Friday, January 7, 2011

Why does Bjorn Lomborg get paid to publish and I have to do mine for free?

© 2011 Joshua Stark

I had decided a long time ago not to do a post on Mr. Lomborg, what with my desire to stay away from popular topics...

Really, I felt (and still do) that he doesn't have much credibility concerning the things he discusses.  For years, as I'm sure you know, Mr. Lomborg was the poster boy for deniers of human-caused climate change.  Since I felt (and still do) that the science proving human-caused global warming was pretty solid, and that a paraphrase of Pascal's Wager fits nicely into the notion, I decided that this fellow didn't need any publicity I would give him.

Now, of course, he's changed his tune, and argues that we must do something about human-caused climate change.  So he's now entered the 1990's in terms of scientific advances; good for him.  But I wasn't going to spend my time on him, except that this time he tries to stray into planning, efficiency arguments, and science, and he falls so flat (without any real attacks on his claims) that I've got to clear the air. 

Mr. Lomborg, in his piece, argues that efficiency actually worsens our ability to fight climate change, and he does so by completely misrepresenting the rebound effect (where efficiency gains lead to people increasing consumption).
Fortunately, one doesn't have to do any research to debunk Mr. Lomborg's claim, as he effectively counters his own conclusions with the data he uses as example.  So without further ado, Lomborg claims, in his own words:
  From this:
"Back in the early 1970s, the average American expended roughly 70 million British thermal units per year to heat, cool, and power his or her home. Since then, of course, we have made great strides in energy efficiency. As the Washington Post recently reported, dishwashers now use 45 percent less power than they did two decades ago, and refrigerators 51 percent less. So how much energy do Americans use in their homes today? On a per capita basis, the figure is roughly what it was 40 years ago: 70 million BTUs."
  And this:
"the proportion of resources that we expend on lighting has remained virtually unchanged for the past three centuries, at about 0.72 percent of gross domestic product. As Saunders and his colleagues observe in their journal article, "This was the case in the UK in 1700, is the case in the undeveloped world not on grid electricity in modern times, and is the case for the developed world in modern times using the most advanced lighting technologies.""
  To this:
"the more efficient we get at using something, the more of it we are likely to use. Efficiency doesn't reduce consumption; it increases it."

I have one simple question for Mr. Lomborg:

Does "greater than" = "nearly equal to"?

There are more mistakes in his article... in fact, I was pretty amazed at his ability to throw together so many mistakes in such a small space.

Ultimately, readers should ask what Mr. Lomborg was attempting in his article.  His trite little ending, encouraging people to get their leaders to think up good ideas, is completely uninspired and silly, considering this is supposed to be a tremendous scientific mind at work trying to help fix climate change.  The only lesson this article illustrated to me is that aggressive exaggeration gets published, regardless of the logic, even when a person's popularity and "credibility" came from a background in science.

Perhaps he was more helpful when he pretended he didn't believe in human-caused climate change.  We look worse having him as a "cheerleader."

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