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Bjorn Lomborg asks why the only disasters that get attention are “sexy” ones

Here is a great video featuring “Skeptical Environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg, talking to John Tierney, . Lomborg discusses his views about how any debate on improving lives of the poor around the world requires us to understand that resources are scarce, and that being obsessed by “sexy”, attention-grabbing issues means we ignore the less glamorous, but often far more severe issues. Of course, the media and political world tends to push attention towards the “eye-catching initiatives” (to use Tony Blair’s formulation). But that doesn’t mean we have to settle for this. Lomborg is terrific. No wonder he drives deep Greens nuts.

I recommend pretty much all his works, especially his book, Cool It.

13 comments to Bjorn Lomborg asks why the only disasters that get attention are “sexy” ones

  • My prejudice about Lomborg (which is why I have not studied his thoughts in much depth) is that he doesn’t understand the argument he says he is in.

    In particular, he doesn’t grasp that the essence of the Climate argument concerns whether or not there is going to be a Climate Catastrophe. If there is, then all Lomborg’s chat about merely improving the lives of the poor is just fiddling while Rome awaits incineration.

    But if the evidence for a forthcoming catastrophe is no better now than at any other time during human history, then Lomborg’s arguments make sense, as do all other arguments about merely improving things. Economics, business, capitalism, etc. all make sense, and there is no excuse for global collectivism, because it only makes things worse. The only excuse for global collectivism is in preventing a global catastrophe that is otherwise unpreventable.

    Which is why the global catastrophe was fabricated. The whole point of the Catastrophic bit in Catastrophic AGW is to render economics, business, capitalism etc (Lomborgism you might say), pointless.

    And Lomborg has spent his life ignoring that bit of the argument, that bit being the bit that matters by far the most.

    As it happens, the Catastrophists are now losing (on the science), which is why they are switching back to gibbering on about “sustainability”, or even more ridiculously, shortages of this or that. In short, they are moving back to the territory where Lomborg and all the rest of us will defeat them with ease, again. But Lomborg himself has contributed nothing to this intellectual victory. He has merely confused things somewhat, by implying that this is all about regular economics. It is not. It is about whether regular economics now applies to the world, or not.

    I would be interested to know if commenters who know Lomborg’s writings better than I do think that these are accurate prejudices.

  • Stephen Willmer

    Among his works, I’ve read only the Skeptical Environmentalist. In that, he took as his starting point that man-made global warming was occurring and would indeed result in meltdown circa 2106. But, he said, if Kyoto (then the Watermelons’ bible) were implemented, it would delay armageddon by about four years. So, he said, if implementing Kyoto is going to cost USD100tr (or whatever) thereby plunging the world into poverty for a century, for a delay in the Day of Reckoning amounting only to a few years, why not spend the same money eliminating malaria, abolishing hunger etc.?

    I think that was his argument.

    My problem with Lomborg is that he, for all that he is caricatured as a loony libertarian devil-take-the-hindmost free-marketeer, is in fact a utilitarian statist collectivist. He has no problem with coerced transnationalist policy-making. But he’s very good at demonstrating that in their own terms, the publicly-stated goals of the Tranzis are forlorn, counterproductive or misdirected.

  • SW


    To summarise. In the long run we are indeed ruining the planet, but since there’s nothing we can now do about that, we might as well improve what we can now improve. That makes a kind of sense, even though it skates around the core argument, which is about whether we really are ruining the planet.

    Does he go into the notion that in the longer run humanity might learn how to impose a technological fix?

    It you argue that, you would reckon that the best bet for preventing Warmageddon is for the world to progress as much as possible, technologically and economically? The trouble with cutting carbon emissions now is that that’s a bad trade-off. Little is accomplished on the carbon front. Much harm is done on the progress front.

    I consider Warmageddon very unlikely, but not impossible, and that technological and economic progress should be speeded up (a) anyway, and (b) to enable us better to deal with Warmageddon in the unlikely event it happens.

    Since the whole object of the Green tendency is now to halt progress, you can see how that would rile them. But does Lomborg say all that?

  • Tedd


    I’ve read The Skeptical Environmentalist and skimmed some of Lomborg’s other work. I think your prejudices are accurate, but I’m not sure that means he has contributed nothing to bringing the debate back onto more reasonable ground. Merely by insisting on reasonable debate (and being successful and widely know for it) he has surely helped bring the debate back to more reasonable ground, if only by making the radicals seem less credible, by comparison.

    I can only speak for myself but, when I encounter a highly polarized debate with highly emotive rhetoric on both sides, my inclination is to suspect that both sides are more or less equally off the mark. (I had reason not to conclude that in this particular case, but it’s generally a reliable model.)

    Also, part of the reason that opposition to Kyoto and other such policy proposals is gaining ground is because of the prior work of Lomborg and others like him. So, even if you’re right that he contributed nothing to bringing the debate back to more reasonable ground, he contributed a lot to the solidity of that more reasonable ground, in my opinion.

  • Tedd

    Yes, I find all that very persuasive.

  • BIgFatFlyingBloke

    I’m not sure if the impression was right or not, but I always thought his main driver in picking “CAGW is real” as a starting point was because his book was written at a time when it looked like attempting to argue otherwise was futile and just got you labeled as a crank.

  • BIgFatFlyingBloke

    Setting Lomborg aside, what you say illuminates how much the debate has turned against the CAGW-ers.

  • Stephen Willmer

    Brian, I am not sure I’d agree that we’re ruining the planet, although that’s based purely on my own aesthetic preference for tended fields over untended commons, for bays sculpted by architectural endeavour rather than in their purest form, etc.

    Indeed, I do not see how we can possibly measure whether we are ruining the planet. For that matter, the very notion presupposes that we are interlopers whose artifices rather than being integral to the planet are in fact inherently at odds with it…which seems to me in fact to underpin the anti-humanity stance of the watermelons.

    That’s not to say that rivers cannot be polluted, fish killed, the atmosphere altered, and so on. Merely that we exercise benign influence as well as malign. And with trivial exceptions like otters building dams or birds building nests, we are the only species on the planet capable of affecting our for the better. Leave a flock of sheep on a grassy hillside and the flock will denude it and then move to the next hillside to do the same, until it runs out of grass and starves. Only we can maintain grassy hillsides at a level capable of sustaining (I use the word advisedly) of flocks of sheep in their tens or hundreds of millions. Kudos to us, I say.

    As to whether Lomborg argues that technology might be a way out of any warmist fix, I cannot say. For my part, I’m pro-technological advance, always and everywhere. That’s how we learned to set fires and cook food. Anything less is a retreat before the sun god, back into the cave.

  • Stephen Willmer

    Of course that ought to have read;

    “…we are the only species on the planet capable of affecting our habitat for the better”

  • I don’t think we’re ruining the planet. I was summarising Lomborg’s argument.

    And by “ruining”, I mean simply making it impossible for humans to survive in. Lomborg seems to concede that we are behaving in a way which will eventually do this. For me that is a massive, and massively wrong, thing to concede.

    I wholly agree with you about technological advance. Onwards and upwards.

  • Stephen Willmer

    Sorry, Brian, my misunderstanding. Obviously 🙂

  • Tedd

    I’m not sure if the impression was right or not, but I always thought his main driver in picking “CAGW is real” as a starting point was because his book was written at a time when it looked like attempting to argue otherwise was futile and just got you labeled as a crank.

    That’s probably part of it. But Lomborg’s main point in SE was that there are more important priorities than AGW for the time and money we collectively have to deal with all problems, even if we don’t challenge the science behind AGW. The book wasn’t intended to challenge AGW as a premise, but rather to challenge Kyoto, etc. as conclusions necessarily derived from that premise.

  • veryretired

    Lomborg’s main point all along has been that, if you are going to utilize scarce resources in order to improve the future prospects of humanity, then the priorities of the tranzi elites are wildly out of sync with reality.

    He has repeatedly demonstrated that significant gains could be made for large populations of impoverished people around the world by concentrating resources on clean water, decent food, and very ordinary medical care, especially preventative care.

    Whether one agrees or disagrees with his overall political views, these arguments have been very strong weapons against the preposterous assertions of the chattering classes that only massive, UN type international efforts to forestall global warming, or other elements of the Litany, can save humanity from some amorphous looming calamity.

    The utterly hysterical response from the tranzis was a good indication of how close his arrows came to the center of the target.

    As in any situation, his role must be taken in context, and, regardless of his larger political beliefs, he very adequately demonstrated that much of the tranzi/ngo chatter about catastrophic (fill in the blank) was nonsense.