Who is Bjorn Lomborg? Wash. Post doesn't really tell

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

A Washington Post article previewing Al Gore's congressional testimony noted that Congress would also hear testimony from "skeptics" on global warming such as Bjorn Lomborg, a "political scientist" at the Copenhagen Business School. The article discussed Lomborg's views on global warming and his book on the issue, but did not mention that the book has been discredited by several well-known environmental specialists.

In a March 21 Washington Post article reporting that former Vice President Al Gore would testify before Congress about global warming, staff writer Shailagh Murray noted that Congress would receive testimony from "skeptics of the sort that Gore probably hasn't met on the red carpet." One of the "skeptics" Murray cited is Bjorn Lomborg, a "political scientist" at the Copenhagen Business School. The print-edition article, as well as a similar article by Murray and staff writer Debbi Wilgoren that was published on the Post's website at 1:42 p.m., presented some of Lomborg's views on global warming and noted that he has written a book on the issue, The Skeptical Environmentalist (Cambridge University Press, 2001). Neither article mentioned that Lomborg's book has been discredited by several well-known environmental specialists. Nor did the articles note that Lomborg has attacked Gore with false representations of Gore's claims.

The article reported that Lomborg was invited, along with Gore, to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee and presented a brief history of his position on global warming:

The 2000 Democratic presidential nominee will testify about the urgency of addressing climate change in two appearances on Capitol Hill before panels that include skeptics of the sort that Gore probably hasn't met on the red carpet.

For instance, Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), senior Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, once called global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on the American people." The other witness scheduled to appear at the House Energy and Commerce Committee is Bjorn Lomborg of Copenhagen Business School, who asserts that global warming is real but argues that "the trouble is that the climate models show we can do very little" about it.

[...]

Gore begins the day in the House, where he will face John D. Dingell, a Democrat from the auto-industry state of Michigan and energy committee chairman, who has resisted federal increases in fuel-efficiency standards. Dingell also invited Lomborg, a Danish political scientist and author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist," who has argued that combating AIDS and poverty may carry a greater social value than tackling climate change.

Yet the article failed to mention that, as Media Matters for America recently noted, in his book Lomborg purported to conduct a "non-partisan analysis" of environmental data in the hope of offering the public and policymakers a guide for "clear-headed prioritization of resources to tackle real, not imagined, problems." His conclusion was that the concerns of scientists regarding the world's environmental problems -- including global warming -- were overblown. But in January 2002, Scientific American ran a series of articles from four well-known environmental specialists that lambasted Lomborg's book for "egregious distortions," "elementary blunders of quantitative manipulation and presentation that no self-respecting statistician ought to commit," and sections that were "poorly researched and ... rife with careless mistakes."

A backgrounder by the Union of Concerned Scientists similarly reported that Lomborg's findings and methodology "fail[] to meet basic standards of credible scientific analysis."

Further, in a February 7 New York Sun op-ed, Lomborg purported to debunk a claim made by Gore in the Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth by comparing it with a recently released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Lomborg wrote:

[The IPCC] fundamentally rejects one of the most harrowing scenes from Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth." In graphic detail, Mr. Gore demonstrated how a 20-foot rise in the sea level would inundate much of Florida, Shanghai, and Holland. The IPCC report makes it clear that exaggerations of this magnitude have no basis in science -- though clearly they frightened people and perhaps will win Mr. Gore an Academy Award.

But as Media Matters has also noted, Lomborg's claim involves a false comparison. In the book associated with the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth (Rodale Books, May 2006), Gore wrote that if the West Antarctic ice shelf "melted or slipped off its island mooring into the sea, it would raise sea levels worldwide by 20 feet." He added that "the West Antarctic ice shelf is virtually identical in size and mass to the Greenland ice dome, which also would raise sea levels worldwide by 20 feet if it melted or broke up and slipped into the sea" (Page 190):

The East Antarctic ice shelf is the largest ice mass on the planet and had been thought to be still increasing in size. However, two new studies in 2006 showed first that the overall volumes of ice in East Antarctica now appear to be declining, and that 85 percent of the glaciers there appear to be accelerating their flow toward the sea. Second, it showed that air temperatures measured high above this mass of ice appear to have warmed more rapidly than air temperatures anywhere else in the world. This finding was actually a surprise, and scientists have not yet been able to explain why it is occurring.

East Antarctica is still considered far more stable over long periods of time than the West Antarctic ice shelf, which is propped up against the tops of islands. This peculiar geology is important for two reasons: first, its weight is resting on land and therefore its mass has not displaced seawater as floating ice would. So if it melted or slipped off its island mooring into the sea, it would raise sea levels worldwide by 20 feet. Second, the ocean flows underneath large sections of this ice shelf, and as the ocean has warmed, scientists have documented significant and alarming structural changes on the underside of the ice shelf.

Interestingly, the West Antarctic ice shelf is virtually identical in size and mass to the Greenland ice dome, which also would raise sea levels worldwide by 20 feet if it melted or broke up and slipped into the sea.

Gore made the same claim in the film:

GORE: If [the West Antarctic ice shelf] were to go, sea level worldwide would go up 20 feet. They've measured disturbing changes on the underside of the ice sheet. It's considered relatively more stable, however, than another big body of ice that's roughly the same size -- Greenland would also raise sea level almost 20 feet if it went.

The IPCC, however, addressed rising sea levels as they are affected by "[c]ontinued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates." A chart projecting the rise of sea levels in six different scenarios showed that the "the best estimate for the high scenario," which defined the "likely range" of temperature increases over the next century to be from "2.4°C to 6.4°C," resulting in an increase in sea levels between 0.26 m and 0.59 m, which converts to a range of 10.24 to 23.23 inches. The IPCC further claimed that "[c]ontraction of the Greenland ice sheet is projected to continue to contribute to sea level rise after 2100" and that "[i]f a negative surface mass balance were sustained for millennia, that would lead to virtually complete elimination of the Greenland ice sheet and a resulting contribution to sea level rise of about 7 m," which is equivalent to approximately 23 feet.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Climate Change
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.