Does “former sceptic” Bjorn Lomborg really think geo-engineering is an easy sell?

Much is being made about Bjorn Lomborg’s conversion from climate “scepticism” to his acceptance of it as a serious issue.  

Says one commentator:  

“…I’ll be darned. Bjorn Lomborg, the author of the infamous The Skeptical Environmentalist, one of the most thoroughly debunked books of the past decade (and one that has given a bad connotation to the word “skeptic”), has just changed his mind! In his new book, Smart Solutions to Climate Change, Lomborg says that climate change is “undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today … a challenge humanity must confront.” I could say “I told you so” (for instance in a chapter on global warming in my Nonsense on Stilts), but I’ll refrain — largely because I would be the last on a long list of scientists who have published detailed (negative) reviews of Lomborg’s first book in prestigious outlets such as Scientific American (volume 286, issue 1, 2002), Nature (8 November 2001, pp. 149-150) and Science (9 November 2001, pp. 1285-1286).”

I’m divided in the issue.  

On the one had it is good to see “former” sceptics accept the science.  

On the other, Lomborg has been one of the key figures in the denial movement.  

Lomborg was of the “Sure it is happening, but it’s not an issue worth worrying about” school. His writings have been instrumental convincing many politicians and decision makers to do nothing. 

Indeed, Tony Abbott – Australia’s sceptical leader of the opposition – approvingly quotes Lomborg in his biography “Battlelines”, paraphrasing his arguments in defence of ignoring climate as an issue.  

However, before we get too excited and welcome Lomborg with open arms I think more attention needs to be paid to what Lomborg is actually saying.  

Lomborg to scientists: change my climate please!  

Some time ago Clive Hamilton pointed out that think tanks and deniers formally sceptical of climate change are performing a rapid about face.

They’ve stopped denying climate change and started screaming for technological solutions such as geo-engineering:

“…a powerful group of scientists, venture capitalists and conservative think tanks is coalescing around the idea of reproducing this cooling effect by injecting sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere to counter climate change. Despite the enormity of what is being proposed – nothing less than seizing control of the climate – the public has been almost entirely excluded from the planning.

Up to now, governments have been reluctant to talk about geoengineering. The reason is simple: apart from its unknown side effects, it would weaken resolve to reduce emissions.

But it may soon prove an irresistible fix. This form of geoengineering is extremely attractive because its costs are estimated to be trivial compared to those of cutting carbon. It also gets powerful lobbies off governments’ backs, gives the green light to burning more coal, avoids the need to raise petrol taxes, permits yet more unrestrained growth and is no threat to consumer lifestyles.”

I also noted this back in April:

“…The interesting thing is many of the conservative think tanks that have been active in helping distort the climate change debate seem to be advocating for geoengineering….

On the one hand they question the science of global warming, and yet the other are starting to embrace geoengineering as a means to manage climate change.

Ironic? Contradictory? Yes.

But why adopt such contradictory positions? Mostly they will tout as an excuse not to cut emissions in the short term. Having accepted funding from energy interests for decades to help mislead the public, they know the impacts of climate change are going to be felt in the coming years.

As consequence, they will need to change tact. This is how they will change their tune.

Expect to hear the term a lot more in the future. As the planet continues to warm, and the effects of climate change become more noticeable geoengineering will be an option brought to the table.

Lomborg is now leading the charge in promoting geo-engineering. Watch the debate closely, as you’ll no doubt see more such conversions.  

Says Lomborg in a recent interview with Foreign Policy Magazine:

“…geoengineering is potentially incredibly cheap compared to virtually everything else we talk about. If you look at marine cloud whitening — making clouds a little whiter by putting up sea salt into the lower atmosphere — we could actually pretty much offset all of global warming in the 21st century. The total cost of that would be about $6 billion to $7 billion in total. The cost of a 2 degree Centigrade policy [limiting climate change to 2 degrees through other methods] could easily be $40 trillion a year. We’re talking about 5,000 times less [expensive], and only once instead of every year.”

While everyone is patting Lomborg on the back about his apparent about face on climate change, they’ve not really paid attention to the fact he is proposing as the “cheapest” response to climate change.  

Yes, because in response to a serious threat to civilisation you should do things on the cheap.  

“Look…” says the scientist “..we have a problem, climate change could wipe out the human race if we don’t start mitigating it’s effects.”  

“Yes that is a problem…” replies Lomborg “… but really, how much is THAT going to cost!”  

Lomborg: “Don’t trust the scientists! No wait… trust them to fiddle with the climate!”  

There is real irony in watching someone who did their very best to undermine public confidence in scientists now asking we trust those same scientists to actively manage the planet’s climate.  

“I didn’t accept the science then, but hey – why don’t you guys go and fiddle with the planet’s temperature gauge now? I’m sure we can all trust you!”  

If the general public can’t even agree on the reality of climate change now or the need to curb emission via a carbon tax how are they going to trust scientists to manage the planets atmosphere?  

Sceptics such as Lomborg helped unleash the denial movement genie from the bottle. His writings helped fuel their dark fantasies of conspiracies. 

Just how does he imagine the denial movement will react to the thought of scientists shooting sulphates into the atmosphere to increase the planet’s albedo effect?  

“OK, climate chagne is real! Let’s get the scientists we’ve attacked for years to start fixing the problem!”

Imagine what the conspiracy theorists and nut jobs will make of that Lomborg’s calls. No doubt they will see geo-engineering as an attempt to introduce chemicals into the atmosphere designed to sterilise rich, white, conservative Anglo-Saxon males.

Nor would it be the denial movement loudly voicing their opposition to geo-engineering.  

I’d imagine most of the environmental movement would be opposed, seeing it as a distraction from tackling carbon emissions and an inherently risky proposition.  

Lomborg was instrumental in creating the fog of doubt that surrounds climate change. Now he wants us to take an even larger gamble. 

If Lomborg thinks geoengineering is an “easy sell” because it offers a quick, low cost solution he’s nuts.

This is going to be  long, controversial fight.

Having been taught by the likes of Lomborg that climate change is not an issue, and the scientists have been wrong, how is the public going to react to the thought of geo-engineering?

What, all of sudden the scientists are the good guys?

3 thoughts on “Does “former sceptic” Bjorn Lomborg really think geo-engineering is an easy sell?

  1. adelady says:

    Depressingly, I think a lot of people will like the geo-engineering idea.

    Why? ‘Cos it’s about big things. Our history of energy production and use shows that when we’ve had choices, we’ve always gone for the big centralised option. 100+ years ago we could have gone for wind power, but that was localised, smallish and nowhere nearly as impressive as great big gasometers and furnaces. Burning things is not just a fetish of silly little boys – and grown-up big men like big mines and big power stations. Some of them have that added relish of a touch of real danger. Yes! Let’s go for nuclear.

    The real underlying problem of conversion to renewable power sources is its mismatch with the perennial fascination with the big and the centralised. Requiring sophisticated interconnections of multiple power sources in a clever way is a bit much to ask. When we expect people to be attracted to a big idea that doesn’t have big structures or mighty motors as part of the deal we go against what we’ve seen in the last 150 years. Envisaging a whole city where the roofs and windows have been remade of solar materials – and no visible power station, just a few storage and transmission depots – is not appealing to the ribbon-cutting brigade.

    Geo-engineering has the attraction that it could involve really big trucks or ships or planes. And big bucks.

  2. Manuel Moe G says:

    Lomborg: “Don’t trust the scientists! No wait… trust them to fiddle with the climate!”

    Great writing! This sums up the lunacy nicely.

  3. Matt says:

    Yes Geo-Engineering is mental and for gods sake they are already doing it people! – just look up into the sky – those ‘persistent contrails’ were not there when i was a child…..

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