Bjorn Lomborg is a man environmentalists love to hate. He took a pie in the face at a signing for his book. Detractors set up a Web site, www.anti-Lomborg.com, where environmental activists, academic types, and others take verbal potshots at him. And he laughs that he's the only person to whom Scientific American magazine has ever expended 11 full pages denouncing a book.
So what's all the fuss about?
Well, for one thing, the boyish-looking 37-year old statistician/political scientist, now an associate professor at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, is an extremely skilled communicator who uses his knowledge of data and politics to punch holes in a lot of the-sky-is-falling, scare scenarios promulgated by Greenpeace and other activist organizations.
His latest book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, called by some “probably the most important book on the environment ever written,” has riled a lot of feathers amongst the anti-everything contingent.
They see a world going to hell in a handbasket, while he says, “Wait a minute; things aren't nearly so bad as everyone thinks — and they're getting better all the time.”
Lomborg, who was named by Business Week magazine one of Europe's “agenda setters” for the new millennium and “Global Leader for Tomorrow” by the World Economic Forum, challenges widely-held beliefs that the global environment is going progressively downhill. He systematically examines a range of major environmental issues, documenting that the global environment has actually improved, and is continuing to do so. And he criticizes the way many environmental organizations make selective, misleading use of scientific data to influence decisions about the allocation of limited resources.
Ironically, he told members of CropLife America and California Plant Health Association at their recent annual meeting at Palm Desert, Calif., “I used to be a concerned Greenpeace activist. I pretty much thought the world was coming off its hinges, that things were getting continually worse. But when I set out to examine that thesis, I found just the opposite: Things are actually getting better and better.”
So, Lomborg says, “If we decide that doomsday is not nigh, then we can begin to think of prioritizing our resources so we get the best possible results. We can't do all things, so we need to focus our energy and resources on those that are the most important, and deal with them first, then make the best decisions that will lead to a better world.”
And, he says, “We need to remove many of these myths about how bad things are and stop acting in desperation, as if we had a gun to our head.”
In reality, he says, people worldwide have higher incomes, more education, more leisure, more amenities, more food produced, fewer accidents, and healthier, longer lives than ever in history. “This is true in both industrialized and developing nations.”
That's not to say there aren't problems, particularly in the Third World. But, Lomborg says, “We need to focus on the right things so we can start solving problems that really do good and aren't just feel-good.”
(The Skeptical Environmentalist, Cambridge University Press, is available from Amazon.com and other booksellers.)