Skeptical Environmentalist Savaged, Vindicated

Published March 1, 2002

Scientific American has sicced the big dogs on Danish statistician Bjørn Lomborg for having the audacity to publish a highly referenced book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, which argues global warming and many other environmental “threats” are overblown. What gives?

Scientific American now joins the magazines Science and Nature in blasting Lomborg. They all editorialize that his “book is a failure” and call out four well-traveled attack dogs from the Washington big government/green/left establishment in support. They include:

  • John Holdren, a defense expert from Harvard. In 1995, he published a paper for the United Nations University advocating “a condition in which no nation’s military forces were strong enough to threaten the existence of other states.” Good thing the West didn’t listen.
  • Tom Lovejoy, former director of the World Wildlife Fund, the biggest green lobbying organization in the history of the planet.
  • John Bongaarts, vice president of the Population Council, the most influential lobby in the down-with-people crowd.
  • Steve Schneider from Stanford. Compared to the rest, Schneider is a real atmospheric scientist, and (naturally) he wrote the nastiest of the four denunciations on Lomborg.

A threat to climate change research dollars

Why draw so much attention to a book you don’t want to sell? Clearly, the editorial boards of Nature and Scientific American, as well as the leadership of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, the publisher of Science) perceive a big threat if Lomborg goes unanswered.

The Skeptical Environmentalist threatens billions of taxpayer dollars that go into the global change kitty every year. The AAAS isn’t located on H Street in Washington–known locally as “gravy train lane” for its packs of lobbyists–for nothing.

Do the arguments against Lomborg have merit? Let’s examine two of the many assertions made by Schneider against Lomborg.

Emissions scenarios. Schneider complains that “Lomborg … dismisses all but the lowest” scenarios for future carbon dioxide emissions and consequent global warming.

Lomborg does so with good reason. An analysis of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations over the last quarter-century reveals the standard assumption of strong exponential growth is wrong. You could read about that in NASA scientist James Hansen’s recent writings in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

Future warming. Schneider takes great exception to Lomborg’s statement that “temperatures will increase much less than the maximum estimates from the IPCC,” with the likely change less than 2C by 2100.

The truth is that Lomborg is behaving like a scientist here, and Schneider and Scientific American don’t like the result.

As is shown in the latest report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the ensemble of future climate models predicts a warming that, once started, continues at a virtually constant rate for the next century. However, they differ in the rates of their projected warming.

It is also the consensus of the IPCC, first stated in 1996 and repeated in 2001, that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.” In other words, alterations of the atmosphere resulting from human emissions are producing a detectable signal in global and regional temperatures.

By using the combination of those two realities, Lomborg is forced to conclude warming will be relatively modest. That is all a scientist can do: reconcile disparate models with observed data.

The truth hurts

The reason Scientific American is apoplectic about that argument is that it is scientific and convincing. If it convinced the Bush administration to walk away from Kyoto, how long will it be before it convinces Congress to derail the multibillion-dollar gravy train feeding the global warming claque?

Then there’s the jealousy component. Each of Scientific American’s four writers also has his own book. While Lomborg’s is immensely popular, ranking #1 in sales under “Environmental Science” (and 354th overall), the others aren’t so hot.

Comparative sales from for January 4 show the following: John Bongaarts’ Beyond Six Million ranks 463,784; Tom Lovejoy’s Blueprint for a Green School is at 583,463; Schneider’s Are We Entering the Greenhouse Century comes in at 574,469; and trailing this field of glueboxes is John Holdren’s Global Ecology, the 1,340,727th best-selling book at If these were horses, you’d have to clock them with a calendar.

The bottom line is that all of the Lomborg-bashing makes Scientific American look like a bunch of attack dogs, manufacturing arguments that won’t hunt and are in fact canine themselves.

Patrick J. Michaels is a senior fellow at the Washington-based Cato Institute and coauthor of The Satanic Gases.