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Lomborg's critique was always going to attract vitriol from green groups

By Ray Evans - posted Wednesday, 8 October 2003

As his detractors frequently point out, Bjorn Lomborg is merely an Associate Professor of Statistics in the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University in Denmark, and thus does not rate in the scientific establishment of the Western world. Nevertheless his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World, has become the focus of one of the most bitter debates among Western intellectual elites for decades. Lomborg has been roasted by Scientific American (Jan 2002), and after complaints were made to the Danish Committee of Scientific Dishonesty (in Danish) for "fabrication of data, selective citation, deliberate misuse of statistical methods, distorted interpretations of conclusions, plagiarism, deliberate misinterpretations of others results" the DCSD rebuked Lomborg for "deviation from Good Scientific Practice". The Committee however covered itself by including in the Danish version of its report, as an annexe, the extended discussion between Lomborg and his opponents, "so that the reader can judge for himself the decision".

In his preface, Lomborg tells the story of how he came to write the book. He was scanning a magazine in a bookstore in LA in February 1997 when he chanced upon an interview with Julian Simon, the great debunker of Malthusian despair and environmental catastrophism. Lomborg explained that since "my skills consist in knowing how to handle international statistics", and since Simon used only official statistics, to which every one has access, "we expected to show that most of Simon's talk was simple, American right-wing propaganda".

It perhaps occurred to that young Danish statistician in the LA bookstore that a successful critique of Simon's statistical methods, and a convincing refutation of Simon's cornucopian claims that "the material condition of life for most people in most countries will continue to get better", would advance his career. It is curious that it does not seem to have occurred to him that there had to be a reason why such an enterprise had not already been carried out. But that is speculation. Lomborg and his students went forward with their adventure and found "contrary to our expectations - it turned out that a surprisingly large amount of his points stood up to scrutiny and conflicted with what we believed ourselves to know".


Julian Simon will be smiling in whatever Heaven the great economists find themselves in the after-life. He may perhaps feel disappointed that the outrage and hatred which have been visited upon Lomborg did not fall upon him. I think the explanation for that seeming injustice is to be found in the Kyoto Protocol. Julian Simon died prematurely in Feb 1998, just two months after the Kyoto Protocol had been wrapped up in December 1997, and before he had time to make a contribution to this critical debate. The stakes involved in bringing that Treaty into international law are unprecedented. To quote President Chirac,

An equitable agreement is one that provides for an independent and impartial compliance mechanism, possessing irrefutable data and able to decide remedial political and financial penalties in case of non-compliance. That would avoid the "free-rider" problem, in which a handful of nations make the initial, and most difficult efforts, only to find themselves exposed to unacceptable competitive distortions.

By acting together, by building this unprecedented instrument, the first component of an authentic global governance, we are working for dialogue and peace. We are demonstrating our capacity to assert control over our fate in a spirit of solidarity, to organise our collective sovereignty over this planet, our common heritage. (Speech at The Hague. Nov 20, 2000)

In the first few months of 2001, as the Bush Administration was finding its feet, it seemed as if the new President would be swept into resiling from his campaign pledges and commit the US to the Kyoto Protocol. The Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O'Neill, and EPA Director Christine Todd Whitman were pushing very hard in this direction, and the entire Environmentalism movement in the US was behind them. But Bush did not resile, and it was the decision of April 2001 to formally announce that the US would not ratify Kyoto which meant that even if Kyoto finally receives sufficient support (Russia is still hanging out) to become international law, the absence of the US dooms it to failure. John Howard followed suit on June 4, 2002, less than 24 hours after Environment Minister David Kemp had speculated, while overseas, that Australia could well ratify before the end of 2002.

The environmentalist movement sees in the Kyoto Protocol an instrument of effective global imperialism, under which the threat of trade sanctions will be effective in enforcing the edicts of the Kyoto Secretariat, based in Bonn. A Kyoto world will be a reversion to the days of the Holy Roman Empire, to a pre-Westphalian world, in which national sovereignty is subject to supra-national constraints not only on carbon emissions but also on doctrines linking climate science and human guilt. Those who query the integrity or the reasonableness of the IPCC's predictions of anthropogenic global warming, and its consequent calamities of rising seas, increasing cyclones and hurricanes, and the spread of tropical diseases; are not treated as participants in a scientific debate. They are treated as heretics, and subjected to curses and anathematisations. Every critic of Lomborg, therefore, homes in on his discussion of the Kyoto Protocol and his analysis of it.

Lomborg takes the climate science embodied in the IPCC's reports pretty much at face value. He evaluates most of the criticisms that have emerged in recent years. For example, the devastating impact of the satellite observations of tropospheric temperatures (which show virtually no increase in temperature since 1979) on the climate models is well discussed. But, as with most of his work involving the use of official statistics, he takes the IPCC's analysis on its own terms, and shows that to use it as a basis for an imperial regime of global decarbonisation is not justified on their own evidence.


The point in this case is that with the best intentions of doing something about global warming, we could end up burdening the global community with a cost much higher or even twice that of global warming alone. As the Kyoto Protocol is unlikely to be implemented with global trading, simply because of the staggering amounts involved in distributing the initial emission rights and the consequent redistribution, Kyoto represents a waste of resources. If we want to do good, we have to spend our resources more wisely. (Page 312)

The global warming debate is one of the most bizarre in the history of the West. Men have long believed in their capacity to influence the weather, often through interceding with their gods, or with God, particularly to bring rain in times of drought. In the history of South Australia, settlers took up land on the dry side of the Goyder line in the belief that "rain followed the plough" or that planting trees would have the same effect. They were tragically mistaken. But today we know far more about the geological and climatic history of the planet than our forebears did.

We are aware of the cycle of glacial and interglacial periods, usually with a period of 100,000 years, which are determined by the perturbations in the elliptical trajectories of the sun, the major planets, and the earth. We know that the transitions between our present benign climate and the onset of the next ice age can occur with dramatic speed. But because these events cannot be connected to human greed or human indulgence of some kind or other, they do not appear on the political and cultural agenda.

Christianity, although not really mocked a great deal in intellectual circles, is nonetheless regarded as passe. Among the chattering class, environmentalism is in, and Christianity is out. G K Chesterton observed that when people "stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing - they'll believe in anything". And the widely held belief that we have warmed the planet by burning coal in our power stations, and petrol in our motor cars, despite no evidence for the argument, and plenty against it, is an extraordinary manifestation of his prediction.

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About the Author

Ray Evans is Secretary of the Lavoisier Group Inc. He is also an adviser to Bert Kelly Research Centre.

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