Global Warming Dissenter Bjorn Lomborg (Sort of) Has a Change of Heart

By Joseph Calamia | August 31, 2010 6:07 pm

LomborgHas climate skeptics’ favorite Danish statistician, Bjørn Lomborg, changed his stance? In the forthcoming book edited by Lomborg, Smart Solutions to Climate Change, he calls climate change one of the world’s “chief concerns” and suggests investing $100 billion annually on climate change solutions.

The suggestion certainly comes as a surprise. In his previous books, like The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It, Lomborg argues that anthropogenic climate change is real but that it isn’t a “catastrophe”–that the associated “hysteria” was causing us to spend money trying to curb the globe’s warming where it would have been better spent, say, feeding the hungry or curing HIV.

Understandably, that stance has made his work appealing to climate skeptics who don’t want to spend money on curbing emissions–and unpopular among those who see Lomborg as a distraction who misrepresents the science and confuses the issue. In his new book, the statistician apparently reorders his priorities, now arguing that climate change solutions should get more cash.

What’s not a surprise: opinions vary as to the merits of this new book and as to whether it’s a shift, a drastic shift, not a shift, or a publicity stunt. Here, we share some.

A Bit of a Shift

The Guardian starts by calling Lomborg’s new book an “apparent U-turn” and notes that Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, went from comparing the man to Hitler to blurbing his book, but later lets Lomborg say his position hasn’t changed at all.

In a quote for the launch, Pachauri said: “This book provides not only a reservoir of information on the reality of human-induced climate change, but raises vital questions and examines viable options on what can be done.” Lomborg denies he has performed a volte face, pointing out that even in his first book he accepted the existence of man-made global warming. “The point I’ve always been making is it’s not the end of the world,” he told the Guardian. “That’s why we should be measuring up to what everybody else says, which is we should be spending our money well.” [The Guardian]

Kind of a Shift?

Time, which listed Lomborg as one of their 100 most influential people in 2004 (following his Skeptical Environmentalist), notes that Lomborg’s apparent change of heart was a result of attending the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus, a panel that suggests which of the world’s problems should get the most economic attention. Time questions the methods used by the panel, and argues that the geoengineering solutions that the book suggests, such as “cloud whitening” to reflect heat, will continue to stir the controversy pot.

Many have argued that the Consensus’ methods are off base, as neither human lives nor some of the wider effects of climate change can be valued in stark economic terms. Lomborg’s critics have also long said that the statistician’s work makes contradictory claims and uses numbers out of context to paint climate change as a less serious threat than it is. They will undoubtedly find fault, too, in the apparent about face Lomborg takes in his latest tome, but the Dane insists that he’s been arguing the same basics all along. In any case, Lomborg skeptics needn’t fret–he hasn’t exactly made any effort to steer clear of controversy. [Time]

Not Really a Shift

Howard Friel, who published his own book The Lomborg Deception earlier this year, wrote a piece for The Guardian arguing that Lomborg’s new book still doesn’t address the real issues.

Now that the ongoing published science on global warming has veered sharply toward worst-case scenarios across a range of climate impacts, … he writes: “The risks of unchecked global warming are now widely acknowledged” and “we have long moved on from any mainstream disagreements about the science of climate change”. This is the lipstick, but the pig is still a pig. This is because Lomborg still argues in this book, as he did in the others, that cost-benefit economics analysis shows that it is prohibitively expensive for the world to sharply reduce CO2 emissions to the extent required by the scientific evidence: “Drastic carbon cuts would be the poorest way to respond to global warming.” [The Guardian]

A Publicity Stunt

Bradford Plumer in The New Republic also starts out by asking if the book is really an about face, but then asks if Lomborg, whose blond mop and black shirt are no strangers to prime time coverage, has other goals.

What gives? Did Lomborg genuinely have a change of heart? Or is he just trying to figure out a new way to sell books? After all, now that the prospects for a global effort to tackle climate change look dim, the green position is ripe ground for self-styled contrarians. [The New Republic]

Related content:
The Intersection: How Science Defenders Enable Anti-Science Forces
The Intersection: Why is Skeptical Inquirer Magazine Publishing Bjorn Lomborg?
80beats: NOAA’s Conclusive Report: 2000s Were Hottest Decade on Record
80beats: Once Again, Cold Weather Doesn’t Disprove Global Warming
80beats: If We Can’t Stop Emitting CO2, What’s Our Plan B?

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Emil Jupin


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar