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"The Skeptical Environmentalist" claims Gaia is doing fine and improving

By dduck in Media
Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 01:53:49 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)
Science

It will probably comes as a surprise to you that a book like The Sceptical Environmentalist could be written by a Dane. After all, Denmark exports windmills, vigorously supports the Kyoto treaty and generally cultivates a political image as a country that is on the forefront of fighting for ecology, emission control, clear labeling of foodstufs containing GMO etc. etc. etc.


If that's what you think you know about Denmark, you'd probably never expect a Danish author writing a book, which proposes to prove that most of the the enviromentalists claims about the exploitation of nature, mass extinctions and the horrors of global warming - the "litany" - are flat-out wrong. Dr Bjorn Lomborg, a 36 years old professor of statistics, claims that population growth has peaked, stores of key raw materials are rising (and prices dropping), forest areas increasing and mass extinctions of animals due to logging in exotic forrests non-existant, and probably not about to happen anyway. What's more, he has spent a lot of time with his students finding the statistics to back it up. On the basis of these finding he argues that we could - and should - spend our money in a much more intelligent way, when trying to improve living standards, if our goal truly is to save, extend and improve lives.

Reviews of The Skeptical Environmentalist can be found at The New York Times and The Economist.

A word of warning from a Dane: The original edition of the book was published in Denmark a few years back, and has cause a lot of debate - most of it with an extremely low s/n ration. The book questions a lot of established dogma, and thus tends to lead to knee-jerk reactions from readers - and usualy also from people who haven't even read the book yet. I urge you to at least read the book, before you comment on the validity of Bjorn's claims. It's very well researched, and quite thorough, containing approximately 3.000 references and footnotes. Chances are any criticism about probable sources and validity of figures are answered, or at least quantified, in the book. Please don't fly off your handle(s) before you've made sure that you have a reason to do so.

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"The Skeptical Environmentalist" claims Gaia is doing fine and improving | 65 comments (57 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
Further Info (2.20 / 10) (#6)
by Simon Kinahan on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 11:51:48 AM EST

It should also be noted that the author was originally a fairly conventional environementalist campaigner, who attempted to refute the views of the late <a href=]http://www.rhsmith.umd.edu/~jsimon>Julian Simon</a>, and found while doing his research that Simon was in fact correct on most of the issues in question.

The economist article is not in fact a review, but a summary written by Lomborg himself.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
Further Info (4.07 / 13) (#7)
by Simon Kinahan on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 11:52:08 AM EST

It should also be noted that the author was originally a fairly conventional environementalist campaigner, who attempted to refute the views of the late Julian Simon, and found while doing his research that Simon was in fact correct on most of the issues in question. The economist article is not in fact a review, but a summary written by Lomborg himself.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
Interesting (none / 0) (#28)
by anonymoushero on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 01:53:28 AM EST

Appears that he lost a bet on price of lumber in 2000.

http://www.forestry.auburn.edu/sfnmc/web/bet.html

And he'd claim interceding factors of USFS and environmentalists in the Pacific northwest... but isn't life just a conttinuance of interceding factors?

Looks like an interesting guy however.

-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

[ Parent ]
That is interesting (none / 0) (#33)
by Simon Kinahan on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 04:05:57 PM EST

I assume you know that he won a bet with Paul Ehrlich that the prices of a bundle of natural resources (chosen by Ehrlich, mostly minerals IIRC) would fall (indicating abundance) over some time period ?

My only problem with Simon is that he didslip into the role of propagandist, and his association, for the last few years before he died, with the Cato institute did not help with that. I suppose its not surprising given that for much of his life he was the only person arguing the side he was, but its still disappointing.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
Great article! (3.60 / 15) (#10)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 12:39:04 PM EST

This is exactly what we need. Someone with a level head and demonstrable enviro-legitimacy. Just like he point out, anyone arguing with an enviromentalist is automatically a witch who must be burned. That's got to stop, I'm WAY more interested in The Truth than get warm fuzzies from "50 Things I Can Do To Pretend To Be Concerned About The Environment".

Play 囲碁
Exactly ! (none / 0) (#12)
by sien on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 01:44:03 PM EST

That is one of the big problems with any debate about the environment. It's so split on idealogical lines, almost no one is actually interested in thinking about the issue, instead merely justifying their own beliefs.
It's like a number of other issues; missile defence, tax cuts, globalization, the Middle East. That's what I would really like to see on K5, discussion and thought on devisive issues.


[ Parent ]
Witchburning (2.00 / 1) (#14)
by Eloquence on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 02:37:18 PM EST

anyone arguing with an enviromentalist is automatically a witch who must be burned.

I don't think they would burn you. After all, that might only make global warming worse. Can you cite examples?

I'm WAY more interested in The Truth than get warm fuzzies

Isn't it the "everything's okay, la la la" attitude that is far more likely to give you warm fuzzies?
--
Copyright law is bad: infoAnarchy Pleasure is good: Origins of Violence
spread the word!
[ Parent ]

Sure thing (4.00 / 1) (#15)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 02:58:43 PM EST

"Can you cite examples?"

I once asked a fellow student, "Why put a brick in the back of the toilet? The amount of water on Earth isn't decreasing--it's not a scarce resource." (I was semi-wrong about that, but that's not the point here). The student couldn't come up with any reason other than that it was "less wasteful" (of what he couldn't say), but later called me "anti-enviromental". Don't bother giving me the "right answer"--the point here is that merely by questioning his actions I was his foe.

"Isn't it the "everything's okay, la la la" attitude that is far more likely to give you warm fuzzies?"

Not far more likely--exactly as likely, because neither attitude has any mechanism for checking how well the Earth is actually doing. Which is why I hate both extremes. On the right we have those people who ignoring real problems and on the left we have people who are making up non-existent problems. Neither side seems interested in actually checking the facts.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Extremes can be right sometimes (1.50 / 2) (#17)
by Eloquence on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 03:22:16 PM EST

The student couldn't come up with any reason other than that it was "less wasteful" (of what he couldn't say), but later called me "anti-enviromental".

Wow. You're happy you got out of this alive, aren't you? ;-)

Not far more likely--exactly as likely, because neither attitude has any mechanism for checking how well the Earth is actually doing.

Attitudes(=emotions) are separate from the mechanisms used to justify them. Optimally, one is able to separate facts and emotions, but this is an ability that, when not trained in childhood, is hard to acquire later in life. Thus, even when people are intelligent, they often only pick the information which confirms their attitudes. Generally, I think a pro-environmental attitude, even when not backed up with facts, is better than an anti-environmental one, because of its consequences. I'd prefer a New Age gaia freak (not many of those left..) to a right-wing feudalist any day. But of course we should try to train our critical thinking skills to the maximum -- the solution, as you rightly pointed out in your first post, is not necessarily to search a middle ground, but the actual truth.
--
Copyright law is bad: infoAnarchy Pleasure is good: Origins of Violence
spread the word!
[ Parent ]

What consequences? (4.00 / 1) (#25)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 09:15:45 PM EST

"Generally, I think a pro-environmental attitude, even when not backed up with facts, is better than an anti-environmental one, because of its consequences."

But this is exactly my point. Without facts about the actual state of things along with some data about how policies are really affecting that state, there's no way to say which attitude is having better consequences. As the author points out, if pollution is caused not by "technology" in a general sense but *underdeveloped* technology specifically, the solution is MORE, not less development. Which is exactly the opposite of most "New Age gaia freak" viewpoints.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Back to the Trees Ideology (1.50 / 2) (#31)
by Eloquence on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 06:52:39 AM EST

there's no way to say which attitude is having better consequences.

It's quite easy to say that the New Age ideology is having no consequences at all. The Back to the Trees guys are simply ignored. The right-wing ideology, on the other hand, supports current policy, which is harmful.
--
Copyright law is bad: infoAnarchy Pleasure is good: Origins of Violence
spread the word!
[ Parent ]

Consequences (5.00 / 3) (#39)
by acronos on Mon Aug 13, 2001 at 07:05:18 AM EST

It's quite easy to say that the New Age ideology is having no consequences at all. The Back to the Trees guys are simply ignored. The right-wing ideology, on the other hand, supports current policy, which is harmful.

Generally, I think a pro-environmental attitude, even when not backed up with facts, is better than an anti-environmental one, because of its consequences. I'd prefer a New Age gaia freak (not many of those left..) to a right-wing feudalist any day.

Environmentalists are not ignored, they make up a significant part of the population. Your posts illustrate exactly the problem in most environmentalist ideology. They fail to recognize the consequences of their reforms. They see only the consequences for not reforming. Most environmental reforms come at a significant cost. The government's money doesn't grow on trees; nor is it in infinite supply. There is a constant balance between the economist and the environmentalists. It is usually the economists that recognize that there is value in a good environment. It is the environmentalist who fail to recognize the value of a good economy.

Most of the environmentalist statements are designed to shock. They remind me of the Y2k scare. The economists on the other hand say, "this is what it will cost. Are we sure this is worth it?" You might say, "what value can you put on a human life?" This is a typical environmentalist loaded question. It does not really deserve an answer because it is a completely emotional question where anyone who answers logically is vilified. I will answer it with logic anyway. The obvious answer is "the value of a human life is equal to the value of another human life." "The suffering of one human is measured by the suffering of another." To destroy my life to save another is not a good economic decision. It does not net any gain. Neither does ruining my life to make someone elses better. Destroying the developed world to satisfy some perverse need to return to nature is not a good deal. Most of the solutions that I have seen encouraged by environmentalist operate at a significant net loss. They cost more lives than they save. They cost more misery than they save. They cost more money than they are worth. The reason I have very little respect for the environmental movement is that they do not consider the costs. They, like you, fail to see the consequences of their reforms.

[ Parent ]

Keeping the books. (none / 0) (#63)
by gromm on Wed Oct 03, 2001 at 12:36:25 AM EST

Most of the solutions that I have seen encouraged by environmentalist operate at a significant net loss. They cost more lives than they save. They cost more misery than they save. They cost more money than they are worth. The reason I have very little respect for the environmental movement is that they do not consider the costs.

Or perhaps they consider the costs in a different manner, but don't know how to quantify them? Consider the following:
A coal-fired electrical plant in Virginia has scrubbers that remove much of the nastiness that would otherwise come out the stack - as per government regulations and environmentalist pressure. They find that the tarry goop that comes out of the scrubbers is a pain to dump in a landfill, so they develop a way to change the scrubbers to produce a powder instead. Millions of dollars and much effort wasted on environmentalist bullshit, yes? They're selling the powder to a manufacturer of wallboard, who converts the stuff into gypsum. Their landfill is now a stockpile from which they make millions of dollars a year. They had no idea.
An industrial plant lets some of their huge lawn go to seed at the behest of some namby-pamby environmentalist pressure group, who says that it will harbour cute little forest creatures. They save $10,000 a year on the cost of mowing it all. Wow. They hadn't realized they were spending that much on it.
Dow chemical realizes that they don't have to spend so much effort and god-knows-how-much-money trying to convince municipalities that putting a chemical plant in their city is a good thing when they far exceed federal regulations governing the pollution they spew forth.

And those are just a small sampling of the "costs" of being environmentally sound.

What about the costs of being environmentally unsound? Here in that Pinko country of Canada, everyone's health care is paid for by the government. The government is therefore keenly aware of how much it costs to treat illnesses like Asthma, lung disease, heart disease, kidney failures, liver failures and the shakes you get when there's too much mercury in your diet, all courtesy of the Acme Manufacturing Group up the stream. Sure, it might cost Acme Manufacturing a hundred million dollars to make the whole thing cleaner, but it could easily save the government health care system a billion dollars every year. Tax rebates all around.

The interesting thing is that manufacturing companies these days are *much* more willing to work with environmentalists than they used to be. It is not only because they have seen the error in their ways, but there are plenty of cases where the environmentalists have helped them become more efficient in ways the engineers had never thought of in the first place, all while making the government happy and making the world a nicer place. It also helps that the environmentalists have softened a bit too, and have worked with companies to provide cheaper solutions.
Deus ex frigerifero
[ Parent ]

Consequences is the environmentalist error (none / 0) (#61)
by A Trickster Imp on Tue Oct 02, 2001 at 03:39:39 PM EST

> Generally, I think a pro-environmental attitude,
> even when not backed up with facts, is better than
> an anti-environmental one, because of its
> consequences.

And therein lies the problem. In general, the environmental consequences are no way near as bad as the massive governmental regulation.

You have a bunch of clustered factories that belch smoke such that people in the street have to wear face masks? Ok, that's fine. That is dealt with. It does hurt the economy, but it's a conscious decision that is made with full knowledge.

It's when massive environmental problems are claimed, and on top of that, that the problems will cause disasterous results for humanity, that you run into problems. This Skeptic book attacks the former, Julian Simon attacked the latter.



[ Parent ]
What is being wasted (4.00 / 1) (#21)
by fluffy grue on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 06:13:41 PM EST

Although water is not scarce, fresh water is. Turning non-fresh water into fresh water takes energy, as does pumping the fresh water to begin with. Toilets use fresh water (when they really don't need to), and therefore energy.

That said, the amount wastedis fairly minute, and worrying about it is like worrying about recycling glass. (Glass is definitely not scarce - it's molten sand, and there's plenty of sand available. The only thing that not recycling glass wastes is landfill space, and that's not really as scarce as the extremist environmentalists would have you believe either.)

I remember reading (a long time ago) about a system which was being tested out which would store up relatively-clean wastewater (from sinks, showers, etc.) and use that for toilets. Nothing ever came of it though, at least as far as I'm aware. I'd imagine that putting it to use would be far more trouble than it's worth, anyway.
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Local maxima vs. global maxima (3.00 / 1) (#30)
by aphrael on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 03:00:39 AM EST

OK, sure, the total amount of water on the planet isn't decreasing. And the total amount of *fresh* water probably isn't, either.

But that misses the point, to a certain extent. A lot of people live in areas which have serious *localized* water shortages. Most of the water for LA has to be brought in from hundreds of miles away, as does most of the water for phoenix. Southern Oregon and north-eastern California are seriously parched at the moment and there is nasty fighting between the farmers, who want more water, and the preservationists, who want the bald eagle reserve to get more water. Most of the middle east has serious water shortages, as well.

Conserving water in areas where water is a limited resource *locally* makes sense.

[ Parent ]

Purifying fresh water also costs (3.00 / 1) (#35)
by Trepalium on Sun Aug 12, 2001 at 05:36:41 AM EST

We may not have a tremendous shortage of fresh water either, but it does cost to purify that water of harmful materials that may be normally present in a lake or river. Chlorinating and adding flouride to the water also costs. Then there's the costs of the sewers -- they're not infinite, and everything that goes down the drain has to end up somewhere.

These may not be environmentalist arguments, but they do economically make sense as far as I'm concerned.

[ Parent ]

burning witches. (none / 0) (#62)
by gromm on Tue Oct 02, 2001 at 09:30:42 PM EST

anyone arguing with an enviromentalist is automatically a witch who must be burned.

I don't think they would burn you. After all, that might only make global warming worse. Can you cite examples?

Well, I for one once (in my more impetuous days) argued with a whole group of environmentalists that aerosols released by humans are a drop in the bucket compared to those released by nature in the form of volcanic eruptions, and that a hole in the ozone layer therefore isn't necessarily caused by human activity. I also argued that since we also produce ozone in equal or greater amounts than we produce the aerosols that damages it, it would be a natural assumption that our effect on said ozone is nil.

They burned me at the stake for that. The flames that ensued were quite amusing to read, since it had little or nothing to do with rational thought, and more to do with name-calling and personal insults. You know, standard flame fare.

Interestingly enough though, I read an article awhile ago (damn... I can't find it now) about how corporations are getting an unexpected return on their environmental do-goodery. One of them was how one company switched to compressed nitrogen from some CFC or another and saved a big wad of cash as a result.

So while entirely too many environmentalists are nitwit sheep who just follow the environmentalists in front of them, they're not *all* bad, and occasionally get something right. Personally I wish they wouldn't burn their witches though - it makes them look bad.
Deus ex frigerifero
[ Parent ]

What's the point? (3.77 / 9) (#13)
by Eloquence on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 02:15:36 PM EST

The book is not yet published in English. I have done a broad Google search (his first name is actually spelled Bjørn) but found hardly any discussion of his work in English, aside from the expectable enthusiastic announcements by conservative think tanks and propaganda groups ("a forthcoming masterpiece!"). The two articles you link to are mostly PR for the book, the one in the Economist is written by Lomborg himself. Given the complexity of the issues at hand, one should wait for the scientific community to react to the book before jumping to any conclusions.

Now, regarding some of the claims Lomborg makes, the argument technique reminds me of historical revisionists. One common strategy in revisionism is to pick a claim that is no longer seriously argued by many and to then refute it vigorously in order to discredit traditional science. Population growth is obviously not infinite and bound to slow down at some point one way or the other. Yes, many prognoses from the sixties and seventies were completely off the mark, mostly because they failed to take technological development into account. But environmental researchers don't dogmatically cling to such false, refuted studies. An Austrian demographic study from this month, published in Nature, is even lower in its estimates (8.4B in 2100) than Lomborg.

Lomborg also argues that less people are starving -- unfortunately, he only uses relative numbers, and no graph either. In 1990, according to the UN, around 18 million people died of hunger. Now certainly this number may have relatively been reduced compared to the fifties and sixties, but at the same time, the population has grown significantly, so the absolute numbers may even be higher. I can't tell without the stats, and the fact that Lomborg doesn't give them to me irritates me. On the basis of the numbers I have, to argue that people are overly alarmist when we're dealing with millions of children dying per year (I don't say children because it's more emotional but because most of those who starve are children) seems irresponsible to me, given the lack of action to remedy the situation.

Lomborg's "The price of a life" table is dubious, since it depends on so many different data points (population density, risk of damage, cost of individual and complete installation / installation frequency, cost reduction through mass production etc. etc.) which can easily be manipulated. If anyone locates the source article online (and knows who has paid for its production), let me know. In any case, Lomborg's Economist article is short of exact sources, so I can't verify most of his claims. All this together leads me to the conclusion that it's best to wait for the book to come out, but of course right wingers are already instrumentalizing his work even before it's been published in English. One thing is already certain, Lomborg's work is going to be cited as an argument against government-mandated environmentalism for years to come, even if that is not what Lomborg intended.
--
Copyright law is bad: infoAnarchy Pleasure is good: Origins of Violence
spread the word!

A great example of arguing from idealism (4.00 / 3) (#16)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 03:14:37 PM EST

"...to argue that people are overly alarmist when we're dealing with millions of children dying per year...seems irresponsible to me, given the lack of action to remedy the situation."

See, this is a perfect example of what I'll call the Argument From Idealism: Omigod! People are dying! Quick! Act! It doesn't matter how!!

Lomborg is not advocating a lack of alarmism towards the death of the people. He's advocating a lack of alarmism towards the alleged cause. Imagine that world hunger was instead a photocopier that wasn't working. One of your coworkers is going around convincing everyone that the problem is that the electricity has gone out. "Send a $10 million check to the electric company or we'll all freeze to death come wintertime" goes the cry. But when you turn on the switch, the overhead lights go on. When you bring this up, someone says to you "we're losing money because we can't make copies, it's irresponsible to argue that we are being alarmist". But maybe the real solution lies with the copier itself and the $10 million dollars could be saved...

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
I think you're wrong in assuming .. (3.00 / 2) (#18)
by Eloquence on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 03:32:12 PM EST

.. that people want quick solutions without analyzing the causes. Omigod! People are dying! Quick! Act! is certainly a reaction that is justified, and it shows our compassion as human beings. It doesn't matter how! is a typical accusation by the right wing, which calls for "sound science" while deliberately spending millions of dollars to discredit the existing science and to create propaganda. Sure, the cause may be different than is generally expected -- then let's talk about how else we can fix the problem, environmentalists and politicians will be all ears. As long as discrediting activism is not used as a tool to justify ignorance towards real and urgent problems, I have no problem with critical counter-analysis. But we'll have to wait for the actual book to come out in order to determine whether it is FUD or "sound science".
--
Copyright law is bad: infoAnarchy Pleasure is good: Origins of Violence
spread the word!
[ Parent ]
Certain amount of sense (none / 0) (#56)
by weirdling on Mon Sep 10, 2001 at 05:18:03 PM EST

However, please refrain from the 'someone funded a study so it must be wrong' rhetoric, as it is simply false in this case and clearly fallacious in most cases, and I have not been paid to say so.

Just to quote the page you quoted:

The world's scientists are nearly unanimous that the world's climate is suffering damage from burning oil, coal and gasoline. This sentiment is echoed by the US National Academy of Sciences as well as the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - a working group of 2,500 climate experts sponsored by the United Nations.

The world's scientists aren't anywhere near unanimous in this conclusion; actually, the ones asserting that anthropogenic climate change is extant are in the *minority*.

Here is a news release showing that 15 000 scientists, many of them even experts in the field of climatology, as compares to the IPCC, have signed in protest to the Kyoto treaty.

In short, here we have the greenies making an egregiously false statement as the opening salvo of a propaganda attack. I daresay that if the research the article denigrates were this fraudulent, the article would not have to resort to attacking it simply because it is funded by those with vested interest. Instead, it would be easy to defeat them on the issues.

When watching a debate, it is often the one who resorts to personal attacks first that has the weakest position...


I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
[ Parent ]

Doesn't seem the right analogy at all. (none / 0) (#20)
by Rainy on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 04:45:05 PM EST

Consider, the poster you're replying to didn't say *what* needs to be done. He didn't say 10 trillion has to be sent to whoever. He simply said, it's obvious that not *enough* is being done, as millions of children are dying this year as they have died year before and before and so on. It's an "alarm situation". It calls for alarmist reaction.
--
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
[ Parent ]
It's not an alarm (none / 0) (#55)
by weirdling on Mon Sep 10, 2001 at 05:10:16 PM EST

Millions of children have been dying for millions of years. Ok, forgive the hyperbole, but, please, keep this in perspective. People sound like 'ohmygod, I just woke up this morning and eighteen million children died last year', totally forgetting that twenty million died the year before, and fifteen the year before that, etc. Please note, I have no statistics; I'm making my point.

This isn't a new idea, and it isn't going away in the near future. Most of these children are dying because of idiotic policies enacted by their countries or the refusal of their parents to accept even the most common-sense changes in personal life. Please don't cry me a river of tears over this. The majority of the world's starving deserve it.

Is it a tragedy? Yes. Is it my fault? Certainly not. Am I going to lift a finger to do anything about it? Not a chance. Why should I save these children when that will only cause worse over-population? Why not let them suffer the consequences of their actions, which is the only way they'll learn...

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
[ Parent ]
Jumping to Conclusions (4.00 / 2) (#22)
by Simon Kinahan on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 07:05:42 PM EST

While I quite agree with you about jumping to conclusions about an unpublished book, there is no better reason to jump to negative conclusions than positive ones. I'm not sure why we need to rely on "the scientific community" to judge the results (the bias of, for instance, "New Scientist" makes it overwhelmingly unlikely to treat the book positively). It is surely possible for reasonably intelligent people to reach their own conclusions. If Lomborg's arguments are ultimately similar to Julian Simon's, they're actually likely to be well founded, from what I've seen (though judging by your comment above, you've probably dismissed Simon out of hand already because he was lately a member of a "conservative think tank").

Now, regarding some of the claims Lomborg makes, the argument technique reminds me of historical revisionists. One common strategy in revisionism is to pick a claim that is no longer seriously argued by many and to then refute it vigorously in order to discredit traditional science.

I have to say I find this offensive. I appreciate thats not a very constructive comment, but holocaust deniers (call them what they are) are either deluded or amongst the most loathsome people on the face of the earth, and prey on people's vulnerability to "reasonable seeming" arguments. Comparing people whose good faith and sanity you have no good reason to doubt to such scum is not something I would do lightly.

On the substantive aspect of what you say: I don't recognise the tactic either from "revisionist" literature (which usually relies on the "big lie" technique) or from Lomborg's short economist article (which is all I've read, like you). All the four fears in the evironmentalist "litany" he criticises are still claimed at the very least in the mass media and by some environmentalist campaign groups, even if they are no longer or never have been claimed by independent and qualified scientists. Its worth attacking them even if only because many people still believe them. I've argued all of these points at different times with people I consider well educated and it seems that the impending doom of our civilisation has become an article of faith for many of them.

On the basis of the numbers I have, to argue that people are overly alarmist when we're dealing with millions of children dying per year (I don't say children because it's more emotional but because most of those who starve are children) seems irresponsible to me, given the lack of action to remedy the situation.

If the figures Lomborg gives are anything to go by, things have been done to remedy the situation, even if you discount the actions of the international aid agencies, which I see no reason to do. If the situation is improving (and I suggest since we have no better ones we give Lomborg's statistics the benefit of the doubt), surely alarmist is just exactly what you're being when you empahsise "millions of children dying". Its a phrase designed to get a "we must do something !" response, regardless of whether what is being advocated is rational. Lomborg's point appears to be precisely that: much of what is being advocated by environmentalists is not rational.

If you're seriously interested in what Lomborg's book is likely to contain, you could do worse that check out the late Julian Simon's work. If you can get over the fact that in recent times he was a fellow of the Cato institute (for which I probably have even less love than you do), you'll find his arguments are usually sound.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]

You will be assimilated (3.00 / 4) (#24)
by Eloquence on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 09:02:59 PM EST

I'm not sure why we need to rely on "the scientific community" to judge the results

Oh yes, I forgot that the scientific community is part of a huge international environmentalist conspiracy that deludes people into believing polluting our environment might actually damage it. Sorry.

It is surely possible for reasonably intelligent people to reach their own conclusions.

Obviously anyone who does not think he has the background knowledge to, all alone, evaluate the truthfulness of a book by a professional statistician, which mainly presents statistics, with ~3000 footnotes (most of which would have to be verified in detail), on a highly controversial subject, which is permanently covered with propaganda, anyone who could not evaluate such a book surely cannot be a reasonable person.</tired sarcasm>

"Understanding" in this case can, of course, only mean supporting the author's position, since agreement does not require explanation.

Realistically, if I had the time, I could probably verify and, if necessary, debunk a few select claims of Lomborg. I would probably come to a conclusion based on this whether I trust the author or not. But realistically, if someone disagreed with me, I could not convince him, because I would have to leave the majority of the claims unverified, and on the points where I argued, my lack of scientific authority would be held against me. Realistically, your argument boils down to "ignore science, just believe". I am a great believer in intellectual independence and individual understanding -- I also believe in cooperating to find the truth. The scientific community is a peer-to-peer network with metadata, ratings and reputations, something we are trying to build on the technological level now. Using its collective intelligence to our advantage can only benefit our knowledge.

"If we don't improve our ability to deal collectively with complex things, as the problems grow more urgent, we're in trouble." - Douglas Engelbart, emphasis mine.

I have to say I find this offensive.

I did not refer to the nazi revisionists, as you suggest. There is a reason I wrote historical revisionism and it is not political correctness. A revisionist might very well argue that communism wasn't so bad because the commies didn't do many things that the western propaganda accused them of doing (".. polluting our precious bodily fluids .."). There are countless different brands of historical revisionism, and they all use this technique. One example from the nazi camp, since you mentioned them, is the "Jews turned into soap" myth, often refuted in detail, which has long been accepted as false. Another is the "4 million never died in Auschwitz", which is also no longer claimed by anyone. If you want to see creationists as historical revisionists, they tend to point out flaws in early evolutionist science, usually hinting that the same beliefs are still being held.

The technique is as simple as it is dangerous. It appeals to natural human instincts: Instead of learning from mistakes, mistakes are used to argue for inaction and a slow change of opinion. Then critical thought can be replaced with dogma that may not be questioned. Simon, I would like to know one thing: What evidence would be acceptable for you to justify international multi-billion-dollar programs for environmental protection?

All the four fears in the evironmentalist "litany" he criticises are still claimed at the very least in the mass media and by some environmentalist campaign groups,

And they all are true to different degrees. Some are not as true as some people feared some time ago, especially the natural resources depletion. Population growth remains a huge problem in countries of big economic inequality, so does species extinction (if you want, I will write something about Lomborg's arguments in his article). Different kinds of sorts of pollutions cause different problems, some have been reduced, some have increased, but certainly the situation is not as bad as it was in the 19th century industrial cities when people died in scores from the different byproducts of the industrial revolution. Try to come up with some recent outrageous claims from major environmentalist organizations or the mass media to back up your claim about their hysteria, please.

If the figures Lomborg gives are anything to go by, things have been done to remedy the situation,

Obviously. And if my numbers are anything to go by, obviously too little has been done. These statements do not contradict each other. Agree?

If the situation is improving (and I suggest since we have no better ones we give Lomborg's statistics the benefit of the doubt)

No, that would be irrational. The doubt comes not from assumed falsehood but factual incompleteness.

surely alarmist is just exactly what you're being when you empahsise "millions of children dying".

Alarmist in a positive, completely rational sense, even if the numbers were improving significantly. If you think that millions of children dying is nothing to be alarmed about, you should not expect others to be sympathetic to your apathy.
--
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spread the word!
[ Parent ]

Activism (5.00 / 1) (#32)
by Simon Kinahan on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 04:01:05 PM EST

Oh yes, I forgot that the scientific community is part of a huge international environmentalist conspiracy that deludes people into believing polluting our environment might actually damage it. Sorry.

Now, come on. Where did I say that ? As you point out, this area is filled with propoganda from every side. Views presented as those of "the scientific community" often turn out to be one sided. The scientific press - especially the news magazine like "New Scientist" - is at least as prone to fashionable errors as the mainstream press, and at least last time I checked they tended to take a deeply environmentalist stance.

If, by the views of the scientific community you mean scientific writing by those prepared to tackel Lomborg's actual arguments, whatever they may be, we don't disagree. I also look forward to seeing such publications if they appear. Reading such things is an important part of forming your own opinions. I don't, however, seriously expect a consensus to emerge.

Obviously anyone who does not think he has the background knowledge to, all alone, evaluate the truthfulness of a book by a professional statistician, which mainly presents statistics, with ~3000 footnotes

Sorry, I obviously did not make myself clear enough. It all depends on just how thorough you want to be, but I usually rely, on a controversial subject like this, on the other side to come up with serious competing arguments if there are any. I read both views and compare. If there seems to be a serious disagreement on facts, I look for the original sources and try to interpret them myself. Looking at what you've written, possibly you agree in fact ?

However, its surprising how rare it is - except in extreme cases like holocaust revisionists - for there to be serious disagreement about raw facts, and therefore I don't see the task of assessing work like Lomborg's as nearly as daunting as you seem to. Most especially on economic and environmental matters, disagreements are not about facts but about their relative importance. That is to say, most such disagreements are really about values.

If you look, for instance, at what you and I have written on this subject, we do not appear to disagree on the facts in any very significant manner, but you want to take a much more activist approach on a number of fronts than I do.

Just to make it clear, I am absolutely and passionately opposed to "just believing" anything.

"If we don't improve our ability to deal collectively with complex things, as the problems grow more urgent, we're in trouble." - Douglas Engelbart, emphasis mine.

On one level, thats a nice quote, though I wish I knew just what he had in mind when he said it. On another level, the word "collectively" worries me, not because I'm opposed to the idea of tackling things collectively, but because what people often have in mind is the micro-management of things on a centralised "command and control" basis. Not only is that coercive, but its all often inefficient and ineffective. Its also, very often a way of avoiding the need for real consensus before taking action.

What I much prefer to see is schemes that rely on people's own understanding and initiative and where necessary complement that with appropriate incentives. To take Kyoto as an example again, I believe the EU did the whole thing a great deal of harm through its opposition to emissions trading. This is not an ideological preference, its just than in my experience administrative bureaucracies rarely work well, and it seems preferably to avoid them just for that reason.

Simon, I would like to know one thing: What evidence would be acceptable for you to justify international multi-billion-dollar programs for environmental protection?

Thats a very interesting question. It depends on what would be lost through putting those protections into action, and in turn how certain we are about those losses. I've no problem with money being spent (presumably you mean by governments ?) in itself, but I am concerned about effects on ongoing human activity.

In a case where all thats needed is to shift people's buying patterns between two near-equivalent goods, using a tax break or a subsidy - such as lead free or low-sulpher fuel and the regular stuff, or from CFC-based aerosols to ones powered by a hand-pump, or perhaps even between petrol and biogenic alcohol as fuels, then not much, as long as there is no serious likelihood the alternative might be worse in some way (for instance many non-CFC aerosols contain other polutants).

At the other end of the scale, to accept the kind of economic losses that would be required to cut CO2 emissions by enough to have a serious impact on warming according to current models (that is, by much more than Kyoto levels), I'd need clinmate scientists to be prepared to express much more certainty than I have seen them do.

Let me turn the question round: what kind of programs do you envisage being necessary, and what level of evidence do you see as necessary to put them into effect ?

Obviously. And if my numbers are anything to go by, obviously too little has been done. These statements do not contradict each other. Agree?

Kind of. Its not clear to me that anything more could, practically, be done without incurring worse losses elsewhere. However, with that proviso, I do agree.

If the situation is improving (and I suggest since we have no better ones we give Lomborg's statistics the benefit of the doubt)

No, that would be irrational. The doubt comes not from assumed falsehood but factual incompleteness.

I don't understand, I'm afraid. I don't see how the figures given are incomplete, except that no direct reference is given to the source from which they were taken, and this we don't know how they were calculated. I don't see how this is a basis for rejecting them as "OK until something better comes along, or we have a good reason to reject them". Care to explain ?

Alarmist in a positive, completely rational sense, even if the numbers were improving significantly. If you think that millions of children dying is nothing to be alarmed about, you should not expect others to be sympathetic to your apathy.

I'm not apathetic. Were I a god, you could be sure there would be a complete absence of dieing children. As it is, I do what I can with my own resources to help were I believe I can.

What I disagree with you about, as I think I said above, is action without very careful consideration beforehand. Deaths from starvation are almost exclusively due to wars, and where they are not they are usually because of bad governance, not an absolute shortage of food. Its worth noting that there has never been a famine in a functioning democracy, and in particular the case of India is interesting in this respect. The usual action taken over famines is flying food around the world, and I really do doubt the effectiveness of that, for just these reasons.

What do you suggest doing ?

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]

Evidence of harm (none / 0) (#60)
by A Trickster Imp on Tue Oct 02, 2001 at 03:20:47 PM EST

> What evidence would be acceptable for you to
> justify international multi-billion-dollar
> programs for environmental protection?

Evidence that the destruction leaves humans with a poorer quality life than without? Remember that the destruction fosters a much more powerful economy, and the point of Julian Simon is that, contrary to common sense, you do end up better off. More stuff, which makes it cheaper, even in the face of increased demand. More advanced technology that betters life, year after year, in a slow but evergoing incremental crawl, and it adds up, outstripping any "savings" of quality of life by environmental preservation. It's truly a recognition of penny wise, pound foolish.





[ Parent ]
And also, the converse of refuting dead claims... (2.00 / 1) (#34)
by elenchos on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 08:11:34 PM EST

...is pretending that one agreed all along with assertions that have been proven true. I think this is the case with the "cost of saving a life" chart, among other things, like existing controls on lead emmissions. Some pollution controls are seen as acceptable and some safety measures, like seat belts, are presented as cost-effective, in order to contrast them against supposedly extravagent expenditures on things like nuclear plant emmissions, or limiting greenhouse gases. Now that they have been adopted and proven effective, Lomborg wants to act like reasonable and dispassionate people would have supported thsem all along. This is not the case.

These same industry apologists made exactly the same arguments against seatbelts and against even the least onerous pollution controls back when they were first proposed. Read some of the 1960's or 70's attacks on Ralph Nader in Road & Track for the dire predictions of the death of the auto industry because of safety and fuel economy regulations. You can take any of the most commonsense safety or environmental standards and find hordes of guys like Lomborg predicting that if we adopt 5mph bumpers or mandatory seatbelts, the sky will fall. And the corporate press of the time, Time and all the rest, fall right into line.

The reason Lomborg supposely has credibility is that he is a scientist and a former green. Without seeing his book, we have nothing else to go on, except these rather transparent rhetorical tricks that we find in the Economist article.

None of this bodes well for his credibility.

Hey! Read this. That is all.
[ Parent ]

Hang on a sec, there (3.00 / 1) (#36)
by Simon Kinahan on Sun Aug 12, 2001 at 08:59:07 AM EST

Let me try to summarise your argument for you:

1. Lomborg presents the cost per life saved of seatbelts as reasonable, and that of some other safety measures as much greater.

2. Someone somewhere once made a similar argument against safety and efficiency measures for automobiles.

3. Because he's making an argument that is similar in form, although it is not the same argument, Lomborg is one of the "horde of guys" who do this.

4. Since he's one of that "horde of guys", its hypocritical for him now to accept that seatbelts are a relatively economical safety measure. This is a "transparent rhetorical trick", apparently, that bodes ill for his credibility.

Spot the problem: Lomborg himself never made any argument that seatbelts were uneconomical. A cynical mind might suppose you're using a rather shabby rhetorical trick yourself to associate someone with no track record with those evil dishonest "industry apologists"

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
Yes indeed. (none / 0) (#38)
by elenchos on Sun Aug 12, 2001 at 08:18:49 PM EST

I wonder how Lomborg would feel being treated this way? So if we agree that this is a shabby trick, then we should toss it out. After we do so, how much of Lomborg's argument is left? And how much of his credibility?

And, it is not a trick to be reminded that seatbelts and controlling lead emissions were, back when they were first proposed, said by industry to cost tens of thousands, millions, of dollars for each life saved. It is worth remembering that the docile "scientists" of industry are capable of saying just about anything, and so these extravagent numbers Lombord gives must not be taken at face value, but must be scrutinized very closely.

We can't do that in this case. All we can do is trust Lomborg based on how much credibility he has established. And how much is that?

Hey! Read this. That is all.
[ Parent ]

K5 Trolling How-to (1.10 / 10) (#19)
by agent on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 04:22:10 PM EST

Finally, a case-study for the effectiveness of the K5 trolling how-to. I'm sure it will be updated to show this PERFECT example of almost every point contained therein. The only thing its missing is 'I had this posted as a diary and so-and-so said I should submit it.' -=Agent=-
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What? (4.00 / 2) (#23)
by A Dapper M on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 08:17:46 PM EST

Finally, a case-study for the effectiveness of the K5 trolling how-to.

You mean your comment, not the story, right? >:P

Your comment has all the hallmarks of a troll (doesn't back up its claims, makes sweeping statements, includes phrase 'I had this posted as a diary and so-and-so said I should submit it.' ;)

If you honestly feel this story is a troll, explain why dangit!

"I sought only myself." - Heraclitus


[ Parent ]
I apologize... (4.00 / 3) (#26)
by agent on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 10:57:18 PM EST

I apologize for the above remark... it didn't add anything constructive to the thread and I didn't back up anything in it. Basically, I had just read the K5TrollHow-to yesterday and this submission seemed to remind me of a lot of the points.
1. Primarily, it seemed to hit this nail on the head: [from the K5 Trolling How-to]

The environment
In many ways this ties in with politics and the US versus the EU, but environmentalism is something which gets kurobots worked up on both sides of the argument. It's also a great chance to drop some fancy statistics into the mix, as well as dubious scientific theories to support your position.
[end quote]

2. The introduction seemed to remind me of the exhortation of the how-to to write a captivating introduction... the Danish connection to me seemed far-fetched.

3. The fact that the author of the book wrote one of the 'reviews' linked to in the submission (fallacy).

4. The book's lack of an English translation.

So, in any case, even if it was a troll I shouldn't have posted what I did... it wasn't an addition to the conversation, more an observation that the submission seemed to fit the 'troll' mold somewhat.
--
ROT13 my email address to contact me
AIM: TheAgen7
[ Parent ]
can't win (3.63 / 11) (#27)
by anonymous cowerd on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 12:41:56 AM EST

It's pretty clear that the purpose of this article, and probably the purpose of Mr. Lomborg's book as well, is to present a political argument against government regulation of pollution.

OK, I haven't read the book (it's in Danish) but if I get the gist of this what you're trying to say is, here's a guy with a fairly solid argument that the ongoing man-made ecological degradation of the biosphere has been not just stopped but even reversed. I don't know about the world as a whole but at least in some spots the argument seems plausible. To offer one real-world example, four decades back when I was a kid in Cleveland, up at the effluent end of the Cuyahoga River, Lake Erie was a deadly cesspool of stinking toxic sludge. Whereas today (so I am told) the surface of the Cuyahoga does not periodically catch aflame like it used to do, and sportsmen out upon the lake catch fish - imagine that, living fish in Lake Erie! will wonders never cease! - close off shore, and what's more they cook and eat them and don't keel over poisoned! So things are looking up. But why, pray tell, did that happen? Gee, could it have something to do with the last several decades of concerted political effort by environmentalists worldwide? Could it be that the Cuyahoga isn't an open industrial sewer precisely because those "environmental wackos" coerced Congress to pass laws disallowing the ejaculation of raw, untreated chemical factory wastes via clay pipes through the seawall directly into the flow? And was this legislation not enacted over non-stop and still-continuing resistance by nearly every large corporation in the country?

So, let's assume the best-case where Dr. Lomborg's data aren't picked-and-chosen, selectively warped, or simply fabricated, to reach the politically desired scientific conclusion, and that he is 100% correct about how environmentally speaking things are not getting worse but better. So now that environmentalists have succeeded, despite decades of the bitterest and most richly-funded opposition by the manufacturers and stockholders, in saving the entire globe from turning into an unlivable garbage dump, the fact that things aren't continuing to get worse and worse is trotted out as proof that environmentalists are a bunch of Chicken Littles, basically a pack of Luddite jerks who should henceforth be derided and ignored. And that fact in turn implies that the anti-environmentalists should be allowed to proceed with their ongoing campaign to roll back the very laws which are surely responsible for that improvement! Well, I guess you're fucked if you fail and you're fucked if you succeed, too.

A couple stylistic quibbles about the article itself.

It will probably comes as a surprise to you that a book like The Sceptical Environmentalist could be written by a Dane...

Yeah, it sure surprised me. I've always been confident all Danes were entirely in lock-step when it came to political issues. I mean, you know what conventional conformists those Danes are! Oh gosh, an awful thought just occurred to me; don't tell me next it's untrue that all Nordic women are tall, buxom and blonde! another favorite fantasy shattered... After all, each us USians do think exactly alike; with the exception of those contentious (and fortunately out-voted) minority types, we're all starchy middle-class SUV-driving bourgeois Republicans, addicted to professional sports, conspicuous consumption of consumer goods, and TV-watching. Come to think of it, given our perfect unanimity of opinion, it really doesn't make sense for us to waste precious tax dollars on elections any more. Let's economize by letting some wise judicious sort, say hmm who? how about Antonin Scalia, select all our presidents from now on!

...I urge you to at least read the book, before you comment on the validity of Bjorn's claims.

You do understand that K5, though is isn't quite as fast-paced as some weblogs, is a site where the news articles have only a short active lifetime. So even for the author's next-door neighbor up there in cool and pleasant Denmark, what he's saying is "you have to buy and read a complex voluminous text (3000 footnotes!) before I will accept any criticism from you!", but of course by the time he gets that done this article will surely have scrolled off to archive heaven. For me it's worse; I'm sure it would take years before I could master Danish well enough to read a book that big! No, I won't read the book before commenting, sorry.

Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

The one thing that really disturbs me about America is that people don't like to read. - Keith Richards

Who are you criticising (4.00 / 1) (#37)
by Simon Kinahan on Sun Aug 12, 2001 at 11:08:57 AM EST

Have you actually read the Economist article referenced from the story ? Your comment looks as if you're arguing with someone completely different from Mr Lomborg.

I think (or at least hope) that if you have reasd it, you are reading more into Lomborg's short article than he actually intends. He says several times that he favours environmental management based on sound science, not no management at all. While it surely is the case that certain elements will pick up on the book and try to use it to disrupt any and all environmental causes, that should not be taken as a criticism of the thing itself.

In fact very little of the article is about pollution (one paragraph, about London), the issue that seems to concern you most. I think you also misunderstand when you say he's using environmental acheivements due to lawmaking as an argument for roling back those laws. To the extent he mentions pollution at all he's actually arguing firstly that the greatest force against pollution is economic development itself (history appears to support this), and that many laws (this is where London comes in) intended to compell cleaning up pollution actually only rode the existed trend towards less polluting industries.

Incidentally, the book comes out in English in the UK in September. If you fancy actually findinng out what you're arguing with before you try to trash it, you can preorder it from amazon.co.uk, or I imagine, and other online UK bookseller.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
taking things at face value (1.00 / 1) (#52)
by streetlawyer on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 05:46:06 AM EST

My god, what a piece of work that article is. Does the Economist seriously expect us to take at face value a statement like "For London [..] the air is cleaner than it has been since 1585", based on a chart of sulphur dioxide levels which goes back to a time when sulphur was called brimstone and was widely believed to have the power to transmute lead to gold? In the context of an article whose entire point is one of questioning statistics rather than taking them at their word, it's ludicrous.

And you've got a couple of whoppers of your own in saying:

To the extent he mentions pollution at all he's actually arguing firstly that the greatest force against pollution is economic development itself (history appears to support this),

Only if you for some reason think that only economic development in First World countries since the war counts as economic development.

and that many laws (this is where London comes in) intended to compell cleaning up pollution actually only rode the existed trend towards less polluting industries

This is quite simply not true, unless you think that the Factory Acts of 1802-67 simply rode a trend which didn't start until 1890

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Can't win? Perhaps, but you *can* play smarter (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by dduck on Sun Aug 19, 2001 at 07:59:12 PM EST

It's pretty clear that the purpose of this article, and probably the purpose of dr. Lomborg's book as well, is to present a political argument against government regulation of pollution.

Actually the way I read the article - and the book - dr. Lomborg's political agenda is not to deregulate everything mindlessly, but instead to use our resources intelligently. His point is not that we should just relax and let the invisible magic hand of the free market handle the environment - his point is, that alarmist tactics has harmed the environment... by focusing attention on the wrong problems, in the sense that the same amount of resources could be used to save a larger (or more vital) part of the environment.

In other words, he's much more likely to favour Gore than Bush.

But why, pray tell, did that happen? Gee, could it have something to do with the last several decades of concerted political effort by environmentalists worldwide? Could it be that the Cuyahoga isn't an open industrial sewer precisely because those "environmental wackos" coerced Congress to pass laws disallowing the ejaculation of raw, untreated chemical factory wastes via clay pipes through the seawall directly into the flow? And was this legislation not enacted over non-stop and still-continuing resistance by nearly every large corporation in the country?

Please! I think you are being unfair here, as well as deliberately inflaming in your choice of words and subjects.

I have so far been unable to find any evidence that dr. Lomborg denies the necessity of acting to keep polution levels down, or cleaning up severly poluted areas. Quite the contrary! Why is it that he can't make a case for a better use of resources in the cause of preserving the environment, without being cast as a rabid anti-environmelist?

Obviously you are not familiar with the current eco-political climate in Europe, much less Denmark. There is currently a "zero-tolerence" policy in place, accompanied by a reversal of the normal "innocent until proven guilty" rules you'd expect in any kind of trial, even the courtroom of public opinion. In other words there are laws demanding that certain resources - such as drinking water - should be 100% clean, and that any "contamination" is presumed lethal unless proven diffent. This is obviously nonsense, as nothing in the real world is 100% clean. THIS is the principle that mr. Lomborg is trying to expose as a waste of resources, and an unatainable goal. In his words: If you look close enough, there is no such thing as a clean plate - there is only a reasonable amount of time and/or effort you want to spend cleaning it.

It will probably comes as a surprise to you that a book like The Sceptical Environmentalist could be written by a Dane...

Yeah, it sure surprised me. I've always been confident all Danes were entirely in lock-step when it came to political issues. I mean, you know what conventional conformists those Danes are!

:) First of all: Please allow as me a writer some stylistic freedom with regards to presentation and hooking the story. This was an obvious hook... and also (intentionally and deliberatly) truly a false one, as the story itself proves. I - the author of the original K5 story here - am Danish, and I'm certaintly fed up with the normal presentation in foerign media of my country as either:
The Fairy-Tale Country of Hans Christian Anderson (who - by the way - was called AnderSEN)
The Internaional Political and Ecological Boy-Scouts, Saviours of the Jews, They of the King who Wore the Star of David (the last of which is a myth BTW, and thoroughly debunked).
The Home of Pornography, Haven for Gay Persons Around the Globe, which Overflows with Tall Blondes (this at least has some truth to it...)

Actually, out country, though small, is quite a lot more complex (and complicated) than that, which mr. Lomborgs book (and mr. Lomborg himself) is proof of. The real world - at least in this case - is just not soundbite-friendly ;)

We do however have an abundance of pretty woman, compared to most other countries I have visited, but that is a personal and subjective opinion. But if your taste runs to tall, statuesque blondes, you should really visit Norway or Sweeden, as we have quite a lot more variety with regards to type and looks here.

...I urge you to at least read the book, before you comment on the validity of Bjorn's claims.

You do understand that K5, though is isn't quite as fast-paced as some weblogs, is a site where the news articles have only a short active lifetime. So even for the author's next-door neighbor up there in cool and pleasant Denmark, what he's saying is "you have to buy and read a complex voluminous text (3000 footnotes!) before I will accept any criticism from you!", but of course by the time he gets that done this article will surely have scrolled off to archive heaven. For me it's worse; I'm sure it would take years before I could master Danish well enough to read a book that big! No, I won't read the book before commenting, sorry.

First of all, I'm certaintly not personally acquainted with dr. Lomborg, although I have been at a debate and bellieve he would be pleasant company. Second Denmark is far from cool, albeit pleasant, as the temperature just peaked at 33 degrees celcius this week. Third, the book was just about to be published in English at the time I posted the article, and has now - just a few days later - been released for general comsumption.

Fourth, my primary reason for posting this article was - as you can plainly see from the text - to preemt exactly the kind of arguments you have brought to the forum. I know from bitter experience that this book provokes the worst kind of knee-jerk reactions, ie. name calling and denouncement from hard-core environmentalists and praise and calls for total deregulation from industrialists, simply because the message does not confirm to ANY established dogma. That is the risk you take, when you try to set (or change) the agenda. However, if you do take you time to read it, it's well researced, rather levelheaded, makes a case for preserving rather than mindlessly over-exploiting the environment and is a very entertaining and thought-provoking read. That is, if you are sufficiently brave to risk reading a book that probably challenges your worldview.

I personally felt that this was quite evident from the linked articles. Obviously you disagree. That is your priviledge - but personally I feel that reasonable (and rational) people ought to choose to check their facts, before shooting off their mouth. In fact, I'd love if everyone did just that, but there I go being an idealistic dreamer again :)

You, on the other hand, clearly feel that emotionally charged rethoric is justified in the struggle to save the environment. I accept your point of view as one of many possible, but I certaintly don't agree. In my opinion the whole concept of preserving the environment ignores the fact that we, by our very existence, change the environment because we are a part of it. The goal in my mind should be striking an acceptable balance from the human-centric point of view, rather that preserving the world in it's current, or even pre-industrial, state. To me, the concept of preserving the current state of the planet like a fly in amber is the worst kind of conservativism, reactionary and possibly immoral, as it denies the starving masses in the third world the chance of a decent, long and disease- and hunger-free life. We just can't tell them to halt industrial epansion, until we have developed a safe and pollution-free way of doing it, which is resource-neutral to boot.

You want to make the world into a giant national park? Fine by me, but first you have to find a place to put the industry that we need in order to preserve a reasonable and acceptable lifestyle, and a place to acquire the resources that this industry will invariably consume, in order to produce the goods we need. If, on the other hand, you are willing to accept a less extreme solution than total and unconditional ecological preservation, I'm ready to descuss, where we should strike the balance. Absolutely!

But the extreme, uncompromising and emotionally charged point of view you present does not leave much room for a productive and constructive dialog. It is therefore only succeding in making a lot of noise - and keeping you out of the loop, with regards to actually having a say in the future of the environment.

Don't get me wrong... and don't try casting ME as a rabid gaia-destroyer! I'm all for clean air, drinkable water and bio-diversity. However environmentalism in my country - and possibly elsewhere in the world - has gone over the edge, to the point where we actually have people opposing the construction of wind-driven turbines, because they aledgedly make a nasty swoshing noise, and in most cases are higher than the surrounding trees, chimneys and whatnot. Apparently they would rather keep on polluting the air by burning oil and coal, as I have had no indication that these people are willing to live without power and/or heat, and have presented no alternative to the turbines. One pundint even suggested that the fact that the highest point in Denmark is now a wind-driven turbine, rather than a natural feature of the landscape, was in some way a threat to our national identity. Imagine what a world of good that kind of arguments do for the eco-cause....

[ Parent ]

Ok, minor nit (none / 0) (#54)
by weirdling on Mon Sep 10, 2001 at 05:02:23 PM EST

Actually, *most* of those problem areas were cleaned up through lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits. It is much faster to simply let the lawyers have at it than to regulate the industry. In other words, let toxic waste into groundwater, and voila, you've got a class-action lawsuit that is worth more than the GNP of many countries, even if there is *no* discernible effect to the populace.

I'd bet that simply loosening controls on environmental lawsuits and allowing lawsuits against the federal government would do a lot more towards solving *actual* environmental problems than more legislation.

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
[ Parent ]
Two of his points are facially valid. (4.37 / 8) (#29)
by aphrael on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 02:56:14 AM EST

That population growth has peaked is generally understood among analysts of international relations --- europe and japan have subzero growth, the US only has positive growth because of immigration, and population growth rates are falling around the world. That this is so is the result of some really nasty things (both policy wise, like China's laws regarding reproduction, and non-policy-wise, such as the horrible effects of AIDS in sub-saharan Africa), but it is true.

That forest acreage is increasing is also well known, especially in industrialized countries. The problem is that these are all new growth forests and are typically either monoculture or close to it; they don't provide anything near the richness of old growth forests in terms of diversity of ecological niches. They *may* evolve in such a direction as to provide that given enough time, however.

Nit with your second point. (4.00 / 4) (#40)
by Hartree on Tue Aug 14, 2001 at 01:22:48 PM EST

The problem is that these are all new growth forests and are typically either monoculture or close to it; they don't provide anything near the richness of old growth forests in terms of diversity of ecological niches. They *may* evolve in such a direction as to provide that given enough time, however.

You seem to be saying old growth has greater diversity than new growth. This is something I see repeated, and it's wrong, wrong, wrong. Unless the forest is monoculture planted, a manmade situation, a new growth forest has far greater species diversity than old growth. Old growth forests reach a state called climax that has a relatively low species diversity because the most successful for that particular environment have crowded out the others. Look at an old redwood forest. Lot's of biomass, but it's nearly all redwoods. Darned little animal life or non redwood plant life compared to say, an area that was burned out in Yellowstone a few years back and is still in the flux of species characteristic of new growth. This is the reason why spotted owls require so much territory. There's not much small animal life for them to feed on in the old growth forests they live in compared to new growth with large numbers of low growing ground cover plants or grasses that haven't been shaded out by the trees. In new growth, they get muscled out by other species, like foxes, hawks or other kinds of owls. The spotted owls are able to use what is a pretty sparse prey environment (old growth) that the others can't or don't. This doesn't reflect on whether old growth or new growth is more or less desirable. That's a separate question. Both ecosystems are needed. But, let's at least get the basic ecology right.



[ Parent ]
There is a lot of monoculture (2.00 / 1) (#42)
by dennis on Wed Aug 15, 2001 at 03:04:27 PM EST

Timber companies crow about how many trees they plant...a few months ago I saw a picture of what they mean by that. It was in a magazine article about monoculture tree farms, and the photos showed row after row of trees, all the same kind and age, planted in a regular grid for easy harvesting. No undergrowth at all.

[ Parent ]
And don't you think that makes sense... (3.00 / 1) (#45)
by dduck on Sun Aug 19, 2001 at 06:49:37 PM EST

...if the point with the re-forestation is to plant trees for later harvest? You don't see farmers intentionally mixing different kinds of crops on the same plot, much less intentionally introduce weeds.

[ Parent ]
No, I don't (none / 0) (#47)
by dennis on Mon Aug 20, 2001 at 10:27:43 AM EST

The point is that companies talk about how environmentally friendly they are, because of all the trees they're replanting. They give the impression that they have no overall impact on the forests, when in fact they're converting them from healthy ecosystems to cropland.

There are some timber companies that do it right, and make a good profit. They leave the mixed forest in place, pull trees out individually instead of clearcutting, etc. Not only does it keep a real wilderness in place, the wood quality tends to be better, too.

Incidentally, we wouldn't use so much timber in the first place if it hadn't been for William Hearst, the newspaper mogul, who bought legislation outlawing industrial hemp to protect his timber investments. Hemp makes the world's strongest natural fiber, and grows fast: it takes one quarter the acreage to produce the same amount of paper from hemp, as it does from timber.

[ Parent ]

Oh well, but... (4.00 / 1) (#48)
by dduck on Mon Aug 20, 2001 at 12:04:21 PM EST

...it seems that you feel there is some inherently ultimate evil thing about converting a piece of land to cropland. One of the points of Dr. Lomborgs book is, that this conversion of wilderness to cropland apparently does not lead to the mass-extinction of species that some experts predicted. In other words: The preservation of species (not individual animals) is therefore probably not a persuasive argument in this matter.

While I do agree that using lumber for paper production may not be the optimal solution, it's the currently implemented solution, and not THAT much more inefficient than using say hemp. I mean, we're not talking orders og magnitude here. Will the increased efficiency of using hemp instead of wood in paper production balance out the change-over costs, with regards to gathering of material, re-seeding, production, testing of the new product etc. etc.? I also fail to see how the technique you describe of cutting down selected trees in mixed forrest can be adapted to mechanized mass production.

So I guess what I really wanted to ask you was: Isn't convering some acerage to monoculture/cropland a better solution than cutting down natural mixed forest and NOT re-planting the areas?

To put it in perspective: My country has been almost completely domesticated for centuries, and has very few areas of wilderness preserved as national parks. To my knowledge the only larger species we have "lost" in the process are wolves, beavers and bears - and the beaver was recently re-introduces, at great cost, and over the objections of anglers, farmers and people like me, who feel that the inherent value of beavers is probably overrated, and the resources could be used for better purposes. Well, we also do have fewer oak trees than we used to, but that is apparently because re-planting oaks was abandones as the time of wooden ships passed. This is hardly a major catastrophe from my point of view, and Denmark is still a beautiful country, albeit not one covered in dark, teutonic forests. Yes, the landscape has changed over the years, but is that necessarily a bad thing, and if it is, HOW bad, and why?

[ Parent ]

Different perspectives (3.00 / 1) (#49)
by dennis on Mon Aug 20, 2001 at 03:29:08 PM EST

Perhaps I should explain my bias: I like wilderness. I take courses in primitive hunting/gathering. I think it's inherently valuable, and would even go so far as to claim that we damage ourselves spiritually when everything we see has been created, managed, or maintained by ourselves. I don't view everything through the lens of "is this of practical economic benefit." So when I saw pictures of a "forest", planted in a grid, that was basically devoid of the resources to sustain human life, it just rubbed me the wrong way.

I'm also a computer programmer with strong libertarian tendencies - my environmentalist views tend towards the solutions Huber describes in Hard Green - he makes a strong case that the key factor in environmental health is simply the amount of wilderness we have. For example, a healthy wilderness will clean pollutants out of the environment. He maintains that it's important, in environmental issues, to look at all the costs and benefits - that many of the supposedly "green" solutions do more harm than good, because of the amount of land they use up.

As for hemp, a four-times improvement isn't exactly insignificant. I don't think we should mandate its use, but I do think it should at least be legal. If the cost/benefit is favorable, the market will start using it, otherwise not.

Isn't convering some acerage to monoculture/cropland a better solution than cutting down natural mixed forest and NOT re-planting the areas

If you put it that way...but I don't think those are the only two choices. Given that some timber companies are able to do well by selectively culling natural forests, it seems it's not so impossible as you suggest. If it were dramatically more expensive to operate that way, they'd never manage to compete.

[ Parent ]

A really different perspective (none / 0) (#59)
by A Trickster Imp on Tue Oct 02, 2001 at 03:00:56 PM EST

> would even go so far as to claim that we damage
> ourselves spiritually when everything we see has
> been created, managed, or maintained by ourselves

I, on the other hand, think we are spiritually stunted. I am for the complete Trantorization of Earth. This is not a troll. I think spiritual animism and other such concepts are hogwash, being little more than self-deluded nostalgia for the bad old days. Oh, sure, it's nice to camp; that's what parks are for.




[ Parent ]
Interesting but so ? (2.66 / 3) (#41)
by Betcour on Wed Aug 15, 2001 at 01:19:11 PM EST

Two quotes to sum things up :
"There are lies, damn lies and statistics."

and my favorite here :
"I could prove God statistically." (GEORGE GALLUP)

So in the end what this guy did is get the conclusion first and then find statistics to support it... which is not difficult at all, but not very scientific. There are people who says the earth is flat, that God created all species 6000 years ago, that aliens crashed in roswell, that global warming is a myth (hello Mr Bush !) or tobaco is harmless, etc... sometimes they say that out of interest for fame, for money or just because they want to believe it this way. They can be funny to listen for a short while, and even sometimes necessary for us to wake up from our immobilism.

But they have dangerous ideas. In the end we shouldn't loose our sight on reality - all the damages to the environement have been documented, researched and accepted as truth by the scientific community. You just need to look at the Dodos disparition, the desertification of areas where woodcut has been too rough or water overly polluted, etc... to realize this guy is dead wrong. Heck, he is working on stats in a lab in Danemark, what does he knows about the environemental state of the planet ? When someone says that everything is fine and it will all get better by itself, and should just not think about it, I always feel there's some kind of manipulation going on.

Did you even read teh times peice? (5.00 / 3) (#44)
by nads on Fri Aug 17, 2001 at 05:37:04 PM EST

The article mentions that the author went into the process to debunk a conservative economist. He started checking statistics put out by environmental groups, and found that many of them were practically made up. He isn't talking about the science. He is talking about the false front these environmental groups are putting out. He is talking about the fact that the picture is nowhere as gloomy as environmental groups purport it to be. Perhaps you should read the article?

[ Parent ]
Documented, researched, etc. (none / 0) (#58)
by A Trickster Imp on Tue Oct 02, 2001 at 02:52:06 PM EST

Modern environmentalism is well down the path of Chicken Little/The Boy Who Cried Wolf, although it doesn't realize it, yet.

The incredible, instantaneous demonization of people who merely question these things draws a parallel with the questioning of religious beliefs. Evidently there is more to that analogy then some might want to believe.


"But they have dangerous ideas"? Julian Simon argued that wild government intervention would cause worse problems then those they were trying to solve, and that the problems they were trying to solve weren't really problems. Without a government to stop people from solving the problems, they would be solved.

A species went extinct? A forest was chopped down? To claim these are problems, you have to list a facet of human life that is degraded. Every measure they put up shows life becomes more and more enhanced.




[ Parent ]
Now Published in English (3.50 / 2) (#43)
by Simon Kinahan on Fri Aug 17, 2001 at 05:35:42 AM EST

Those of you who noticed that this book was not yet published in English when this article was published, might be interested in the fact that it has now been publihed in the UK.

My copy was posted this morning :)

Simon



Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
Costs and Benefits (4.00 / 1) (#50)
by craigtubby on Tue Aug 21, 2001 at 08:41:03 AM EST

I can see what this article is trying to explain - it a cost benefit scenario.

Lets put a simple example in place - A farmer owns a field and it is going to flood - forever be under water.

Now he has had a consultant come in and the consultant comes up with 3 options and costs, pros and cons associated with it.

1) Slow the flood - The farmer can put flood defences around his field, that are 50% effective at stopping the flood. Cost 50,000 (pounds, dollars, punts, krone - whatever). Pro - Allows the farmer to use the field as before. Cons - 50% chance of losing that seasons crop.
2) Stop the flood - The farmer can erect flood defences that will stop the flood and allow the field to be used as now. Cost 100,000. Pro - Allows the farmer to use the field as originally intended. Con - Cost more than any other solution.
3) Adapt to the flood - The farmer can become a salmon farmer. costs 25,000. Pro - Cheapest soloution. Cons - Learning new skills, adapting to a new environment.

If you were the farmer what would you choose?

try to make ends meet, you're a slave to money, then you die.

* Webpage *

Option 2 (none / 0) (#57)
by zhermit on Fri Sep 14, 2001 at 04:21:13 PM EST

Unfortunately, it seems our present administration here in America likes Option 2. Option 1 would be the soon to fail Kyoto Treaty, and 3 would be the utopia we'll never come near.

******

I have a sig?
[ Parent ]
Warm soda & global warming (4.50 / 2) (#51)
by redelm on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 07:39:39 AM EST

One thing surprises me: Bjorn Lomborg seems to accept that Carbon dioxide emissions cause 2-3C warming. I'm not there yet.

The uncontrolled, ex-post atmospheric models hardly convince me, but the correlation of temperature with CO2 over millenia is intriguing. But have you ever opened a warm soda can?

The 8C air temperature swing would affect rain and the oceans about the same amount. Atmospheric Carbon dioxide swings from 200 to 300 ppm which is coincidentally just about the decreased solubility at increasing temperature.

So which is the chicken, and which the egg? If the Earth heated up from some exogenous cause (solar, geothermal, geomagnetic), then CO2 would rise as an effect not a cause.

A statistics professor would say "Correlation does not prove causality". Why doesn't Bjorn?



Monetary costs not always a reliable metric (3.50 / 2) (#53)
by woofbot on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 11:58:04 AM EST

Ok, this guy might actually be right about some of his findings; however his use of dropping prices on certain resources is a lousy statistic. Prices generally only accurately reflect short term availability of goods not necessarily long terms. Long term costs particularly when then stem from something like environmental costs tend to be overlooked largely because there aren't a lot of mechanisms for accurately counting them. Paul Hawken's book Natural Capitalism goes into abundant detail on this subject.

One other gripe I have from skimming the Economist article is that he makes the statement that "In the case of oil, for example, reserves that could be extracted at reasonably competitive prices would keep the world economy running for about 150 years at present consumption rates." That's just great...if the world continues to function at present consumption rates. Unfortunately, consumption rates are presumably going to continue to rise as more and more countries attempt to reach US levels of materialism. Anyways, to say more, I really would have to read the book. I just figured I'd point out these two items.

Washington Post Book Review (none / 0) (#64)
by jasonab on Sat Oct 20, 2001 at 12:53:57 PM EST

Sunday, Oct. 21 review

Now for the peer review (none / 0) (#65)
by Rand Race on Wed Dec 19, 2001 at 12:57:06 PM EST

This book is thouroughly debunked by Grist Magazine in this series of articles by leading scientists such as Stephen H. Schneider, E.O. Wilson, and Allen Hammond. Basically the author is a political hack with no relevant experience in any of the fields he is writing about, his use of statistics are highly selective and include many glaring omissions, the book has not withstood any peer scrutiny succesfully, and his characterizations of contrary arguments are at best intellectualy dishonest. The man is not even an environmental scientist, he is a statistician, and has never published a scientific paper on climate change, ecology, atmospheric pollution, or any other topic he takes on in his book. The environmental sciences department at the university he teaches at have even roundly condemned the book. The vast majority of the "quite thourough" references and footnotes are to magazine articles, web pages, and interviews rather than hard scientific works. And many of his assertations - "our oceans have not become defiled" for instance - are not substantiated by even the barest research. Scientificly, this book is crap, pure and simple.

Here's another link to an anti-Lomborg site (obviously) which is worth it if for no other reason than the pic of Lomborg after getting a pie in the face.


"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, He must approve the homage of Reason rather than that of blindfolded Fear." - Thomas Jefferson

"The Skeptical Environmentalist" claims Gaia is doing fine and improving | 65 comments (57 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
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