Lomborg-errors

Lomborg and the media: a comment from Christian Ege
 
      Lomborg and the media                                    Lomborg and the Danish media                               Lomborg´s methods                                                        


The following letter from the readers was printed in the Danish newspaper Politiken on 1st October 2006.


Drop `the doctors disagree´ on climate

Should experts with a differing opinion always be heard? Also when they stand alone with their conception ?

Comprehensiveness:
By Christian Ege, head of The Ecological Council

Comprehensiveness is a good and established principle. But a very special principle of comprehensiveness concerning environmental matters rules in most Danish media: Lomborg should be heard, and then `the others´ should be heard. But is that comprehensiveness? In line with that there is now widespread consensus in scientific circles on the effects of the manmade greenhouse effect, this principle appears more and more artificial.

So the British BBC has decided that they will no longer discuss the manmade greenhouse effect as such, but rather what could be done about it. But leading representatives of Danish Radio TV and Danish TV2 have said to the newspaper Information that they will not follow BBC´s line. And there are no indications either that the printed press will change its course. There has been a very copious publicity regarding Al Gore´s film `An Inconvenient Truth´, but this is constantly followed by Bjørn Lomborg´s cirticism of the film.

Of course, it is in principle good to hear all parties in a case. But you should be aware that this also implies a choice - that it may delay and confuse a process which should lead to actions. A message that the scientists disagree may be a piece of special pleading serving distinct political and economical interests. Let me give a few examples. Several industries have over the years realized that they had a bad case, but that their only chance was to create public confusion. They tried to paint a picture of disagreement among scientists. This was true for the car factories and oil companies in USA in the 1930s when they started to add lead to petrol. And it is still true now for the tobacco industry, especially in USA - as it is described so eminently in the film `Thank you for smoking´.

In such a situation where we have for instance 99 % of the scientists saying that we have a large problem, and 1 % denying it  - if the media then choose to present this as `the scientists disagree´, well, then they unwittingly work on behalf of other´s private interests. This is also the situation we see concerning climate changes.

In the 1970s there were some popular urban myths about people who had saved their life by not using safety belts in cars - something like their having been flung out of the car , which just afterwards exploded or was crushed. It would no doubt still be possible to dig up such stories. But the media choose that they will not bring them every time they refer to campaigns for the use of safety belts - because there is widespread agreement that many more people save the live by using safety belts than the opposite.

Or the situation while the doctor Tage Voss lived and argued that no connection between smoking and lung diseases had been proven - he was put forward now and then, but not every single time the issue on how to reduce smoking was up.

Or for that matter : One does not everytime you refer to holocaust interview one of the few holocaust deniers that exist.

The problem is amplified by the trend that the quantitative demands for the productivity of journalists have risen tremendously. This means that they have often very little time to for preparation, and therefore they tend to refer differing points of view uncritically.

For instance Bjørn Lomborg has been able to appear in a long series of media with the postulate that Al gore exaggerates when speaking of sea level rises. Al Gore mentions that if all landbased ice on Greenland melts, then the water level in the oceans would rise by seven meters. This is a purely physical statement beyond discussion. But Lomborg refers to the fact that the international climate panel IPCC speaks of sea level rises of only up to 50 cm. But that is not correct - as the Environmental Protection Agency explains on its web site. When IPCC speaks of 50 cm (in reality they say up to 88 cm), then this concerns what would happen up to the year 2100. Al Gore speaks of the probability that global warming will reach a point where the ice melting will escalate over the next 1,000 years, irrespectively whether we in the mean time stop the emission of greenhouse gases. This issue is also treated by IPCC. It may happen inter alia because the capacity of the world´s oceans to absorb CO2 is reduced when temperatures rise, and because the warming will cause large tundra areas to melt, which will lead to the liberation of large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane from otherwise frozen moors and peatland.

So Lomborg´s postulate about exaggeration does not hold. In spite of that I heard a journalist in P1 (programme one) of the state radio say as his own concluding remark after having interviewed Lomborg that Al Gore´s film was probably worth seeing, "even though it is exaggerated". A little research could have prevented this delusion.

There is a need that the media now throw themselves into the forward-looking debate - how do we counteract the manmade greenhouse effect? Rather than seeking to maintain a false conception of large disagreement in scientific circles.