The Copenhagen climate summit that discussed a new treaty to curtail atmospheric greenhouse gases has been widely reported on by the Taipei Times, as has the consequences of further global warming for Taiwan’s environment — more floods and droughts, spreading diseases, the salinization and submergence of coastal areas, and adverse effects on agriculture and ecosystems.
It also published two articles by anti-environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg on this topic (“Help where and when it’s needed the most,” Nov. 16, page 9 and “Climate change and ‘Climategate,’” Dec. 15, page 9).
I usually refrain from directly attacking people and rather try to argue the scientific and ethical implications of environmental issues, but Lomborg is a special case, as he probably has single-handedly done more to harm the environment than almost anybody else. His infamous books The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming have been widely touted by anti-environmental think tanks, but have also been found to be one of the worst cases of scientific fraud in the history of environmental writing.
The Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD) showed that The Skeptical Environmentalist contained deliberately misleading, biased and fabricated data, flawed statistics and misrepresented conclusions, and was thus a clear case of scientific dishonesty contrary to the standards of good scientific practice (www.lomborg-errors.dk).
In other words, Lomborg is a convicted scientific liar. Not only does he have hardly a single real scientific publication to his name and therefore no scientific credentials whatsoever, worse, he has been found out to be a cherry-picking fraud who consistently selects only those facts and reports that support his biased claims.
Let’s say your wife was giving birth — would you take her to an experienced doctor in a well-equipped hospital or to an untrained quack in a dirty back alley?
Well, letting Lomborg give us advice on the environment is the equivalent of going to the quack — no proper training, no professional credentials, no track record of doing proper science or even properly using scientific results.
There is a reason why a doctor or a lawyer have to pass an examination before being allowed to become professionals, and the same is true for the natural and environmental sciences. Lomborg is a trained political scientist and statistician, but has no education in the natural sciences whatsoever. His spouting forth on environmental issues is the equivalent of listening to a voodoo doctor issue recommendations on healing cancer.
Worse, once he has cherry-picked himself through one topic, distorting the evidence, he then moves onto the next subject, therefore presenting an ever-shifting target whose falsifications are hard to pin down. His apparently most recent reinvention is to have become a campaigner for the world’s poor. He claims that money spent to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases would be better spent on the poor who are most dependent on further development and aid to lift them out of poverty.
This argument appears flawed for two reasons — the current neo-liberal trickle down economic system has hardly done much good for the world’s poor, but has made the super-rich the new hyper-rich, while leaving a minefield of unpaid debts and broken economies behind. Second, almost every scientific report shows that it is the poor in developing countries that will suffer the most from a changing climate and a deteriorating environment.
As I wrote here before (“One crisis that can’t be ignored any longer,” Nov. 29, page 8), it is the world’s poor who are much more directly reliant on their immediate environment for food, water and other natural products, and therefore much less able to compensate for losses because of a deteriorating environment by buying products from somewhere else or investing in adaptation technologies (as, for example, Lomborg can in wealthy Denmark).
If Lomborg is actually advocating a massive wealth redistribution in the form of knowledge, technology and money transfer to the world’s poor, as he seems to imply in his first article, he might just have transformed himself again in chameleon-like form, this time from environmental Saul to poor people’s Paul. I find it rather unlikely, however, that the same conservative think tanks that have supported Lomborg’s diatribes and which have also been touting free trade and corporate power over government oversight and regulation, will all of a sudden build and staff public schools and universities, relinquish technical and medical patents or dish out large amounts of aid money to help the world’s poor. I hope Lomborg proves me wrong and, instead of wrecking the environment, he becomes the next Bob Geldof who lifts the world’s poor out of poverty.
There are two models of how to do this — the traditional way of exploiting the environment for the sake of economic growth, which already leads to actual diminished quality of life despite economic growth, or the alternative way of sustainable growth of the economy while enhancing environmental quality of life through the widespread application of renewable energy, recycling, ecosystem management and bio-engineering.
Lomborg is correct that solely punitive measures, such as taxing greenhouse gas emissions, are unlikely to succeed; rather, we need massive investment in providing environmental sustainable alternatives for energy, production and waste management.
Some of these ideas have recently found their way into the Taipei Times — renewable energy, electric vehicles, public transport, efficient buildings and appliances, recycling and meat-free diets have recently been discussed in these pages. Such green technologies and life-styles are the only realistic solutions to the current global environmental crisis, and nothing except a complete rebuilding of the world’s economy will do.
So, for once, I am agreeing with Lomborg and I can hardly believe it myself.
Bruno Walther is a visiting assistant professor of environmental science at the College of Public Health and Nutrition, Taipei Medical University.
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