fraction is lost to storm runoff (as opposed to being absorbed in soil).
2. In mountain regions that are warming, as most are, a larger fraction of precipitation falls as rain rather than as snow, which means lower stream flows in spring and summer.
3. What snowpack there is melts earlier in a warming world, further reducing flows later in the year.
4. Where temperatures are higher, losses of water from soil and reservoirs due to evaporation are likewise higher than they would otherwise be.

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h2>Hurricanes are not decreasing in frequency, and may be increasing in frequency and/or intensity, with global warming

And, back to Bjørn…

Hurricanes are likewise used as an example of the “ever worse” trope. If we look at the U.S., where we have the best statistics, damage costs from hurricanes are increasing—but only because there are more people, with more-expensive property, living near coastlines. If we adjust for population and wealth, hurricane damage during the period 1900–2013 decreased slightly.

Here Bjorn is referring to the widely discredited work of Roger Pielke Jr. In this case, Pielke has looked only at land falling hurricanes, which is egregious cherry picking. It might seem to make sense to do so, because they are the ones that matter, but in fact, land falling Atlantic Hurricanes are rare so they make for lousy statistics. Also, with climate change, we expect changes in the tropics to involve frequent years with fewer than average Atlantic hurricanes. Globally we generally expect more hurricanes, more energy in storms generally in the tropics and elsewhere, and possibly a greater occurrence of really powerful hurricanes fed by extraordinary ocean heat on surface and within the top 100 meters or so of the surface. Much more research is needed in this area, but to suggest that major storms are less of a problem now or in the future is wrong.

Got to get the facts straight, Bjørn. And Roger.

At the U.N. climate conference in Lima, Peru, in December, attendees were told that their countries should cut carbon emissions to avoid future damage from storms like typhoon Hagupit, which hit the Philippines during the conference, killing at least 21 people and forcing more than a million into shelters. Yet the trend for landfalling typhoons around the Philippines has actually declined since 1950, according to a study published in 2012 by the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate. Again, we’re told that things are worse than ever, but the facts don’t support this.

Again, Lomborg is cherry picking and using a discredited study.

There are several hurricane basins, several in the Pacific, the Indian ocean, and the Atlantic. One can look at data over several time scales: paleo covering hundreds or thousands of years, historic covering a century or so, and instrumental or recent, covering a century, or decades. One can count the number of hurricanes, use the limited “category” scale to divide up the number or use an overall measurement of energy in hurricanes. Then, these things can be studied by many researchers at various times. If you look across all of those studies examining various basins, time scales, and measures, you will see a range of studies showing increases or decreases in “how much hurricane” there is over time. The studies that take the longer time scales and that look at total energy rather than number of storms (or number of landfalling storms) almost always show increases. Here, Lomborg has picked a specific study that seems to meet his requirements, and ignored a vast literature. In this case, he has gone back to Pielke, whose work on hurricanes and other storm related issues has been widely discreted by actual climate scientists (like Lomborg, Pielke is not a climate scientist).

This is important because if we want to help the poor people who are most threatened by natural disasters, we have to recognize that it is less about cutting carbon emissions than it is about pulling them out of poverty.

Oh the poor poor people. If Bjorn Lomborg really cared about poor people why did he mention Hagiput and not mention Hayian/Yolanda, which killed 6,300 people? No. For Bjorn Lomborg seems more about selling oil and coal or serving the 1% or something. For the rest of us, it should be about keeping the Carbon in the ground.

The best way to see this is to look at the world’s deaths from natural disasters over time. In the Oxford University database for death rates from floods, extreme temperatures, droughts and storms, the average in the first part of last century was more than 13 dead every year per 100,000 people. Since then the death rates have dropped 97% to a new low in the 2010s of 0.38 per 100,000 people.

No, that is absolutely incorrect. Morbidity is the wagging tail of the much larger dog of underlying causes. The exact number of people who die because of phenomenon is usually a highly variable and unreliable number. This is the Pielke strategy: identify variables that are likely to have a lot of uncontrolled variation, and see if any of those happen to go the way you want the data to go. Instead of the number of tropical cyclones, look only at the ones that become hurricanes. Instead of hurricanes, look only at the ones that strike land. Instead of looking at land falling hurricanes, look only at the number of people killed per hurricane, and ignore all the other data. Haiyan vs. Hagiput provide an example. The former was a much more severe storm but the latter was not a walk in the park, maybe only half as strong. But the number killed in the two storms, 6,300 vs. a couple of dozen, is dramatically different. No Bjorn, the best way to track the effects of climate change is not to look at deaths over time. That is the worst way to do it.

Also, the preparation and mitigation argument is a red herring. Disasters get less disastrous over time because we either move out of the way (as the coasts of much of New England have been abandoned since the 1970s because of the storms), predict bad events more accurately, implement evacuation plans, or but extra nails in the roof so it is less likely to blow off. We spend enormous amounts of money and expend considerable effort in reducing deaths through storms. See this for an example of the difference between the deadly effects of storms in New England and how that changed over time with the ability to predict bad storms and close roads and require people to go home and chill rather than stay out and die. That has nothing to do with changes in storm frequency or intensity under global warming. Bjorn Lomborg is asking you to believe that these investments will solve any climate crisis that develops in the future.

The dramatic decline is mostly due to economic development that helps nations withstand catastrophes. If you’re rich like Florida, a major hurricane might cause plenty of damage to expensive buildings, but it kills few people and causes a temporary dent in economic output. If a similar hurricane hits a poorer country like the Philippines or Guatemala, it kills many more and can devastate the economy.

Rich like Florida? When a hurricane hits the US coast it is far more likely to hit an area in poverty than one that is wealthy. With the US south largely in the grip of conservative politicians who are put in place to preserve or increase wealth disparity, that situation is only going to get worse. We are experiencing rapid climate change. There is no chance that preparation for disaster will keep up, there is no change that we can gentrify the world’s poor regions at a rate sufficient that they are living in the equivalent of the rich part of Miami. The coast of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana is very vulnerable to severe hurricanes, and is in a major “First World” country, but is just loaded with poor people living in inadequate housing with crumbling infrastructure. So, no. We should certainly do what we can do to spread the wealth and bring people out of poverty but it won’t be enough and it won’t be quick.

In short, climate change is not worse than we thought. Some indicators are worse, but some are better. That doesn’t mean global warming is not a reality or not a problem. It definitely is. But the narrative that the world’s climate is changing from bad to worse is unhelpful alarmism, which prevents us from focusing on smart solutions.

Yes, generally, it is. And may effects may be coming faster than thought. Is “narrative” becoming another dog whistle?

A well-meaning environmentalist might argue that, because climate change is a reality, why not ramp up the rhetoric and focus on the bad news to make sure the public understands its importance.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 2.52.33 AMHardly anybody is doing that. All the activists and communicators I know try to be reasonable. The breathless argument that the argument of others is breathless is made of straw.

But isn’t that what has been done for the past 20 years?

A statement with no facts behind it, that one.

The public has been bombarded with dramatic headlines and apocalyptic photos of climate change and its consequences. Yet despite endless successions of climate summits, carbon emissions continue to rise, especially in rapidly developing countries like India, China and many African nations.

Ah, now we are talking about the press, not “environmentalists” and scientists, etc. Nice bait and switch there. The press probably has been bombarding with headlines, but half of those headlines are like the Op Ed Lomborg wrote for the Wall Street Journal; foundation-less appeals to the non existent “other side” of the argument, full of irrelevant citations, facts that are not true, wrapped in a cloak of faux skeptical scholarship, in service of a false balance that probably sells papers.

Alarmism has encouraged the pursuit of a one-sided climate policy of trying to cut carbon emissions by subsidizing wind farms and solar panels. Yet today, according to the International Energy Agency, only about 0.4% of global energy consumption comes from solar photovoltaics and windmills. And even with exceptionally optimistic assumptions about future deployment of wind and solar, the IEA expects that these energy forms will provide a minuscule 2.2% of the world’s energy by 2040.

In other words, for at least the next two decades, solar and wind energy are simply expensive, feel-good measures that will have an imperceptible climate impact. Instead, we should focus on investing in research and development of green energy, including new battery technology to better store and discharge solar and wind energy and lower its costs. We also need to invest in and promote growth in the world’s poorest nations, which suffer the most from natural disasters.

I see your fossil fuel based entity and raise you one. The American Petroleum Institute says:

Few things threaten America’s future prosperity more than climate change.

But there is growing hope. Every 2.5 minutes of every single day, the U.S. solar industry is helping to fight this battle by flipping the switch on another completed solar project.

According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the United States installed an estimated 7.4 gigawatts (GW) of solar last year — a 42 percent increase over 2013 — making it the best year ever for solar installations in America. What’s more, solar accounted for a record 53 percent of all new electric generation capacity installed in the first half of 2014, pushing solar to the front as the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America.

Today, the U.S. has an estimated 20.2 GW of installed solar capacity, enough to effectively power nearly 4 million homes in the United States — or every single home in a state the size of Massachusetts or New Jersey — with another 20 GW in the pipeline for 2015–2016.

Additionally, innovative solar heating and cooling systems (SHC) are offering American consumers cost-efficient, effective options for meeting their energy needs, while lowering their utility bills. In fact, a report prepared for SEIA outlines an aggressive plan to install 100 million SHC panels in the United States by 2050. This action alone would create 50,250 new American jobs and save more than $61 billion in future energy costs.

So. Let’s do two things. Start ignoring Bjorn Lomborg (and the Wall Street Journal) and start doing more to keep the Carbon in the ground.