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The Lomborg Deception

The Lomborg Deception: Setting the Record Straight About Global Warming

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Lomborg Deception
    Book Description:

    In this major assessment of leading climate-change skeptic Bjørn Lomborg, Howard Friel meticulously deconstructs the Danish statistician's claim that global warming is "no catastrophe" by exposing the systematic misrepresentations and partial accounting that are at the core of climate skepticism. His detailed analysis serves not only as a guide to reading the global warming skeptics, but also as a model for assessing the state of climate science. With attention to the complexities of climate-related phenomena across a range of areas-from Arctic sea ice to the Antarctic ice sheet-The Lomborg Deceptionalso offers readers an enlightening review of some of today's most urgent climate concerns.

    Friel's book is the first to respond directly to Lomborg's controversial research as published inThe Skeptical Environmentalist(2001) andCool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming(2007). His close reading of Lomborg's textual claims and supporting footnotes reveals a lengthy list of findings that will rock climate skeptics and their allies in the government and news media, demonstrating that the published peer-reviewed climate science, as assessed mainly by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has had it mostly right-even if somewhat conservatively right-all along. Friel's able defense of Al Gore'sAn Inconvenient Truthagainst Lomborg's repeated attacks is by itself worth an attentive reading.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16134-2
    Subjects: Environmental Science, General Science, Physics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)

    Ever a graduate student, I habitually turn to the back of a scholarly article or book to read the footnote or see what the citation actually is. Scholars do this not from some boring pedantic thoroughness, but rather out of true intellectual curiosity. As usual, I did that when reviewing theSkeptical EnvironmentalistforScientific American. I remember my frustration at inadequate citations, so much so that I characterized them in the review as a ‘‘mirage in the desert.’’ I reviewed only the forest and biodiversity aspects of the book as that was my particular expertise and assignment, and three...

    (pp. xi-xii)

    • one 2001: A THEOREM’S ODYSSEY
      (pp. 3-23)

      On September 10, 2001, Cambridge University Press publishedThe Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World, by Bjørn Lomborg, a Danish statistician who argued that the ‘‘real’’ condition of the world’s environment is better than what the major environmental organizations have routinely reported. Lomborg argued that the environmental groups—such as Greenpeace and the Worldwatch Institute—were too pessimistic and thus overstated humankind’s harmful impact on the Earth’s land, air, water, and animals.

      At the outset, Lomborg maintained that there was little evidence to substantiate a gloomy picture of the Earth’s environment. He rejected this view as the...

    • two ON POLAR BEARS
      (pp. 24-45)

      Bjørn Lomborg beganCool Itwith a brief chapter on polar bears. He wanted to demonstrate—right off the bat—that what he considered to be an exaggerated threat to polar bears from global warming was a case study of how the threat of global warming itself is exaggerated. ‘‘But the real story of the polar bear,’’ Lomborg wrote, ‘‘is instructive,’’ since ‘‘once you look closely at the supporting data, the narrative [that the bears are threatened] falls apart.’’ Lomborg’s exposé of the alleged misuse of polar bear data ‘‘encapsulates the broader problem with the climate-change concern,’’ and supports his...

      (pp. 46-66)

      Lomborg’s earlier and more celebrated book,The Skeptical Environmentalist, began just as inauspiciously asCool It. The subtitle to the book is ‘‘Measuring the Real State of the World,’’ and the first sentence asks, ‘‘What kind of state is the world really in?’’ By the fourth paragraph, however, Lomborg appears to take the subtitle back: ‘‘Of course, it is not possible to write a book (or even lots and lots of books for that matter) which measures the entire state of the world.’’¹ Why, then, would Lomborg subtitle the book ‘‘Measuring theRealState of the World’’? Is there any...


      (pp. 69-89)

      The cumulative impact of the first three chapters introduces the possibility that Lomborg’s methodology is chronically flawed, and that Lomborg’s Theorem (that global warming is ‘‘no catastrophe’’) and Lomborg’s Corollary (that we can thus reject substantial reductions in greenhouse emissions) are grounded, to say the least, in bad data. In the next several chapters I review Lomborg’s Theorem as presented in his 2007 bookCool It, so as to determine the fuller extent of Lomborg’s data problems as applied to his updated and focused analysis of the threat of global warming. Because I’ve already reviewedCool It’s first chapter, ‘‘On...

      (pp. 90-116)

      Though Lomborg never demonstrated in chapter 2 ofCool Itthat global warming would lead to a net reduction in human mortality, he began chapter 3 by claiming to have settled that issue, and by pledging to expose ‘‘many other’’ environmentalists’ ‘‘exaggerations’’ concerning the impacts of global warming: ‘‘In chapter 2, we looked at what happens just when temperatures increase and saw that it was no catastrophe. But, of course, there are many other concerns about global warming, each often presented as a disaster-in-waiting, urging us to drop everything else and focus on cutting CO₂. As it turns out, these...

      (pp. 117-126)

      Because of the importance of sea-level rise as a likely major impact of global warming (as described in the previous chapter), and given that Lomborg’s estimate of a mere one-foot sea-level increase by the end of the century is a major component of Lomborg’s Theorem, it is worth investigating further how Lomborg arrived at that estimate. Lomborg began with another of many references to Al Gore andAn Inconvenient Truth:‘‘Gore is correct in identifying Antarctica and Greenland as the most important players if he is to support his hypothetical twenty feet. The UN estimates that over the century by...

      (pp. 127-132)

      While we transition inCool Itfrom Lomborg’s analysis of the Greenland ice sheet to the West Antarctic ice sheet in the next chapter, it is worth visiting a small island, so to speak, in between—a sidebar inCool Ittitled, ‘‘Penguins in Danger?’’ Lomborg begins by implying that Al Gore exaggerated the harmful impact of global warming, this time on Antarctica’s penguins. Referring to Gore’sAn Inconvenient Truth, Lomborg wrote: ‘‘Al Gore also shows us how the rising temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have dramatically affected the emperor penguins, who were the subject of the 2005 documentaryMarch...

      (pp. 133-147)

      Lomborg’s main points about Antarctica inCool Itare that the Antarctic continent has cooled in the past several decades, that the dramatic warming of the Antarctic Peninsula is not unprecedented within the past several thousand years, and that Antarctica’s contribution to sea-level rise this century will be minimal.¹

      To support his assertion that the Antarctic continent has cooled, Lomborg cited three sources, none of which had been published in a peer-reviewed journal as ofCool It’spublication date.² Lomborg’s first source was a draft paper, ‘‘A Synthesis of Antarctic Temperatures,’’ that, as the draft noted, was submitted for publication...

      (pp. 148-159)

      In addition to arguing that environmentalists have exaggerated the threat of global warming to polar bears, penguins, and sea-level rise, Lomborg also argued that environmentalists have exaggerated the link between global warming and extreme weather events, including hurricanes, heat waves, heavy precipitation events, and drought. Lomborg argued that few such events will increase due to global warming, or at least to the degree that the environmentalists claim. This point of view thus explains the title of this section ofCool It, ‘‘Extreme Weather, Extreme Hype.’’

      Lomborg began by complaining that the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, and...

      (pp. 160-167)

      Lomborg began his section inCool Itcalled ‘‘Malaria in Vermont’’ by referring to a 2003 World Health Organization report titled, ‘‘Climate Change and Human Health: Risks and Response.’’¹ As Lomborg noted,² the WHO estimated that global warming had caused 150,000 excess deaths in 2000.³ ‘‘Green organizations, political parties, and pundits have incessantly repeated this figure,’’ he wrote.⁴ As evidence that this figure had been ‘‘incessantly’’ repeated, Lomborg provided just three sources:⁵ a 2006 article in the British newspaper theGuardian;⁶ a report by the British Liberal Democratic Party, which could not be found using the Lomborg-provided URL or the...

    • eleven ON MALNUTRITION
      (pp. 168-176)

      Lomborg argues in ‘‘More Heat Means More Starvation?’’—a section inCool It—that the impact of global warming on human malnutrition is exaggerated. He wrote: ‘‘Many peopleworry that climate change will dramatically undermine our future ability to feed ourselves.Storiesof how global warming will ‘greatly increase the number of hungry people’ and of how we are facing ‘catastrophe’ with ‘whole regions becoming unsuitable for producing food’ abound. Yes, global warming might slightly slow food production, but the claims arevastly overplayedand again—if our concern truly lies with food security and the world’s hungry—lead us...

      (pp. 177-180)

      Lomborg argued that global warming will reduce the number of people worldwide who lack access to drinking water. In this context, Lomborg indicted ‘‘environmental circles, where the argument is that we’re approaching a [water] crisis’’ and a ‘‘full-scale emergency,’’ which, according to Lomborg, is ‘‘misleading.’’ Lomborg acknowledged ‘‘regional and logistic problems with water,’’ and that ‘‘we need to get better at using it.’’ ‘‘But basically,’’ he writes, ‘‘we have sufficient water.’’¹ His conclusions are inconsistent with the 2007 IPCC assessment: ‘‘Currently, human beings and natural ecosystems in many river basins suffer from a lack of water. . . . These...


      (pp. 183-191)

      The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was formed by the United Nations Environment Program and the UN’s World Meteorological Organization in 1988. According to its statement of principles, the role of the IPCC is ‘‘to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.’’ IPCC reports ‘‘should be neutral with respect to policy, although they may need to deal objectively with scientific, technical and socio-economic factors relevant to the application of particular policies.’’...

    • fourteen HOW WRONG WAS LOMBORG?
      (pp. 192-206)

      Not only were Lomborg’s arguments poorly supported by the data available at the time, they also have not stood up to subsequent events. In May 2008, eight months after the publication ofCool It, in which he criticized Al Gore andTimefor writing that polar bears may be endangered because of global warming, the Bush administration’s Department of the Interior announced that it was listing polar bears as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act ‘‘based on the best available science, which shows that loss of sea ice threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar bear...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 207-250)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 251-258)