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attitude to `the litany´
In several interviews, Lomborg has told about his childhood and his upbringing. His mother and stepfather were deeply engaged in a special form of Catholic Christian religion with much emphasis on protection of the environment, healthy living, and care for all kinds of animals. Lomborg has partially accepted these ideas - for instance, he still remains a vegetarian - but he is also in opposition to many of them. So Lomborg has grown up with a type of `the litany´ - the incessant worry about the state of the environment - and much of his career may be seen as an attempt to settle accounts with this.
Up to 1997, Lomborg was an outspoken defendant of the environmental cause. But in February 1997, during a stay in USA, his attitudes were suddenly flipped around to nearly the exact opposite. His own account of this is that he happened to read a provoking article about the economist Julian Simon and set out to check the facts. From that point onwards, his attitudes have been rather closely aligned with the attitudes of American right-wing anti-environmentalists or skeptics. Lomborg himself likes to present himself as a person with a moderate attitude, a representative of the middle ground. And it is true that if you listen to what he says, it may sometimes seem so. But if instead you look at what persons and studies he endorses, and his conclusions about what society should do and not do - a somewhat different pattern emerges.
His attitude to global warming has changed gradually over the years (see here on Lomborg-errors) , but there is something common to all his statements on CO2 emissions over the years. It is common that the conclusions are the same - namely that we should make no efforts to seriously cut back CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.
The arguments have shifted approximately as follows:
1) There is no problem
2) If there is a problem, it is only minor.
3) If it is not minor, it will pay better to remedy other problems that are even larger.
4) If it pays to resolve the climate change problem, this should not be done by reducing CO2 emissions, but rather by adaptation and by applying geo-engineering.
5) If adaptation and geo-engineering is not enough, then reductions in CO2 emissions should be very modest, and the main emphasis should be on research to find better alternative energy sources, rather than those that could be implemented right now.
These shifting arguments over the years look like a tactical retreat. In every case, the conclusion is that which is the best that the fossil fuel industry could obtain, given the premises. At any level of public concern, always choose that solution which interferes the least with the industry´s economic interests and maintains the maximum rate of profit for as many years as possible. This congruence with the interests of the industry may be coincidental, but one may also suspect that Lomborg somehow serves the interests of the fossil fuel industry and that all what he says and writes is just spin aiming at discouraging politicians from interfering with the economic interests of that industry. There may or may not besuch a hidden agenda. We cannot know for sure - we do not know Lomborg´s motives - but it looks like that. Therefore, it would be wise to remain very skeptical of Lomborg´s motives.
Lomborg´s recommendations in 2010
2010 was the year when Lomborg said for the first time that man-made global warming is not only real, but also important. In the preface to "Smart Solutions to Climate Change", he now says: "Climate change is undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today."
Also in recent years, and especially in 2010, he has more than before stressed that society should make a stronger effort to research and develop alternative energy sources, such as wind turbines. He says for instance: "R&D in green energy technologies is really the only viable long-term strategy for reducing fossil-fuel consumption without crippling the world economy." (link). And in his `Cool It!´ film, a considerable part of the times is used to present the `smart ideas´ to solve the global warming. These are (in the order of presentation in the film):
solar panels - wind turbines - water splitting - 4th generation nuclear energy - wave energy - building sea dikes - urban cooling - geoengineering.
So he endorses alternative energy as a part of the solution.
At the same time, however, he also argues against alternative energy. For instance, in one of his international articles from October 2010, he writes: "Denmark’s wind industry is almost completely dependent on taxpayer subsidies, and Danes pay the highest electricity rates of any industrialized nation. Several studies suggest that claims that one-fifth of Denmark’s electricity demand is met by wind are an exaggeration, in part because much of the power is produced when there is no demand and must be sold to other countries." (link). Although he does not directly disrecommend wind turbines here, they are disparaged so heavily that nobody trusting his words would invest a cent in wind turbines at their present level of technology. But the claims in the article turn out to be untrue, so this disparaging is made in bad faith. Also, in October 2010, he wrote several articles in major Danish newspapers urging the government to stop building wind turbine parks. His arguments are based on a report which was written partially by a person who has also been applied first at Lomborg´s Institute of Environmental Assessment and then at Lomborg´s Copenhagen Consensus Center, but who in this case was paid by the American Institute for Energy Research, IER, which is funded more or less by money from the oil industry. Actually the Danish report `disproving´ that 20 percent of the country´s electricity demand is in form wind energy, was ordered secretly by American interests. So here is really something hidden going on, very close to where Lomborg sits in Copenhagen. A rebuttal of the report is found here.
Lomborg argues that efforts to curb carbon emissions are too expensive relative to the very small incremental temperature reductions they'll bring about. But he systematically ignores those measures that could be taken already now at zero cost. There are many such measures, as discussed on Lomborg-errors in relation to the book `Cool It!´ (see here). There are a lot of options for reducing carbon emissions and making money through the process. For instance, one may study the cost curves produced by McKinsey & Company (here). According to these curves, about 5 Gt of CO2 annually worldwide may be avoided at a cost less than zero by 2030. If Lomborg were really concerned about global warming, he should be eager to point out these `low-hanging fruits´. If we can reduce total CO2 emissions greatly at no cost, who should be against it? Only the fossil fuel industry and Lomborg. Lomborg insists that free benefits cannot exist and refuses to discuss any options for zero cost carbon cuts.
So when Lomborg in his words supports alternative energy, what he really means is that alternative energy sources are so expensive that we should absolutely not invest in them now. Instead, we should promote research and development that will result in cheaper and better alternative energy sources several decades into the future. Apparently, there should be no industry at all producing wind turbines and solar panels now, and we should all wait unto some time into the far future, technicians suddenly come out of their laboratories and with joy proclaim that now we have the right solution. This scenario goes completely against usual economic wisdom which says that when some kind of technology is actually produced and sold, it will be steadily improved and becomes ever cheaper because of innovations during the industry´s learning process. Improvements due to research proper are often less than improvements due to gradual innovation. This is what we see e.g. in the computer industry. But Lomborg insists that for many years ahead we should absolutely only have R&D, not production and implementation. Who would have an interest in this? The fossil fuel industry, which then will maintain their profits for another decade or two.
So all the way through, we see indications that Lomborg may have an overt and a covert agenda. He pays lip service to the merits of alternative energy sources, at the same time as he does a lot to dissuade politicians from furthering these same energy sources.
Why does he do it?
What we see is that Lomborg presents himself as a representative of the middle ground. He appears to be genuinely concerned about man-made global warming, and he makes seemingly sensible assertions about the need to invest in green energy. But all this may be a smokescreen, because at the same time he does a lot to prevent actual implementation of green energy technology, and in all kinds of way to prevent any substantial reductions in the use of fossil fuels. He does precisely what the fossil fuel industry would want a PR agent to do: Appear as a sensible, balanced and concerned expert standing in the middle ground, so that people will listen to you. And then, when they listen to you, urge them not to do anything that will conflict with the interests of the oil and coal companies.
To anybody knowing a bit about spin and about how PR agents work, this looks like the finger print of a PR agent working for the industry. There is only one missing piece in the puzzle: Why does Lomborg do it? Apart from extraordinarily high fees for speeches, Lomborg is apparently not paid by the oil industry. Lomborg earns much more money that he can ever dream of using, and apparently does not have a high level of spending in his personal life. T-shirts are not that expensive. So what could motivate him? We simply do not know. He says himself that he is motivated by the need for action, but what we see him doing in this context is to work for inaction.