By RP Siegel (Also reported on by MC O'Connor here)
Bjørn Lomborg may not be a household name around here, but that's through no fault of his. In November 2001, this Danish environmental author and economics professor was selected "Global Leader for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. Lomborg was selected as one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people of 2004. In June 2002, Business Week named Lomborg one of the "50 Stars of Europe" in the Agenda Setters category. The magazine noted, "No matter what they think of his views, nobody denies that Bjørn Lomborg has shaken the environmental movement to its core."
Controversy may as well have been his middle name, especially after his book The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World came out in 2001. The book was critical of the Worldwatch Institute's State of the World report "for using short-term trends to predict disastrous consequences, in cases where long-term trends would not support the same conclusions."
He was particularly outspoken on the subject of global warming whose importance he felt was being overstated. In the book's introduction he writes, "Global warming, though its size and future projections are rather unrealistically pessimistic, is almost certainly taking place, but the typical cure of early and radical fossil fuel cutbacks is way worse than the original affliction, and moreover its total impact will not pose a devastating problem for our future."
However, Lomborg has a new book entitled Smart Solutions to Climate Change: Comparing Costs and Benefits in which he proposes an aggressive $100 billion annual fund specifically targeting global warming solutions such as the familiar list of renewables including wind, wave, and solar as well as nuclear power and a number of more controversial geo-engineering approaches like cloud whitening, which, it has been suggested, might reflect a larger portion of the sun's heat back into space than ordinary clouds.
Lomborg's path to his current position was neither short nor straight. In 2003, the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty investigated his work and cited him for fabrication of data, deliberately misleading use of statistical methods and several other charges. However, an appeal to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation invalidated the charges. Needless to say the controversy continues, mostly simmering in academic circles.
As to his present position, Lomborg defends himself vigorously against the dreaded flip-flopper charge, pointing out that he never disputed the existence of manmade warming, but only the details of its severity and more importantly, what actions will be most effective.
The impetus behind this book was his effort to answer the question "If the world is going to spend hundreds of millions to treat climate, where could you get the most bang for your buck?" He now says that an annual investment of $100 billion will eliminate the threat of global warming by the end of this century.
Still his clear reversal comes at a critical point in time when momentum has eroded and major policy initiatives both globally and here in the US have stalled even as industry shills spreading doubt seem to have regrouped and reclaimed a significant chunk of public opinion.
RP Siegel is co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails.
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