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Showing 1-10 of 15 reviews(1 star). See all 72 reviews
on 15 April 2016
Arguments are flawed as demonstrated by Danish Ecological Council's reposte in their book "Sceptical Questions & Sustainable Answers"
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on 28 November 2001
Lomborg does exactly what he accuses environmentalist and greens of doing: carefully selecting the data that support his arguments and conveniently ignoring the rest. For example, the global population increase may indeed be stabilising, but what about the movement of those people around the planet? Coastal zones worldwide are under the most severe pressure they have ever experienced due to the enormous influx of people. There are many other examples - the 1000 word review limit is not enough. This is the kind of book that makes people who don't care think they are justified in doing so. Let's just pray that George Bush hasn't read it
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on 5 January 2014
It seems the IPCC were wrong. Their climate change models didn't predict hokum. The critics of this UN-Illuminati auxiliary were right.

Except for one tiny detail...

The error was in the wrong direction. Apparently, the pace and impact of climate change is even worse than we expected. The temperatures will rise by 4 degrees until 2100. Even in North Carolina. Or Denmark.

Blasted. Well, nothing we can't blame on the chemtrails, I suppose....
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on 20 May 2002
I have also reviewed this book for a number of international scientific journals.
'In contrast to the received wisdom of environmentalists, the world is getting better, not worse, and both human progress and the quality of the environment will continue to increase.' This, in a sentence, is the central theme of Lomborg's book of 515 pages. Of these, 352 contain the main body of text and the remainder consist of 2930 footnotes and 71 pages of references. The point of the work is to use statistics as a dispassionate way of clarifying the world and present information as a base for political decisions. Lomborg's view is that if only we can get the real truth then progress can be made. This, as we will see, is a dangerous and incorrect assumption. The book is divided into six major sections, the first entitled the 'the Litany', with the following sections focussed on four themes and a conclusion: Human Welfare; Can Human Prosperity Continue?; Pollution: Does It Undercut Human Prosperity?; Tomorrow's Problems; and The Real State of the World. Section Four 'Tomorrow's Problems' makes up the largest section of the Book and the 'Global Warming' sub-section accounts for nearly 20% of the entire book's text.
Lomborg begins by painting a polarised picture of the environmental debate, splitting the world into two camps: the environmental movement as represented by groups such as the Worldwatch Institute, World Wide Fund for Nature and Greenpeace who recite 'The Litany'. This is the mantra that the world is in dire crisis, with over-use of resources, runaway pollution, increasing hunger and worse to come. The other camp (unlabelled), though generically termed 'contrarians', take the view that the world is not in a bad state. Lomborg's polarisation does not take into account the middle ground occupied notably by the scientific community, in the case of climate change represented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the views of which are based on scientific fact and not emotional opinion. The four following sections each examine different aspects of the world, and provide copious statistics and counter-arguments against the Litany, often drawn from the same sources as those used by environmentalists. Section 2 examines issues such as demography, life expectancy and wealth, Section 3 the question of resource use, Section 4 the effects of pollution and Section 5 biodiversity, chemical poisoning and climate change.
In all cases, Lomborg challenges the prevailing environmentalist view, concluding that in nearly all areas, in contrast to many peoples' perceptions, the world is in better shape than it used to be, while still needing more to be done. Philosophically, this is a reasonable point; after all, the quality of the River Thames in London is probably far better now than the open sewer depicted in 19th century cartoons. The main problem is that Lomborg falls into the same trap as those he criticises, by assuming that his statistics are the right ones. His approach is that using global averages is necessary to paint the big picture, missing the vital point that the fundamental structure of those averages is equally important. Such measures take no account of the quality or the detail of each area studied, and only measure that which can be measured. For example, in showing a decrease in the global income inequality (which itself is highly contentious), there is no mention that even if this gap narrows, there is not necessarily a corresponding decrease in deprivation. Below a certain threshold, income increases make no difference to deprivation. In a similar vein, global forest cover may hardly have changed, but the type of forest has changed substantially with destruction of old-growth forest and replacement with fast-growing mono-culture plantations, which changes soil pH, affects local ecosystems, and causes variations in sequestration of atmospheric carbon. Even if the overall pollution burden has decreased, a vital consideration is who bears the burden. It is no use saying that if I have two houses and you have no house then on average we're both comfortable. The Earth's Net Primary Production, according to Lomborg's source, is expected to increase by 80% by 2100 but there is no mention of the type of production, whether the plant matter will be more or less edible or diverse. Some of Lomborg's presentation employs classical statistical distortions, such as plotting GDP per head vs. sustainability on a log scale, hiding the fact that as GDP per head rises, the corresponding rise in sustainability decreases. Creative use of scales in many places also serves to emphasise or de-emphasise the direction of trends.
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on 1 April 2003
Unfortunately this book has become quite popular. It reads well and contains some interesting facts. However the whole basis of his arguments is flawed.
Most of the arguments revolve around the fact that environmental degredation isn't as bad as it is made out to be. Unfortunately the way much of the information is presented is misleading. Also, he neglects to recognise that many people (myself included) have worked tirelessly in the environmental sector in poorly funded jobs to achieve many of the improvements he details. His argument is flawed since, unless we actually did take these threats seriously many of the improvements he details would not have occurred.
If anything, this illustrates that environmental science can make a difference and instead of investing so much money in treatment (medicine/engineering for environmental clean-up) we should be investing more in prevention; which is rarely, if ever, supported by private funding.
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on 5 December 2002
So there's no eco-disaster after all.. everyone can relax, right?
Wrong. Comforting to imagine, but very very wrong.
Much of what's contained in this book is based on simple bad science. The online magazine Grist carried out a spectacular debunking of this book shortly after it came out, and the bottom line is that Lomborg is simply massaging our fears and the desires of the industry interests who want to be given a licence for unlimited environmental exploitation.
Fundamentally, this book is a nice, cosy hole in the sand for ostriches to stick their heads into. The rest of us can try to solve the problem, instead of pretending it isn't there.
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on 6 November 2009
The subtitle of this book is "Measuring The Real State of the World". This book is indeed admirable in the breadth of its aspiration, but readers should not be misled into thinking that it is a balanced analysis that measures the "real state of the world". Please readers/potential readers, do not be misled into thinking this book achieved its declared objective.

Sadly it is deeply flawed in its methodology - Lomborg's academic background is in political science (the cynic may feel this makes him particularly good at manipulating statistics unreasonably to suit his argument), although he has become a convert to the power of the cost benefit analyses of economists to lead our decision making. Unfortunately his lack of formal training in economics appears to mean he also lacks understanding of the principles of discounting etc which means that he is unable to correctly interpret the data or adequately analyse or criticise it. As a qualified management accountant and someone with a PhD in physical sciences I feel I do have some ability to assess the validity of his arguments.

In his introductory chapters he complains that there are many extreme negative statements in the media about the state of the environment and the long term outlook for humanity and he considers that the evidence frequently contradicts such a negative analysis and that in fact our problems are getting smaller not bigger. He says (and I agree) that we need to focus on fundamentals, look at realities and not myths - all very true. He goes on to say that his intention is to provide the "best possible information about how things have progressed and are likely to develop in the future so that the democratic process is assured of the soundest basis for decisions." That's a highly laudable aim, but sadly he follows that sentence with "And this means focussing on trends" - he reckons that these trends will allow us to predict the future.

This philosophical approach is totally flawed. Surely he should understand that past performance cannot be used to predict future results (as RBS and HBOS shareholders should know well), to use a trend to predict the future one has to have v. high confidence that whatever has driven the trend in the past will continue to do so in a similar fashion in the future. This is given very little consideration by Lomborg. He also states: "as will be documented throughout this book... only when we get sufficiently rich can we afford the relative luxury of caring about the environment. ... this conclusion is evident from figure 9 where higher income in general is correlated with higher environmental sustainability." Here Lomborg has totally ignored the most fundamental principle of statistical interpretation that CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION. Since he actually taught statistics at Aarhus University I consider this error unforgivable and can't escape the feeling that it may be intentionally misleading on his part.

From my analysis of his chapter on biodiversity, I conclude that Lomborg's understanding of the natural sciences is far too weak for him to achieve his aspiration of providing the "best possible information". His chapter on biodiversity lacks understanding and contains only a cursory treatment of the most significant topic of ecosystem services. Biodiversity is necessary to the ecosystem services that make human life possible. As Lomborg says many ecosystem services have no market, but that is not a reason to suppose that they aren't critical to us, that merely demonstrates one of the many market failures in our world economy and also explains why cost benefit analysis doesn't work - we don't have a sensible handle on the right numbers to put in. Humankind simply wouldn't survive without these ecosystem services and biodiversity (if you read the copious scientific literature) is what underpins the security of these services. Most of Lomborg's chapter on biodiversity is spent in a muddled discussion on extinction rates -I don't want to go into detail on the numbers as there are many ways to argue it, but I think it's significant to note that Lomborg claims that stating the extinction rate as no. of times background ("natural") rate is much less informative than stating it as % loss per decade. This is entirely counter intuitive as the former measure carries information on the magnitude of the human effect, the latter carries no information on the human effect and to anyone not highly versed in extinction rates is pretty meaningless. So it's even more significant to note that Lomborg thinks that 0.7% loss per 50 years is a reasonable estimate of the situation and describes it as "a problem" whereas he thinks a rate of 1500 times background rate is more ominous. Yet these two numbers are from the identical data - 0.7% loss per 50 years is 1500 times background rate.

In conclusion I believe Lomborg's handling of statistics and numerical analysis cannot be relied upon. At least in his chapter on biodiversity he substantially fails to address the fundamentals and I believe it is disingenuous of him to suggest that we can make clear predictions for the future by focussing on trends. Suggesting this is possible in situations which are clearly far too complex and where there are not easily understood facts has made this book a fundamentally misleading contribution to public debate and will not help the reader to better understand the "real state of the World".
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on 25 February 2005
Need I say more:-
"Bjorn Lomborg - the director of Denmark's Environmental Assessment Institute and a leading would-be debunker of mainstream scientific opinion on issues like global warming and overuse of natural resources - has been found guilty by a Danish government committee of "scientific dishonesty".
The committee, made up of eminent scientists, concluded: "Based on customary scientific standards and in light of his systematic one-sidedness in the choice of data and line of argument, [he] has clearly acted at variance with good scientific practice."
On his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, published in 2001, it said: "Subject to the proviso that the book is to be evaluated as science, there has been such perversion of the scientific message in the form of systematically biased representation that the objective criteria for upholding scientific dishonesty have been met.""
see [...]
for more
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on 10 February 2002
By now almost everyone interrested in environmental science has heard about this book, for the good (e.g. Washington Post) or the bad (e.g. Nature). The problem with the book is that it uses the language in its most convincing way - but the message it bring is not well founded by the analysis done by the author.
Among many major critical issues to point at is the fact that Lomborg is using secondary sources. To demonstrate the problem with that, imagine that you should testify for a judge, but instead of saying what you saw, you would refer the words of another witness instead. Usually, this is not good science.
Another bad point is the biased analysis. Lomborg did a monumental job in calculating a lot of results - but the problem is about how to find the samplings (i.e. what is a random sample). If a comercial company wants to demonstrate that a particular product does something, the company will extract samples and select mostly the samples that demonstrate what the company wants to show. The major critisism points to this flaw it Lomborg's method.
Finally, Lomborg wants us to believe a message. The message is - put in simple words - that the environment is under NO stress from the human society. Acid-rain is no longer a problem, he writes. No, that may be true - I am not an expert - but does that prohibit our society in doing even more to avoid the "Silent Spring"? Lomborg thinks so, but I do not follow that point of view.
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on 17 May 2004
Lomborg has become a hero to the merry band of anti-environmentalists out there - both the right-wing libertarians and the RCP-types who gave us the sadly libelled-out-of-existence, but at the time hilarious LM (aka Living Marxism).
Lomborg's technique is to present his Litany then proceed to knock it down. No respectable organisation addressing environmental issues would ascribe to Lomborg's litany, so the authorities he uses to back his litany are a couple of science fiction books and some magazine articles.
The whole foundation for his book is therefore a big con. Most of his positive reviewers have amusingly highlighted the sheer number of references to back each of his chapters - as if you measure credibility by spadefuls of refs! In fact the book reads like the collection of undergraduate essays that it is - and we all know how many refs undergrads can ladle in to pad a thin essay.
I can recommend reading Tom Burke's reply to Lomborg's book called '10 Pinches of Salt' which makes a helpful accompaniment to the book. For those who are comforted by Lomborg's analysis, be warned that it is not peer reviewed and so carries a health warning of the most serious kind. On the other hand, for those interested in seeing a polemicist at work, Lomborg's your man.
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