The Self-Serving Environmentalist

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It gets increasingly difficult to assume sincerity on the part of Bjorn Lomborg, the self-styled Skeptical Environmentalist. Lomborg is an economist by training and an industry apologist by inclination. On climate change, especially, he has marshalled one argument after another to excuse industry – or government – from taking any action whatsoever against a threat that even he acknowleges (“Man-made climate change is, of course, real, and constitutes a serious problem” ).

His first argument was that spending money to reduce greenhouse gases is a waste – that any such funding would be more useful if put into the fight against AIDS or world hunger. This is fallacious on several counts. First, it suggests that there is a fixed sum that will be spent either on climate change or world hunger – which is silly when the real choice might be, say, climate change or more troops for Iraq. There is no reason that humans cannot address two crises at once. And there is little rationale behind the idea of putting bandaids on Titanic passengers without looking into the big iceberg-tear in the side of the boat.

Now, Lomborg has launched another argument – that spending money reducing greenhouse gases is a waste because the money would be more useful if put into research and development on ways to combat climate change.

I’m all for R&D, but supporting an increase in R&D spending doesn’t preclude policies that would urge people to save money on fossil fuels. Nobody’s economy is going to collapse because people start walking more, or buying compact fluorescents, smaller cars and better quality insulation for their homes. Again, this either-or scenario is phoney and distracting.

Lomborg’s principle contribution to the climate change debate, however, has been to support the climate change deniers. When Lomborg says “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is stupid because …,” the deniers pick up his quote and end it at the word stupid. They even hire him as a speaker and fly him around the world to argue against Kyoto. And he accepts this attention without fretting overmuch that his audience is ignoring entirely the nuance of his arguments.

Even after the fairly flagrant deceptions from his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, it would have been possible to argue that Lomborg was naive – that he was sincere in his positions and that industry types were taking advantage of him.

It’s hard, now, to imagine that’s the case. Lomborg seems to be willing to do whatever he must to get attention, no matter who’s holding the spotlight or how far he has to wander off the path of “sound science” and common sense.

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