Bjørn Lomborg wrote an opinion piece that is offensively wrong
Bjørn Lomborg is the director of the conservative Copenhagen Consensus Center. He is author of two books that seem to recommend inaction in the face of climate change, Cool It, which appears to be both a book and a movie, and “The Skeptical Environmentalist.”He is well known as a climate contrarian, though I don’t subscribe to the subcategories that are often used to divide up the denialists. Let’s just say that if governments followed Lomborg’s suggestions for addressing climate change, civilization would not do well. If you think anthropogenic global warming is for real, important, and something we can address, then you won’t like Lomborg’s ideas much. Same with energy. He gets that wrong too.
Lomborg is or was funded by the Kochtopus and its various associates.
Get the facts on climate change straight
Lomborg’s blog is titled “Get the facts straight,” so when I saw him use that phrase in a recent Op Ed at the Wall Street Journal, I spit coffee all over my keyboard. Why? Because Bjørn Lomborg did not get the facts straight. In fact, he got the facts related to the topic of his Op Ed, titled “The Alarming Thing About Climate Alarmism: Exaggerated, worst-case claims result in bad policy and they ignore a wealth of encouraging data” so wrong we are left wondering how he could be so wrong. Is Lomborg very badly informed, or is he making stuff up? And, if the latter, why would he do that?
Anyway, I saw his Op Ed as an opportunity to Fisk, and so Fisk I did.
Climate change models have done a good job estimating future climate change
It is an indisputable fact that carbon emissions are rising—and faster than most scientists predicted.
No they aren’t. They are rising fast, and that is really annoying, and maybe if you go back far enough in time you can find predictions that are way off, but CO2 emissions are rising, unfortunately, pretty much as fast as the very people someone like Bjorn Lomborg might call “alarmists” have been claiming they would. The following graph is from here.
Lomborg continues …
But many climate-change alarmists seem to claim that all climate change is worse than expected.
I love the term “alarmist.” It is a dog whistle. If someone calls a mainstream scientists an “alarmist” you better check your wallet. Anyway, yes, mainstream science, in many areas, has been discovering of late that certain areas of climate change are perhaps worse than expected or happening faster. However, I can’t think of anyone who thinks that “all climate change is worse.”
This ignores …
No, it doesn’t ignore anything because it did’t happen. The premise is false. Anyway…
…that much of the data are actually encouraging. The latest study from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that in the previous 15 years temperatures had risen 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit. The average of all models expected 0.8 degrees. So we’re seeing about 90% less temperature rise than expected.
This is incorrect. The rise in temperature over the last 15 years has been within the expected range. The rate of increase over any given 15 year period of time varies, as expected, but there is nothing like the ten to one ratio of predicted to observed Lomborg claims. According to a Climate Nexus post, responding to Lomborg’s assertion,
The difference between model estimates and observations is completely accounted for by natural variability and fits within the range of modelled uncertainty. The reality is that there is no inherent bias in climate models that make them over-estimate the effects of human activity. A recent study that combined 114 possible 15-year trends since 1900 found there was nothing statistically biased in the way that model data differed from observed global mean surface temperature measurements. According to the study’s co-author, Piers Forster, “cherry picking” the most recent 15-year interval to refute climate change modeling is misleading and obscures the long-term agreement between the models and measurements.
What’s more, short-term variation does nothing to change the fact that we are experiencing a dangerous rate of global warming, with nine of the 10 hottest years on record occurring since 2002 and NOAA and NASA officially declaring 2014 the warmest on record. So Lomborg’s insistence that we not worry about climate flies in the face of the record temperatures we’re experiencing.
Bjorn Lomborg, get your facts straight!
Now, returning to Lomborg…
Facts like this are important …
No they aren’t because they are not facts. They are thing you made up. Anyway…
The effects of climate change in the Arctic are more rapid than expected; The Antarctic is also warming faster than the rest of the planet
…because a one-sided focus on worst-case stories is a poor foundation for sound policies.
As would be a one sided focus on fabricated best case scenarios, or even a manufactured balance between to sides of a non debate.
Yes, Arctic sea ice is melting faster than the models expected. But models also predicted that Antarctic sea ice would decrease, yet it is increasing.
That is misleading. It seems reasonable to guess that with global warming change would happen in a similar way in both polar regions, but the two ends of the earth are very different from each other. To a person who does not know much about climate or sea ice it makes sense that both poles will experience reduced summer sea ice. But there are many factors that determine sea ice distribution, including factors that might be changed as a result of global warming that increase sea ice as well as those that decrease it. Also, the often cited increase in Antarctic sea ice is often stated without quantification next to a statement about Arctic sea ice decrease, leading to the impression that there is a balance, where the total global sea ice is constant. This is not true, though by omission of proper context, Lomborg’s statement might allow some to think it is. The amount of sea ice added to the Antarctic is smaller than the loss in the Arctic.
Antarctic sea ice increase does not indicate cooling at that end of the earth. Rather, the Southern Continent and the sea and air around it have been warming, rather dramatically, faster than the global rate of warming, as is the case with the Arctic. Yet, the sea ice maximum has increased. From Skeptical Science:
If the Southern Ocean is warming, why is sea ice increasing? There are several contributing factors. One is the drop in ozone levels over Antarctica. The hole in the ozone layer above the South Pole has caused cooling in the stratosphere (Gillet 2003). A side-effect is a strengthening of the cyclonic winds that circle the Antarctic continent (Thompson 2002). The wind pushes sea ice around, creating areas of open water known as polynyas. More polynyas leads to increased sea ice production (Turner 2009).
Another contributor is changes in ocean circulation. The Southern Ocean consists of a layer of cold water near the surface and a layer of warmer water below. Water from the warmer layer rises up to the surface, melting sea ice. However, as air temperatures warm, the amount of rain and snowfall also increases. This freshens the surface waters, leading to a surface layer less dense than the saltier, warmer water below. The layers become more stratified and mix less. Less heat is transported upwards from the deeper, warmer layer. Hence less sea ice is melted (Zhang 2007).
Antarctic sea ice is complex and counter-intuitive. Despite warming waters, complicated factors unique to the Antarctic region have combined to increase sea ice production. The simplistic interpretation that it’s caused by cooling is false.
Recent research has made an even more direct link between Antarctic warming and Antarctic sea ice expansion. “NOAA said in a news release Tuesday that “as counterintuitive as expanding winter Antarctic sea ice may appear on a warming planet, it may actually be a manifestation of recent warming.”” – read this for all the details.
So, Bjorn Lomborg, do try to get your fact straight, which in some cases requires knowing more about the science you are referring to so you don’t make middle-school level mistakes.
The rate of sea level rise is going up
Back to Bjørn…
Yes, sea levels are rising, but the rise is not accelerating—if anything, two recent papers, one by Chinese scientists published in the January 2014 issue of Global and Planetary Change, and the other by U.S. scientists published in the May 2013 issue ofCoastal Engineering, have shown a small decline in the rate of sea-level increase.
No, the vast majority of research on glacial ice melt shows an increase in rate. Other research shows that there are areas in Antarctic previously thought to be essentially unmeltable to be meltable, eventually.
The first paper Lomborg refers to tries to understand the details of short term variability in sea level rise. It does not say that there is a decline in rate of sea level rise. The paper looks only at changes between 1993 and 2003, not long term trends, so it really couldn’t address that issue. The paper shows rapid changes in the rate of sea level rise over short periods of time. Recently, there was a stark drop in rate because thermal expansion temporarily slowed. There was also a recent stark increase because Australia stopped drinking in rain (an effect of huge global warming induced drought) so the ocean got bigger. Very recently, according to the paper Lomborg cites, there has been “rapid recovery of the rising [sea level] from its dramatic drop during the 2011 La Niña [which] introduced a large uncertainty in the estimation of the sea level trend…” source
The second paper Lomborg refers to states, “Whether the increased sea level trend of approximately 3 mm/year measured by the satellites since the 1990’s is a long-term increase from the 20th Century value of approximately 1.7 mm/year or part of a cycle will require longer records; however, the negative accelerations support some cyclic character.”
Not only is it important to get your facts straight, Bjørn, but also, if you cite a source as saying something, please don’t misrepresent it.
Droughts are more likely, or more severe, with global warming
Back to Bjørn…
We are often being told that we’re seeing more and more droughts, but a study published last March in the journal Nature actually shows a decrease in the world’s surface that has been afflicted by droughts since 1982.
Check your wallet. First, the study Lomborg cites does not examine changes in drought over time, so it can’t say what he says it says. The study, rather, looks to develop a “global integrated drought monitoring and prediction system” because, as the authors state, “Each year droughts result in significant socioeconomic losses and ecological damage across the globe. Given the growing population and climate change, water and food security are major challenges facing humanity.”
One can understand that someone who does not know much about drought would make the mistake Lomborg made. The drought situation is complex. The vast majority of the land surface of the earth has not, and probably can not, experience drought, so talking about percentages of the Earth in drought or not in drought is misleading at best. Places like the American Southwest and California are always dry, so when drought occurs in such an area it is very real but hard to identify against the backdrop of large scale and long term climate. If the surface area of the earth in drought is less since 1982, that would be nice. The study Lomborg cites primarily examines data beginning in 1982, so he probably didn’t get that idea there.
Recent papers published in a compendium of the American Meteorological Society included research linking drought to climate change. Climate change has probably had effects that predate the 1980s, so looking at droughts since 1980 may not be valid. Finally, much of the concern we have about drought is about a handful of current problems (i.e, Australia and California) and about future drought. In February 2014, the science advisor to the President of the United States, John Holdren, wrote:
In my recent comments about observed and projected increases in drought in the American West, I mentioned four relatively well understood mechanisms by which climate change can play a role in drought…
The four mechanisms are:
1. In a warming world, a larger fraction of total precipitation falls in downpours, which means a larger fraction is lost to storm runoff (as opposed to being absorbed in soil).
2. In mountain regions that are warming, as most are, a larger fraction of precipitation falls as rain rather than as snow, which means lower stream flows in spring and summer.
3. What snowpack there is melts earlier in a warming world, further reducing flows later in the year.
4. Where temperatures are higher, losses of water from soil and reservoirs due to evaporation are likewise higher than they would otherwise be.
Hurricanes are not decreasing in frequency, and may be increasing in frequency and/or intensity, with global warming
And, back to Bjørn…
Hurricanes are likewise used as an example of the “ever worse” trope. If we look at the U.S., where we have the best statistics, damage costs from hurricanes are increasing—but only because there are more people, with more-expensive property, living near coastlines. If we adjust for population and wealth, hurricane damage during the period 1900–2013 decreased slightly.
Here Bjorn is referring to the widely discredited work of Roger Pielke Jr. In this case, Pielke has looked only at land falling hurricanes, which is egregious cherry picking. It might seem to make sense to do so, because they are the ones that matter, but in fact, land falling Atlantic Hurricanes are rare so they make for lousy statistics. Also, with climate change, we expect changes in the tropics to involve frequent years with fewer than average Atlantic hurricanes. Globally we generally expect more hurricanes, more energy in storms generally in the tropics and elsewhere, and possibly a greater occurrence of really powerful hurricanes fed by extraordinary ocean heat on surface and within the top 100 meters or so of the surface. Much more research is needed in this area, but to suggest that major storms are less of a problem now or in the future is wrong.
Got to get the facts straight, Bjørn. And Roger.
At the U.N. climate conference in Lima, Peru, in December, attendees were told that their countries should cut carbon emissions to avoid future damage from storms like typhoon Hagupit, which hit the Philippines during the conference, killing at least 21 people and forcing more than a million into shelters. Yet the trend for landfalling typhoons around the Philippines has actually declined since 1950, according to a study published in 2012 by the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate. Again, we’re told that things are worse than ever, but the facts don’t support this.
Again, Lomborg is cherry picking and using a discredited study.
There are several hurricane basins, several in the Pacific, the Indian ocean, and the Atlantic. One can look at data over several time scales: paleo covering hundreds or thousands of years, historic covering a century or so, and instrumental or recent, covering a century, or decades. One can count the number of hurricanes, use the limited “category” scale to divide up the number or use an overall measurement of energy in hurricanes. Then, these things can be studied by many researchers at various times. If you look across all of those studies examining various basins, time scales, and measures, you will see a range of studies showing increases or decreases in “how much hurricane” there is over time. The studies that take the longer time scales and that look at total energy rather than number of storms (or number of landfalling storms) almost always show increases. Here, Lomborg has picked a specific study that seems to meet his requirements, and ignored a vast literature. In this case, he has gone back to Pielke, whose work on hurricanes and other storm related issues has been widely discreted by actual climate scientists (like Lomborg, Pielke is not a climate scientist).
This is important because if we want to help the poor people who are most threatened by natural disasters, we have to recognize that it is less about cutting carbon emissions than it is about pulling them out of poverty.
Oh the poor poor people. If Bjorn Lomborg really cared about poor people why did he mention Hagiput and not mention Hayian/Yolanda, which killed 6,300 people? No. For Bjorn Lomborg seems more about selling oil and coal or serving the 1% or something. For the rest of us, it should be about keeping the Carbon in the ground.
The best way to see this is to look at the world’s deaths from natural disasters over time. In the Oxford University database for death rates from floods, extreme temperatures, droughts and storms, the average in the first part of last century was more than 13 dead every year per 100,000 people. Since then the death rates have dropped 97% to a new low in the 2010s of 0.38 per 100,000 people.
No, that is absolutely incorrect. Morbidity is the wagging tail of the much larger dog of underlying causes. The exact number of people who die because of phenomenon is usually a highly variable and unreliable number. This is the Pielke strategy: identify variables that are likely to have a lot of uncontrolled variation, and see if any of those happen to go the way you want the data to go. Instead of the number of tropical cyclones, look only at the ones that become hurricanes. Instead of hurricanes, look only at the ones that strike land. Instead of looking at land falling hurricanes, look only at the number of people killed per hurricane, and ignore all the other data. Haiyan vs. Hagiput provide an example. The former was a much more severe storm but the latter was not a walk in the park, maybe only half as strong. But the number killed in the two storms, 6,300 vs. a couple of dozen, is dramatically different. No Bjorn, the best way to track the effects of climate change is not to look at deaths over time. That is the worst way to do it.
Also, the preparation and mitigation argument is a red herring. Disasters get less disastrous over time because we either move out of the way (as the coasts of much of New England have been abandoned since the 1970s because of the storms), predict bad events more accurately, implement evacuation plans, or but extra nails in the roof so it is less likely to blow off. We spend enormous amounts of money and expend considerable effort in reducing deaths through storms. See this for an example of the difference between the deadly effects of storms in New England and how that changed over time with the ability to predict bad storms and close roads and require people to go home and chill rather than stay out and die. That has nothing to do with changes in storm frequency or intensity under global warming. Bjorn Lomborg is asking you to believe that these investments will solve any climate crisis that develops in the future.
The dramatic decline is mostly due to economic development that helps nations withstand catastrophes. If you’re rich like Florida, a major hurricane might cause plenty of damage to expensive buildings, but it kills few people and causes a temporary dent in economic output. If a similar hurricane hits a poorer country like the Philippines or Guatemala, it kills many more and can devastate the economy.
Rich like Florida? When a hurricane hits the US coast it is far more likely to hit an area in poverty than one that is wealthy. With the US south largely in the grip of conservative politicians who are put in place to preserve or increase wealth disparity, that situation is only going to get worse. We are experiencing rapid climate change. There is no chance that preparation for disaster will keep up, there is no change that we can gentrify the world’s poor regions at a rate sufficient that they are living in the equivalent of the rich part of Miami. The coast of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana is very vulnerable to severe hurricanes, and is in a major “First World” country, but is just loaded with poor people living in inadequate housing with crumbling infrastructure. So, no. We should certainly do what we can do to spread the wealth and bring people out of poverty but it won’t be enough and it won’t be quick.
In short, climate change is not worse than we thought. Some indicators are worse, but some are better. That doesn’t mean global warming is not a reality or not a problem. It definitely is. But the narrative that the world’s climate is changing from bad to worse is unhelpful alarmism, which prevents us from focusing on smart solutions.
Yes, generally, it is. And may effects may be coming faster than thought. Is “narrative” becoming another dog whistle?
A well-meaning environmentalist might argue that, because climate change is a reality, why not ramp up the rhetoric and focus on the bad news to make sure the public understands its importance.
Hardly anybody is doing that. All the activists and communicators I know try to be reasonable. The breathless argument that the argument of others is breathless is made of straw.
But isn’t that what has been done for the past 20 years?
A statement with no facts behind it, that one.
The public has been bombarded with dramatic headlines and apocalyptic photos of climate change and its consequences. Yet despite endless successions of climate summits, carbon emissions continue to rise, especially in rapidly developing countries like India, China and many African nations.
Ah, now we are talking about the press, not “environmentalists” and scientists, etc. Nice bait and switch there. The press probably has been bombarding with headlines, but half of those headlines are like the Op Ed Lomborg wrote for the Wall Street Journal; foundation-less appeals to the non existent “other side” of the argument, full of irrelevant citations, facts that are not true, wrapped in a cloak of faux skeptical scholarship, in service of a false balance that probably sells papers.
Alarmism has encouraged the pursuit of a one-sided climate policy of trying to cut carbon emissions by subsidizing wind farms and solar panels. Yet today, according to the International Energy Agency, only about 0.4% of global energy consumption comes from solar photovoltaics and windmills. And even with exceptionally optimistic assumptions about future deployment of wind and solar, the IEA expects that these energy forms will provide a minuscule 2.2% of the world’s energy by 2040.
In other words, for at least the next two decades, solar and wind energy are simply expensive, feel-good measures that will have an imperceptible climate impact. Instead, we should focus on investing in research and development of green energy, including new battery technology to better store and discharge solar and wind energy and lower its costs. We also need to invest in and promote growth in the world’s poorest nations, which suffer the most from natural disasters.
I see your fossil fuel based entity and raise you one. The American Petroleum Institute says:
Few things threaten America’s future prosperity more than climate change.
But there is growing hope. Every 2.5 minutes of every single day, the U.S. solar industry is helping to fight this battle by flipping the switch on another completed solar project.
According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the United States installed an estimated 7.4 gigawatts (GW) of solar last year — a 42 percent increase over 2013 — making it the best year ever for solar installations in America. What’s more, solar accounted for a record 53 percent of all new electric generation capacity installed in the first half of 2014, pushing solar to the front as the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America.
Today, the U.S. has an estimated 20.2 GW of installed solar capacity, enough to effectively power nearly 4 million homes in the United States — or every single home in a state the size of Massachusetts or New Jersey — with another 20 GW in the pipeline for 2015–2016.
Additionally, innovative solar heating and cooling systems (SHC) are offering American consumers cost-efficient, effective options for meeting their energy needs, while lowering their utility bills. In fact, a report prepared for SEIA outlines an aggressive plan to install 100 million SHC panels in the United States by 2050. This action alone would create 50,250 new American jobs and save more than $61 billion in future energy costs.
So. Let’s do two things. Start ignoring Bjorn Lomborg (and the Wall Street Journal) and start doing more to keep the Carbon in the ground.