April 09, 2005


I have been thoroughly enjoying the book The Skeptical Environmentalist. It's amazing how things that we've been told our whole lives -- the "litany", as Lomborg calls it -- are not exactly true, or at least not exactly testable. Acid rain? Didn't happen. Exxon Valdez? Not as bad as everyone claimed. 40,000 species extinct every year? Ha. Global warming? Well, I'm just starting that chapter, but so far it's pretty untestable. It's an amazing read because one-third of the book is references and endnotes; Lomborg did his research. I'm disgusted by what makes it into science without sources.

Much of what Lomborg points out is the cost-benefit analysis of environmental issues. Sure we could save ocean-dwelling amoebas by banning fertilizer, but at what cost? Recycling paper might seem like you're helping the environment, but for the cost and effort, it's apparently better to burn the paper and plant new trees. I like Lomborg's approach of balancing nature and cost.

If you're interested, the introduction chapter is available on Lomborg's website. It's a good read.

Posted by: Sarah at 09:34 AM | Comments (8) | Add Comment
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1 Sarah, I bought the book when it first came out and I love it. My husband is a marine biologist and has checked many of Lomborg's references, they are right on, yet Lomborg was castigated by his profession and is still hit with slime from time to time. Truth hurts. If you know who Semmelweis was, you can understand why I bring him up. The truth will out but it may take a century. Do a google on my name and you will find my husband's book, his brother's books, (from Australia) and my son's book, a children's book. Only the last one is good reading for the masses, the first are reference.

Posted by: Ruth H at April 09, 2005 11:15 AM (po2/z)

2 Reading Lomberg puts a different perspective on Kyoto doesn't it. Check out junkscience.com it's a website that tracks bogus stories. The primary thing that bugs me about environmentalists is the brainwashing of the youth. When I make comments about the religion of environmentalism and what a crock it is there are people who I think would like to burn me at the stake.

Posted by: Toni at April 10, 2005 08:48 AM (OZMKs)

3 Sarah, You have just identified another area that goes under-reported / mis-represented... A lot like the military and the war in Iraq. Apparently balanced (not just good) news is just not sexy enough to sell. At the least, I wish the media would consider reporting on both sides of the issues. Anyway, the book is also one of my favorites. And Toni says it well... When you try to discuss these issues, people focus on what they hear, without a healthy skepticism. Oh well.

Posted by: Jean at April 11, 2005 08:51 PM (7jvO1)

4 I would take him more seriously if he were a scientist rather than a statistician with an axe to grind. The fact that he doesn't post any perr reviewed articles is a bright red flag screaming "hack alert!" as well. SciAm tore him a new one, though they went close to an hominem in some of their critiques. If you read the analysis of his work in Nature, though, you'll see that he is clearly dishonest. Go the the library and find a copy of that critique/review and you will see that the book is about as honest and insightful as those books written in '99 saying that the Dow was going to keep growing steadily to 30,000 with no hiccups. His most interesting stats are always from non-peer reviwed sources (some "facts" were even from works produced by industry lobbyists!). The way he skewed statistics looks more like deliberate misleading rather than sloppiness, though neither is really forgivable. If you want to make yourself feel good and pretend that we are not having a negative impact on the environment then it is a really great book. If you want to take an honest and unbiased look at the scientific data as presented by actual scientists then it is worthless. It is also valuable as a case study in how to abuse statistics and non-peer reviewed sources to decieve people.

Posted by: VOT at April 12, 2005 12:42 AM (k7PQl)

5 Hmm. Aren't we the little elitist, VOT? Peer-reviewed articles are highly overrated. The fact is, statistically speaking, Lomborg tears so-called "established" environmental science to shreds -- and he's a lot more honestly than the "scientists" you speak so highly of. Kyoto has been unmasked as a very expensive way to do little more than bankrupt the developed nations of the world while doing little or nothing at all for the undeveloped or developing nations. Frankly speaking, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq has done more for the "have-nots" of the world than any amount of money "have" nations will pour into bad jokes like Kyoto.

Posted by: Nathan at April 12, 2005 11:04 AM (Fj//k)

6 Sarah, I'd be wary of Lomborg's claims. Look at some actual data at:- www.met-office.gov.uk/research/hadleycentre/CR_data/Annual/HadCRUG.gif (The raw figures are also available there.) I've worked at Met Office, and they're good guys; if they say it, then there IS warming, world-wide. While you may doubt the causes, but be planning to cope with the results - which is called Global Climate Change, and includes changes in winds, temperatures, amount and timing of rainfall and cloud cover.

Posted by: Terry V. at April 14, 2005 06:49 AM (YawHj)

7 Terry, Lomborg doesn't say that warming won't happen, he only says that 1) current models fall short in being able to predict the extent of warming and 2) Kyoto is not a solution we need to entertain. If you could pick up the book, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on the global warming chapter.

Posted by: Sarah at April 14, 2005 07:41 AM (MOoZ+)

8 Dang, I was out for a while in a conference. "Hmm. Aren't we the little elitist, VOT?" No. I'm quite down to Earth. I do believe that scientists are the experts whose positions on topics that they specialize in are more likely to be correct than the views of various yahoos spouting propaganda. The truth is that those spouting 'elitism' are usually dangeruosly close to relativism. Sadly relativism used to just be the sloppy minded thinking of the left, but these days our side is polluting ourselves with it. "Peer-reviewed articles are highly overrated." Perr review is one of the fundamental mechanisms for assuring scientific credibility. If you want to reject it, feel free, but it buts you outside the pale of current scientific method. See also remarks about relativism above. "The fact is, statistically speaking, Lomborg tears so-called "established" environmental science to shreds -- and he's a lot more honestly than the "scientists" you speak so highly of." The fact is that it makes you feel good to believe that. If you actually look at the critiques in Nature, you will see that not only was Lomberg using bad science, but he got his math wrong on fundamental points. When you correct his math errors, his argument falls apart. Bad science is not so surprising since he isn't a scientist. Bad math is unconscionable, as math is the thing Lomborg is supposed to be good at. "Kyoto has been unmasked as a very expensive way to do little more than bankrupt the developed nations of the world while doing little or nothing at all for the undeveloped or developing nations." I don't support Kyoto, I think it is both extreme and poorly conceived. That doesn't mean that I am going to ignore the reality that climate change and other significant environmental impact caused by humans are very real and that we continue to contribute to it. Lomborg wrote a book that lets the credulous pretend that unconfortable facts are not there. The fact is that we should be looking at reality objectively and not let political prejudices let us get sloppy in our thinking and pursuing the truth.

Posted by: VOT at April 16, 2005 07:31 PM (/FAAp)

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