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Lomborg! Plus some bonus thoughts on Nordhaus and Shellenberger


I really don’t want to write about Bjørn Lomborg, but I don’t think it can be avoided. He’s now on the editorial pages of the Washington Post pushing the same line about global warming that he’s been pushing for several years now: global warming is too expensive to deal with; it’s not that big a problem; there are better things to spend money on; etc.

Some of his arguments are interesting in the abstract. Many are predicated on dubious statistics or plainly false readings of the available data. This has all been written about a thousand times elsewhere, and is not the reason I’m feeling compelled to consider Lomborg.

Here’s the reason: the global warming debate, such as it is, is taking on new contours. Denialism has run its course, and the various interested parties are claiming new territory as the landscape shifts. Many who formerly sought to deny global warming are now coalescing around Lomborg’s position, and so it is a position that must be grappled with. (Note that this is not the same thing as suggesting Lomborg is a denialist. He is not.)

But here’s where I think this situation gets a bit more interesting. Several other observers have noticed overlaps between the policies advocated by Lomborg and the policies advocated by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger in their new book, Break Through. Further, N&S have found a welcome reception in some strange quarters. For example, Reason Magazine describes N&S as “a truly welcome relief from the human-hating animus behind much coming out of the Green community.” (It should be noted that Reason Magazine writers last encountered an actual environmentalist in 1968.)

Naturally, this state of affairs makes many environmentalists eager to “debunk” N&S. I think this approach is exactly backwards. N&S are committed environmental advocates who seem to have hit on a policy formulation with some evident appeal to a swath of the population not normally invested in climate change. This policy formulation is flawed, but rather than harp on its flaws, we should be seeking to understand its strengths.

I’ll have more to say on this in the coming weeks. (And for the record, I was ahead of the curve on this topic when I wrote about Jim Manzi last month.)

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