Lily's Reviews > The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World

The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjørn Lomborg
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Sep 25, 2007

it was ok

The fundamental problem with this book is that the author is a statistician, not a scientist. And when writing this book, there is no evidence he even tried to consult or talk to the scientists he comes down on in his book. He has taken numerical data out of context and ran statistical tests on them. It’s no wonder the scientific community openly criticized his work as unscientific and misleading.

Of course many of his ideas are interesting and important: environmental problems are exaggerated by some lobbists, the world has gotten a lot better in many ways, and the environment's future is highly uncertain. However, he takes his statistical methods too far. It's ironic, because in the very beginning of his book, he mentions a popular saying/quote, "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics". But instead of refuting this saying, he has supported it with this book.

Another point against the book and Lomborg’s others (newer), he doesn't address the fundamental difference between problems of today with problems of the future. His current stance is that we should spend our valuable resources on problems plaguing our world today, like AIDs, world hunger etc, and not on climate change because climate change is uncertain. This might be so, but if we only spend resources fighting problems of today, while ignoring potential problems of the future, we will always be on the passive and reacting to problems. We will never be active in preventing problems or addressing issues before they get large, unwieldy and expensive.

The climate change issue today is about prevention - doing something today to prevent large disasters in the future. Of course some techniques for addressing climate change can be expensive and seem unreasonable, but those that don't make sense probably won't stand up to economic and scientific analysis of public policy anyway. However, the point of climate change policy is to spend now to prevent spending more in the future. But Lomborg seems to dismiss any action aiming at prevention, claiming it is uneconomic. Why? It seems only because the future in uncertainty. This is silly of course, because we make policies and decisions about the future everyday. Just because uncertainty exists does not mean we should be paralyzed to act.
Lomborg's views on climate change can actually be part of a larger debate, that between prevention and adaptation. The first emphasizes taking small investment risks today with the intent and hope of affecting the future and preventing large costs in the future. This is kind of like investing in a safer car (airbags, crash-tested, etc). You pay more today so that during an accident you are more protected and are less likely to get hurt. In contrast, adaptation emphasizes investing in ways to deal with the future and disasters after they happen. It is like buying car insurance; you pay small amounts now so you will be covered during an accident. There are pros and cons to both techniques, and it is always best to do both. However, Lomborg’s view takes adaptation another step. He advises us not to invest at all today and hold on to our money until after some event has happened for sure. That means not buying car insurance because you don't know if a car accident will happen. And when the accident happens, you pay for a good lawyer (aka. moving humanity to the moon).

I like to think that Lomborg hates insurance companies. But, I really don’t think scientists are trying to scam us into buying insurance we don’t need…

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Michelle The sun and the oceans drive the climate of Earth, change is inevitable and constant, and there is no such things as "normal."
We have a renewed Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) along with La Nina, giving us a terrible winter all over the place, with the jet stream coming way south.
There can be (and there was) warming and there can be (and are just now) cooling. This does not mean we caused it.
Just like we don't cause eclipses.
And scientist do not need to be "talked to" about their studies for further review. In real science, it is the work that is reviewed, and yes, some of that review is by statisticians, who do have a useful place in the process. When they can tear apart the work, the theory is rendered baseless.
Man can have an effect on the climate, but the pushers of extremist theories do a disservice to the scientific community as a whole.

Lily Natural cycles are indeed real, but that does not mean we as human beings cannot change the course of nature. We do, in fact, change the course of nature all the time. All trees eventually die, but humans also cut and burn down trees - shortening their natural lives. Species go extinct as part of nature, but human actions have caused species to go extinct at a speed much much higher than what we have observed in the past.

Climate change is similar. There are natural cycles, but it is clear that global concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases have been rising and there are more of these gases in the atmosphere now than there has been for millions of years. It's also clear that these gases cause more heat to be trapped in the earth's atmosphere, just like a blanket. And it's clear these gases are released due to human actions over the last 200 or so years.

The debate is not whether humans are releasing greenhouse gases that cause warming in the earth's atmosphere. The debate is what we should do about it. It's is perfectly fine to argue that we don't need to take action. But it is untruthful and dangerous to reject the science because we can clear observe, measure and study these phenomena.

We cannot make disappear something we don't want to see by closing our eyes or something we don't want to hear by closing our ears.

Michelle wrote: "The sun and the oceans drive the climate of Earth, change is inevitable and constant, and there is no such things as "normal."
We have a renewed Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) along with La Nina..."

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