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.