The low down on Lomborg

18.05.15 By
This content is more than 9 years old

Last week’s announcement that the University of Western Australia would no longer house Bjorn Lomborg’s ‘Consensus Centre’ was a fantastic outcome for science. However, the fact that the Centre is still trying to establish itself in Australia is deeply troubling.

Misinformation is harmful. Just as false information about the ‘benefits’ of tobacco misled the public and damaged health, so false information about climate change and its impacts can mislead the public and decision-makers, delaying much needed action to stabilise the climate system. Here are the top four reasons why Lomborg’s arguments about climate change are flawed.

1. Lomborg fundamentally misunderstands climate science.

Lomborg does not deny the existence of human caused climate change, but he has consistently misrepresented the basic climate science. For example:

2. Lomborg doesn’t get that we need to address the cause of climate change, not just some of the symptoms.

Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre has consistently claimed that targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions are expensive and that the money should be spent elsewhere. For example, he suggests that to stop deaths from heatwaves it is better to invest the money in building water features and reducing asphalt in cities, instead of committing to significant cuts to our carbon emissions.This argument is flawed because:

3. Lomborg forgets that climate change makes many existing challenges worse

Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre has asserted that other issues need to be prioritised before considering climate change, like tackling infectious disease, poverty and malnutrition. Of course these issues are important and, in fact, climate change makes a lot of these existing problems worse. On the other hand, solutions to climate change can be integrated with tackling poverty and disease (for example, through the provision of solar energy systems to remote communities to provide electricity, instead of building centralised fossil fuel plants and expensive transmission systems). A healthy environment and healthy people are not mutually exclusive, in fact healthy and productive people depend on a healthy environment.

As Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General, states: “Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth … these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all”.

4. Lomborg has no credibility in the scientific community

Lomborg is a statistician and political scientist by training, and a self-proclaimed climate contrarian whose views have no credibility in the research community.

As Dr. Frank Jotzo, Director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at ANU explains:

Within the research community, particularly within the economics community, the Bjørn Lomborg enterprise has no academic credibility. It is seen as an outreach activity that is driven by a specific set of objectives in terms of bringing particular messages into the public debate and in some cases making relatively extreme positions seem more acceptable in the public debate.

Lomborg’s message hasn’t varied at all in the last decade. For example, he has continued to argue that most greenhouse-related funding needs to be spent on the research and development (R&D) of alternative energy systems to fossil fuels before this alternative is deployed. If we took this approach to R&D we would still only be using land-lines, as mobile phone technology hasn’t been perfected yet! When it comes to renewables, whilst research and development are important, so too is large-scale deployment and increasing the proportion of electricity supplied by renewable energy.

Renewable energy technologies such as solar PV and wind are already well established and installed capacity is growing significantly every year, and costs are coming down. For example, rooftop solar electricity is now fully competitive at a retail level in many places, including in most Australian cities. Currently there is over 4GW or small-scale solar installed in Australia and installation averages around 15% of houses, and up to 25% in South Australia.It is clear that renewable energy technologies like solar and wind have galloped rapidly through the research and development phase and onto commercialisation, way faster than Lomborg’s tired argument suggests.

When someone is unwilling to adapt their view on the basis of new science or information, it’s usually a sign those views are ideologically motivated.