Skip to comments.A Danish Galileo
Posted on 01/17/2003 2:16:06 AM PST by JohnHuang2
|By his own admission, Danish statistical professor Bjorn Lomborg never set out to take on the environmentalist movement. A member of Greenpeace, Lomborg happened to read an interview with the late Julian Simon, who'd made a career at disproving the doomsaying of environmentalists. Seeking to disprove Simon's conclusions in books like The Ultimate Resource 2, Lomborg instead -- to his great surprise -- confirmed all but a few. His work resulted in 2001's The Skeptical Environmentalist.
The Skeptical Environmentalist may be the most complete refutation of what Lomborg refers to as the "Litany," his name for the chronic complaints of environmentalists who believe humanity is on the course to an inevitable environmental holocaust -- a future of water shortages, starvation, mass extinctions, pollution and rampant disease. Complete with nearly 3,000 footnotes, Lomborg's book makes the case that while our stewardship of the environment isn't perfect, things are rapidly improving and our future looks bright. Not surprisingly, environmentalists have made it their goal to discredit both Lomborg and his claims.
Scientific American, better known lately for bringing politics to science than reportage, commissioned several writers to specifically refute Lomborg. The Union of Concerned Scientists, the World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund all spread the message that the book was to be attacked on all fronts. The latest and highest profile effort came courtesy of the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD). Recently, they ruled that The Skeptical Environmentalist was nothing less than "scientific dishonesty."
As it turned out, Lomborg did commit a few errors -- something he has openly acknowledged -- although that shouldn't be much of a surprise given the massive scope of the book. To his credit, Lomborg made it very easy to check every single source and conclusion in The Skeptical Environmentalist, something that environmentalists often fail to do with their own work. The attacks on Lomborg, however, have little to do with fact checking and more to do with the political nature of the environmental movement.
As Ronald Bailey pointed out in 2002's Global Warming and other Eco-Myths, environmentalism is a political ideology based on science -- the accepted way we judge what is the objective truth. If you discredit the science, the environmentalist movement has nothing to support its drive to fundamentally change the way we live. Lomborg's work has made him, as London's Daily Telegraph noted in January 2002, "the anti-Christ" to the environmentalist movement.
The DCSD's conclusions were almost entirely based on the four articles run by Scientific American one year ago, ones thoroughly refuted by Lomborg on his website, something few journalists reporting on the DCSD's comments mentioned. The remaining criticism by the DCSD is that Lomborg failed to follow the established scientific method, an interesting conclusion to make given that Lomborg's conclusions are based on data gleaned from the United Nations and other international agencies, governments and NGOs -- most of whom walk in lock-step with environmentalists -- and are presented as a study in trends, not experimentation. If Lomborg's data is flawed, so then is the data that many environmentalists rely on to get a message out that is usually accepted unquestioningly by the media.
The DCSD's real agenda, however, was revealed in a paragraph that must have accidentally made it past the group's editors:
"The topics dealt with by Bjorn Lomborg's book are of great social import and hence of corresponding political interest. It is the view of the Working Party that the many, particularly American researchers, who have received Bjorn Lomborg's book with great gusto, even in a specifically negative fashion, are unlikely to have given the book the time of day unless it had received such overwhelmingly positive write-ups in leading American newspapers and in the Economist. The USA is the society with the highest energy consumption in the world, and there are powerful interests in the USA bound up with increasing energy consumption and with the belief in free market forces."
The DCSD and the environmentalist movement have turned Lomborg into a modern day Galileo. Like Galileo, Lomborg is being attacked because his conclusions don't fit in with the orthodoxy promoted by powerful vested interests. Lomborg's move to put environmental considerations on the same level as others, such as the prosperity of humanity, threatens the belief that the environmentalist agenda is more important than all others because it's free from individualistic self-interest. Because he effectively turned the environmentalist movement into merely another lobby group and thoroughly undermined the science they rely on Lomborg has come under personal attack.
Unlike Galileo, however, Lomborg and his work won't be silenced so easily. The pendulum has begun to swing back against the environmentalist movement because more people are beginning to cast a critical eye at the junk science used to support their agenda. Even some of those who support that agenda, such as Swedish World Wildlife Fund chairman Lars Kristoferson and World Wildlife Fund's American executive vice president David Sandalow, have come out in support of Lomborg and his findings to one degree or another. That's support that Galileo didn't have.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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Bailey is wrong here. "Environmentalism" is a political ideology MASQUERADING as science. It uses "scientific-sounding language" not based in real facts to mislead the non-scientific public.
kiss my access, I paid!!
Bad joke over, but really I did kick in and I only make a deal because I may miss rent next month, to fund FR!!
These folks seem to be purposefully infiltrating science publications. I noticed that Astronomy just hired THREE english majors onto the staff, one to be editor-in-chief! Seems awfully dubious to me, considering the abysmal level of mathematical and scientific curiosity most, though not all, english majors display.
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