Bjorn Lomborg is an intelligent and outspoken critic of climate science and climate action. His analysis is often faulty and sometimes devious. He is often quoted by those critical of climate science, so it is worth understanding his approach.
Bjorn Lomborg is a Danish political scientist, author and thinker. He has no qualifications in the natural sciences, but has MA and PhD qualifications in political science. His initial work was as a statistician in academia.
Over the past two decades, Bjorn has led two different environmental and climate sceptical organisations, Denmark’s Environmental Assessment Institute and the independent non-profit Copenhagen Consensus Center.
He has also published several books, including The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001), Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming (2007) and “False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet” (2020). He continues to be influential online and through his travelling, speaking and writing.
Bjorn’s climate scepticism has also been much criticised, as we’ll see.
Views on climate change
Bjorn Lomborg’s views on climate change are much more nuanced than most sceptics. He accepts that the climate is changing and we shouldn’t ignore it. But he argues that:
- many of the claims and predictions of climate science are wrong,
- the seriousness of climate change is overstated,
- it would cost too much to try to reduce it, we can do better things with our money
- we wouldn’t succeed anyway, and
- we can manage the problems it causes if we are smart.
Many who quote his work ignore his acceptance of a measure of global warming.
The Skeptical Environmentalist
Lomborg was accused of scientific dishonesty in this book, and the case was considered by the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD).
The review (2003) concluded that Lomborg was not qualified to write on climate science and the book was scientifically dishonest through misrepresentation of scientific facts. After Lomborg appealed, the government annulled the decision, and Lomborg claimed to have been vindicated.
Many Danish scientists publicly supported the DCSD and the judgment that Lomborg was not qualified to write a scientific book. Claims and counter claims, including full length books, continued for years afterwards.
Climate Feedback is a “worldwide network of scientists sorting fact from fiction in climate change media coverage.” Its website contains many reviews and fact checks of media reports, books and statements.
Climate Feedback has reviewed several of Lomborg’s articles and found his scientific credibility was “very low” or “low”. Specific and repeated problems were:
- cherry-picking data (i.e. ignoring large amounts of data contrary to his ideas and focusing on a small amount that supports his ideas); and
- misrepresenting the results of scientific studies.
Australia’s independent Climate Council has also reviewed Lomborg’s contribution to the discussion of climate change, and criticised him for these errors:
- Lomborg fundamentally misunderstands climate science. The Council lists several examples of where Lomborg’s conclusions are contradicted by established science.
- Lomborg doesn’t get that we need to address the cause of climate change, not just some of the symptoms. It is becoming cheaper to address the causes rather than try to live with climate change.
- Lomborg forgets that climate change makes many existing challenges worse. Poverty reduction and development are hampered if we don’t address climate change.
- Lomborg has no credibility in the scientific community. He seems unwilling to change his mind as new information comes available.
The Climate Council quotes Dr. Frank Jotzo, Director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at ANU:
“Within the research community, particularly within the economics community, the Bjørn Lomborg enterprise has no academic credibility. It is seen as an outreach activity that is driven by a specific set of objectives in terms of bringing particular messages into the public debate and in some cases making relatively extreme positions seem more acceptable in the public debate.“
Example: Australia’s recent bushfires
In a recent discussion, Lomborg argued that the area burnt in bushfires is less than it used to be a century ago, so climate change cannot be having such a large effect.
But this statement cherry-picks the data and ignores the facts that:
- the fires are much more ferocious now,
- the different causes of the fires (many earlier fires were lit to clear farmlands, whereas recent fires were natural),
- the locations were different (mostly grasslands earlier, but now more often forest), and
- the impacts on animals, bushland and property are much more severe now.
His statement thus misrepresents the fire situation in Australia. The full picture is that climate change is leading to warmer weather, drier forest fuel and severe thunderstorms. All of these contribute to more severe fires. I have summarised this example in Fact check: Bjorn Lomborg and bushfires.
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Bob Ward from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE has published several criticisms of Lomborg’s claims and writings.
In 2018 he criticised Lomborg’s misinformation about climate change and poverty, saying that Lomborg had:
- misrepresented and overstated the conclusions of a paper in Nature Climate Change journal; and
- used incorrect figures and information from reports by ActionAid and the International Energy Agency; and
- used unjustified and non credible figures in his discussion of EU climate policy.
This year Bob Ward reviewed Lomborg’s book, False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet, and again found it “based on fantastical numbers that have little or no credibility”.
Bob Ward says:
“Dr Lomborg now has a long track record of being an unreliable and inaccurate source of information about climate change. He devotes most of his writing efforts to churning out polemics for the opinion columns of newspapers which fail to fact-check his false claims.”
Bjorn Lomborg habitually misuses data to make faulty arguments. His arguments therefore cannot be trusted.
He is also intelligent, well qualified (albeit not in climate science) and a gifted communicator. This makes his misuse of data reprehensible, as it is hard to see how it isn’t deliberate.
It also means he has an appearance of academic credibility that can mislead those who take notice.
- Wikipedia on Bjorn Lomborg.
- Bjorn Lomborg’s website.
- The Climate Council on Bjorn Lomborg.
- Climate Feedback website.
Photo from Bjorn’s web site Publicity photos.