Predictions of doom scaled back
The authors below rightly point to the fact that there is a great and unpredictable variability in climate events and say that natural variability is enough to account for the recent "pause" in warming. They also point out that only the more modest predictions of doom fit in with what has actually happened.
So they show that the models are not necessarily wrong but can offer no evidence that they are right. To do that they would have to dig out some of the mythical warmth from the deep oceans.
They do not face the fact that their research shows that all the climate variations to date fall within the range of natural variability -- so manmade CO2 effects do not need to be invoked to explain any climate events so far
I have appended the journal abstract to the article below. I have paragraphed it in the hope of making it more widely comprehensible
Global warming more moderate than worst-case models, empirical data suggest
A study based on 1,000 years of temperature records suggests global warming is not progressing as fast as it would under the most severe emissions scenarios outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Natural decade-to-decade variability in surface temperatures can account for some much-discussed recent changes in the rate of warming. Empirical data, rather than climate models, were used to estimate this variability.
We are seeing "middle of the road" warming. Natural variability in surface temperatures -- caused by interactions between the ocean and atmosphere, and other natural factors -- can account for observed changes in the recent rates of warming from decade to decade, new data suggests.
A new study based on 1,000 years of temperature records suggests global warming is not progressing as fast as it would under the most severe emissions scenarios outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
"Based on our analysis, a middle-of-the-road warming scenario is more likely, at least for now," said Patrick T. Brown, a doctoral student in climatology at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment. "But this could change."
The Duke-led study shows that natural variability in surface temperatures -- caused by interactions between the ocean and atmosphere, and other natural factors -- can account for observed changes in the recent rates of warming from decade to decade.
The researchers say these "climate wiggles" can slow or speed the rate of warming from decade to decade, and accentuate or offset the effects of increases in greenhouse gas concentrations. If not properly explained and accounted for, they may skew the reliability of climate models and lead to over-interpretation of short-term temperature trends.
The research, published today in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports, uses empirical data, rather than the more commonly used climate models, to estimate decade-to-decade variability.
"At any given time, we could start warming at a faster rate if greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere increase without any offsetting changes in aerosol concentrations or natural variability," said Wenhong Li, assistant professor of climate at Duke, who conducted the study with Brown.
The team examined whether climate models, such as those used by the IPCC, accurately account for natural chaotic variability that can occur in the rate of global warming as a result of interactions between the ocean and atmosphere, and other natural factors.
To test how accurate climate models are at accounting for variations in the rate of warming, Brown and Li, along with colleagues from San Jose State University and the USDA, created a new statistical model based on reconstructed empirical records of surface temperatures over the last 1,000 years.
"By comparing our model against theirs, we found that climate models largely get the 'big picture' right but seem to underestimate the magnitude of natural decade-to-decade climate wiggles," Brown said. "Our model shows these wiggles can be big enough that they could have accounted for a reasonable portion of the accelerated warming we experienced from 1975 to 2000, as well as the reduced rate in warming that occurred from 2002 to 2013."
Further comparative analysis of the models revealed another intriguing insight.
"Statistically, it's pretty unlikely that an 11-year hiatus in warming, like the one we saw at the start of this century, would occur if the underlying human-caused warming was progressing at a rate as fast as the most severe IPCC projections," Brown said. "Hiatus periods of 11 years or longer are more likely to occur under a middle-of-the-road scenario."
Under the IPCC's middle-of-the-road scenario, there was a 70 percent likelihood that at least one hiatus lasting 11 years or longer would occur between 1993 and 2050, Brown said. "That matches up well with what we're seeing."
There's no guarantee, however, that this rate of warming will remain steady in coming years, Li stressed. "Our analysis clearly shows that we shouldn't expect the observed rates of warming to be constant. They can and do change."
Patrick T. Brown, Wenhong Li, Eugene C. Cordero and Steven A. Mauget. Comparing the Model-Simulated Global Warming Signal to Observations Using Empirical Estimates of Unforced Noise. Scientific Reports, April 21, 2015 DOI: 10.1038/srep09957
Comparing the model-simulated global warming signal to observations using empirical estimates of unforced noise
Patrick T. Brown et al.
The comparison of observed global mean surface air temperature (GMT) change to the mean change simulated by climate models has received much public and scientific attention. For a given global warming signal produced by a climate model ensemble, there exists an envelope of GMT values representing the range of possible unforced states of the climate system (the Envelope of Unforced Noise; EUN).
Typically, the EUN is derived from climate models themselves, but climate models might not accurately simulate the correct characteristics of unforced GMT variability. Here, we simulate a new, empirical, EUN that is based on instrumental and reconstructed surface temperature records.
We compare the forced GMT signal produced by climate models to observations while noting the range of GMT values provided by the empirical EUN. We find that the empirical EUN is wide enough so that the interdecadal variability in the rate of global warming over the 20th century does not necessarily require corresponding variability in the rate-of-increase of the forced signal.
The empirical EUN also indicates that the reduced GMT warming over the past decade or so is still consistent with a middle emission scenario's forced signal, but is likely inconsistent with the steepest emission scenario's forced signal.
The White House is Lying About Climate Change and Health
By Alan Caruba
Let us begin with the understanding that there is no connection between the climate and health. The climate is something measured in decades and centuries, so what happened in the last century has nothing to do with whether you are sneezing today.
The weather surely can help generate health problems. For example in the northeastern states, the Lyme disease season is beginning. Between 1992 and 2010 reported cases of Lyme disease doubled to nearly 23,000 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but CDC officials believe the actual number of those infected may have been three times that number.
Lyme disease is transmitted by deer ticks and since these tiny insects will hitch a ride on birds, squirrels, mice and small animals as well, even if you live in an area without deer, the possibility of being bitten by a deer tick is just as likely. This increases for people who love gardening or outdoor recreational activities such as hiking and camping. Children, too, are particularly susceptible.
The fact that Lyme disease shows up in the Spring simply tells you that the warm weather facilitates the tick population. The weather has always been tied the mating habits and activities of various species, but that does not mean that is constitutes a massive threat to everyone's health.
That's not the way the White House sees it. On April 7 the administration made it official. It announced that it is "committed to combating the health impacts of climate change and protecting the health of future generations."
Since the climate changes over extended periods of time, not just month to month, one has to wonder what "health impacts" the White House has in mind. The last Little Ice Age lasted from around 1300 to 1850. It was cold all over Europe and North America. Does the White House propose that it can "protect" us from a new one? If so, that's absurd.
Let us understand, too, that there has always been what the White House announcement calls "extreme weather events." Notice the change from "climate" to "weather"? Among the events identified are "severe droughts and wildfires to more powerful hurricanes and record heat waves." Has there been a time when such weather-related events have not occurred? In fact, there are times when they don't. For example, there hasn't been a single Category 3-5 hurricane hit the U.S. mainland since 2005!
The White House has launched a massive brainwashing effort using many elements of the federal government to frighten Americans using the "climate" and the "weather." How deceptive is it?
One example is sufficient. The President has claimed that climate change was the cause of one of his daughter's asthma. In its announcement, it claimed that "In the past three decades, the percentage of Americans with asthma has more than doubled and climate change is putting these individuals and many other vulnerable populations at greater risk of landing in the hospital."
Here's what the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has to say about the various causes of asthma.
"Since asthma has a genetic origin and is a disease you are born with, passed down from generation to generation, the question isn't really `what causes asthma', but rather `what causes asthma symptoms to appear?' People with asthma have inflamed airways which are super-sensitive to thinks which do not bother other people."
What the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America is telling us is that there is no direct connection between either the climate or the weather and the illness called asthma.
Those who suffer this disease however can be affected by a range of triggers such as irritants in the air, pollens, molds, and even cockroach droppings. Infections such as colds, flu, and sore throats are among the leading triggers for asthma attacks in children.
The facts, the truth, were no deterrent to the April 7 White House twelve-page announcement of all the things it intends to do to brainwash Americans into believing that there is a connection between the "climate" and health.
Here's just a few of the dozens of events and programs it will initiate so that the media will report on them and thus convey the message that climate change is the greatest threat to Americans today:
"The Administration is expanding its Climate Data Initiative to include more than 150 health-relevant datasets.this is intended to help communities and businesses reduce the health impacts of climate change." Only there are no such impacts.
The Administration is announcing a coalition of Deans from 30 medical, public health, and nursing schools around the country, who are committing to ensure that the next generation of health professionals is trained to address the health impacts of climate change." Only there are no such impacts.
"Announcing the White House Climate Change and Health Summit." It will feature the Surgeon General who will lead discussions to "the public health impacts of climate change and identify opportunities to minimize these impacts." Only there are no impacts and nothing that could be done if there were.
From the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, many elements of the federal government will be integrated into this massive brainwashing effort.
What can be done to ignore a government determined to lie to everyone about a "threat" that does not exist? Not much.
Some Inconvenient Man-Made Global Warming Truths
By professional forecaster Joe Bastardi
My last article went over some aspects of man-made global warming that would let me know I may have the wrong idea on the issue. But I wonder if any alarmists have stopped to look at some of their most cherished metrics going the opposite way of their forecast. People that live in the real world understand that if reality is contrary to your predictions, it means you are wrong (or at least can be).
It's been nearly 10 years since the Oscar-winning film "An Inconvenient Truth" came out, so here's a question we should be asking: Are we worse off today than the movie implied? Let's look at some of those aspects.
The movie came out at a time I believe was meant to capitalize on the monster back-to-back hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005. But it was pretty arrogant to think that peak was the new norm. Then again, arrogance is the child of ignorance - in this case ignorance of an easy to see global cycle represented nicely by the ACE (accumulated cyclonic energy) index.
Much of that peak was courtesy of the major uptick in tropical Pacific activity due to the cyclical warming of the Pacific Decadol Oscillation, meaning more frequent El Ni¤os and higher activity in an ocean where two-thirds of global tropical activity typically occurs. The Atlantic warmed in the `90s (and is in the waning stages of that warm cycle now), but the Pacific cooling started in 2007. There will still be El Ni¤o spikes, such as the upcoming hurricane season that's off to a fast start in the Pacific. Globally, however, you can see there is nothing to support the hysteria "An Inconvenient Truth" was trying to push.
The fact is, it's been amazingly quiet relative to what it could be. In a way, the inconvenient truth is that a return to the '30s, '40s and '50s, with major hurricane hits on the U.S. coast, would create a big problem - because of the major build up of population, not CO2. (Weatherbell.com has had our hurricane forecast out since March. Here is the update of it for all to read.)
The infamous prophecies of an ice-free Arctic has a long and storied history, and this article from Real Science, which documents a lot of who said what and when, says it better than I can.
In any case, global sea ice looks like this:
Here's the Arctic against the average:
The U.S. climate model looks too optimistic to me, but it suggests we can all breath a big sigh of relief because the Arctic isn't likely to melt away this summer. (Notice too we are seeing less melting in the summer, but it's still not getting winters back to normal.) This is an anomaly chart:
There also appears to be a comeback in total ice volume.
Moreover, the Southern Hemisphere ice cap continues to impress.
Now, I've heard many arguments as to why we shouldn't pay attention to Antarctica, among them the idea it's actually melting and sending fresh water into the ocean, where it's "easier to freeze.". But you can be darn sure if the northern ice cap was melting away completely each summer, or the southern ice cap was trending down instead of up, it would be trumpeted as a sign that alarmists were right. The problem though is that no matter what happens, they claim they're right.
I do think as far as really quantifying the cause for variations, both up and down, water vapor is what we should be measuring. But since we keep running to the global temperature, let's look at what the National Centers for Environmental Prediction's (NCEP) analysis is depicting over the last 10 years:
The turn of the PDO in 2007 coincides nicely with a drop in the specific humidity over the tropics, opposite the trapping hot spot theory the EPA uses in one of its three lines of evidence for its endangerment finding.
Temperatures have trended a bit down mostly because of drops after the El Ni¤o spikes of '07 and '10. We have another El Ni¤o now that should fade in 2016. This time, however, the Atlantic will be cooler. So the five-year forecast from me is another spike, followed by a greater drop than the ones before.
(Side note: As far as I know, the folks over at NCEP aren't known "deniers" of climate change. Nor am I. Quite the contrary - when the debate was referred to as global warming, I was saying it's simply the natural back-and-forth of the climate. The term "climate change" is redundant. The design of the system with the sun, the oceans, stochastic events, the placement of land and ocean, etc., argue that all we are seeing is the constant search in nature for a balance it can never attain but will always strive for. And when there is strife, there will be plenty of back-and-forth. The climate is always in a state of change; it' inherent in the very definition of climate. Example: Since there have been both rain forests and glaciers in the state of Wisconsin, given a long enough period of time, the climate of Wisconsin is such that both rain forests and glaciers can occur.)
I would expect the coming 15 years to see a more pronounced cooling since the Atlantic is starting to flip to its colder cycle. The waning days of the warm cycle has stacked much of the warm water against the United States - a pattern very similar, in the decadol sense, to the late 1950s!
Tornadoes: Again, the hysteria after the spike in 2011 was meant to capitalize on that, with no regard for actual facts. This part of the agenda has grown so desperate, I have seen climate hysterics refer to any tornado as a "fossil-fueled" event even with tornadoes near record lows. Someone must have stuck sand in the gas tank.
As of April 19, we are only six above the record low for the date.
Wildfires are also way below average. You can link here every time you hear how "bad" wildfires are to see exactly where we are against the averages.
As of April 17, we are at the third lowest total fires in the past 11 years, and fourth lowest in total acreage. This is big, because all these cherished metrics, and many more that were being pushed so hard 10 years ago, have not gone the way they were forecasted. Yet given the continued drumbeat from people pushing it, you would never know they even care about the facts.
I will leave you with this. As aforementioned, the EPA used model projections as one of its three lines of evidence in their endangerment finding, which was baffling to me. How can you use a future event as factual evidence? This chart, created by Dr. John Christy at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, shows without a doubt acceptance of models is folly, which is interesting given a quote out of Proverbs 19:3: "A person's own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the LORD."
Those of us who bring up these issues are not God in no way, shape or form. In fact, we're quite the opposite: We believe that is very much an open question - not exactly God-like not knowing what tomorrow will bring and actually, as I wrote last time, looking for weaknesses in our own arguments. Yet it appears that when the folly is pointed out, there is rage against us. So who are the ones acting like they think they are "God" in this matter, knowing without a doubt what tomorrow will bring? Seems like folly to me.
Yes, the truth can be inconvenient, especially when confronting people that play God about tomorrow.
More Warmist chartmanship -- from the U.S Climate Panic Bureau
Chartmanship is a sub-set of lying with statistics
In the process of writing our upcoming book, The Lukewarmer's Manifesto, we wandered into the funhouse of the 2014 National Climate Assessment (NCA).
Recall that the NCA is a product of the federal government's U.S. Global Change Research Program, whose motto is "Thirteen Agencies, One Mission: Empower the Nation with Global Change Science." In their case, "empower" is synonymous with "indoctrinate." Here is a good example:
The section on hurricanes in Chapter 2 ("Our Changing Climate") caught our eye. The NCA has a sidebar on the history of the hurricane "power dissipation index" (PDI), a well-known cubic function of the wind velocity. The NCAs graphs begin in 1970 and end in 2009 (a full four years before the NCA was released).
They include a trend line through the PDI data beginning in 1980 that's going up for whatever reason and that is apparently convenient for drawing an association with human-caused global warming. But had the NCA authors consulted a longer record, say, from 1920 to 2013 (the last year data was available for the 2014 NCA) they could have readily ruled out any role of global warming.
The NCA's reason for not using a longer record is that "there is considerable uncertainty in the record prior to the satellite era (early 1970s)."
On the surface, that's true, but it is disingenuous. According to Dr. Chris Landsea who helped developed the National Hurricane Center's Atlantic hurricane history data (known as HURDAT2):
".some storms were missed, and many intensities are too low in the preaircraft reconnaissance era (before 1944 in the western half of the basin) and in the pre-satellite era (before 1972 for the entire basin)"
In other words, the earlier PDI data prior to 1972 could be an underestimate, but it certainly isn't an overestimate.
Dr. Ryan Maue was kind enough to provide us with the PDI record based upon the National Hurricane Center's HURDAT2 data back to 1920. There's no significant trend when this record is examined, despite a warming of approximately 0.75øC in the earth's surface temperature history. In this context, the NCA's trend line (indicated in our figure in red) seems nothing but absurd.
Atlantic Basin Power Dissipation Index calculated from HURDAT2 by Ryan Maue
The NCA could have used this data, which, for its 2014 volume, ended in 2013. The trend in 1980-2009 is shown as per the NCA.
A voluminous literature supports the notion that periodic changes in the north-south temperature gradient in the Atlantic Ocean (known, not surprisingly, as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO)), are related to hurricane activity in the North Atlantic.
According to Dr. Maue, the trend line drawn in the NCA basically starts during the negative phase of the AMO cycle (which promotes low hurricane activity) and ends during a positive phase (which is favorable for high levels of hurricane activity). A more accurate assessment of hurricane activity would begin in 1950 (reducing the influence of the cyclical nature of the AMO) and indicates a trend of zero (similar to the one beginning in 1920).
But such data apparently is a distraction when trying to paint an administration-preferred picture of the influence of anthropogenic climate change.
Barack Obama crusades against climate change, Republicans in Florida visit
Barack Obama travelled to Florida on Wednesday afternoon with the express intention of picking a fight with a Republican Party that refuses to acknowledge the cause and threat of climate change.
You can see how the politics made the visit irresistible to a president who has made action on climate change a central concern of his second term.
Not only is southern Florida already suffering from a sea level rise that has left aquifers saline and regularly inundates downtown South Beach, Miami; its governor, Rick Scott, has forbidden public officials, including engineers and scientists, from using the terms "climate change" or "global warming" in official communications.
This has proved particularly awkward for those working on infrastructure being built to combat the rising sea, but made state government committee hearings more amusing, with Democrats playing a sort of parlour game in which they try to trick public servants into uttering the banned words.
With Air Force One on the ground in Miami and commanding the nation's media attention on Wednesday, the President began went about trolling Governor Scott with some zest with a speech in which he uttered the words "climate change" 18 times in 15 minutes.
In case anyone missed the point the White House twitter feed joined in with the message: "Refusing to say the words 'climate change' doesn't mean it is not happening."
But Rick Scott was not the main target of Obama's political mission. In his sights were the two Floridians who are among the leading Republican contenders for the 2016 presidential election, Senator Marco Rubio and former governor Jeb Bush.
Rubio once believed in climate change, but as the White House beckoned he evolved on the issue, falling into line with Republican orthodoxy. "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it," he told ABC News last May.
Bush, often portrayed as a Republican moderate with the gumption to take stands against his party, holds a similar view.
He has employed the "I am not a scientist" line often used by Republicans seeking to duck the issue, and last year he told Fox: "It is not unanimous among scientists that [climate change] is disproportionately man-made. What I get a little tired of on the left is this idea that somehow science has decided all this so you can't have a view."
Obama fears that not only would either candidate fail to act on climate change should they win office, they would wind back the advances he has made, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency's imposition of the 30 per cent reduction in emissions from coal fired power stations.
He also believes that the Republican Party is on the wrong side of history on the issue, and that their stance could prove politically useful for the likely Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
For her part, Clinton is standing by Obama's action. "The unprecedented action that President Obama has taken must be defended at all costs," she said at a dinner for the League of Conservation Voters last month, The Guardian reported.
The president is of the view that strong and demonstrable American action on climate change is key to securing international action at the upcoming Paris climate talks.
The White House was upfront about its agenda too.
"The president is hoping that his visit to the Everglades on Earth Day will prompt an elevated political debate about making climate change a priority," the White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on a conference call before the trip. "Those Republicans who choose to deny the reality of climate change, they do that to the detriment of the people they're elected to represent. The debate we seek is one that puts this issue in a prominent place on the public agenda."
Standing in the Everglades National Park, the famous wetlands that are now under threat, Obama declared in frank terms that, "2014 was the planet's warmest year on record. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.
"This is not a problem for another generation. Not anymore. This is a problem now. It has serious implications for the way we live right now. Stronger storms. Deeper droughts. Longer wildfire seasons. The world's top climate scientists are warning that a changing climate already affects the air that our children are breathing."
What Governor Scott made of Obama's raid on his state, and the president's insouciant use of established scientific fact in political debate, is not yet clear.
In keeping with protocol the White House had invited the governor to join the president for the event, but for some reason Scott was otherwise occupied.
He responded to the president's incursion via Twitter, demanding that the federal government pony up US$58 million in funding for Everglades restoration.
"Our environment is too important to neglect & it's time for the federal government to focus on real solutions and live up to their promises," he sniffed.
Bjorn Lomborg: The Danish truth-teller
Bjorn Lomborg can still be an antagonistic provocateur. But current events are proving him right and his old enemies are being won over
At this point in his life, Bjorn Lomborg is resigned to being the skunk at the party. He knows he is scorned in left-leaning circles because of his persistent criticism of environmentalism. He knows he has become a lightning rod in the contentious debate over climate change. "I'm a name you use to polarise with," Lomborg says to me. He's right. The discourse that involves him has a Thunderdome feel. His many detractors don't just want to refute him; they want to shred him.
Yet there are signs that the times might have caught up with Lomborg's utilitarian approach to the world's thorniest sustainability challenges. For example, Europeans are finding it hard to swallow the economic reality of the renewable energy dream. According to a May report by the European Commission, gas prices for industry rose 35% in Europe but fell by 66% in America between 2005 and 2012.
And because of subsidies, this year German consumers will be paying 20 billion euros for electricity from solar, wind and biogas plants, whose market price is just over three billion euros.
As Lomborg wrote in a recent blog post, "Current green energy policies are failing for a simple reason: renewables are far too expensive. The solution is to innovate the price of renewables downward."
Meanwhile, he tells me, "Let's make sure we focus on things where for every dollar you spend, you do tens of dollars of good and not do so many things where you spend a dollar and do only a few cents of good."
It's a message reprised in a soon-to-be published book he has edited: How Much Have Global Problems Cost the World? In the introduction Lomborg sets the stage by asking, "Where can we do the most good first?" This seems a reasonable question to consider in a world with competing priorities.
So why would anyone want to shred Lomborg?
It's been that way for more than a decade, since Lomborg shot to fame in 2001 with his first book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, a broad critique of the environmental movement that infuriated many ecologists and greens. The notoriety transformed the little-known Danish statistician into a globe-trotting public intellectual.
He solidified his bad-boy status in 2007 with a book called "Cool It" (spawning a documentary with the same title), which argued that global warming concerns were legitimate but often dramatically overstated, and that government policies to rein in carbon emissions were ineffective and far too costly.
Since then, Lomborg has not shied from combat. Last January in the Wall Street Journal he accused US president Barack Obama of "fear-mongering" about global warming. In pointed barbs on Twitter and Facebook, he has frequently chastised greens for exaggerating the climate threat and ecological problems. Recently, after the mysterious honeybee die-off triggered another round of anguished handwringing, he wrote an opinion piece that concluded, "Panic is rarely the way to confront problems, so let's get real. We have a bee-problem, but not a beepocalypse."
Given his high profile, it's worth asking at this stage in his career if Lomborg is a voice of reason, a professional pot stirrer, or a trollish ankle-biter. The answer probably depends on where you sit in these debates. His combative style, he insists, is a necessary consequence of challenging conventional wisdom.
For instance, the prevailing assumption in green circles is that renewable energy can soon power the world if given the chance. But that's a pipe dream, Lomborg asserts: "A lot of people are saying, `We need to put up more solar panels and wind turbines'. We need to have someone say, `Sorry that's not going to work. That's not the solution. At best, it's just a tiny, tiny part of it. If you're going to get global warming fixed, you need to get much, much cheaper energy and that's about innovation.' And I think, fundamentally, there's no nice way you can say that."
Perhaps, but what Lomborg sees as unvarnished truth-telling others view as contributing to the climate debate's rancour and partisan divide, which is especially pronounced in Australia and the United States.
If there is a fine line between making people uncomfortable and alienating them, Lomborg hasn't straddled it well. At one juncture in our conversation, when I tell him that he seems unable to shake his reputation as a divisive provocateur, he agrees, saying this has been the case especially in his home country: "In many places in Denmark, I know families have this sort of agreement that they won't mention my name at the dinner table, because it makes for uncomfortable conversation."
If Danish families won't mention his name, it's likely that they aren't talking about his ideas. Which begs another question: what if the way Lomborg gets his points across turns people off from even considering them, despite their merits?
There is a poignant scene in the 2010 Cool It documentary, when Lomborg visits his ailing mother in a home for the elderly. In a voice-over he references the shellacking he took after the 2001 publication of The Skeptical Environmentalist, which made a worldwide splash. (From a marketing standpoint it helped that the upbeat, congenial author portrayed himself as a nature-loving former Greenpeace member.)
In the book, Lomborg argued that the state of the environment was improving overall and that an array of global problems, from the rate of species extinctions to climate change, were not nearly as bad as they had been made out to be by greens.
The blowback was punishing. Eminent environmental scientists denounced the text as deeply flawed, charging that he made his case with selective and out-of-context evidence. In 2002, Scientific American published a detailed rebuttal by four scientists entitled "Misleading Math about the Earth". An academic committee under the auspices of the Danish government accused him of "scientific dishonesty". In the film, Lomborg says that during this turbulent period he found safe harbour in the company of his unconditionally loving mother.
A movie critic might find this scene gratuitous, but it did humanise him. The same could be said for other scenes in Cool It, of Lomborg feeding impoverished children in Africa or riding his bike through the streets of Copenhagen.
Aside from these attempts to make him a more sympathetic figure, the film aimed to be a pragmatic counter to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, the mid-2000s best-selling book and Oscar-winning documentary inspired by it, which depicted climate change as an urgent threat to humanity.
Lomborg, by contrast, argued that some activists and an enabling media trafficked in global warming hysteria. His larger argument - the crux of Cool It - was that manmade climate change was real but posed a relatively distant and unclear threat and was thus not nearly as urgent as the dire problems affecting human welfare today, such as the rampant diseases, crushing poverty and lack of clean water in the developing world.
I know what you're thinking. Why can't we tackle malaria and global warming at the same time? This is a rejoinder that Lomborg hears often, that humans can walk and chew gum at the same time. His response to me: "I'm not saying we can't do more things; I'm saying we can't do everything. We have a tendency to focus on things that look scary on TV, that have great PR groups, that have cute animals, and that's not necessarily the best way to prioritise our efforts."
That's also not necessarily a line of thinking that communicates well to the average person who, as science tells us, is governed much more by emotion than reason. For instance, why is it that pictures of polar bears stranded on pieces of floating ice have become iconic totems in the climate debate? True, the polar bear is not a basis for climate policy, but it serves as a potent (albeit over-used) symbol of an extraordinarily complex issue. It activates the part of our brain that makes us think and possibly care about climate change.
Of course, translating that concern into meaningful action has proven next to impossible. This is because people are focused on the wrong kinds of actions, Lomborg says, like buying a Prius or, at the national level in some countries, swearing off nuclear power and building more solar panels and wind turbines. The latter is a noble effort, but as Germany has recently discovered, trying to meet all its energy needs with sunshine and wind has led to greater reliance on coal-powered electricity. That can't be good for the climate or polar bears.
Why, then, has Germany's grand experiment with renewable energy been much admired in the global green community? The answer, perhaps, lies in a point Lomborg stresses several times in our conversation, such as in this zinger: "The global warming conversation is filled with people who literally believe we just need a few more solar panels and we're good to go."
Fortunately for Lomborg, who is pro-nuclear, pro-natural gas and pro-biotechnology, he is no longer the only prominent skunk at the party. The respected climate scientist James Hansen has come out strongly for nuclear power; he has also ridiculed the notion that green energy can help the world kick its carbon habit any time soon. In a widely distributed essay several years ago, Hansen wrote: "Suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy." The recent documentary Pandora's Promise features a roster of environmentalists making the case for nuclear power.
Another band of green writers and thinkers has started to champion economic growth and genetically modified crops as good for the environment and humanity. One of the most forceful and articulate of this group is Mark Lynas, the British environmentalist and author of several books, including an award-winning book on the dangers of climate change.
Also notable about Lynas is that he once threw a pie in Lomborg's face. It was in 2001, shortly after publication of The Skeptical Environmentalist. Lomborg was at a bookstore in Oxford, England, getting ready to talk about his new controversial text when Lynas stepped up to the podium and creamed him, yelling "Pies for lies!". Grainy footage of the incident can be seen on YouTube and is featured in Cool It as an illustration of the furious reaction to The Skeptical Environmentalist.
Lynas has since left his radical-activist self in the past and apologised to Lomborg. The two have had respectful exchanges on environmental issues. When I recently contacted Lynas, via email, he said he still thought The Skeptical Environmentalist "was highly selective in its citations and pretty biased overall", which echoes what many critics have said of the book. But he also praised Lomborg's recent work (with his Copenhagen Consensus Institute, a policy think tank) as "valuable and interesting" and observed: "I think his general effort hasn't so much been about science as about economics - in particular an insistence that cost-benefit analysis can be a valuable tool in deciding where to prioritise resources."
These nuanced attitudes on technology and economic policy seem to herald a new kind of environmentalism in the making, what some have called eco-pragmatism. If they take root, it's easy to imagine Lomborg's arguments gaining a more receptive audience. He would at least be in tune with the zeitgeist.
For his part, Lomborg says he thinks the times have finally caught up with him. "The three main messages" of The Skeptical Environmentalist "have actually gotten through pretty well," he contends. These are, one, overall things are getting better, not worse; two, we need to prioritise our problems; and three, we need to focus on the things where we can do the most good. Lomborg says that he has "talked to lots of people who were initially very against" what he said in the book but who "have slowly come around" to agreeing.
That may be, but there's no denying the lasting fallout to his image from the beating the book took in the environmentalist and scientific communities, where he is still regarded, at best, suspiciously and, at worst, as an enemy. Lomborg chalks this up to the "you're either with us or against us" mentality that has poisoned the climate and environmental debates. Case in point: because Lomborg has been an outspoken critic of what he calls "global warming hysteria," he has for years been tagged as a "climate denier". He chafes at the charge and passionately defends himself against it.
Indeed, despite being named by Time magazine (in 2008) as one of the world's 100 most influential people, to a great extent Lomborg has not been able to shake the popular impressions of him that formed in response to The Skeptical Environmentalist. The book has cast a long shadow he can't escape, something he acknowledges: "You say Bjorn Lomborg and with that you mean everything bad in the world. It's shorthand for that. If you never read anything I wrote or heard me speak, you'd think I must be this wild-eyed person that wants to kill everything and pave over nature."
He's telling me this via Skype from the kitchen of his 80 m2 flat in Prague, where he moved last year "after I was disowned by the Danish government". The story, according to Lomborg, is this: in 2011, the new centre-left government came into office promising to defund his Copenhagen Consensus Institute, which focuses on how to solve the world's biggest challenges in a cost-efficient manner. Lomborg says he was the intended target. After the government pulled the institute's funding, Denmark's foreign minister reportedly bragged in a speech that, "we have closed Bjorn Lomborg's institute".
I ask Lomborg why that would prompt him to leave his homeland. "I'm not going to stay in a country that doesn't want me," he says indignantly.
This latest episode in the ongoing chronicles of Lomborg vs. The World underscores the kind of baggage he can't shed.
If all these battles have taken their toll, Lomborg hides it well. At 48, he retains his boyish blond visage and still bounds around in his trademark black T-shirt and sneakers. Despite all the blows he's taken, there have been no knockout punches. After moving to Prague, he reconstituted the Copenhagen Consensus Institute into a US-based non-profit organisation. He maintains a busy schedule, churning out a steady stream of op-ed pieces and travelling 150-200 days a year, giving speeches and attending academic functions.
When asked if he thinks he could have done anything differently over a decade ago - perhaps toned down his scorching criticism - Lomborg hesitates for a few seconds. "No," he says, then adds, "Of course with 12 years hindsight, I'm sure I could have hit it better."
Can Lomborg ever win over his adversaries? Given that some greens are now coming around to his way of thinking - embracing pragmatic solutions for the world's daunting energy and environmental problems - he may have a second chance. Whether he makes the most of it might depend on the lessons he's learned since becoming the world's most famous sceptical environmentalist
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