Salon has a refreshingly hostile interview with Bjørn Lomborg, and they also have a strongly negative review of his new book, Cool It. This makes me very happy; I’m not a fan of the “contrarian” label for this guy — he’s just another unqualified denialist, as far as I can see. I hope one of our blogs that discuss climate, like Deltoid or Island of Doubt or the Intersection, picks up on it and adds to the pile-on.
There are multiple mischaracterizations and confused arguments in the interview. Here’s one that jumped out at me:
Left-wingers say it’s a catastrophe and we need to change our entire means of production and society. Right-wingers say we shouldn’t bother with it all. If they were right, those conclusions might follow, but that’s not what the science tell us. The science tells us that global warming is problem but not a catastrophe. On the other hand, it’s not a hoax. I’m trying to make a middle ground for arguing that this is not a problem that will be solved within the next five or 10 years. This is a problem that will take a half or full century, and we need to be sure we have good ways of dealing with it.
How bizarre. The right-wingers say it’s a hoax, all right, but his description of the left-wing (I consider myself one of the little feathers on that wing) is so far off — the left, people like Al Gore, are actually closer to his claimed position: this is a long-term problem, it’s not a catastrophe yet (but it could be), and we’re going to have to spend the next century working on it. Where we differ, I think, is that we’re saying we need to start taking steps now, that we can’t let it just simmer and be ignored, while Lomborg is actually proposing something more favorable to the right wing: let’s just talk, without doing anything.
My impression of Lomborg is that he’s a fraud and front for right-wing ignoramuses scrambling frantically to use “framing” — and using the technique poorly. (Or maybe he’s using it perfectly, but as I’ve seen far too often, framing doesn’t work).
He also has a bad argument about relative spending: he suggests that spending on climate change would reduce spending on other pressing issues, like the fight against malaria. It’s a bad choice. Malaria research is already underfunded — it’s a third-world disease, don’t you know, one that mainly affects those tropical countries, so the wealthy western nations typically don’t prioritize it very highly. We don’t take our big pots of money and allocate it into aliquots appropriate to the world’s needs already, so for an economist to sit there and pretend that climate research is a drain on tropical disease research is comical. Especially since he seems unaware of how one feeds into the other. Hey, if the world warms up, tropical diseases will creep northward into Europe and North America, and then we’ll be fighting the economic effects of both direct effects of climate change and new diseases.
And, as usual, he turns his false dilemma into an argument that we need to sit and talk about what to do, instead of actually doing anything. That’s probably my main gripe with Lomborg: he’s a clueless force for inertia, who’s answer for everything is to do nothing that might cause us to break a sweat. Even his malaria argument is hypocritical, because he isn’t asking for any increase in investment in disease research — it’s nothing but an excuse to argue for doing nothing about climate.