Tuesday, October 16, 2007

BJORN LOMBORG'S CONVENIENT HALF-TRUTHS

A couple of days ago, I had a post about Bjorn Lomborg's appearance on Bill maher. Now Amit has a post on Al Gore and the IPCC winning the Nobel Prize in which he cites, not surprisingly, the climate change skeptic who has probably the most proven track record of being a global warming contrarian in the last decade. I am again appalled at how Lomborg, who claims that global warming proponents are "alarmists" and are enunciating half-truths, himself seems to not care too much for nuance and the big picture. His report in the Boston Globe is worth quoting here at length because of the multiple weaknesses it exposes:
"Gore told the world in his Academy Award-winning movie to expect 20-foot sea-level rises over this century. He ignores the findings of his Nobel co-winners, who conclude that sea levels will rise between only a half-foot and two feet over this century, with their best expectation being about one foot. That’s similar to what the world experienced over the past 150 years.

Likewise, Gore agonizes over the accelerated melting of ice in Greenland and what it means for the planet, but overlooks the IPCC’s conclusion that, if sustained, the current rate of melting would add just 3 inches to the sea-level rise by the end of the century. Gore also takes no notice of research showing that Greenland’s temperatures were higher in 1941 than they are today.

The politician-turned-moviemaker loses sleep over a predicted rise in heat-related deaths. There’s another side of the story that’s inconvenient to mention: rising temperatures will reduce the number of cold spells, which are a much bigger killer than heat. The best study shows that by 2050, heat will claim 400,000 more lives, but 1.8 million fewer will die because of cold. Indeed, according to the first complete survey of the economic effects of climate change for the world, global warming will actually save lives."
There are several things wrong with his statements. However, instead of pointing them out, I will simply link to the relevant post on Realclimate, which is a now well-recognised (even by the IPCC) and authoritative website manned by eleven bonafide climate scientists, including Michael Mann who produced the now-famous "hockey stick graph". The realclimate post refutes in addition to Lomborg's objections, all 9 points raised by a British judge a couple of days ago in declaring Gore's movie unworthy of screening in schools. Clearly, Lomborg needs to check multiple sources instead of just pouncing on a discrepancy or two, and then simply quoting it without investigating it further.

But what really irks me about Lomborg is that while he is right that issues and solutions need to be prioritized, he downplays the impact of climate change yet again. Also, as I mentioned in a past post, why not get all that funding for infectious diseases (which by the way are also expected to go up in some quarters because of climate change) from the war in Iraq? Also, in saying that "Gore also takes no notice of research showing that Greenland’s temperatures were higher in 1941 than they are today", Lomborg engages in a fallacy that the Bush administration is famous for perpetuating- cherry picking data and quoting it selectively to support one's claim (well-documented in Chris Mooney's book for example). Lomborg should know that this ploy is now old and boring, and we are not going to buy it.

Now let's get to what Lomborg cites as the "good" effects of global warming, about it helping cold regions. This is again a standard argument advocated by climate change skeptics. But this argument not only sets up a straw man, but is downright disingenuous. At the very least, it completely neglects the fact that climate change is a complex issue, and when its effects are unpredictable and violent, any perceived "good" side-effects can only be incidental benefits whose goodness may be far outweighed by so many things we don't know. But mainly, this argument is disingenuous because it shifts the focus from combating root causes of climate change to side-show benefits that we may (or may not) possibly scrape from it. And it is yet again cherry picking because it focuses only on one effect of climate change, neglecting the other deleterious ones.

Finally, disagreement between a couple of points does not make Al Gore and the IPCC "strange bedfellows". Science is a procss of constant inquiry, skepticism, and the perfection of data precisely engendered by disagreement. As Gore himself has noted, disagreement about details does not preempt the fundamental paradigm of global warming. Lomborg not only raises disingenuous objections, but also does not seem to understand this basic feature of scientific consensus. Far from being strange bedfellows, Gore and the IPCC are ideal ones.

Global warming skeptics need to pick a new poster boy if they possibly can for their views. Lomborg is unfortunately toeing the same line, and it's not working.

Previous posts related to global warming and climate change: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

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5 Comments:

Blogger gawker said...

I'm amazed at Indians who fail to take issue with the so-called "good effects" of global warming for cold regions when there are probably more Indians who die due to heat, plus the obvious bad implications of increased temperatures with respect to the Indian economy.

Secondly, I was kind of disappointed with Bill Maher from his show two or three weeks ago that he pretty much let Lomborg get away with everything he said without really contesting anything. His only response to Lomborg's statement, that too after the interview, was to wonder how people still didn't believe in global warming, which Lomborg obviously did. Bill should have done more research into what Lomborg was actually saying and whether it could be refuted.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

I agree. Maher should gather more ammunition and perhaps update himself in a layman's way on the science, before talking to people like Lomborg. He just wasn't critical enough. Then he would be able to skewer such deserving people the way he does religious lunatics.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Your point about Indians is also quite right, and that again shows how Lomborg is being disingenuous, when in a country like India heat deaths are already excessive.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Patrix said...

Lomborg's comment on prioritizing is somewhat unrelated to the whole argument. In such a case, the war in Iraq can be easily dismissed as frivolous as it takes away attention and money from more pressing issues in the U.S.

But to expect Maher to make intelligent comments is too much to ask of him. Jon Stewart would be a better bet.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Correct. So it's another straw man erected by Lomborg under the guise of self-righteousness in my opinion. Maher is a very smart guy in my opinion, but especially recently, he is giving knee-jerk reactions.

1:25 PM  

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