Bjorn Lomborg


Please note, this page has been archived since 2011 and will not be updated. 

Bjorn Lomborg is a Danish statistician and writer. Author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, he has been described as the "the world's most high-profile climate change sceptic".

Lomborg has consistently subscribed to the view that climate change is happening and caused by humans, but argues that the impacts have been exaggerated and the proposed policy solutions are misplaced. He is a prominent media commentator. On climate change, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times respectively described him as "the practical middle" and "the pragmatic center". He has been named one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time; "one of the 50 people who could save the planet" by the Guardian; and "one of the top 100 public intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Prospect. Lomborg's writing on environmental science and policy has however never been published in peer-reviewed journals and his work has been widely criticised as selective and erroneous by leading scientists.

Lomborg has had connections with conservative thinktanks in the USA including the Hoover Institution, the Exxon Mobil funded Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. In 2007, The Fraser Institute sponsored his Canadian book tour.  He recently resigned from the editorial advisory board of the journal Energy and Environment, apparently not wishing to be closely associated with its continued promotion of climate scepticism.

The Skeptical Environmentalist

Lomborg's first major publication, The Skeptical Environmentalist, argued that environmentalists and politically motivated scientists have exaggerated environmental problems. In his book, Lomborg argues that the world's forests were barely declining, few animals had become extinct lately and that money spent on mitigating climate change would be better spent on other causes. The Skeptical Environmentalist was a bestseller in 2001/2 and made Lomborg's name as an environmental commentator. It received extensive media coverage, with the Washington Post, amongst many other positive reviews, describing it as " a magnificent achievement".

From scientists however the book came in for heavy criticism. In a document subtitled "Science defends itself against the sceptical environmentalist", Scientific American published a set of four essays by distinguished scientists from different fields criticising Lomborg's analysis and conclusions. The document said "Lomborg accuses a pessimistic and dishonest cabal of environmental groups, institutions and the media of distorting scientists' actual findingsā€¦The problem with Lomborg's conclusion is that the scientists themselves disavow it."Science called Lomborg's analysis "curiously selective" and Nature labelled it "a mass of poorly digested material, deeply flawed in its selection of examples and analysis".

Among the key criticisms were misreadings and misunderstandings of statistical data; elementary mathematical mistakes that "no self-respecting statistician ought to commit" and that most of the nearly 3,000 citations came from secondary literature and media articles rather than peer-reviewed science. Criticisms came from amongst many others biologists EO Wilson and Norman Myers and eminent climate scientist Stephen Schneider.

The Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty

In response to several complaints from scientists, the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty investigated The Skeptical Environmentalist. At the beginning of 2003 the Committee concluded that "there has been such perversion of the scientific messageā€¦that the objective criteria for upholding scientific dishonesty...have been met" although due to Lomborg's lack of scientific qualifications he was not found to have misled his readers deliberately or with gross negligence. At this time Lomborg was head of the Danish government's Environmental Assessment Institute (EAI), having been appointed by the newly elected conservative prime minister in March 2002. The judgement by the Committee was subsequently overruled by the Danish government on the grounds of various procedural errors, including that the treatment of the case was "emotional".

The Copenhagen Consensus

The 2004 " Copenhagen Consensus Conference" which Lomborg initiated, placed climate change mitigation at the bottom of a global spending priority list. The aim of the project was to prioritise the different problems the world faces through evaluation by a panel of economists. The project was also criticised, for example in Nature.

Cool It

Lomborg's third book Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming, was published in 2007. The book criticised what Lomborg described as "alarmist" climate change warnings, arguing that climate change will not be catastrophic, will have unacknowledged benefits, and that cutting carbon emissions will be too expensive.

Journalist Howard Friel subsequently wrote a book entitled The Lomborg Deception, which examined every reference in Cool It. Friel's investigation found a common "pattern of nonexistent footnoted support" for "highly substantive claim[s]". Friel concluded Lomborg is essentially "a performance artist disguised as an academic". Newsweek's Sharon Begley  replicated Friel's fact-checking of Lomborg's book on three topics - polar bear populations' resilience; alleviated cold deaths outweighing increased heat deaths; and the Larsen B ice shelf breakup's independence of global warming - she concluded these are "contentions that Friel pretty much blows out of the water". Lomborg challenged Friel's critique, and  Friel then responded in turn.

In October 2010 Lomborg made headlines through an apparent u-turn in his position on climate change, announcing that climate change is "undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today". In November 2010 he released a new film, Cool It, which argues that climate change is a problem and promotes technical solutions like energy technology and geoengineering. The film has received positive reviews, but has again been criticised in some quarters.