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The Cynical "Environmentalist". (Essay).



A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

Mark Twain

Over the past several months, we have received numerous alarmed queries from readers about a new book, The Skeptical Environmentalist environmentalist

a person with an interest and knowledge about the interaction of humans and animals with the environment.
, by an academic Danish statistician named Bjorn Lomborg. The book has reinvigorated largely discredited anti-environmental arguments, with its message that there are no serious environmental problems in the world.

There is a long-standing political niche for environmental contrarians like Lomborg, of whom the best known in the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area.  was the late Julian Simon Julian Simon can be refer to:
  • Julian Lincoln Simon (1932-1998), American economist
  • Julián Simón (born 1987), Spanish motorcycle racer
. These contrarians endear en·dear  
tr.v. en·deared, en·dear·ing, en·dears
To make beloved or very sympathetic: a couple whose kindness endeared them to friends.
 themselves to opponents of environmentalism environmentalism, movement to protect the quality and continuity of life through conservation of natural resources, prevention of pollution, and control of land use.  by providing an "every day in every way, everything's getting better and better" gloss on major environmental problems. Such rosy projections are music to the ears of the powers that be, since they justify continuing with business as usual, ignoring problems like global warming global warming, the gradual increase of the temperature of the earth's lower atmosphere as a result of the increase in greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution.  and the accelerated extinction of species.

Lomborg is an avowed a·vow  
tr.v. a·vowed, a·vow·ing, a·vows
1. To acknowledge openly, boldly, and unashamedly; confess: avow guilt. See Synonyms at acknowledge.

2. To state positively.
 apostle of Simon. Unlike Simon, he is young and attractive, a person who loves the great outdoors. But while Simon at least managed to preserve a slight sense of humor Noun 1. sense of humor - the trait of appreciating (and being able to express) the humorous; "she didn't appreciate my humor"; "you can't survive in the army without a sense of humor"
sense of humour, humor, humour
 in his attacks, Lomborg has chosen to go down the low road, claiming that the environmentalists' alarms were fabricated as a fundraising ploy.

Lomborg presents himself as the soul of modesty, suggesting that anyone who took the time to review the scientific literature as he has done would discover that Julian Simon had been right all along. One must wonder how it is that someone who was by his own admission unfamiliar with the environmental sciences could, in the space of a few years, prove that tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientists across a whole spectrum of disciplines were misleading us in their concerns about environmental problems in their areas of study.

Even a quick look reveals substantive problems with Lomborg's approach. For example, to discredit scientists who study the rate of species extinction, Lomborg offers the following "quote" from researcher Paul Colinvaux, as a way of dismissing estimates such as those published by Norman Myers Norman Myers CMG (24 August, 1934- ) is a British environmentalist and authority on biodiversity. He is a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences. Early life , E.O. Wilson, or the World Conservation Union:

"Colinvaux admits in Scientific American Scientific American

U.S. monthly magazine interpreting scientific developments to lay readers. It was founded in 1845 as a newspaper describing new inventions. By 1853 its circulation had reached 30,000 and it was reporting on various sciences, such as astronomy and
 that the [extinction] rate is 'incalculable."'

But the actual text from which this supposed quote was taken reads:

"As human beings lay waste to massive tracts of vegetation, an incalculable and unprecedented number of species are rapidiy becoming extinct."

Lomborg claims that the world's forests are not, in fact, disappearing. To reach this conclusion, he uses agricultural production data that the U.N. discontinued in 1994 because of inaccuracies, according to the head of the U.N.'s Forest Resources Assessment--who told Worldwatch that this agriculture data was never intended to determine forest cover in the first place.

What the Forest Resources Assessment actually reports is that during the last two decades, 16 million hectares of natural forest, on average, are converted to other uses each year. And Lomborg focuses on the United States and Europe, where forest cover has been fairly stable, while largely ignoring or obfuscating the enormously rapid destruction taking place throughout the developing world.

The publisher, Cambridge University Press Cambridge University Press (known colloquially as CUP) is a publisher given a Royal Charter by Henry VIII in 1534, and one of the two privileged presses (the other being Oxford University Press). , cites Loinborg's scholarly apparatus of 3,000 endnotes as proof of the seriousness and integrity of the book, as if the sheer number of endnotes itself guarantees a sound argument.

Confronted with such a wrong-headed mass, most environmental scientists were hopeful that Lomborg's book would pass with little notice so that they would not be required to spend scarce resources to refute its conclusions. To their great surprise, a number of prestigious newspapers and journals, including The Economist, the New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
 Times, and the Washington Post have given the book undue prominence with their uncritical reviews.

Faced with such coverage, the scientific community is organizing to produce detailed replies that take Lomborg's work apart, claim by claim, and source by source. We at Worldwatch are looking forward to playing our part in the coming months to help the truth get its shoes on and overtake Lomborg's deeply flawed analysis.

Richard C. Bell

Vice President, Communications
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Title Annotation:author Bjorn Lomborg aims to discredit environmental movement
Publication:World Watch
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUDE
Date:Jan 1, 2002
Words:672
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