Tuesday, October 09, 2007


To statisticians and political scientists - Lomborg is both - what people say is trivial compared with what they do. Lomborg is, unquestionably, one of the most important living thinkers. Time magazine listed him in the world's 100 most influential people; he was named as the 14th most influential academic in the world and a "young global leader".

He doesn't look like any of these things; he looks more like a tennis player or possibly a designer for Bang & Olufsen. In the lobby of a fashionable London hotel, he is wearing jeans, a polo shirt and black trainers. His hair is blond and the fixed gaze of his blue eyes is downright disturbing. His voice is deep and he is very talkative.

He is seen by the deep greens as the most appalling apostate - he was once a member of Greenpeace - and by the hard deniers he is seen as a secular saint: the man who pulled the rug out from under the whole climate change conspiracy. The latter will take particular delight in his latest book, Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming.

He says that polar bears - the poster beasts for the greens - are not dying off as the ice pack melts; in fact, they are increasing in numbers. He accepts that rising temperatures will result in more heat deaths, but there will be far fewer deaths from cold. And Al Gore's vision of a flooded Florida as sea levels rise by 20ft within the next century is treated with derision. The Kyoto accord on limiting emissions, meanwhile, will achieve almost nothing and cost billions.

But Lomborg is neither saint nor apostate. He believes global warming is happening and humans are causing it. He just doesn't think it's that serious. Moreover, he thinks - as does the US government - technology is the answer. Attempting to cut emissions is as futile as expecting the Tories to charge for supermarket parking.

"There's a huge difference between what people say and what they do," observes Lomborg. "Look at all the websites where you can take a flight and offset your carbon. Only about 1% do it. Likewise this goes for most politicians who say they will cut emissions dramatically. Blair said in 1997 that he'd reduce carbon emissions by 15%; we've seen an increase of 3% since then."

This all began in February 1997. Lomborg was in Los Angeles and he read an article in Wired magazine by the late Julian Simon, an American right-wing thinker, trashing the eco-catastrophists. He went back to Denmark and with his statistics students set about the task of proving Simon wrong. Except for a few details, they failed. By the end of the year, he had concluded that Simon was right and the green case was a wild exaggeration. In right-on, PC, left-wing, green Denmark this was heresy. But Lomborg had been trained in heresy.

He was born in Copenhagen in 1965, the only child of a school-teacher mother and a father who was a musician and a priest in the liberal Catholic church. This is a strange blend of Christianity and theosophy. "From a fairly early age I was used to being a little unusual. Denmark is a fiercely nonreligious country. In any questionnaire people tend to put religion under "hobbies". But I would actually be a mass boy every Sunday, that kind of thing. I was brought up slightly weird, but I got used to the idea that just because you're different doesn't necessarily break you." He's also gay, but he's reluctant to include this as an aspect of his outsider status. "Well, I guess it taught me to be different in one more aspect and still be okay."

He retains many vestiges of his upbringing and of PC Denmark. He is a vegetarian like his parents. He doesn't drive a car, preferring to cycle round cities, and he retains a religious conviction. "I have this deep sense that there probably is a meaning to life and there probably is a God. But it's not a big thing. It's not as important as being a good person and a humanist."

In 1998 he went into print in Denmark with his view on greenery, and in 2001 The Skeptical Environmentalist appeared in English. Next came Global Crises, Global Solutions. This was a collection of ideas from distinguished economists on the best ways to spend $50 billion on improving the human condition. Fighting global warming came low on all the lists.

The environmentalists were incandescent. His findings were assaulted on all sides. Scientific American magazine ran a feature in which scientists queued up to list ways in which he was wrong. The big accusation was that he was not an earth scientist. His defence was that he wasn't doing earth science, he was simply analysing the figures on which the greens built their case. A Danish government committee found him guilty of scientific dishonesty, a charge that was later withdrawn. "You were supposed to have good reasons for saying that, and they didn't even provide a reason."

Lomborg was further accused of being a shill for the Bush administration. After all, Bush and latterly Condoleezza Rice insist that technology, not emissions controls, are the solution. Lomborg could have been writing the script. He acknowledges this but insists he retains his fundamental left-wing beliefs. He may tell the American government it is right about green technology, but he also tells it to divert resources to Aids and malaria in Africa. Does this really make him left wing? "The way I see it, to be left wing is to care about people and making sure there are fewer inequalities and saying that what the market comes out with is not necessarily the right outcome. I actually thought I have always been historically left wing. This comes from the French revolution. These were the guys who believed in progress but also believed in facts against old-fashioned thinking. That's what we are supposed to be about."

His first two books put global warming in the context of other big problems, Cool It focuses solely on the environmental issue. His conclusion is that the best way to deal with warming is to set up an international research fund of $25 billion annually to seek solutions. This is, he calculates, about what the problem is worth. If the signs get worse, the sum could be increased. But the vast sums involved in cutting emissions are wasted because they are disproportionate to the problem, they will not work and they are politically futile.

I happen to think, on the basis of many other conversations, that he's wrong about the seriousness of global warming. But I don't doubt he's right about the futility of emissions controls and the deep gulf that divides what people say and what they do.

Lomborg is plausible, persuasive and intellectually passionate. He regards most of the criticisms as pitiably weak on logic. There is, however, one criticism that cuts deeper. "The clear implication," says the philosopher John Gray of Lomborg's thought, "is that there is no need to restrain human ambitions in order to protect the environment; it can look after itself. In effect, this is a recycled version of the technological utopianism that's always been popular in the US, and explains why it is so feted by big business."

Lomborg looks startled when I put the charge of utopianism to him. He sees himself as a pragmatist. He believes in progress, but sees where it can go wrong. But the deep green and antihumanist intuition - most beautifully expressed by the American biologist EO Wilson - that we are utterly dependent on the earth and must, therefore, approach nature with reverence and humility, means nothing to him. He cycles only in the city, not in the forests. And if, in spite of your own hypocrisy, you feel uneasy about that then you are right to do so.


Inconvenient Youths: Eco-warrior kids go after parents for 'environmental offenses'


In households across the country, kids are going after their parents for environmental offenses, from using plastic cups to serving non-grass-fed beef at the dinner table. Many of these kids are getting more explicit messages about becoming eco-warriors at school and from popular books and movies. This year's global-warming documentary "Arctic Tale," for instance, closes with a child actor telling kids, "If your mom and dad buy a hybrid car, you'll make it easier for polar bears to get around." Kids on field trips to the Garbage Museum in Stratford, Conn., are sent home with instructions to recycle cans, bottles, newspaper and junk mail. The museum hosted 388 schools visits last year, 42 more than the year before. At one California elementary school, kids are given environmental activities to do with their families -- including one where parents have to yank out the refrigerator and clean the coils to make it more energy efficient. "Kids are putting pressure on their parents, and this is a very good thing," says Laurie David, a producer of the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." Ms. David is the co-author of a new children's book, "The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming," which urges kids, among other things, to petition mom and dad for recycled-fiber toilet paper. "I know how powerful my kids are," she says. "When they want something, forget it -- all the resistance in the world isn't going to help you."

..... The 7-year-old recently decided he should try to help the cause by turning off his night-light. But when his older sister, Rowan, unplugged it at bedtime, he was soon screaming, "Help!" from his bunk bed. "I'm scared of the dark, so it's a real problem," says Benjamin. His father, Jay Adelson, founder of the social Web site Digg.com, says Benjamin's conservation concerns border on the obsessive: "He sees the cutting down of a tree as a sacrilegious and awful event."

Fiona Henderson, a first-grader in Denver, got her environmental calling at church. One of the ministers had been talking about global warming and the Environmental Protection Agency's children's climate-change Web site, where kids can click on a drawing of an Earth with a bandage on it to learn about greenhouse gases. Fiona, 6, started pestering her parents, John and Margit, to use the lights less often. She walked around shutting off lights, told her father not to drive to work and now gives 25 cents from her $1.50 weekly allowance to various environmental causes. "She's not so much upset as strident -- 'Turn off that light! Turn off that light!' " says Mr. Henderson. "We ended up having conversations with her that it's OK to use energy."


Students Thrown Climate Life Preserver with New book


Two new books on global warming for kids are out. One is designed to reduce anxiety among children; the other is designed to heighten it. So which is better? That depends on how you like your facts - right or wrong. Sept. 1 saw the release of "The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming," co-authored by Al Gore acolyte and "Inconvenient Truth" co-producer Laurie David and former advertising copywriter and environmental activist Cambria Gordon. Two weeks later, "The Sky's Not Falling! Why It's OK to Chill About Global Warming" was published. It was authored by resource economist Holly Fretwell, an adjunct professor at Montana State University and a senior research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC). Judging from the authors' credentials alone, you may already suspect where this comparison of the two books might be headed - and you really don't have to go too far into either book to confirm that suspicion.



ICAO delegates supported a resolution at the organization's 36th Assembly last week stating that "emissions trading schemes should not be applied [by states and governing bodies such as the European Union] to aircraft of foreign countries without mutual consent," effectively rejecting non-EU airlines' participation in the EU's emissions trading scheme.

The EU expressed disappointment in the resolution and indicated it will move forward with attempting to impose the scheme, setting up a near-certain legal challenge by the US and other countries. EU transport ministers have said that any airline operating flights to or within the EU must participate in emissions trading (ATWOnline, June 11).

ICAO Assembly President Jeffrey Shane, US Dept. of Transportation under secretary for policy, said members do not object to the concept of emissions trading schemes as a tool to combat climate change. But he emphasized that ICAO members other than EU nations object to unilateral imposition of schemes.

Shane said the Assembly produced a "sea change" regarding the environment by establishing a "high-level group on emissions and climate change" that has been mandated to pursue an "aggressive program of action" to develop a framework "to inform states on reducing the carbon footprint of aviation." He explained that the framework will be "a cookbook" that will guide ICAO members and that the organization has "dramatically accelerated" the pace with which it will address climate change.

He conceded that the resolution on emissions trading schemes has "no binding force" and that "Europe has said it does not intend to be bound by the resolution."

Portuguese DG-Civil Aviation Luis Fonseca de Almeida, speaking on behalf of EU nations, said, "We are disappointed by the outcome and believe ICAO has abdicated the leadership role given to it in the Kyoto Protocol." European Commission VP-Transport Jacques Barrot added that ICAO's "record on aircraft emissions is simply not good enough."

IATA DG Giovanni Bisignani said ICAO delegates affirmed the principle that global consensus is necessary on environmental issues. "Europe's unilateral approach to emissions trading confuses taking leadership with taking cash," he said. "It is disappointing and irresponsible. Regional schemes will have, at best, limited impact on the environment. And their unilateral application to foreign airlines is a clear breach of the Chicago Convention."


In search of eco-salvation

Many religions are now more likely to preach about saving the planet than saving souls.

These days, moralisers find it easier to make people feel guilty about their impact on the environment than about committing one of the seven deadly sins. Not surprisingly, many religious institutions are busy reinventing themselves by promoting ecological virtues and preaching against the eco-sins of polluters. On occasions, the attempt to recycle traditional theological concerns in a green form becomes a caricature of itself. In August, Dom Anthony Sutch, a Benedictine monk, announced that he would hear eco-confessions of sins against the environment at the Waveney Greenpeace festival, in a confessional booth carefully constructed from recycled materials. The good monk clearly practices what he preaches. He tries ‘very hard’ to live a green lifestyle and is proud of his principal achievement – reducing his electricity bill by 30 per cent. This mock ritual is unlikely to offer penitents’ salvation or redemption, but their ‘awareness’ will be raised. And these days being ‘aware’ is recognised as akin to being virtuous.

Sometime back in the 1980s, Western societies gave up on the project of rescuing ‘traditional values’ and morality. From time to time, conservative politicians and moral entrepreneurs have attempted to launch back-to-basics crusades promoting ‘family values’. However, their lack of popular appeal has only exposed society’s estrangement from these traditions. Indeed by the Eighties, even religious institutions found it difficult to uphold their own authority with conviction. Instead of influencing society many churches began to internalise the attitudes associated with the lifestyles of their increasingly individualised consumerist flock. The last quarter century has seen a steady diminishing of religious authority in Western societies. Debates about the role of women priests, homosexuality and marriage indicated that religious institutions have become confused about their own relationship to traditional values.

One consequence of the erosion of religious authority was that the church became exposed to the critical scrutiny of the public. A dramatic manifestation of the loss of religious authority is the spate of child abuse scandals that have incriminated church leaders. In many places Catholic officials were forced to respond to the public’s mistrust of their conduct by banning priests from any private contact with children. For example, Australian guidelines, drawn up with the approval of the Vatican, insisted that confessionals had to be fitted with glass viewing panels. Priests are also banned from seeing any child alone with the door closed (1). The readiness with which the clergy is prepared to modify the ritual of confession is testimony to its ambiguity and defensiveness about its own tradition.

Forced on to the defensive and sensitive to the charge of being out of touch with public concerns, Western religions have looked for new ways of rebuilding their authority. As I have argued elsewhere, some church officials attempted to associate themselves with the authority enjoyed by psychology and therapy and reinvented themselves as counsellors and therapists (2). As the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey noted, ‘Christ the Saviour is becoming Christ the counsellor’ (3).

In recent years, some in the church have sought to gain the public’s ear through the greening of traditional doctrines, and Christ the Saviour is fast becoming Christ the environmental activist. Western society is continually in search of rituals and symbols through which moral probity can be affirmed. It appears that, for many church leaders, the project of saving the planet offers more opportunities for reconstituting rituals and symbols than the saving of souls.

It is not just the odd priest offering absolution through the ritual of eco-confession. Church leaders have embraced the rituals of eco-morality to demonstrate their commitment to a higher good. Absolution through carbon offsets appears to be the way forward.

Pope Benedict XVI has called for the upholding of ‘green culture’, and the Vatican has announced that it will soon become the world’s first carbon neutral state. A Hungarian entrepreneur plans to plant trees on a denuded island in the Tisza River to offset the Papal carbon emissions. The newly planted 37 acres of holy land, to be renamed the Vatican Climate Forest, is supposed to absorb as much carbon dioxide as the Vatican emits. At a ceremony publicising the initiative, Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, noted that ‘the book of Genesis tells us of a beginning in which God placed man as guardian over the earth to make it fruitful’ (4). As far as some Vatican leaders are concerned, offsetting carbon emissions plays a role analogous to that of fasting or self-mortification in previous times. Monsignor Melchor Sanchez de Toca Alameda, an official at the Council for Culture, argues that ‘one can emit less CO2 by not using heating and not driving a car, or one can do penance by intervening to offset emissions, in this case by planting trees’.

The Catholic Church appears to take the view that it can revitalise its relationship with people through preaching the virtues of environmental responsibility. According to press reports, the Pope will use his first address to the United Nations to warn the world against global warming and promote saving the planet as a moral duty for Catholics (5). In recent months, the Pope has actively sought to associate himself with green issues. ‘Before it is too late, it is necessary to make courageous decisions that reflect knowing how to re-create a strong alliance between man and the earth’, he told a rally of young people.

The assimilation of eco-morality into the idiom of theology and liturgy is not confined to Catholicism. In the USA, the National Religious Partnership for the Environment unites the US Catholic Conference, the National Council of Churches, the Coalition on Environment and Jewish Life and the Evangelical Environmental Network in a crusade to save the earth. Through an implicit reinterpretation of classical dogma, the sanctity of nature and all creation displaces the traditional focus on the sanctity of human beings. The Eco-Kosher network celebrates food that is ‘ecologically benign’ and ‘promotes values that appeal to a wide variety of people, including Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, vegetarians, and health conscious individuals’. There are many attempts to rebrand Judaism as an environmentalist religion. ‘You cannot be a conscious Jew without being conscious of the environment’ argues Jonathan Helfand, a professor in the Jewish Studies Department at City University of New York (6).

In 2006, the Church of England launched an eco-crusade entitled ‘Shrinking the Footprint’. The Archbishop of Canterbury complained that ‘early modern religion contributed to the idea that the fate of nature is for it to be bossed around by a detached sovereign will, whether divine or human’. It seems possible that those misguided early modern religionists received that idea from the Book of Genesis, where God gives Man dominion ‘over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth’. Now the head of the Anglican church protests about nature being ‘bossed around’ not only by Man, but by God. This year, the Church of England launched a booklet of green tips for the faithful entitled How Many Christians Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb? Its eco-commandments include: share cars on the road to church, use virtuous low-energy lightbulbs but cast out junk mail, and do not flush the loo at night.

Eco-Congregation Scotland has produced a ‘Church Check-Up’ to see whether a local church’s environmental practices are up to scratch. Its check-up is designed to help churches ‘identify and affirm their existing environmental ministry’. It asks questions like ‘How regularly during the year are environmental concerns included in worship?’, ‘In your Church’s prayer do you “Say sorry for the harm done to the environment”?’, ‘Does your Church sing hymns or songs that celebrate the wonder of creation and express the calling to care for the environment?’ The aim of the ‘check-up’ is to encourage churches to embrace environmental concerns as the focus for worship.

Eco-spirituality is also seen as a moral resource that can transcend cultural and religious differences. This summer, the 9th Islamic Fayre in Bristol promoted an eco theme. ‘Islam is a religion of peace but is also known as a religion of nature’, stated Rizwan Ahmed, the event’s organiser. And Farooq Siddique, community development officer of the British Muslim Cultural Society noted that the ‘event is also about bringing communities together’. The hope that the appeal of eco-spirituality could counteract the influence of radical jihadist sentiments has encouraged British officialdom to support such initiatives.

The appeal of eco-spirituality to so many different religions is a testimony to the powerful influence that environmentalism exercises over contemporary culture. At a time when traditional institutions find it difficult to connect with popular concerns, environmentalism is still able to transmit ideas about human responsibility through appealing to a sense of right and wrong. That is why the authors of children’s books and school officials also use environmentalism as a vehicle for socialising youngsters.

However, eco-spirituality cannot really compensate for the loss of traditional moral authority. Indeed the very embrace of the environmentalist agenda can only accelerate the decline of institutions that cannot give meaning to the religious doctrines on which they were founded. The shift away from God towards nature inevitably leads to a world where the pronouncements of environmentalist experts trump those of the priesthood. It will be interesting to see what will remain of traditional religion as prophecy and revelation is displaced by computerised climate models.



For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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