Resistance is futile!
The Piper’s Price
Elmer Gantry 2.0
and again and again and …
- Climate change voice who changed his tune
- How will right-wing media react to former climate skeptic Lomborg?
- Climate ‘sceptic’ Bjørn Lomborg now believes global warming is one of world’s greatest threats
- Green groups cautiously welcome Lomborg’s climate fund call
So now that he has seen the light what does Lomborg’ have to tell us? His latest ‘contribution’ to the climate change discussion is “No, You Can’t” which appeared at Slate as “Go Ahead and Guzzle – Face it: There’s not much any one person can do about climate change.“
The titles pretty much sum up his message, but let’s have a look at his argument.
He notes correctly that increased energy efficiency of appliances etc has not led to a decline in average energy usage, in fact it has remained more or less stable. This is due to the ‘take back rebound effect‘ where the reduction in usage per appliance is compensated for by increased demands in other ways.
The effect is seen in many other examples, such as increased road and vehicle safety features resulting in people driving faster and hence not really altering the accident rates.
He quotes Harry Saunders who notes that “as lighting becomes more energy efficient, and thus cheaper, we use ever-more of it.” Lomborg’s premise is that this is just as true of any attempt by individuals to reduce carbon production. The rebound effect will wipe out any savings.
As usual Lomborg is right up to a point; “as usual” in that he starts with a factoid and then uses it to justify his predetermined conclusion.
Flaws in the argument
i) The initial call for energy efficiency was based on an appeal to abstractions such as saving Nature and energy independence. These did not have any particular direct relevance for most people. Climate change is still abstract to many, but becoming less so all of the time. Thus the motivation to reduce energy consumption is qualitatively different.
2) Lomborg equates energy usage with price, but that is an oversimplification.
a) Too often price was the only feedback people got about their apparent energy usage. This feedback is too infrequent (typically monthly) & as noted, as price changes it is an unreliable measure of actual usage. Studies with Smart Meters have shown they do lead to real reductions. Further, there are a broad range of other feedbacks that are possible and effective.
b) There is no particular reason to believe that energy prices will continue to fall with improved efficiencies. If we eliminate the externalities and adopt true cost accounting (pay the real costs of energy, something a simple economist like Lomborg may never have heard of) it would actually get more expensive. Regardless, between peak oil and degrading infrastructure the cost is likely to rise regardless of improved efficiencies.
3) By reporting averages Lomborg lumps those who reduced their energy usage with those who increased theirs. The fact is that some did reduce their consumption, and by identifying those people it becomes possible to identify what factors make a difference (as per 2 a) above) and implement them for everyone.
4) By focusing on avg energy consumption for home usage (heat, power and light) Lomborg leaves out the reductions made through diet, alternate transportation, etc, all potentially more possible to influence, much more significant from a CO2 production perspective, and hence potentially resulting in much greater impact.
5) As per 2 a) above, individual behaviours have a strong social component. We learned with recycling that getting the first 30% in a community to adopt the new behaviours was the most difficult. After that the next 30% – 50% was relatively easy. There are many mitigating factors (behaviour visibility, frequency & strength of feedbacks, etc) of course, but regardless Lomborg’s choice of example is one that one would have expected little to no visible impact.
So now that he has embraced climate science Lomborg’s message has changed from “we should do nothing because it’s not important” to “we should do nothing because it’s futile.” Further, he still uses misleading statistics and arguments to make his case.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not seeing a lot of difference here.
The Bjorn: Resistance is futile!
“Master misinformers like Bjorn Lomborg are expert at feeding the plausible-sounding rationalizations people use to justify inaction.”
Lomborg’s core message has always been “do little or nothing.”
“It may be reassuring to believe there are cheap and easy things we can do as individuals to stop global warming or that the answer is to continue chasing a chimerical global agreement on carbon cuts, as in Cancun. But the real action we can take is to press our politicians to put smarter ideas on the table.” [Emphasis added]
So Lomborg’s recommendation is a complete abdication of responsibility in the expectation that it is someone else’s job to do it for us? “We” are helpless, only “they” have any power, “resistance is futile.”
Not a surprising conclusion given the alternate title “Face it: There’s not much any one person can do about climate change.” It’s too bad we didn’t have Lomborg’s sober wisdom when we were planning follies like the space program, fighting World War II, or hunting large animals. How much different the world would be if Martin Luther King and Gandhi had spared themselves all that useless effort.
It’s a specious argument since there’s not much “any one person” can do about anything that takes two or more people; have a child, lift a piano, play badminton, etc.
The real and relevant question is whether the sum of many people taking action would make a difference. It’s a question Lomborg never asks, presumably because he does not like the answer he gets.
The Piper’s Price
I am not sure if he was the first, but Joseph Romm was certainly one of the first to call Lomborg’s conversion a sham, noting that Lomborg simply repackaged his same old message and recommendations with an allegedly different purpose. As with this most recent article, it all boils down to “we should do little or nothing because … ”
More detailed critiques of the new Bjorn Again Lomborg’s ‘Ole Same Old‘ are Howard Friel’s :
- The Lomborg Deception: About Yesterday’s Front-Page Story in the Guardian
- Bjørn Lomborg’s missing questions
[ASIDE For a different and rather amusing perspective on Lomborg’s conversion being just ‘more of the same’, see the quintessential hysteric Denier’s “But Lomborg was always a Warmist…“]
Romm thought that perhaps Lomborg’s false conversion was an attempt to generate some interest in his new book (and the subsequent movie about him). Romm’s point was that it’s hard to sell a new book under the title “Same Stuff Again.” That may well have been part of it, but Romm seems to have forgotten a piece that appeared on Climate Progress a year ago (a good blog, he should follow it – ;-) ).
In “Why Bjorn Lomborg is “the dunce’s hat” for Copenhagen Conservatives – (Danish Pork: Nice and juicy, for some)” Paulina Essunger reported:
“… the Danish People’s Party (DPP) .. requested that the annual earmarks for the controversial think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC), be tripled in the year leading up to the top climate meeting, COP-15.
The Liberal-Conservative minority administration chose to compromise on this issue, and the 2009 budget ended up containing DEK 7.5 million for the think tank run by the notorious climate contrarian Bjørn Lomborg. … In the budget finalized last month, Lomborg upped his previously scheduled earmarks, for a total of DEK 18 million over the next four years.
The extra money allocated in last year’s agreement was tied to a particular assignment. …
The budget agreement for 2009 directed CCC to consider alternatives for dealing with climate change, not–as is Lomborg’s wont–to propose alternatives to dealing with climate change.” [Emphasis added]
Why is Lomborg singing the same song with a different title? It would seem it was worth almost 2 Million USD to his
Lobbying/PR firm think tank for him to do so. The book itself was to justify this alleged “new” perspective on climate issues.
War is peace
This latest piece is no aberration. His book “Cool it” is ‘Lomborg Classic’ (see ‘Lomborg´s principles’ & “Lomborg’s Methods”) from cover to cover, and the new film “Cool it” is just a platform for Lomborg to deliver lots more of “Ole Same Old”:
- Cool It and plausible deniability
- Bjørn Lomborg feels a chill,
- “Cool It” yourselves
- Bjørn Lomborg Flip-Flops Over Cool It!, Apologizes for “Disturbing” and “Reckless Hyperbole”
- Cool It Your Own Self
- The Lomborg Deception: Debunking the claims of the climate-change skeptic.
- UCS takes on Lomborg’s failed movie, Cool it
In retrospect Lomborg and the Copenhagen Consensus Center (aka Minitrue) have done a pretty amazing job of continuing with the same old message while claiming to be saying the opposite, and getting paid handsomely to do it.
Essunger quotes the climate spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s own party “We should consider a cost-benefit analysis to see whether we get the greatest environmental benefit by giving the money to Lomborg’s center.” So what did the Danish government get for their extra 1.8 Million? Lomborg’s “alternative for dealing with climate change” is that we should ” … press our politicians to put smarter ideas on the table.” … they wuz robbed.
“Who pays the piper calls
the tune what the tune is referred to as”
Is Lomborg really so bad? Yes. As Joseph Romm put it, “Lomborg is, after all, one of the most debunked writers on climate in the world“, and “I don’t have time to debunk Bjorn Lomborg every time he writes a disinformation-filled WSJ op-ed [and yes, that is redundant].”, or Bill Chameides “A Lomborg piece would not be a Lomborg piece without a healthy supply of misinformation, … ” (and links at bottom).
So why does anyone listen to him?
Elmer Gantry 2.0
With all due respect & admiration, I want to suggest that Kåre explains ‘how’ Lomborg is successful rather than ‘why.’
The ‘why’ is that Lomborg claims to offer absolution for sins against the climate and redemption at no cost other than embracing Lomborg.
Like a modern Elmer Gantry Lomborg claims you are redeemed when you accept free market capitalism without regulation or oversight as your saviour. You are blameless, and you need not, and indeed should not do any more than that.
Lomborg’s refrain of ”refrain’, you need do nothing’ other than ‘wait for improved technologies’, ‘geo-engineering (aka Deus ex Machina) will save us’, and demanding that our “politicians to put smarter ideas on the table” amount to no more substance than ‘ pray for a miracle!‘ That’s it. That’s his core message, you should pray for a miracle and put your faith in the market.
Obviously this appeals to the rather self-indulgent, adolescent character of the culture of the Industrialized World. Climate change is a huge threat to the life that we know, and Lomborg reassures people that they need change nothing. Whether by accident or design Lomborg’s new pitch opens up a whole new fan base for him.
Let’s face it, there are a lot of people who desperately want to believe that they personally should change nothing about their lifestyle, but are uncomfortable with allying themselves with the teabaggers, Young Earth Creationists & other science/reality Deniers.
Now Lomborg offers them a seemingly politically correct way to feign helplessness and maintain the status quo – he delivers the “plausible-sounding rationalizations people use to justify inaction.”
Just like Elmer Gantry, Lomborg is a false prophet, “an entertainer, a performer, not a researcher“, performance artist extraordinaire, a lying fraud. Last January John Mashey did a nice analysis of Lomborg’s art in Lomborg and Playing the Long Game.
Lomborg’s appeal will not be undermined simply by debunking him. That is a necessary, but not sufficient condition. The fear and desperation that leads people to embrace people like Lomborg does not go away simply because one or the other is shown to be false. Even if we succeed they will simply find another false prophet.
That is a topic for another day. In the meantime, for those who harbour any doubts, here is a sampling of “one of the most debunked writers on climate”:
And again and again and ….
The damned Dane, two core resources:
A few others:
- Bjorn Lomborg admits his intellectual bankruptcy (and links found there)
- “Lomborg’s main argument has collapsed”
- Caldeira calls Lomborg’s vision “a dystopic world out of a science fiction story”
- A review of Lomborg and Shellenberger & Nordhaus
- The Lomborg Deception:More on the Lomborg Deception
- The Lomborg Deception (Deltoid)
- Willful Idiocy: Unpacking Lomborg’s Climate Nonsense
NB: No disrespect is meant to those who sincerely practice their faith with honesty & integrity, be it at tent revivals or elsewhere. It is the corruption & dishonesty of the Elmer Gantrys of this world that I take issue with.
We give our consent every moment that we do not resist.