Monday, Apr. 26, 2004

Bjorn Lomborg

He just might be the Martin Luther of the environmental movement. A statistician from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, Bjorn Lomborg examined the state of the world, using reputable sources and long series of data in his book The Skeptical Environmentalist, and found a surprising thing: by most measures the planet is getting healthier — less pollution, more forests, more food per head. He exposed the often misleading and selective use of scientific evidence by environmental pressure groups, urged us to be optimistic rather than despairing about environmental problems, and set out what should be the true priorities of environmental action. He thinks global warming is happening but that it would be better and cheaper for the world to adapt to it rather than cut carbon emissions.

Lomborg was not the first to say these things, but he hit a nerve. Environmentalists reacted to him in the way that corporate public relations departments had learned not to react to them: by fanning the flames with intemperate attacks. He was vilified in Scientific American magazine. He was found guilty of "scientific dishonesty" by a national committee of Danish scientists (the verdict was later overturned by the academy). With each attack, sales of his book boomed. And try as they might, the critics could not paint this mild-mannered, bicycle-riding, leftish vegetarian as a corporate apologist.

Lomborg now runs the Environmental Assessment Institute for the Danish government. His next big project will assemble a group of top economists to rank the world's priorities from a short list of 10: trade barriers, malnutrition, climate change, conflicts, financial instability, sanitation, human migration, communicable diseases, education and corruption.

Ridley is the author of Nature via Nurture

From the Archive
Global Briefing: Optic scans and frequent flyers; an orb that tracks stocks; Harleys for Roquefort; fungusburgers