Global leaders convened in Paris for the United Nations climate summit, where they reached a historic international agreement to act on climate change. Conservative media continue to respond with a series of climate-related myths, but here are the facts.
Bjorn Lomborg has argued for more coal use abroad and fewer electric cars here in the U.S., both times contorting the facts to cast his position as a way to keep people from dying. In each instance, Lomborg cloaks his anti-environmental positions in supposed concern for public health, rather than addressing the canary in the coal mine: The fact that coal emissions contribute to four of the five leading causes of death in the United States.
In a February 19 USA Today column, Lomborg, the President of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a long-time electric car critic, asserted that we should "stop our green worship of the electric car," in part because it "surprisingly kills almost twice the number of people compared with regular gasoline cars." Lomborg was referring to a recent University of Minnesota study, which found that the pollution associated with electric vehicles powered by coal or "grid average" electricity result in more annual deaths than the pollution associated with vehicles run on conventional gasoline. Based on these findings, Lomborg concluded that "[i]nstead of focusing on electric cars, we should focus on making coal-fired power cleaner."
Of course, that wasn't the conclusion of the study Lomborg was citing. The University of Minnesota researchers instead emphasized that "electric vehicles (EVs) powered by electricity from natural gas or wind, water, or solar power are best for improving air quality, whereas vehicles powered by corn ethanol and EVs powered by coal are the worst." In other words, the solution is moving away from coal as quickly as possible, not scrapping electric cars.
A study of coverage of the recent United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report finds that many mainstream media outlets amplified the marginal viewpoints of those who doubt the role of human activity in warming the planet, even though the report itself reflects that the climate science community is more certain than ever that humans are the major driver of climate change. The media also covered how recent temperature trends have not warmed at as fast a rate as before in nearly half of their IPCC coverage, but this trend does not undermine long-term climate change.
Fox News is promoting a Wall Street Journal column by Bjorn Lomborg to claim that electric vehicles are "even worse" for the environment than conventional gasoline cars. But experts say Lomborg's assumptions are out of step with reality and that the environmental benefits of electric vehicles will only grow in the near-future.
Lomborg, a prominent critic of environmentalists, claimed that because producing an electric car is more carbon-intensive, it could produce more carbon dioxide over its lifetime than a conventional car, citing a study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology:
If a typical electric car is driven 50,000 miles over its lifetime, the huge initial emissions from its manufacture means the car will actually have put more carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere than a similar-size gasoline-powered car driven the same number of miles.
Fox News hosted Lomborg on Wednesday to expose what it called the "dirty little secret" of electric vehicles. Seizing on Lomborg's figures, Fox Business' Stuart Varney claimed that "the battery powered cars are just as bad for the environment as your average sedan -- even worse!" And Fox Business host Gerri Willis suggested electric cars are not "contributing less to global warming" than conventional cars:
But Lomborg's assumption of a 50,000 mile lifetime "seems too low," according to University of California at Los Angeles' Dr. Deepak Rajagopal, an environmental economist who focuses on life cycle assessments. Indeed, the study Lomborg cites "assumes almost twice that lifetime," according to co-author Guillaume Majeau-Bettez. It estimates a 20-24 percent reduction in emissions from electric vehicles driven 90,000 miles and powered by average European electricity. The Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf, the two most popular electric cars in the U.S., both have 100,000 mile battery warranties.
And as the Natural Resources Defense Council's Max Baumherner noted, the study used estimates for production emissions that are three times higher than those from Argonne National Laboratory, which perhaps explains why other studies have found greater environmental benefits from electric cars. A life-cycle analysis overseen by Dr. Rajagopal found that battery-electric vehicles (BEV) powered by California's electricity mix produce significantly fewer emissions compared to conventional vehicles (CV):
On his Fox Business show yesterday Stuart Varney hosted Bjorn Lomborg to denounce the 2007 light bulb efficiency standards, which House Republicans are currently attempting to repeal. Varney introduced Lomborg as "our favorite rational environmentalist and a real scientist." Moments later, Varney added: "You're a scientist. What do you make of this?"
But Lomborg, who is known for opposing large-scale efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is not a scientist but a business school professor with a PhD in political science.
It appears the mistaken notion that Lomborg is a scientist is widely held among conservative media figures. In 2007 Glenn Beck hosted Lomborg on his HLN show to discuss climate change and introduced him by stating: "Bjorn Lomborg, he is a scientist":
Right-wing media have frequently cited Bjorn Lomborg to downplay the danger of global warming. In his forthcoming book, Lomborg will reportedly declare global warming a "chief concern facing the world today" and recommend spending $100 billion annually on clean energy technology financed by a global carbon emissions tax.
From the December 13 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ:
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From the December 9 edition of CNN's Campbell Brown:
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In arguing against the pursuit of global warming policies, Bjorn Lomborg wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that "[c]utting carbon emissions will likely increase water scarcity, because global warming is expected to increase average rainfall levels around the world." In fact, Lomborg's argument ignores that while scientists predict that climate change may increase precipitation globally, they believe some areas will experience more flooding because of the rainfall, whereas others will be disproportionately affected by drought.