I am now about to test my Bjorn Lomborg prejudices

I recently got lent a copy of this book by Bjorn Lomborg:

But before getting stuck into it, I wanted to describe my prejudice concerning Bjorn Lomborg, based on such things as reading short articles by him and pieces by others about him. But then, when looking for something else in my old blog, I came across this posting from 2012 that already described my Lomborg prejudices, which started life as a comment on a Samizdata posting:

My prejudice about Lomborg (which is why I have not studied his thoughts in much depth) is that he doesn’t understand the argument he says he is in.

In particular, he doesn’t grasp that the essence of the Climate argument concerns whether or not there is going to be a Climate Catastrophe. If there is, then all Lomborg’s chat about merely improving the lives of the poor is just fiddling while Rome awaits incineration.

But if the evidence for a forthcoming catastrophe is no better now than at any other time during human history, then Lomborg’s arguments make sense, as do all other arguments about merely improving things. Economics, business, capitalism, etc. all make sense, and there is no excuse for global collectivism, because it only makes things worse. The only excuse for global collectivism is in preventing a global catastrophe that is otherwise unpreventable.

The climate argument is about climate science, not economics. But Lomborg, being an economist, can’t make himself accept that. He’s the bloke with a hammer to whom every problem must involve banging in a nail. But the whole reason they fabricated the idea of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming was that they could then stop talking about economics, and switch to something else. They wanted to stop losing their argument to people like Lomborg, and instead to win it, in a field where, to start with, they had the advantage of being early adopters, and where their opponents literally did not know what they were talking about.

To be clear: these are just my prejudices, and they haven’t changed since 2012. But because of them I’ve basically ignored Lomborg, and that will now change. I hope now to discover if my prejudices have any solid basis or if they will have to be dumped.

5 thoughts on “I am now about to test my Bjorn Lomborg prejudices”

  1. It seems to me that whilst some people are having an argument between the options of “global collectivism to quickly reduce carbon emissions regardless of economic cost” and “leave things as they are and normal emergent processes will solve any problems that arise” neither of those options will actually be taken. This is because 1) the climate and economic systems are too complex to get a definitive compelling answer as to what the costs and benefits are and hence to justify broadly in society either absolute position 2) many people are arguing from their confirmation bias within their echo chamber 3) lots of people in developed countries will not accept a mandated rapid reduction in living standards; lots of people in developing countries won’t accept not being allowed economic growth BUT 4) there is too much anecdotal evidence of significant climate change for everyone to ignore it 5) it isn’t a binary question whether or not there will be a catastrophe. There will be a scale of damage and its somewhat subjective at what point that is considered a catastrophe. For all these reasons governments and businesses will do things between the two absolutes. And outside of the media, within and between government departments, think tanks, some pressure groups and businesses the arguments that are being had are much more nuanced. Lomberg is thus speaking to the people who will actually make decisions.

  2. Lomborg is actually addressing the important question: what should we do about climate change? This gets discussed surprisingly little, and people who try to do discuss it get shouted down a lot. In public, anyway.

  3. Michael, in the media I think you’re right but in practice I think its a real debate. Boris’ 10 point plan is neither do nothing nor shut down industrial society so some debate must have occurred in government to decide what steps to take, what timescales to set, how much to spend. Also it sensibly includes nuclear which most environmentalists despise – which always makes me think they can’t truly believe catastrophe is imminent since if it is we should go 90% nuclear asap. LinkedIn is full of posts about the decisions individual companies are making to reduce their carbon footprint and even more importantly by tech companies developing all manner of solutions to the perceived issues. The tone is very much “bright green environmentalism”. This is a term coined by futurist Alex Steffen. He defines light greens as essentially being virtue signallers, who make a few lifestyle choices but aren’t doing anything that will make a substantive difference; dark greens as those believing that catastrophe is already unavoidable or that the only way to halt it is to shut down industrial society immediately; and bright greens who believe that science and technology can fix the problem. There is also of course a fourth type, namely the water melons – who don’t care whether its true or not but use the issue to drive significant state control which they are in favour of regardless. Whilst I think some of the latter were influential at the start I think we can overstate their role now. Most greens believe first that environmental catastrophe is a very significant risk, and secondly recommend state action because they can’t see any other solution. However the only option for people who make decisions (as opposed to activists) is bright green. There are therefore two possibilities for what might happen.1) the dark greens are right and things get bad very quickly and society as we know it collapses – not because we shut it down, but because the damage overwhelms us. 2) enough technological and mild behaviour change takes place for the problem to be seen to recede (regardless of how big it ever was which if 1) isn’t true will always be impossible to determine) and eventually success is declared. What will not happen is the problem is ignored nor that we close down industrial society faster than the environment destroys it. Those are both politically impossible and hence only feature in the debate between ideologues and activists but not in the debate of actual decision makers who are constrained by the art of the possible.

  4. Bruce Sterling coined (or at least used) the expression “Viridian Green”, the point being that viridian is a shade of green that is not found in nature. I liked that, but it didn’t really catch on.

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