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Rants, Raves, Interesting Science & Awful Puns
March 2, 2002

Environmentalist Heretic-Burning

Protecting The Faith

Last October I posted a piece on Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish statistician and former true-believing environmentalist who set out to disprove the claims of Julian Simon (see same link) that on just about all counts the environment is getting better, not worse, but changed his mind after three months of delving into the evidence. His book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, not only endorses most of Simon?s claims, but goes further, providing a compendium of facts showing that the litany of environmental gloom is mostly wildly exaggerated (species extinction, global warming) or plain wrong (population, air and water pollution, natural resources, food and hunger, health and life-expectancy, waste, forest loss). Predictably, the church reacted with outrage and howls for heretic-burning. Toren Smith pointed me to the following article in The Spectator.

The profits of doom

Matt Ridley celebrates Bjorn Lomborg, the environmentalist brave enough to tell the truth ? that the end is not nigh. Original article at www.spectator.co.uk/article.php3?table=old§ion=current&issue=2002-02-23&id=1602

You might think that environmentalists would welcome such news. Having argued that we should find a way to live sustainably on the planet, they ought to be pleased that population growth is falling faster (in percentage and absolute terms) than anybody predicted even ten years ago; that per-capita food production is rising rapidly, even in the developing world; that all measures of air pollution are falling almost everywhere; that oil, gas and minerals are not running out nearly as fast as was predicted in the 1970s; and so on.

Instead they are beside themselves with fury. It cannot be Lomborg?s politics that annoy them. He is leftish, concerned about world poverty, and no fan of big business. It cannot be his recommendations . . . His sin ? his heresy ? is to be optimistic.

This is very threatening to lots of people?s livelihoods. The environmental movement raises most of its funds through direct mail, paid advertising and news coverage. A steady supply of peril is essential fuel for all three. H.L. Mencken said, ?The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed ? and hence clamorous to be led to safety ? by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.?

[. . .]

An increasing number of scientists have vested interests in pessimism, too. The study of global warming has brought them fame, funds, speaking fees and room service. Lomborg's crime is to rain on their parade.

In the Scientific American critique, four leading environmental scientists lambasted Lomborg. The magazine refused Lomborg the right to reply in the same issue, refused to post his response on its website immediately, and threatened him for infringement of copyright when he tried to reproduce their articles, with his responses, on his own website.

Yet the Scientific American articles are devastating not to Lomborg, but to his critics. . . .

Note Added March 22, 2002

It seems that when the Scientific American refused Lomborg the right of reply in the same issue where he was attacked, Lomborg posted the article with his responses on his own web site. SA then threatened him with copyright infringement, and he took the item down. But thanks to Google the full piece is still cached (in HTML, not the more readable PDF format, unfortunately) at www.google.com. Worth a read before the Scientific American threatens to sue Google.

Philip Stott, Emeritus Professor of Biogeography at the University of London, commented:

In my entire career, I can never remember having been treated with such discourtesy. . . . Moreover, to date, I have always been critical of my own skepticism about some of the more extreme views of environmentalists; no longer. The Scientific American has revealed these for what they really are. . . .

Yet, it seems that God is just. . . . Apparently completely unswayed by the Scientific American and its machinations, the Danish Minister of the Environment, Hans Christian Schmidt, has just appointed Bjørn Lomborg to be head of the new National Environment Evaluation Institute. All power to his elbow.

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