Howard Friel “The Lomborg Deception”

ISBN 978-0-300-16103-8. “The Lomborg Deception” by Howard Friel was published by Yale University Press in 2010. The 258 pages include a foreword by Thomas F. Lovejoy, fourteen chapters, some notes and an index. The large font makes this a relatively quick and easy read. Friel is a new name in the climate change quagmire charading as “debate”. He normally writes on political issues such as the future of Palestine, the news media and international law. He never originally intended on writing a book on Lomborg – instead he had started as a work on how the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have reported climate change. Bjorn Lomborg’s 2007 book “Cool It” coincided with the IPCC’s synthesis report of that year. The two stood in stark contrast. One was the work of 2500 scientists and reviewers whilst the other was an entirely contradictory book by the Scandinavian economist. Clearly common sense dictated that no one would give Lomborg the time of day. His work was utterly irrelevant and it would be entirely irrational to have even published it. Yet it was published – much to the plaudits of the US press. It was THIS that so interested Friel. Beyond the enthusiasm of the press came the support of the right-wing politicians who hold so much control over US Climate Policy (for what its worth). Sadly, the American public too swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

The coup was complete, Lomborg was wielding power way beyond his station. It was enough to make you wonder what he knew that the IPCC did not? Friel decided to find out by painstakingly taking apart Lomborg’s assertions in “The Skeptical Environmentalist” and “Cool It” reference by reference. What he reveals in this book depends largely on what side of the debate you are on. For the most part he utterly demolishes Lomborg. Arguably he has stripped away the emperor’s lies and shown – as clear as day – that is indeed wearing no clothes whatsoever. However, there does remain a grey area for the doubters to take comfort from. Some of the arguments used by Friel are a little on the weak side. He often admits the “technical” accuracy of Lomborg’s words (in essence, he is “right” – well sort of) and then often trots out some rather useless reference to newspaper articles as a means of contradicting Lomborg. These are second hand reports and cannot be considered impartial. Afterall it is Lomborg who is trying to point out that the media exaggerates the impact of Climate Change hence using media reports to counter this point is futile.

Too often we get Lomborg’s point of view that the glass is half full versus Friel’s view that the glass is half empty. Often they are obviously talking about the same thing and are citing the same reference. This happens through large tracts of the book where Friel nit-picks some rather minor points and pads out the argument through endless repetition. It is a little frustrating and it does make you wish you had read Lomborg’s book first. In fact we recommend you do although we had not at this point. It would be interesting to see just how many credible citations Lomborg uses that Friel is unable to criticise. We have previously reviewed “The Skeptical Environmentalist” and were unimpressed due to his near-idiotic view that, as oil production has always increased in the past it would magically increase in future – however counter-intuitive this would be for a finite resource. Lomborg uses an unassailable mountain of references, so hats off to Friel for having a go at checking them. The first 65 pages of Friel’s book covers “The Skeptical Environmentalist” but only manages the first twenty-nine endnotes. This takes 9000 words. To review the all 2,930 endnotes would have required a book 900,000 words long. An enormous task by any means. Much of this work has been done in various places on the internet. Three scientific forums – one on the Grist web site, a second by the Union of Concerned Scientists and a third published in “Scientific American” – come out through 2001 and 2002. Each was quite effective in ripping great holes out of Lomborg’s ideas. They all concluded much as Friel has done: Lomborg has cherrypicked and misrepresented his scientific sources. Some of Lomborg’s written beliefs have no known backing in any scientific literature. Many of his cited references flatly contradict his claims or don’t exist. In brief we can only conclude that Lomborg makes a very clever job of giving the impression that his own prejudiced and unsubstantiated beliefs have some basis in science. For the most part they do not. He is largely clutching at straws in some desperate attempt to convince people that there is something in his beliefs. He is, quite simply, wrong.

This may be a little uncharitable as Friel often doesn’t make a killer case. In fact he rarely shows that much “deception” has actually happened. We are sure Lomborg genuinely believes what he writes. He ignores all evidence to the contrary – however overwhelming it may be, and beefs up ANY flimsy piece of evidence he can find that he thinks supports his case. Many devout “warmers” are guilty of the same thing but it is difficult to precisely pin down a climate-change-believer-version-of-Lomborg. Lomborg has a few goes. He has a fair few cracks at the arch nemesis of all deniers – Al Gore. Friel launches a stout defence of the man who was never quite the President of the Unites States of America. With this and a few other exceptions, Lomborg is vague about who he is criticising. He would be on safe ground if he focussed on media misrepresentation but often waffles about some ill-defined group called “environmentalists” who he claims are exaggerating the risks from climate change. Like so many on the loony-right of the political spectrum he has spent so much time with others of his ilk he feels no need to explain to his reader who these people are. I think we counted one reference to Greenpeace in the entire book. Several major political leaders in Europe got more mentions than do Friends of the Earth. One is left with the impression that “environmentalists” are just some fictional bogeyman that Lomborg wishes to scare children with. Replace “environmentalists” with the word “communists” and you get the picture. It is a handy stereotype with little or no meaning. You certainly can rub shoulders with many ill-informed environmentalists-in-the-street who know little more about the mechanics of our climate than the average “denier-down-the-pub”. However Lomborg doesn’t feel the need to insult members of the public. He gives the term “environmentalist” some semi-official gravity like it is some organised government department – well funded and running our lives. In fact, time and again, Friel shows that the victims of Lomborg’s campaign are actually just Climate Scientists, Oceanographers and anybody else in science who actually has done some peer-reviewed and published research on Climate Change. In short, the term “environmentalist” is nothing short of a smear designed to undermine the work of people the public should listen to before they ever listen to the likes of Lomborg. (Not withstanding idiotic E:Mail chatter amongst colleagues at the CRU.)

Regardless – this book mostly portrays Lomborg’s lack of objectivity. He is not a climate change denier. Far from it. He represents, what some right-wing US papers laughably call, the “middle-ground” in the “debate”. He believes that man-made climate change is happening but he believes it will not be as serious as claimed and any mitigation is far, far too expensive in comparison. There is some logic to this argument ONLY IF you believe one a fundamental assumption that Friel doesn’t even tackle. It is the assumption that Fossil Fuels cannot be replaced cheaply because they will be cheap forever. Of course this is absurd. He fails to understand (and Friel is complicit in this) that fossil fuels are a legacy. They are history. They have no future. Since we have to ditch them, in the near future, anyway, then the future economic prosperity and abundance comes from a form of living that must be sustainable. Many simple changes to cut our carbon addiction actually pay for themselves. Others pay for themselves in the longer run if we accounted for our unhealthy fossil fuel addiction correctly, ie, true-cost economics. There is a better way. Our high-maintenance western lives cannot be sustained. CO2 reduction is the cheaper option. Business-as-usual is not an option. The post-carbon society is inevitable. It is a socio-economic opportunity. Those who get there first will be the winners. Lomborg is wrong from the ground up.

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

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