"The Skeptical Environmentalist" under scrutiny
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 12 11:40:09 MST 2001
Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark
The Skeptical Environmentalist
By Bjorn Lomborg
Cambrige University Press, 496 pages, 2001
The cultural tides may have turned somewhat in recent months, but
skepticism remains central to our national character. In the opinion of
Grist Magazine, that's a good thing: No mind should be above changing, and
no precept should be protected from scrutiny. Hence this special issue on
Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist.
Lomborg, an associate professor of statistics at Denmark's University of
Aarhus, applies the doctrine of doubt to environmentalism and concludes
that most of the movement's sacred cows are, to put it bluntly, bull:
"We will not lose our forests; we will not run out of energy, raw
materials, or water. We have reduced atmospheric pollution in the cities of
the developed world and have good reason to believe that this will also be
achieved in the developing world. Our oceans have not been defiled, our
rivers have become cleaner and support more life. ... Nor is waste a
particularly big problem. ... The problem of the ozone layer has been more
or less solved. The current outlook on the development of global warming
does not indicate a catastrophe. ... And, finally, our chemical worries and
fear of pesticides are misplaced and counterproductive."
Lomborg claims that these and other worries are "phantom problems" created
or inflated by the environmental movement for its own ends, with the result
that time and money are diverted from other, needier causes.
That is a serious charge, and as such it must be taken seriously. To date,
the mainstream media have done just that -- but they have also taken the
book at face value, with little or no critical analysis. A Washington Post
reviewer raved about its "magnificent achievement"; the New York Times, the
Economist, and others were equally gushing.
Grist wondered how the book would hold up under more rigorous scrutiny, and
asked respected scientists and leaders in their fields to address the
allegations in The Skeptical Environmentalist. By bringing a healthy dose
of skepticism to Lomborg's own claims, the resulting compilation fights
fire with fire; we leave it to our readers to determine who gets flambeed.
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