How Lomborg cheats: An example
"Interviewing" the Danish climate minister
| General issues
How Lomborg cheats
Background: melting glaciers in Greenland
Greenland south of 70° N has three large glaciers: The glacier at Jakobshavn (= Ilulissat) on the west coast, and the two glaciers Helheim and Kangerdlugssuaq on the east coast. In all three, ice flow has accelerated greatly within the last decade, espeically in 2004 and 2005. They now discharge large amounts of ice into the sea every summer, thereby contributing considerably to the overall mass loss of the inland ice on Greenland (see also this page on Lomborg-errors).
The Danish minister of climate and energy, Connie Hedegaard, has invited several groups of politicians to see with their own eyes the melting glaciers on Greenland. For instance, in 2007, she invited five American senators, including John McCain who was running for the presidency. In an article in Washington Post (link), Lomborg has criticized that the senators were only shown melting glaciers, not a glacier near the airport of Kangerlussuaq (not to be confused with Kangerdlugssuaq!), which, according to Lomborg, is increasing in size.
When Lomborg "interviewed" the Danish climate minister
Just before the Copenhagen Consensus conference 2008, a media event was made when Lomborg should act as a journalist and interview the Danish minister of climate and energy, Connie Hedegaard. The interview was sent on Danish state radio on May 24th 2008. A link to the interview (in Danish) is here. My transcript of part of the interview (omitting some lengthy parts) follows below:
L: You have also used Greenland several times as a large poster. Why did you take both McCain and Merkel and all the others up to Ilulissat and not to Kangerlussuaq where the glaciers are growing?
H: No, they have also been in Kangerlussuaq.
L: Yes, they did that. They got off there to change flight, didn´t they?
H: I mean that . . .
L: But you did not go out to the glacier there.
H: You know nothing about that. We have also been out at the glacier at Kangerlussuaq. With some of the delegations. Not necessarily with the main persons, because they were flown by another route. But that is unimportant, and McCain flew directly to Ilulissat. But contrary to what you say, it is not so that we say: "Now, listen, there is one glacier, and now hear about that." That is not what we did. When McCain was up there, we had also brought scientists who for days told about all the how´s. . . . . We do precisely not go up and tell them that there is just one problem and then manipulate them with some particular . . .
L: No, in a way I do not guess so, but now we are talking about . . .
H: No, but when you then ask, why do we do it? It is partially to give them the opportunity to get the message, to get the message about the proportions . . .
L: That is all fine and elegant, but it remains an important question to ask: How come that you take them to those places where the glaciers melt the very most and not to the place where I now understand that you also go - I did not know that McCain had not flown together with the others, but at least all the others . . It is the main airport there, you know, the place where it actually grows thicker. And then how come that the only place you see . .
H: But, Bjørn Lomborg . . .
L: It is quite obvious that this is arranged as a media strategy, isn´t it?
H: No, actually not. It is . .
L: Yes. Did you choose it because it just happened to be the most rapidly melting glacier in Greenland?
H: No, as a matter of fact there are four that . . .
L: But Connie, that´s not at all what I am after, I just say, couldn´t you imagine at least a couple of times . . .
H: But you could go a lot of places . .
L: Yes, to Kangerlussuaq?
H: But it is not very peculiar to take them to Greenland . .
L: To where it is melting the most.
H: Well, and what is wrong about that?
L: Why not to the place where it is melting the least, where it actually grows?
H: But, this is because you imply with your question that we sort of withhold information about how these things . . but they are impressed by being taken to . . .
L: No, no, it is obvious that you make propaganda . . isn´t it? All the pictures are from there . .
H: We take them to that place on the globe where the average temperature has risen twice as much as in the rest of the globe. I think that is actually relevant. . .
L: When did Greenland have its highest temperature? When was that? Do you know that?
H: I beg your pardon?
L: Do you know when Greenland was the warmest?
L: OK. 1941.
L: It remains actually so that it was warmer then.
H: But Bjørn, what is your intention with these things . . .
My transcript stops here.
What happens during this interview?
In principle, Lomborg should have acted here as the neutral journalist interviewing the minister. That was what the minister had understood when she came. Instead, Lomborg tries to slate the minister. In that part that is transcribed here, he manages to give the audience the impression that the minister is doing exactly those things that Lomborg is usually accused of: she is selective, she withholds information, she applies a media strategy. Before the interview is over, Lomborg has peformed a character assassination on her. The audience will probably have lost confidence in the minister, which may be important for her future impact and credibility.
But he cheats
Unfortunately, the minister, Connie Hedegaard, never gets a chance to question Lomborg´s premise: That some glaciers on Greenland, such as that at Kangerlussuaq, are growing.
Now, all that Lomborg wrote about this in his Washington Post article, was:
"Curiously, something that's rarely mentioned is that temperatures in Greenland were higher in 1941 than they are today. Or that melt rates around Ilulissat were faster in the early part of the past century, according to a new study. And while the delegations first fly into Kangerlussuaq, about 100 miles to the south, they all change planes to go straight to Ilulissat -- perhaps because the Kangerlussuaq glacier is inconveniently growing."
Nobody seems to have been able to locate the "new study". The indications are that the retreat of the Jakobshavn Glacier at Ilulissat was fast during the first half of the 20th century, but not faster than it has been in recent years (Thomas et al.). And there is no such name as "The Kangerlussuaq glacier". The nearest glacier is the Russell Glacier about 25 km to the east of Kangerlussuaq, which is impressive and visited by many tourists. But there seems to exist no information that this glacier is growing. On the contrary, there are indications that it is retreating. A tourist guide tells that he has watched the same section of the Russell Glacier gradually melt over the past 22 years (link). A scientific report tells that there was a large glacial outburst there on August 31st, 2007 after the most intensive melt season ever witnessed on the Greenland ice sheet (Russell & Williams).
It seems difficult to find any information that Lomborg is right concerning the alleged "Kangerlussuaq Glacier". But some persons speculate that he may have confused the names and is referring to the Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier, which, however, is located on east Greenland. The two names Kangerlussuaq and Kangerdlugssuaq are two different spellings of the same word, which is Greenland language for "The Great Plain". There are probably a number of places in Greenland with this same name.
There have indeed been published several important scientific papers about the Kangerdlugssuaq glacier on the east coast in early 2007, but these do not state that the glacier is accumulating ice. On the contrary, the glacier flow has accelerated greatly in recent years up to 2006, followed by some kind of rearrangement of the ice mass in 2006 which involves local thickening of the glacier in some restricted parts, but overall this glacier is still melting away faster than ever before. Lomborg certainly knows this, because he has cited the relevant literature in "Cool it!". So he knows that the melting of the Kangerdlugssuaq glacier is faster than before. On this basis, he cannot honestly postulate that the Danish minister is withholding inconvenient information.
Whatever the right expalnation may be, Lomborg is cheating. There is no growing glacier at Kangerlussuaq, and the Kangerdlugssuaq glacier is melting away fast. So Hedegaard is not doing anything wrong. The whole character assassination is groundless. But that does not matter. The bottom line is that Hedegaard has lost credibility.
It is likely that nobody will check the details about which glaciers are melting away and which are not. Lomborg probably relies on this. So if he can formulate a false claim that nobody will check, like "the Kangerlussuaq glacier is inconveniently growing", then he is free to plan an attack on the integrity of his opponent. This is a way of cheating, but if nobody reveals it, he obtains his goal at no cost.
The wider impact
The impression that remains in the eyes of the public is that the Danish minister is selective and not very credible. And Lomborg´s phrase in his Washington Post article, "the Kangerlussuaq glacier is inconveniently growing", is repeated over and over again on lots of blogs and websites hosted by climate sceptics. It has already become one of the climate sceptics´ myths, even though there has never been given a reference documenting this postulate.
A few days after the radio interview, Danish state television tried to arrange a debate about Copenhagen Consensus between Lomborg and some of his opponents. I was asked, but said that I did not want to stand at the same table as Lomborg. Connie Hedegaard was also invited. She declined, too.