Former Greenpeace academic slams radical Greens

Published December 1, 2001

It is not unusual for scientists and public policy experts to present evidence contesting the doom-and-gloom proclamations of environmental activists.

What is unusual, and highly damaging, is for a prominent environmental activist to turn the tables on the Greens themselves.

Danish professor and prominent former Greenpeace member Bjorn Lomborg has done such damage to the radical environmentalist movement with the publication of his scathing book, The Skeptical Environmentalist.

Lomborg, a political scientist, professor of statistics at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, and prominent former Greenpeace member, began his journey from environmental activist to green-scare skeptic after reading an interview of preeminent free-market scholar Julian Simon in Wired magazine.

Convinced Simon was dead wrong on a number of environment issues, Lomborg and some of his colleagues set out to expose the “errors” in Simon’s analyses.

A funny thing happened as the environmentalists sought to prove Simon and the skeptics wrong. States Lomborg, “Three months into the project, we were convinced that we were being debunked instead. Not everything he said is right. He has a definite right-wing slant. But most of the important things were actually correct.”

“A Litany” of political ideas

From those beginnings, Lomborg eventually compiled his similar findings in The Skeptical Environmentalist.

The book itself, while quite comprehensive and well documented (it includes almost 3,000 supporting footnotes), is not the first of its kind to use objective scientific analysis to debunk environmentalist myths. Indeed, the substance of Lomborg’s arguments and even the structure of the book itself closely tracks Eco-Sanity: A Common-Sense Guide to Environmentalism, authored by Joseph L. Bast, Peter J. Hill, and Richard C. Rue, published by Madison Books and The Heartland Institute.

What makes The Skeptical Environmentalist so noteworthy–and especially to the mainstream media–is that the book is authored by one of the Green movement’s most prominent members.

With a unique insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of environmental activism, Lomborg takes special aim at public statements made by such activist groups as the Worldwatch Institute, World Wildlife Fund, and Greenpeace itself.

Lomborg identifies “A Litany” of political ideas frequently espoused by the groups that have no basis in scientific fact but have nevertheless been swallowed hook, line, and sinker by the mainstream media. “The Litany has pervaded the debate so deeply and so long,” writes Lomborg, “that blatantly false claims can be made again and again, without any references, and yet still be believed.” By contrast, one thing Lomborg certainly does provide in his book is scientific references.

Taking aim at global warming

Receiving substantial attention in The Skeptical Environmentalist is global warming theory. Lomborg observes there are several “wild cards” that come into play when assessing the effects of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases on the Earth’s atmosphere. Those wild cards include the effects of clouds, aerosols, and the sunspot cycle, as well as the multiplier effect of carbon dioxide.

Lomborg notes the warming effects of greenhouse gases are mitigated by a corresponding increase in solar-reflecting clouds. As the air begins to warm, it can hold more water, resulting in an increase in cloud cover. Those clouds then reflect more sunlight back into space, resulting in a balance-restoring cooling. Satellite readings confirm that global temperatures have not risen in recent decades, while the Earth has seen a slight increase in cloud cover.

Lomborg presents similar scientific evidence regarding aerosols, the sunspot cycle, and the multiplier effect of carbon dioxide. He observes that greenhouse computer programmers fail to properly account for these factors in their climate models. By failing to account for these wild cards, Lomborg points out, the models conclude we should already be toasting under a greatly enhanced greenhouse effect. And yet satellite temperature measurements show no such warming has occurred.

Debunking deforestation

Lomborg also takes environmental activists to task for spreading false propaganda about global deforestation.

In its 1998 “State of the World” report, for example, the Worldwatch Institute claims “The world’s forest estate has declined significantly in both area and quality in recent decades.” Lomborg documents, however, that U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization figures show global forest cover has actually increased from 30.04 percent in 1950 to 30.89 percent in 1994.

Lomborg further notes Worldwatch claimed “Canada is losing some 200,000 hectares of forest a year” due to soaring demand for paper. In fact, Lomborg shows, “Canada grew 174,600 more hectares of forest each year.”

The Worldwatch Institute’s inaccurate claims do not end with deforestation, notes Lomborg. In its 2000 report, Worldwatch reports “record rates of population growth, soaring oil prices, debilitating levels of international debt and extensive damage to forests from . . . acid rain.”

Lomborg cites figures from the Census Bureau, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and European Environment Agency to show that world population growth has sharply slowed since 1964; international debt has declined since 1984; the inflation-adjusted price of oil is half what it was 20 years ago; and sulfur emissions and resulting acid rain are down substantially since 1984.

In short, The Skeptical Environmentalist affirms and adds weight to the scientific refutation of contemporary environmental activist claims. In the past, such activists could at least plausibly refute the evidence by attacking the messengers as having a right-wing axe to grind. Such can not be said about The Skeptical Environmentalist.

“I’m a left-wing guy,” says Lomborg, “and a vegetarian because I don’t want to kill animals–you can’t play the ‘He’s right-wing so he’s wrong’ argument” with me.

For more information . . .

The Skeptical Environmentalist, published by Cambridge University Press in September 2001, is available at