The continuing Lomborg deception: the “skeptical” environmentalist latest cherry picked wall street journal article

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.

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36 thoughts on “The continuing Lomborg deception: the “skeptical” environmentalist latest cherry picked wall street journal article

  1. Eric Worrall says:

    You really are an intolerant bunch, when it comes to matters of faith – any deviation from extreme alarmism is unacceptable. Here I was thinking Lombard was one of you.

    Of course he’s not alone – Muller, author of the BEST report, also probably qualifies as a lukewarmer – especially since he made devastating criticisms of alarmist heroes, accusing them of scientific malpractice for all the naughty things they discussed in the Climategate archives – nature tricks to hide the decline, inciting others to delete emails to dodge FOIA requests, that sort of thing.

    Since there are two, maybe there are three? Of course, Willie Soon – though he’s just a solar terrestrial physicist, nothing to do with climate really. And a whole host of other scientists, such as the 30,000 or so scientists (including scientific greats such as Edward Teller and Freeman Dyson) who signed the Oregon Petition, or the NASA scientists who protested against Hansen’s abuse of scientific protest on several occasions, or as was admitted in a climategate email, practically the entire solar terrestrial physics community.

    • zoot says:


      And the name is Lomborg, not Lombard.
      Lomborg, as in the post you’re commenting on.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Eric its not about deviating from the “party line”. Its about integrity: Lomborg has cherry picked and misrepresented the actual research.

      Checking the facts took some time, however it is not beyond anyone going to the actual research and looking themselves. PNAS papers are available to all.

      Perhaps you might want to go the research, and not just WUWT? In the interests of being broad minded? I’ve read many posts and books skeptical of climate change. Happy to discuss each.

    • I signed the Oregon Petition as M.Mouse. Eric, you don’t seriously use that petition in arguments, do you? Too many giggles.

    • crank says:

      Silly trollery. A Who’s Who of discredited nobodies, but that’s about your moral and intellectual level, is that not so? Must not feed the trolls.

  2. uknowispeaksense says:

    Excellent piece Mike. Lomberg and his ilk rely on the laziness of deniers when it comes to reading scientific literature. Lomberg gives them the little bite-size chunks they can cut and paste around the place blindly ignoring the important caveats. As for spotting the difference, look up.

    • crank says:

      It’s not just ‘laziness’. It is also intellectual insufficiency (the Dunning-Kruger type) and, more toxically, moral insanity and spiritual inadequacy. Denialism, these days, with so much science and so much evidence to ignore, is profoundly wicked.

  3. Skeptikal says:

    Lomborg is correct – since the 1950s there has been decreased activity in wildfires.

    Which shows that Lomborg sticks to the facts.

    However, Lomborg fails to mention what the paper makes explicitly clear in its conclusions

    Failing to state what a climate model predicts as a ‘possible’ scenario in 40 years time hardly qualifies as a deception.

    Look up the meaning of the word ‘conjecture’ and then if you strain your brain, you might just be able to work out why it has no place in science.

    • uknowispeaksense says:

      It’s time for you to go and live in a cave “skeptikal” if you so easily reject mathematically sound projections based on models. If you strain your brain, you might just be able to work out why.

      Interesting that you should also throw in the line about conjecture. First, model projections are not conjecture. Do you know why? The answer is really easy. I’ll give you a hint. Look up “prediction” and “confidence” then as an example, go and find where in the PNAS paper that Lomborg is misrepresenting, the author states categorically that the predictions are a sure thing. The funny thing is, I am yet to meet a “sceptic” who hasn’t come to their whacky suppositions and conclusions entirely through conjecture. The sad thing about that, is the conjecture is usually entirely wilful.

      • magbill says:

        Were the models published so far in UNIPCC reports “mathematically sound”? Because, you know, they’ve been wildly off the mark. The true test of a model is its predictive ability, and given the abysmal track record to date, there is good reason for skepticism. How many of you know the famed Mann “hockey stick” was quietly removed from the last UNIPCC, due to serious flaws in its internal statistical modeling? A criticism that was hysterically denounced as “denier propaganda”… until shown to be true.

        • uknowispeaksense says:

          you lot really don’t like models. you all reject what you don’t understand. my tip for you… get a science degree and spend less time at wuwt. that way you won’t be misled by his nonsense or feel obliged to repeat his ignorance.

      • zoot says:

        Are you really so thick that you think discrediting Mann will remove all the other evidence of global warming?

    • crank says:

      Conjecture is just another word for hypothesis or theory. You don’t buy those at the local branch-office of the IPA or CIS, or order them mail-order from ‘The Australian’, (personally marked with his own crooked cross, by Chris Mitchell and thumb-print by Piers Ackerman). You create them in accordance with present knowledge, to find a yet better approximation to reality, test them in observations from the field, computer modeling, discussions with colleagues and peer review in reputable journals, and then present them, and await their falsification, by other real scientists, with better theories based on their conjectures. You do not follow your method, of arriving at conclusions, a priori, by reference to your political and sociopathic ideologies, then twist, distort and contort the facts (and simply deny the inconvenient ones)to fit your ‘faith-based science’. That is the Low Road back to pre-Enlightenment mystification, ignorance and superstition.

  4. zoot says:

    Failing to state what a climate model predicts as a ‘possible’ scenario in 40 years time hardly qualifies as a deception.

    It is when you infer the opposite.

    • You might want to read this:

      Climate Sensitivity Single Study Syndrome
      Posted on 28 January 2013 by dana1981

      A press release from a Norwegian project attempting to estimate the Earth’s climate sensitivity (generally measured as how much the planet’s surface will warm in response to the energy imbalance caused by the increased greenhouse effect from a doubling of atmospheric CO2) has drawn quite a bit of attention in the media as suggesting that global warming may be “less extreme than feared.” Carbon Brief has confirmed that the press release discusses several projects from a Norwegian group, including focusing on a not-yet-published (and not yet accepted by a scientific journal) follow-up paper to Aldrin et al. (2012). Andrew Revkin has further details.

      Regardless, there is a large body of scientific research investigating the question of the Earth’s climate sensitivity. Perhaps the most comprehensive review of this research is Knutti and Hegerl (2008), which found that the various methodologies used to estimate climate sensitivity are generally consistent with the range of 2–4.5°C (Figure 1).

  5. Can’t keep up with all the mud balls being lobbed at “warmists”

    But reading this report about BL’s story and that graph, right off the top I’m thinking FIRE SUPPRESSION !

    Did BL factor in the tremendous efforts and advancements in Forest Fire Fighting capability that Foresters throughout the world have taken advantage of this past century?

    • uknowispeaksense says:

      Not to mention land clearing.

    • Tony Duncan says:

      the other issue that is relevance is the intensity and size of fires. I would guess that those might be increasing in spit of the decrease in numbers. And therefore the consequences might be MUCH worse now or the near term than they have ben

  6. Oh and furthermore, are wild fire #’s actually going down?

    Numbers Confirm 2012 Was Worst NM Wildfire Season Ever
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    The 2012 Colorado wildfires are an ongoing unusually devastating series of Colorado wildfires and include several separate fires in June and July 2012. At least 34,500 residents were evacuated in June
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Report Summary

    The 2012 wildfire season isn’t over yet, but already this year is shaping up to be the one of the worst on record in the American West. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, with nearly two months still to go in the fire season, the total area already burned this year is 30 percent more than in an average year, and fires have consumed more than 8.6 million acres, an area larger than the state of Maryland.

    Yet, what defines a “typical” wildfire year in the West is changing. In the past 40 years, rising spring and summer temperatures, along with shrinking winter snowpack, have increased the risk of wildfires in most parts of the West.
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    2012: Third highest number of wildfire acres burned
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

  7. crank says:

    I rather think that outrage at yet another tour de farce of misrepresentation by this recidivist confusionist is a waste of time. Don’t feed the mega-trolls! Deny the creep the oxygen of interest. Let his erstwhile ‘followers’ deal with him, themselves, a few years down the track, when the increasing wave of weather and climate disasters will have ended most dullard denialism, and a record as a prime and well-remunerated denialist will not be necessarily to one’s advantage.

  8. sailrick says:

    Tamino has an article today at Open Mind, about George Will’s statements on reduced forest fires in the U.S. As Tamino shows, the acreage burned has had a big increase.

    Where there’s a Will … theres a way to distort the truth

    • Nick says:

      Will is a menace, an old conservative with no qualifications,experience or ability to distill valid opinion pieces from material on climate. He feels an entitlement to write on the subject and embarrasses himself every time,but is protected by seniority,and the deferrence of his editors. He has a thick hide which prevents him from realising he has a thick head. These conditions explain his continued output of nonsense.

  9. Quiet Waters says:

    It’s not teh first time that Lomborg has made errors in his interpretation of forest fire data & reports. See “p. 116” entries here:

  10. john byatt says:

    Local paper ran a poll on the weather,

    due to climate change 21%
    Normal QLD weather 61%
    just a freak occurence 18%

    sent in a letter, “With gympie having been flooded four times in the past three years i will have to agree with the normal weather voters”


  11. john byatt says:



    Premier Campbell Newman urged residents to heed the message to conserve water, with the problem not expected to be resolved for about 48-hours.

    SEQWater CEO Terri Benson said the turbidity levels in the Brisbane River were four times the level experienced during the January 2011 flood event.

    “While the Mt Crosby Water Treatment Plant is offline, Seqwater is using the Water Grid to move water from a number of different bulk water sources across the region, including the Gold Coast Desalination Plant,” Ms Benson said.

    “Seqwater is also managing the power, communication technology and site access issues at a number of sites across the region.”

    She said SEQWater was working closely with local councils and distribution retailer authorities to ensure “a balance was achieved between bulk water supply and demand”.

    “As a result of the large flows entering the region’s water sources, a number of those sources are currently experiencing high levels of manganese,” Ms Benson said.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      I always thought desal would prove itself in years to come. Same with Victoria’s.

      • john byatt says:

        The premier cannot bring himself to admit it , only saying that water was being brought up from the gold coast.

        they were going to shut it down only a few weeks ago.

  12. There is a strong case for moderation, form the editor of SciAm.

    I particularly like his equating the Daily Mail, WUWT and 4chan. Although it may be harsh on 4chan.

  13. klem says:

    Hmm… Wasn’t it only a couple of years ago that Lomborg was the darling of the climate alarmist intelligencia? I’m pretty sure he used to be one of the rock stars of climate alarmism, when he gave a lecture somewhere the greenie alarmists would flock to hear his soothing words of misanthropy and impending climate apocalypse. Alarmist groupies would hang around after the show just to get a glimpse of him, perhaps get an autograph.

    My, how times have changed. Lol!


    • zoot says:

      Wasn’t it only a couple of years ago that Lomborg was the darling of the climate alarmist intelligencia?

      Umm. No. Your memory has failed you. Try Google.

  14. In his second inaugural address, President Obama said:

    “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

    Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.

    We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

    A few days later, Bjorn Lomborg wrongly accused Obama of fear-mongering:

    … 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. …

    This is classic Lomborg misdirection. Mike is probably right: Lomborg seems to be referring to Pechony and Shindell 2010. Here’s an excerpt from its abstract:

    Recent bursts in the incidence of large wildfires worldwide have raised concerns about the influence climate change and humans might have on future fire activity. … We find that during the preindustrial period, the global fire regime was strongly driven by precipitation (rather than temperature), shifting to an anthropogenic-driven regime with the Industrial Revolution. Our future projections indicate an impending shift to a temperature-driven global fire regime in the 21st century, creating an unprecedentedly fire-prone environment. These results suggest a possibility that in the future climate will play a considerably stronger role in driving global fire trends, outweighing direct human influence on fire (both ignition and suppression), a reversal from the situation during the last two centuries.

    That’s right, Lomborg actually used a paper that projects “an unprecedentedly fire-prone environment” to criticize Obama for mentioning fires as an impact of climate change. Lomborg used the word “wildfire” twice, but Fig. 2(A) shows that the 1950 peak in fires is due to direct anthropogenic interference (both ignition and suppression). Pechony and Shindell even note that “… the common tool for land clearing was fire (13-16). Wildfire mapping for the 1880 US census, for instance, revealed staggering amounts of burning, predominantly of agricultural origins (15).”

    So the 1950 peak wasn’t really a peak in wildfires. In reality, we burned “staggering amounts” of forests and jungles to plant crops. The paper projects that by 2100 actual wildfires will rival those staggering intentional burns, despite our best efforts at fire suppression.

    Pechony and Shindell elaborate:

    Toward the late 20th century, the charcoal-based records’ uncertainty increases, and they do not depict, for instance, increased burning in the tropics and the western United States in the past three decades (12). Although ice-core reconstructions show an increasing trend throughout the 20th century, it is likely that the downturn in the charcoal-based data, reproduced by the model both on a global scale and at the charcoal sites (SI Text), is real, though late 20th century fire activity may be higher than implied by the charcoal-based records.

    I’ve recently discussed wildfires in the western United States, which apparently don’t appear in those charcoal-based data. Since 1970, all 11 western states have experienced statistically significant increases in large wildfires, and hotter years have seen more large wildfires.

    Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident. On page 116 of The Skeptical Environmentalist, Lomborg also downplayed the 1997 Indonesian fires, otherwise known as “the largest fire disaster ever observed.”

    George Will also hides the incline in U.S. wildfires, which are very strongly correlated with spring and summer temperatures. In 2012, the area burned per wildfire in the U.S. was far more than any previous year. Fox “news” regurgitates Will’s nonsense to attack Obama.

    Bjorn Lomborg, George Will, Fox “news”: please stop spamming humanity with all this misinformation. It’s staining your legacies and threatening the future of our civilization.

  15. […] thoughts of their favourite thinker, Bjorn Lomborg, who as others have pointed out has made quite a nice career casting doubt on the seriousness of climate change, arguing the problem is overstated, and concluding that on a cost-benefit analysis there is no need […]

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