|Derogation of opponents
|Home Purpose and principles Lomborg and the media|
formulation of the conflict
Lomborg makes a distinction between `alarmists´ and sensible, balanced people. The alarmists are those that sound the `litany´ of our ever deteriorating environment. The balanced people are those who keep a sound sense of proportions. A general theme in Lomborg´s books is the conflict between these two opposing groups. Typically, at the start of a chapter Lomborg presents a series of statements made by alarmists in order to demonstrate how irrational these people are. For instance, when dealing with forests, he presents the text from a WWF web site saying that "We must ACT NOW to preserve the last remaining forests on Earth". WWF is thereby exposed as being unrealistic, emotionally driven, and inclined to wildly unrealistic exaggerations of the gravity of the situation.
After having demonstrated this to the readers, Lomborg then goes on to tell how things really are, based on official statistics and cool facts. Every reader will then understand how wrong he is if he listens to the alarmists whose emotional claims are simply not based on facts.
This is a very general theme. In `The Skeptical Environmentalist´, the following chapters are set up like this: chapters 1 - 5 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 13 - 16 - 20 - 22 - 23 - 24 - 25. That is, about half of all chapters have this structure. The same is approximately true for the sections of `Cool It!´.
Painting the picture of an enemy
After you have studied Lomborg´s books, you have become deeply convinced that one should not listen to the alarmists. And Lomborg tells you who the alarmists are. So all those that are presented in the books as Lomborg´s opponents are classified as alarmists, i.e. as people that you should not listen to. They are exposed as ridiculous, emotionally driven, highly strung persons. In this way you are somehow brought into a state - you might even say: you are hypnotized into a state - where you only listen to Lomborg and those who agree with him, and turn a deaf ear to his opponents. If the opponents advance arguments against Lomborg´s assertions, all that is needed is that Lomborg characterizes these critics as `alarmists´. As soon as they have been derided like that, you simply refuse to listen to them. In this way, Lomborg again and again succeeds to persuade people not to listen to the criticism against him. For instance, the Lomborg-errors web site may be derided as a `hate site´. This simple trick is enough to dissuade people from reading the criticism here - who will voluntarily waste time reading a `hate site´?
So, there is no doubt who the enemy is here. The enemy is a large group of people who may very well be educated, kind, gentle and sympathetic, but, alas, they have lost a sound sense of proportions, and therefore you should not listen to them. Actually, you should fight them and actively reduce their influence.
What happens here is the same as in an election campaign. It is well known that a political candidate gains more votes with harsh merciless criticism of his opponent than by pointing out the good things in his own political programme. Politicians know that, and therefore we get all those unbearable election campaigns where the candidates mainly sling mud at each other. Lomborg uses the same principle here, except that the mud slinging is formulated in nicer terms. Unfortunately, it seems to work, and it probably is the most effective part of his endeavor.
Once the mud slinging has started, both parties need to do it. It will not work if the attacked part ignores the mud and only speaks of his own merits. If A - incorrectly - says that B lies, B has no other choice than to say "No, it is A who lies". We will get a deadlock where nobody knows whom to trust. That is, once the lying has started, the whole discussion is inevitably poisoned. So, once Lomborg starts to lie, there is no other choice here on Lomborg-errors than to say: "No, it is Lomborg who lies". And the readers cannot know who is right, except when they take the time to check the factual details.
Creating a tone of suspicion and deriding others´ incompetence
Scattered over the pages, Lomborg has put small comments that serve to throw suspicion on the motives of his opponents. ". . . it is clear why Al Gore chose not to show this slide." - ". . the IPCC seems to have chosen a rather pessimistic simple model . . " - "The IPCC admitted this much . . " - ". . hydrogen fusion, which incidentally the IPCC also leaves out of consideration . . " . - "Surprisingly, Skakkebæk has never publicly commented on these facts." - " . . the biologists have a clear opinion of where the debate between figures and models should end. There are many grants at stake." - "If scientists become spokespeople for specific solutions . . they effectively become agenda-driven advocates." - "Over the years it has become obvious that part of - and it is important to say only part of - the IPCC has become more politicized."
Lomborg´s small comments may also make his opponents untrustworthy in another way, namely by exposing their incompetence. "Apparently it alleviates scientists of the need to demonstrate the amount of losses as long as they can feel they are right." - "One prominent conservationist admitted in Science that `the lack of data does worry me´" - " . . the modelers have explicitly abandoned the idea of predicting the future . . ". - "The review´s presentation of the science is massively exaggerated toward scary scenarios." - Or note this sentence: "Many studies have - perhaps surprisingly - not been able to document any noteworthy effect." Here, the word surprisingly infers in an implicit way that the scientists are not as clever as you would have expected, and that they are on the wrong track.
Typically, those studies that support Lomborg´s agenda are presented in a very positive tone: "This new and potentially revolutionary research was published . . . " - " The best-documented overview . . " - "The newest studies . . . remain confident that further, stable increases are still possible." - "The Stanford Energy Modeling Forum has assembled the most and best of studies of the cost of the original Kyoto." - " In the biggest review article of all the literature´s 103 estimates, the climate economist Richard Tol finds two important points." - "When I specifically asked him for his best guess, he wasn´t too enthusiastic about sheding his cautiousness - as is invariably the case with true researchers . . ". - "Respected - but skeptical - climate scientist Richard Lindzen . . . points out. . . "
When somebody says something, the text will typically read that he `points out´ something if he supports Lomborg, whereas opponents will typically be said to `admit´ something, once more implicating dubious motives or incompetence. For instance, on p. 271 in TSE: "The IPCC frankly admit that . . ". Another example of this trend is: "Discouraging but honest, the IPCC concludes that . . "
By adding single words like "surprisingly" or "ironically", Lomborg is often able in one stroke to colour our entire image of one of his opponents. We read for instance in TSE (top right of p. 329): "Ironically, Al Gore believes that the way to escape this . . . is by means of `the harsh light of truth´." It could have been a positive feature that Al Gore sticks to the harsh light of truth, but the single word `ironically´ completely changes the image. It implies that Al Gore is not just wrong now and then, he is chronically and perpetually wrong - otherwise it would make no sense that his referring to the truth is ironical.
Altogether, the reader is implicitly and subtly, but effectively, given a picture of who is trustworthy and who is not trustworthy. Considering that we cannot know all about everything in society, the most important of all factors influencing our political attitudes is whom we choose to trust, and whom we choose to distrust. Lomborg focuses exactly there - at the very point where the effect is decisive.
The wrong are always wrong, and the right are always right
If you admit that your opponent may be right on certain points, you risk that your audience will also listen to what the opponent says. It is crucial for Lomborg to avoid that. Seen in that light, it makes sense that Lomborg very rarely admits that his opponents are right in anything. Typically, he does not say: "I agree that mr. A is right in this and this, but I disagree with mr. A in these other aspects." So the principle seems to be: `Do not acknowledge anything that your opponent says or does´.
For example in the chapter of biodiversity in TSE, on page 255, Lomborg tells us that the alarmists´ claims about how many species will go extinct do not come true, and hence the alarmists are not worth paying attention to. He does not acknowledge that fear of extinctions may be the impetus that motivates necessary conservation efforts. He admits briefly in five words that many species survive after all `primarily because of conservation efforts´, but that is all the attention he pays to the merits of those who are concerned for the future of these species. There is a strong emphasis on how unreliable the predictions of these people are, and extremely little emphasis on the merits of their endeavours. Obviously, it is very important to him not to say anything positive about such people.
On the other hand, if those who share Lomborg´s views are sometimes wrong, that is never mentioned. It is really like an election campaign: you paint a uniformly positive picture of one party, and a uniformly negative picture of the other party. It is extremely one-sided.
In practice, the world is not so black and white that one party is always wrong and the other party is always right. To paint a black and white picture, you have to omit all the greytones.
One way to do that is to be selective. You can read long pieces of texts that your opponent has produced. Sooner or later, you will find one sentence that looks alarmist or hyped. For instance, in this link, you see a magazine article written by author and environmentalist Bill McKibben. It is about the impending flooding of lowlying lands like the Tuvalu islands and Bangladesh due to global warming. The presentation focuses on things that may go wrong in future, and in this sense it is one-sided. But the threats that it talks about are fairly realistic and could happen within a century if global warming continues. In `Cool It!´, Lomborg picks just one sentence from the text about the relationship between the USA and the rest of the world. It reads: " . . we are engaging in a reckless drive-by drowning of much of the rest of the planet and much of the rest of creation." This single sentence is indeed an alarmist exaggeration. So Lomborg picks just that to tell us that McKibben is an alarmist. Thereby he makes sure we will not bother to read the rest of the article, which is mainly about the responsibility that Americans have for the environment in the rest of the world.
Manipulating the wrongness of opponents
Unfortunately, in many cases Lomborg has not been able to present good examples illustrating the alarmist attitude of his opponents. This means that he has no basis for painting the opponents in the black colors that he obviously wanted. But there is a solution. If you cannot find any quotes that are sufficiently alarmist or ridiculous, then you can create them by manipulation. For instance, in the first chapter of `Cool It!´, the agenda is to derogate those who are concerned about the survival of the polar bear as a species. Lomborg writes: "The World Wildlife Fund actually warned that polar bears might stop reproducing by 2012 and thus become functionally extinct in less than a decade. In their pithy statement, "polar bears will be consigned to history, something that our grandchildren can only read about in books." This quote obviously functions to ridicule the WWF - imagine, their hype is so inflated that they speak of the polar bear being extinct shortly after 2012. What Lomborg did not mention, however, is that the quote about reproducing stopping in 2012 actually concerns just one part of one population, namely that in the western part of the Hudson Bay. It does not concern the global population. But the reader will believe that. And the claim about their being consigned to history does not refer to the year 2012, as the reader may believe if he does not analyze the text very carefully. Still, Lomborg sums up in a following page with these words: "Yet, we are told that global warming will make polar bears extinct, possibly within ten years . . ." This is a distortion so gross of what was said that it is in reality a direct lie.
Some readers may think that this is a miniscule and harmless manipulation. I do not agree - I think it makes a lot of harm. The quote is directly misleading - WWF did not say that the species will go extinct in a decade. Unfortunately, this misleading is effective. After having read this quote, who would bother to consult the WWF web site to learn about the polar bears? Hardly anyone. But if you did, you would find out that the WWF web site on polar bears is much more informed, much more informative and much more balanced than anything Lomborg has written or said on this subject.
Another example: On page 226 - 227 in TSE, Lomborg tells us that only 0.4 percent of our pesticide intake is from drinking water. And yet, he says, the European Environment Agency (EEA) named pesticides in drinking water one of the "dominant health issues in Europe". The implication is that the EEA has completely lost its sense of proportions, that is, their statements are not to be taken seriously. However, the EEA did not actually say that. Their report had a section titled "Dominant health issues in Europe"; this chapter has several pages on pesticide residues in food. For completeness, this is followed by a short paragraph on pesticides in drinking water, from which it is evident that these constitute a minor problem, relative to pesticides in food. But Lomborg feels free to write that pesticides in drinking water is considered a `dominant health issue´ by the EEA, based on the technicality that the small paragraph on drinking water is included in the section with the above title. This is a gross manipulation based on an absurd technicality, and it cannot possibly have been made in good faith. The only way to explain it is that Lomborg deliberately wants to infer that the EEA is not trustworthy, even when the truth is that they present pesticides in food as the larger problem.
In the film `Cool it´, Lomborg says that there has been a dramatic increase in the global polar bear population. This is not based on any sound evidence and is most probably not true. But the claim about polar bears serves very effectively to deride Al Gore, who focused on the threats to polar bears in his film.
Sad to say, there are many cases like these. Some cases have been included in the error lists for TSE and for Cool It under the heading `Groundless derogation´. They are mostly just reported there as some kind of comments. But in case the misleading is very concrete and direct, they are counted as errors, i.e. as examples documenting that Lomborg lies directly.
Manipulating even where Lomborg has a point already
In his book `Cool It´, Lomborg has a paragraph on the risk that the Gulf Stream will shut down as a consequence of global warming. Actually, the risk that this will happen is quite remote, so the public worry about this problem may be considered more or less to be hype. It should be a piece of cake for Lomborg to set things straight and to persuade his reader that there is no reason to worry here - he would just need to present the evidence as it is. He could just cite the conclusions in the latest IPCC report, and that would be enough. But no, he does not do just that. He writes several pages in the book - especially in the British version - with a lot of detail, and in doing this, he produces a surprising number of flaws, errors and deliberate manipulations (see here onLomborg-errors). Why does he do that, when there is no need to?
The explanation seems to be that assuring that there is no danger is not the main agenda. The main agenda is to describe how much the whole issue has been misrepresented by the media, and furthermore, to paint a picture of a whole bunch of untrustworthy persons, ranging from Al Gore to many sicentists, who exaggerate the worries and are not trustworthy. In other words, the agenda is to create mistrust in the authorities.
To be sure to do this effectively, it is not enough just to present the evidence. After all, few authoritative people have behaved very wrongly and come up with completely unfounded scare mongering. So to be sure that the readers get the mesage, he has to manipulate to some degree. This manipulation turns up as an unexpected amount of `flaws´ when the text is scrutinized. So the many flaws are not mainly flaws in representing the scientific evidence. They are flaws aiming at putting his opponents in a bad light.
Manipulating the rightness of Lomborg´s own statements
In each case where Lomborg has exposed the unrealistic or vastly exaggerated claims made by his opponents, he then proceeds to tell what the real facts are, based on official statistics and other reliable sources. This contrast between the exaggerated claims and the real facts serves to expose the opponents as really very untrustworthy. An example is the chapter on forests in TSE. Here, Lomborg writes that "globally, it is estimated that we have lost a total of about 20 percent of the original forest cover since the dawn of agriculture." As a contrast to this allegedly reliable estimate, he writes: "The WWF . . . claims that we have lost two-thirds of all forests since agriculture was introduced . . . , although there is no evidence to support this claim." So, Lomborg´s `truth´ is a 20 percent loss, and the `wild exaggeration´ of WWF is a 67 percent loss. However, WWF actually claimed slightly less, namely 62 percent. And reliable estimates give a figure of about 50 percent up to 1995, which would mean more than 50 percent by now. So the WWF estimate of 62 percent is not much off the mark; whereas Lomborg´s figure is a wildly unrealistic underestimate which clearly cannot possibly be near the truth. If Lomborg had cited a reliable figure - i.e. somewhere about fifty percent - WWF´s figure of 62 percent would not have served to discredit them. But instead, Lomborg postulates an unrealistically low figure, which allows him to discredit the WWF.
One may discuss whether the main purpose of Lomborg´s chapter on forests is to tell us how things really `are´, or to slate WWF. Considering the prominent position that the WWF web site and WWF statements have in his book, it is quite possible that the reader will not remember the percentage of forest remaining, but only remember that WWF is not reliable. So maybe the agenda of slating WWF is so important that it is of less importance to Lomborg what the percentages really are. If his main concern had been discussing what estimates of forest loss are realistic, he would not completely have ignored those estimates in the middle ground which he has actually seen, but chosen not to mention.
What we are seeing here, is mostly `spin´. Spin is a method to distort the facts in such a way that the audience gets a completely misleading impression, even though it is very hard to point out statements that technically are directly wrong. Spin will in most cases be effective by its appeal to subconscious feelings.
All through the books, the text is permeated by such more or less implicit derogations of Lomborg´s opponents. If the text had been only about the true state of the planet - if the point had been only that the forest loss since the dawn of civilization is twenty percent rather than sixty percent etc. - then readers would soon get tired of all those figures. But all the way through the text there is an underlying tone that those who say the world´s environment is in peril are untrustworthy alarmists. The general theme is how foolish, ridiculous, high strung or unrealistic such persons are. And this derogation of other people makes the text readable for all those who like to think that environmentalists are somehow bad persons.
The sad thing about this spin is that it works, and is very effective. Time and time again we see that Lomborg really manages to paint his opponents in such a dark color that people forget about the good principle of hearing both sides in a conflict.
Of course, people do not care very much whether the population of polar bears has actually increased dramatically, or whether the percentage of forest lost is 20 percent or 60 percent. But they gulp down the take-home-message, namely that environmentalists are hysterical and untrustworthy and talk of threats to an animal species which is dramatically increasing. So people are prompted to turn a deaf ear to the environmentalists whenever they hear them. That is what is dangerous, and on this point Lomborg and others of his sort have had a tremendous success.