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The new infallibility and inquisition: the Eschatology of Disaster

Category Articles
Date January 25, 2002


It’s unrealistic to say that everything is getting better. But we need to get a sense of priority. For example, the level of pollutants is dropping dramatically in the developed world.

The future, as taught by the nabobs of the international environmental movement, is that the world is confronting imminent environmental catastrophe. The men who promote this are bureaucrats, politicians, educationalists, and the protesters. Schools ground these truths into children. For them there are no absolutes of sexual purity, or truth, or life. Even abortion is all a matter of choice, but environmental issues are placed on a par with holy writ for many. Some hold this conviction with a religious fanaticism so that they will persecute any who waver in their commitment to such an orthodoxy.

Yet are they not given regular moments to pause and challenge their own views like all the rest of us? For example, one morning in January, the BBC ‘Today’ programme on Radio 4 reported an interesting scientific finding. You know how the Antarctic ice is supposed to be melting, as part of the great catastrophe of global warming? Well, the scientists have taken another look at the ice. They’ve measured it very carefully. Do you know what? It’s getting thicker.

One man to be experiencing the environmentalists’ wrath is the Dane, Dr. Bjorn Lomborg. He is the political science professor from Aarhus University and he has had the temerity to suggest that the world is not coming to an end. In August he published a book called “The Sceptical Environmentalist” in which he reported in painstaking detail that the resources of the world were not being exhausted, its species were not rushing to extinction and that global warming might not be quite so disastrous after all. He puts it like this:

“It’s unrealistic to say that everything is getting better. But we need to get a sense of priority. For example, the level of pollutants is dropping dramatically in the developed world. The air in London is cleaner today than at any time since 1585. The average person in London was much worse off in the past than today.

“It is worrying that the rainforest is shrinking. But the fact that people are cutting down trees doesn’t mean that the world is coming to an end. Even by the most pessimistic scenarios, people in the developing world will be richer in 100 years time than we are now. So, by then, a Bangladeshi would also be concerned about the environment and able to afford to set aside land and re-grow forest. It’s a temporary problem. We won’t lose the rainforest forever” (Telegraph, 20 January, 2002).


For saying such things – these eco-heresies – Lomborg has received threats from enraged environmentalists. He opens his mail with care, but so far his physical assailants have been characterised by farce more than venom. While making a personal appearance in an Oxford bookshop in September he was hit in the face with a Baked Alaska Pie thrown by one Mark Lynas, an environmentalist trying to save the Arctic wilderness.


Bjorn Lomborg first published his ideas as a series of article in the Danish newspaper ‘Politiken’ and since then his detractors have sought to portray him as an intellectual fraudster motivated by a fascistic desire to discredit the environmental Left. To say that the environment is actually getting better is the new immorality. The Danish environment minister sent Lomborg’s articles to 2,500 civil servants, instructing them to report any mistakes they could find.

The science magazine ‘Nature’ declared that Lomborg “employs the strategy of those who argue that gay men are not dying of Aids, that Jews were not singled out by the Nazis and so on.” Lomborg is seen as a traitor to the cause, and so he in under threat.


In 1997 Bjorn Lomborg read a book by the American Julian Simon who had for decades been using official US Government statistics to disprove claims made by environmentalists. Their prophets of doom had been claiming as far back as the 1960s that by the 1980s hundreds of millions of people would be starving to death and “by 1985 mankind will enter an age of scarcity in which accessible supplies of many key minerals wll be nearing depletion” (Paul Erlich in 1965). Simon argued the opposite, that resources would become more abundant and cheaper. Who has been proved to be right?

When Lomborg first read Simon’s book “The State of Humanity” he still held the orthodox ecological world view of disaster. He set out to prove that Simon was wrong. He set his students at Aarhus University to go through each chapter week by week checking his statistics. They thought the exercise would be a bit of fun debunking the American. To their surprise they discovered that Simon was right. Lomborg gives one simple example of the deviance between theory and practice. The conservationists claim that the world is losing up to 40,000 species of animals and plants to extinction every year and is heading toward the loss of 50 per cent of all species. This estimate is based not on observation but an extrapolation from theoretical equations. This is what Lomborg says:

“The theory says that if you cut down 90 per cent of a forest, you lost 50 per cent of the species it contains. But that doesn’t seem to be confirmed if you look at specific examples. The Brazilian Atlantic rainforest was almost entirely cut down, mainly in the 19th century. By now many of its species should be extinct. But as it turns out, the Brazilian Zoological Society and the World Conservation union compiled a list of 300 species of [indigenous] mammals, birds and plants, and not one of them had become extinct.

“It would be OK for the theory if only 40 per cent or 45 per cent of species had become extinct. But if you find nought per cent extinct, that seriously questions the whole idea because it’s dramatically not true.”

Lomborg is concerned about apocalyptic scare-mongering and ideology. He doesn’t want to pillage the planet, but that environmental policies should be based on rational analysis and sensible risk assessment.


Lomborg says, “The underlying belief behind a lot of recycling policy is that we’re running out of resources. It is a spectacular example of a case where old-style environmentalists were simply wrong. But many people still believe it. Recycling makes sense to a certain extent, but we shouldn’t do it religiously. We’re not going to run out of resources and we’re not going to run out of space to put our garbage.

“Even if the US increased the amount of garbage produced per head by 15 per cent a year, and doubled its population, the total amount of garbage produced by the US in the 21st century could be put in a 100ft high pile covering a 28 x 28 kilometre square. In the context of North America it would be nothing. Garbage siting is a political problem – no one wants it in their backyard. But it’s not a space problem.”


Similarly, vast sums are due to be spent on combating global warming. But, says Lomborg: “We can help the developing world so much better by doing other things, like giving them clean drinking water and proper sanitation. For $200 billion which is the cost of implementing the Kyoto Agreement for one year – in which the industrial nations pledged to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases – you could permanently provide clean drinking water for everyone. That would save two million people dying and half a billion people becoming seriously ill every year.


For all our many problems, he says, the world’s inhabitants are, on average, richer, longer-living and better-fed than at any time in the history of humanity. “In 20 years’ time,” says Lomborg, “we’ll look back and wonder why we worried so much. Environmentalism won’t be a religion any more, it’ll just be good common sense.”


[This article is based upon David Thomas’s “Anti-Christ of the Green Religion”, Telegraph, January 20,2002]

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