When it comes to Bjorn Lomborg, we’ve heard it all before. His pieces generally follow three simple steps. He adheres to this formula in his two latest pieces in The Washington Post and The Australian, contesting points such as the connection between climate change and extreme weather, the increase in wildfires, and the validity of climate models. He attempts to muddy the waters, but here are the facts.
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Climate Nexus UPDATE September 26: In a new article published in USA Today, Bjorn Lomborg rehashes his well-worn but thoroughly refuted claims yet again. The twist is that he is now going after the new UN IPCC report, saying that its acknowledgement of a surface warming slowdown over the last 15 years means the threat of dire consequences is “implausible.” We know that climate models are accurate over longer time periods, and we know that unmitigated emissions will bring severe impacts. Lomborg once again acknowledges a sliver of the science but then dismisses the severity of the impacts to agriculture, human health and society, and then suggests there is nothing we can do about it. To deny this reality is to strip all substance and context from an honest debate about how to tackle the serious challenge of climate change.
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The following is a guest post by Climate Nexus. (Text of the post in PDF format here.)
Lomborg’s Threadbare Techno-Optimism Resurfaces
in Washington Post, Australian
When it comes to Bjorn Lomborg, we’ve heard it all before. His pieces generally follow three simple steps:
- Establish scientific credibility by acknowledging the facts: that temperatures are rising, humans are a significant factor in this change, and that long-term climate change carries bad consequences for humans.
- Supply a series of details and factoids that give the vague impression of contradicting the statements in Step 1. These details are devoid of context and usually irrelevant to the question of whether or not we should act on climate change.
- Assert that the problem of climate change can be solved effortlessly through investment in clean energy research. This will bring us a technological magic bullet and therefore invalidates the need for any other form of climate action.
He adheres to this formula in his two latest pieces in The Washington Post and The Australian, contesting points such as the connection between climate change and extreme weather, the increase in wildfires, and the validity of climate models. He attempts to muddy the waters, but here are the facts:
Climate change is dangerously increasing the frequency and intensity of many forms of extreme weather.
Lomborg makes it sound as if trends like higher nighttime temperatures and more heavy rainfall events are favorable. (Less temperature extremes! More drinking water!) In fact higher nighttime temperatures have been found to reduce crop yields, and also make heat waves more dangerous in that vulnerable people – the elderly, the very young and the sick - can’t find respite even to sleep.
Heavy rainfall events aren’t necessarily helping with water shortages either. When rain falls all at once, much of it is lost as runoff, and resulting floods can actually contaminate drinking water supplies.
He also notably highlights the fact that it’s been seven years since the U.S. was hit by a category 3 or stronger hurricane. This statistic conveniently excludes Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene, which cost over $80 billion in combined damages despite unimpressive category numbers.
Finally he calls out wildfires, saying that while wildfires are increasing, “to a large degree” this is because of fire suppression efforts. Experts agree that this is a factor- but so is the increase in length of the fire season, the lack of water due to early spring melt and general drought, and the influx of pests such as bark beetles that kill trees. All are connected to climate change.
Slight variations in estimates of climate sensitivity are not significant enough to affect the need for comprehensive climate action now.
This has been explained again and again and again. High sensitivities are as likely as low ones even if the IPCC expands the lower end of the range. Even if sensitivity is low, unmitigated emissions will still bring the same dangerous impacts. At best it will take a few years longer for the worst of them to arrive.
Climate models aren’t perfect, but they’ve proved relatively accurate when you compare apples to apples.
When compared only to the last 15 years, the models overestimated observed surface warming. But to say that this invalidates the models is to either assume warming must proceed at a linear pace, or to suggest that models must match every rise and dip exactly. Neither assumption is reasonable.
Lomborg himself acknowledges that the dip in the rate of surface warming appears to be due to natural cycles that directed heat from the ocean into the atmosphere during the ‘80s and ‘90s, and are now in the phase of absorbing heat into the oceans. If that’s the case, then the cycle will eventually revert and warming at the faster rate will resume.
To a large extent climate change is about risk, and taking no action except for R&D research isn’t smart risk management.
What if the technological cure-all that will make mitigation easy never materializes? Or what if it takes so long to find that we commit ourselves to dangerous warming in spite of its effectiveness? Lomborg is unfailingly optimistic that we need not worry about these outcomes, but fails to provide convincing reasons why.
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The 5 stages of climate denial are on display ahead of the IPCC report -- Climate contrarians appear to be running damage control in the media before the next IPCC report is published (Dana Nucitelli, UK Guardian, September 15)
Some earlier Climate Nexus posts: