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Lomborg & foreign aid

October 1st, 2003

As I mentioned in my previous post, Bjorn Lomborg’s favorite argument against Kyoto is that the money it would cost would be better spent helping poor countries. This is in keeping with his pose as a leftist greenie, reluctantly convinced of the truth of the arguments of people like Julian Simon.

So it would not be surprising to find Lomborg working for a Danish government that opposed Kyoto and spent more on foreign aid. The Rasmussen govt, for which Lomborg works, does indeed oppose Kyoto. But it has also repeatedly cut foreign aid.

Lomborg is a hypocrite and a fraud. It’s as simple as that

Update Various commentators have reacted on the apparent assumption that Lomborg is a civil servant, expressing his private views in his spare time. In fact, the Danish government created an Environmental Assessment Institute with a position as director specifically for Lomborg, whose only qualifications for such a post are the political views expressed in The Sceptical Environmentalist (he has never published a refereed article on any environmental issue). Given the frequency with which he pops up around the world, I assume that his tour to Australia is being carried out as part of his official duties.

Further update 5/10 Stentor Danielson has a good discussion of the issues raised by Lomborg’s actions, and concludes, that Lomborg doesn’t care too much about the foreign aid cuts because

really thinks that reducing spending on global warming is a good thing in and of itself (only a suspicion because I haven’t read his manifesto, The Skeptical Environmentalist)

I have read it, and I agree.

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  1. PK
    October 1st, 2003 at 18:26 | #1

    I don’t think Lomborg is an elected official. I currently work for the NSW govt, but I didn’t vote for them. He can’t be blamed for Danish policies on foreign aid.

    At the least I think Lomborg has broken the conspiracy of silence regarding the environment. He’s made it okay to debate the greenies.

    John, your comment in the previous section was a give-away. “Kyoto is essentially a low-cost way of preparing for serious action if current forecasts are confirmed by future information.” This is an unconvincing call to action.

    These types of forecasts almost always turn out to be wrong. Our climate is a text-book example of a chaotic system. Nobody can make a convincing case for what the weather’s going to be like in 100 years. It simply isn’t possible using current science.

    Why base policy on what any honest scientist would admit is just a random guess?

    You might as well condone policy by astrology.

  2. October 1st, 2003 at 21:01 | #2

    PK is on the money – you’re sounding awfully hysterical John. I should note that I write with no particularly strong passion for either side of the debate. I think you should retract for the sake of your credibility. Find a piece written by Lomborg where he advocates cutting foreign aid then you might start making more sense.

  3. Homer Paxton
    October 1st, 2003 at 21:13 | #3

    The only thing sillier than a hysterical right winger is a hysterical left winger.

    Enjoy the zoo and the radio telscope, have a cup of tea ten a bex and then sttle down.

  4. rdb
    October 2nd, 2003 at 01:00 | #4

    PK: As I understand it the weather is an example of a chaotic system. I think climate encompasses the
    local weather and the statistical smoothing off it
    over long timescales, not necessarily chaotic – I don’t know. In comparing current work on climate prediction to astrology you’re painting the planetary scientists working on this as fools and charlatans.

    Stephen Jay Gould suggested that science and religion should be treated as Non-Overlapping Magisteria, that scientists should beware of assuming they have any special moral insight from their technical knowledge. (ie Social Darwinism
    and Eugenics).

    I wonder what he would have suggested scientists like the epidemiologists who linked smoking and cancer do when confronted with industry funded misinformation?

    What to do about greenhouse gas emission is a political or moral decision.
    Mark Kleinman paraphrases Karl Deutsch in Nerves of Government as follows:
    Learning means adapting your opinions to the world, while power is the capacity to adapt the world to your opinions. Therefore, power is the ability not to have to learn anything.

    Devaluing professional opinion or scientific knowledge seems to be a current habit of those holding power.

  5. October 2nd, 2003 at 02:39 | #5

    Yeah. I guess 6 billion humans are inert.

  6. Dano
    October 2nd, 2003 at 04:34 | #6

    Nice post rdb. The last sentence is the key to the skeptic’s argument vis a vis climate change, and a nice lead-up.

    D

  7. John
    October 2nd, 2003 at 06:43 | #7

    Jason, perhaps you could look for any instance in which Lomborg has advocated an increase in foreign aid, except as a debating point against greenies.

  8. PK
    October 2nd, 2003 at 09:42 | #8

    Long term climate change is a chaotic system I’m afraid. The number of variables is huge and a small change in one variable can lead to a large change (or could do nothing for those who are about to jump in with carbon emissions).

    I don’t need to compare professional forecasters with astrologers in order to discredit them. They’re perfectly good at doing that themselves. Look through my list of prior forecasts gone wrong in previous posts for examples. Or better yet, read “The Fortune Sellers” by William Sherden. A book that carefully analyses these forecasters on a case-by-case basis. In almost every case, their results are no better than astrologers or tea-leaf readers even though their methods look more impressive.

    The future doesn’t exist. With a couple of notable exceptions (such as celestial movements), we don’t have the tools to predict it.

    Climate and weather in particular are difficult to predict more than a few days in advance. Anyone who claims to be able to do so (particularly a hundred years in advance) is either delusional or dishonest.

  9. October 2nd, 2003 at 10:47 | #9

    Methinks you need more proof to back that conclusion John.

  10. Dano
    October 2nd, 2003 at 10:47 | #10

    Perhaps, then, PK can turn his attention to the NASA GISS GCM.

    Please explain how this model can hindcast 50 years, and then tell us the validity of it’s forecasts with respect to your statements.

    And then, if you could, explain how chaos exists in a closed biotic system, and what other ecosystem processes, if any, are chaotic.

    Or, better yet, explain how chaos in natural systems is a myth.

    D

  11. PK
    October 2nd, 2003 at 11:24 | #11

    Not sure I fully understand what you’re asking for here Dano.

    I don’t think chaos is a myth. Nor are weather and climate closed systems. Weather and long-term climate are chaotic systems, which by their nature are impossible to predict (at least using current science).

    Are you putting forward a single example of a forecast that was right? Not very convincing. Maybe we should go to a casino where we can witness someone winning?

  12. William
    October 2nd, 2003 at 11:41 | #12

    Lomborg isn’t an elected official. But he was specifically chosen because his views accord with the Danish government’s views on the environment.

    Like, for example, a Labor government appointing Peter Garrett to head an Australian Environment Institute.

  13. PK
    October 2nd, 2003 at 11:45 | #13

    And this has what to do with the Danish govt’s foreign aid policy?

  14. rdb
    October 2nd, 2003 at 12:11 | #14

    The solar system itself is chaotic over long enough timescales – that doesn’t mean it’s impractical to predict for current purposes. Much science works with the statistical properties of non-deterministic systems – look at quantum physics.
    Don’t we rely on the statistical properties of a system less well characterised to fund our retirement? Does it take deterministic prediction to work out that playing russian roulette is a bad idea?
    How well does the ENSO work (El Nino & La Nina) match your requirements for useful longer-term prediction?

  15. craig
    October 2nd, 2003 at 12:27 | #15

    The accuracy or inaccuracy of short term weather forecasts is irrelevant to the argument regarding the global warming.

    I can’t say with any accuracy what the weather will be like next week but I do know that in about 3 months from now it is likely to be stinking hot.

  16. PK
    October 2nd, 2003 at 13:26 | #16

    “The solar system itself is chaotic”

    This is a disingenous comparison. We have a scientific framework which has shown to be able to predict celestial movements with a reasonable level of accuracy. This is not the case for long-term climate change.

    “I can’t say with any accuracy what the weather will be like next week but I do know that in about 3 months from now it is likely to be stinking hot.”

    This is an example of a naive projection. Today will be like tomorrow. December is usually hot. Science has to show that it is able to out-predict naive projections if it is to be useful. Kyoto’s proponents are saying that things will be different, not the same.

    “Don’t we rely on the statistical properties of a system less well characterised to fund our retirement? Does it take deterministic prediction to work out that playing russian roulette is a bad idea?”

    An unfunded retirement is a proven danger, as is Russian roulette. Environmental doomsday scenarios based on carbon-emissions is not proven, just speculated upon. Just saying I predict danger ahead and we’d better prepare for it is not enough to justify Kytoto.

    By that logic I could say “Aliens will land here next year and kill us all because we haven’t built a temple to honour them. We’d better get building.”

  17. William
    October 2nd, 2003 at 13:29 | #17

    PK: ‘And this has what to do with the Danish govt’s foreign aid policy?’

    As I understand it, Prof Q’s argument is that because Lomborg works for a government that has repeatedly cut foreign aid, while he argues that Kyoto money would be better spent on foreign aid, he is a hypocrite and a fraud. I strongly disagree.

    It’s a relevant point that it’s highly unlikely rich countries would, instead of doing Kyoto, spend equivalent amounts of money in foreign aid on poor countries.

  18. PK
    October 2nd, 2003 at 13:50 | #18

    William. I agree. More’s the pity.

  19. craig
    October 2nd, 2003 at 14:35 | #19

    My knowledge that it is likely to be stinking hot in three months time is not naive projection but rather borne of 170 odd years of observation. It is a cycle that is entirely predictable and does not rely on accurate day to day forecasting.

    By your reasoning it seems that we should wait until global warming is a proven danger, by that time it will be too late I’m afraid.

  20. October 2nd, 2003 at 14:36 | #20

    chaotics systems flick between different patterns of stability at the edge of chaos

    predicting where one is within a pattern (from a particular history) _is different to_ predicting which stable pattern we may flick across to (if/where one approaches a more unpredictable edge of chaos)

    increasing green houses gases allows us to more easily approach an edge of chaos where we may flick across to a new strange attractor, or we may not

    the weather, a regional climate, and the global climate are interlinked patterns within patterns within chaos within patterns within chaos, their apparent stability is all too transitory from the viewpoint of a linked inclusive pattern (larger strange attractor vis-avis the climate versus today’s weather, or the cycle of the seasons, or precession for that matter

    I live on a strange attractor call the dole, go read the essay at
    http://members.ozemail.com.au/~selfsame/essays/markormeasure.html

    Can we predict when/if I will get a job?
    What conditions will lead to my being institutionalized in a strange attractor called a job and mortgage?
    Can you give me a job?
    Why not?

    (and yes I am serious?)

    dumbed down version of essay at
    http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/2002/Oct02/Samorzewski.htm

  21. Jim Birch
    October 2nd, 2003 at 16:39 | #21

    To say thet chaotic sytems are not predictable is plain weird.

    A glass of water is a chaotic system. Predicting the path of individual molecules is not possible; predicing it’s mean properties is pretty easy.

    If you didn’t believe that chaotic systems were predictable, you’d be foolish to imagine you can get up in the morning.

    No one is trying to predict the weather 100 years hence. They are attempting to predict the climate (mean weather) in the future.

    Assessing the success or otherwise of these efforts is an active ongoing technical process, not the province of dopey generalizations.

  22. dsquared
    October 2nd, 2003 at 17:35 | #22

    This is a disingenous comparison. We have a scientific framework which has shown to be able to predict celestial movements with a reasonable level of accuracy. This is not the case for long-term climate change.

    Is the third sentence in the extract quoted above meant to be a conclusion or a premise?

  23. October 2nd, 2003 at 20:02 | #23

    Prevention is better than cure.

  24. Jill Rush
    October 2nd, 2003 at 22:26 | #24

    It is interesting to see that in the modern world it is worse to call someone a hypocrite and a fraud than it is to be one – it’s not nice, it’s not polite.

    The age of charlatans more interested in themselves than the greater good is very strong and the descendants of King Canute are a legion.

    Just because you can’t explain a phenomena precisely and accurately does not mean it doesn’t exist – only that the tools of measurement are still in development.

    This won’t stop those who are anxious to make money speaking words that are comforting even if untrue. Money makers will keep on finding people like Lomborg to pontificate on issues so that they can continue to make money. It is the same thinking that says that a disaster is good for GDP.

  25. Dano
    October 3rd, 2003 at 00:50 | #25

    PK, I think you are confusing the difficulty of climate prediction with chaos.

    The climate is, for all intents and purposes, a closed system. Yes, inputs arrive from the sun, but outputs into space are measured in the nano-percents.

    The idea that climate can’t be predicted, & so we shouldn’t listen to what climatologists say comes from the agitprop realm.

    D

  26. PK
    October 3rd, 2003 at 11:37 | #26

    “The climate is, for all intents and purposes, a closed system. Yes, inputs arrive from the sun, but outputs into space are measured in the nano-percents.”

    So the sun is outside the system, so the system isn’t closed. Especially since the sun is the largest determining factor. Plus, other outside factors can have an influence (e.g. meteors, radiation).

    “My knowledge that it is likely to be stinking hot in three months time is not naive projection…”

    That’s right. It’s not naive as is stupid. It’s naive as in doesn’t require any expertise.

    “By your reasoning it seems that we should wait until global warming is a proven danger, by that time it will be too late I’m afraid. ”

    Can’t the same be said for my alien example? This assumes that it is a danger just waiting to be proven. Not convincing.

    “To say thet chaotic sytems are not predictable is plain weird.”

    No it’s not, it’s just plain true. Especially with regards to current science and long-term climate change.

    Your arguments are all based on ideology, not reason. I suspect the real reason a lot of people are for Kyoto is just because business is opposed to it.

  27. Dano
    October 3rd, 2003 at 11:53 | #27

    So, PK:

    1. What about the GCM that can hindcast and your insistence that climate cannot be predicted?

    2. Where do the outputs go from the sun’s inputs, which are remarkably constant at the surface in short temporal scales, and vary predictably in longer temporal scales? [that is, the inputs are stable] My point being, you haven’t proven chaos – and for all intents and purposes, since the outputs stay in the system, within the parameters we set above the system is closed.

    D

  28. Dano
    October 3rd, 2003 at 12:03 | #28

    PK:

    Sigh…This is Dano’s editor here. I won’t have him writing during classes. The planet is a closed system, but the argument is still the same – the outputs to space {again, a clarification} in excess of inputs are tiny and climate is not chaotic.

    D (e)

  29. Mark Upcher
    October 3rd, 2003 at 12:27 | #29

    Re John’s update. I think the point that some posts were making is that he is not responsible for the Danish government’s foreign aid policy and, for all we know, may not agree with it. So calling him a hypocrite for not doing something for which he is not responsible is a bit strong.

  30. craig
    October 3rd, 2003 at 13:54 | #30

    Getting a bit upset are we PK.

    I take it you don’t insure your house because the danger of fire to your particular house is not proven.

  31. derrida derider
    October 3rd, 2003 at 17:04 | #31

    Let’s spell it out for those who miss the point.
    Peter Garrett thinks we should spend more on foreign aid. But he would not be a fraud just because he accepted an appointment heading up an Australian Environment Institute under a government that cut foreign aid; if people had to agree with every policy of the government before accepting a position at its hands there’d be no-one to take the jobs but political hacks.

    John, you’re much more persuasive when you avoid the ad hominem attacks – leave them to those incapable of better.

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