When is a sceptic not a sceptic, but someone denying climate change?
When they’re Bjorn Lomborg writing for the Wall Street Journal.
Lomborg, for those not familiar with the name, has made quite a nice career casting doubt on the seriousness of climate change will tentatively agreeing climate change is real. According to Lomborg: “Global warming is real – it is man-made and it is an important problem. But it is not the end of the world.”
Lomborg embodies what is called the “luke-warm” position”". Luke-warmers such as Lomborg argue the problem is overstated, thus on a cost-benefit analysis there is no need to do anything.
For this reason he’s long been a favorite of politicians and conservative commentators who are dismissive of the science but who still wish to pay lip service to the problem. Opposition leader Tony Abbott cites Lomborg approvingly in his book Battlelines:
”It doesn’t make sense, though, to impose certain and substantial costs on the economy now in order to avoid unknown and perhaps even benign changes in the future As Bjorn Lomborg has said: “Natural science has undeniably shown us that global warming is man made and real. But just as undeniable is the economic science which makes it clear that a narrow focus on reducing carbon emissions could leave future generations with major costs, without major cuts to temperatures.” (Battlelines, pg. 170-171)
The Lomborg Deception
Howard Friel in the book The Lomborg Deception examined the many claims made by Lomborg and found he’d engaged in numerous fabrications and distortions:
In this major assessment of leading climate-change skeptic Bjørn Lomborg, Howard Friel meticulously deconstructs the Danish statistician’s claim that global warming is “no catastrophe” by exposing the systematic misrepresentations and partial accounting that are at the core of climate skepticism.
As Friel discusses in his work, Lomborg’s modus operandi is to cherry pick the scientific literature in order to downplay the risks of climate change.
And yet despite having been caught out misrepresenting the science time-and-time-again, Lomborg persists in cherry picking facts to suit his needs.
Case in point, his latest article in the Wall Street Journal.
Wildfires? No need to worry!
In the article Climate change misdirection (23/1/13) Lomborg makes a number of claims, noting that since the 1950s the wildfire activity has decreased since the middle of last century and will continue to do so:
Historical analysis of wildfires around the world shows that since 1950 their numbers have decreased globally by 15%. Estimates published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that even with global warming proceeding uninterrupted, the level of wildfires will continue to decline until around midcentury and won’t resume on the level of 1950—the worst for fire—before the end of the century.
Therefore in Lomborg’s mind we shouldn’t be worried. Clearly, the problem of global warming has been overstated – right?
However, true to form Lomborg has cherry picked the data, completely misrepresenting the research.
While I can’t say definitively, I suspect Lomborg is referencing the 2010 PNAS paper Driving forces of global wildfires over the past millennium and the forthcoming century.
The paper notes:
Around 1900 there is a sharp downturn in global fire activity, both in the model- and the charcoal-based records, despite increasing temperatures and decreasing precipitation.
Oh look, a sceptic money quote! However, the paper also contains the following graph:
So what’s going on here?
The continuing Lomborg deception
Lomborg is correct – since the 1950s there has been decreased activity in wildfires. However, Lomborg fails to mention what the paper makes explicitly clear in its conclusions – as temperatures increase, so will the incidents of wildfires:
Overall, the model captures historical trends influenced by a variety of natural and anthropogenic factors remarkably well, inspiring some confidence in the model’s projection of future fires. GISS GCM climate simulations (19), like other models, predict a significant warming over the forthcoming century (Fig. 2B). Rapidly rising temperatures and regional drying reverse the recent fire activity decline, driving a rapid increase after ∼2050 in all three scenarios examined here, described in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Emissions Scenarios…
The downward trend will (most likely) reverse due to climate change. They very opposite of what Lomborg hopes to imply.
Lomborg has no doubt cherry picked this 2012 paper because wild fires have been in the news – thanks to Australia’s summer of extreme heat and fire. Like all good deniers, he is fishing for factoids that will cast doubt on the obvious links between climate change and present weather extremes.
One should not be surprised by tactics such as these – Lomborg’s article embodies the deceptive manner in which sceptics such as Lomborg seek to deceive.
Scepticism or denial?
I think its easy to spot the difference.