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Chapter 1:

Things are getting better


P. 6 right: FLAW

"Sub-Saharan Africa has by far the greatest numbers of starving people - almost 33 percent were starving in 1996, although this was down from 38 percent in 1970 and is expected to fall even further to 30 percent in 2010." Flaw: As explained in more detail in relation to chapter 5, p. 61, this falling "trend" for Africa results from the combination of several data sets, one of which gives a rise in the proportion of starving from 38 % in 1970 to 43 % in 1991, whereas the other gives a fall from 35 % in 1991 to 33 % in 1997. As the figures for 1991 demonstrate, the two data sets are not congruent and therefore should not be combined. On p. 21, Lomborg describes how misleading it can be to combine two incongruent figures; in the light of his remarks there, it is not acceptable that Lomborg himself does the same here. Furthermore, when Lomborg calls himself a statistician, he must stick to the principles of statistics. And among these principles is that if a trend is based on figures that are so uncertain that their difference is not significant, then we cannot speak of a trend. Concerning the estimates of the proportion of starving, these are obviously fairly uncertain. In the FAO report "The state of food insecurity in the world 1999", which Lomborg has used, we can read that the underlying information is imperfect, and that "As better data become available the estimates are revised retrospectively". Also, there is presented a 10 % range of insecurity around the figures presented. Now, the proportion of starving in Africa in 1997 has indeed been revised retrospectively in later reports and is now (2003) set at 35 %. So there is no falling trend since 1991. The oldest figure belonging to a congruent data set is a figure of 37 % for 1980. The difference between 37 % and 35 % is less than 10 % of these figures, and so the difference cannot be considered significant. Thus, statistically speaking, there is no fall. Concerning the estimate for the future, certain factors are now considered more adverse than was the case in 1996. This is especially true for the AIDS epidemic which hampers agriculutral production. Therefore, we cannot rely very much on the estimate of 30 % starving in 2010. Altogether, Lomborg´s claim that the trend is positive even in Africa, is not warranted.

P. 7 top left: (COMMENT)

"However, the background for this stunning prediction stems from a single, unpublished study from 1989 . . . " Comment: The study is not unpublished, but rather has the following reference: D. M. Scotney & F. J. Dijkhuis (1989): South African journal of science 89 (7-10): 395-402. It has a rather short section on soil erosion, with about 4 references relating to South Africa; these do not seem to refer to single study plots. However, the paper says nothing about possible declines in crop yeilds and thus does not document what the Geo2000 report purports it to document. This must be due to a sloppy writing style in the Geo2000 report.

P. 9 left: FLAW

" . . the original researcher points out that Atlantic violent hurricane days `show a substantial decrease in activity with time.´" Flaw: This paragraph is a part of a chapter dealing with the risks of interpretating trends from short sections of time series. It is ironic, therefore, that Lomborg does just the same. The fact is that there is no long-term trend in Atlantic hurricane days. Lomborg cites a paper by Landsea. Here (table 3 in that paper), Landsea states that from 1944 to 1996, hurricane days have declined by 1.63 days per decade, which is stated to be a significant trend (r = -0.18). However, this trend was not uniform, because there was a marked shift between decades with few hurricanes and decades with many. A new period with many hurricane days started in 1995, and lasted for some years. A few years later, Landsea has written (C. Landsea & S. Goldenberg (2002): F.A.Q. on hurricanes at www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/tcfaq/G4.html): " . . for the Atlantic basin we have seen an increase in the number of strong hurricanes since 1995. . . we have had a record 33 hurricanes in the four years of 1995 to 1999 . . The extreme impacts from Hurricanes Marilyn (1995), Opal (1995), Fran (1996) Georges (1998) and Mitch (1998) in the United States and throughout the Caribbean attest to the high amounts of Atlantic hurricane activity lately." Although these hurricanes occurred well before Lomborg finished his book, he may have been too busy writing his book to notice newspaper reports on these hurricanes. We count this as a flaw, because Lomborg does just that which he criticizes others for doing: concluding on the direction of a trend just before the trend turns.

P. 10 bottom right: INCONSISTENCY

"First, if we worry about food production, we should focus not on the world average, but on the average of where the potential food problem is . ." Flaw: This is inconsistent with Lomborg´s statement on p. 7 right: ". . we can only elucidate global problems with global figures." Considering that food can be traded around the world, food shortage shoudl be considered a global issue.

P. 10 - 11 and figure 3: FLAW

Lomborg criticizes Worldwatch Institute for the way in which they present data on worldwide fertilizer use. Flaw: First, it is not true that WI restrict themselves to the global figures (although Lomborg otherwise recommends that). They do mention in their 1995 report that although the larger food producing nations, including China, are about to reach a limit, there is still a scope for considerable expansion in other countries such as Argentina and Vietnam. And again in their 1998 report - which Lomborg likewise has cited extensively - they explicitly describe the differing trends of fertilizer use in the developed and the developing world. Second, when Lomborg criticizes others for concluding too much about what trends are to be expected in the near future, he should avoid doing the same. Actually, according to the most recent IFA data, fertilizer use per person in the world was lower in 2001 than in 1999 and thus has not yet risen after the backlash about 1990. Even in the developing world, the use was slightly lower in 2001 in 1999. A contributing cause may be that 40 % of this use occurs in China, and since 1995, fertilizer consumption in China has not increased (http://apps.fao.org).

P. 13 left and note 72: (COMMENT)

"Its publications are almost overflowing with statements such as . . Powerful reading - stated entirely without references. " Comment: Although the publications from the Worldwatch Institute are characterized by pessimistic statements, they are not only pessimistic. They also repeatedly contain descriptions of the goods that economic growth has brought mankind during the 20th century, and they also have some optimism, e.g. in the chapters on renewable energy sources, and in the preface to the 2000 yearbook, which states that the outlook for the new century is not entirely black, because even though climate change becomes faster, so does technological innovation. Actually, this is not very different from what Lomborg says. But Lomborg presents the Worldwatch Institute as less balanced than it actually is. Actually, there is nothing wrong about the examples cited here on p. 13 - the examples are correct. They are mentioned by Lester Brown at the start of a chapter, as some kind of advance notice of what follows. Therefore, the relevant references are brought only later in that chapter. It is wrong of Lomborg to say that the statements are "entirely" without references.

P. 11 bottom right, note 66: FLAW

The note says: "I do not generally buy the argument that animals should have equal rights, cf. Singer 1977". Flaw: The note is somewhat misleading, because the reader might understand from this that Peter Singer, in his book Animal Liberation, pleads that animals should have equal rights. He does not (because animals cannot speak, cannot vote etc.). What Singer says, is that animals should have equal consideration.

P. 13 left and note 73: FLAW

"Discussing forests . . " Flaw: First, the word "categorically" does not aptly characterize WI´s text and is unnecessarily derogating. Second, as is evident from the comments to chapter 10, it is not true that the longest data series from FAO shows a gobal increase in forest cover. On the contrary, it shows a decrease, in accordance with other, more reliable data series. Third, according to the latest UN figures (FAO 2001), the global annual gross change of natural forest is 15 mill. hectares. This is the relevant figure to compare with WI´s 16 mill., because WI explicitly count conversion to plantations as a disappearance of the (natural) forest, and because they write about what forests actually disappear, disregarding what other forests may arise elsewhere on the globe. On their own premises, this is relevant. Considering the uncertainties on the figures, the difference between 15 and 16 mill. is hardly worth writing about. Fourth, in note 73, Lomborg claims that WI´s estimate that nearly half of all the world´s forests have disappeared since the pristine conditions, is "extremely exaggerated". As is evident from the comments to chapter 10, this is not so. On the contrary, WI´s estimate is more likely to be true than are the figures cited by Lomborg.

P. 13 bottom left: (GROUNDLESS DEROGATION)

"Blatant errors are also made with unfortunate frequency." Comment: Lomborg does not document this. If Lomborg demands extensive documentation from Lester Brown, he must be able to live up to the same standard himself. He does not. He neither documents that the errors are blatant, nor that they are unfortunately frequent.
Read more elsewhere on Lomborg-errors about the concept of groundless derogation.


"In their 2000 overview, Worldwatch Institute lists the problems . . Here is the complete list: . . " Comment: Lomborg´s presentation is manipulated. What he cites, is the first paragraph of the preface. Of course, WI does not "assess the complete list of problems" in their preface, and does not sum up the complete content of their 1984 report in just 6 lines at the start of their preface.

P. 13 bottom right: (COMMENT)

"However . . acid rain while harming the lakes did very little if any damage to forests." Comment: As evident from the comments to chapter 16, this is not true.

P.14 left: (COMMENT)

". . speaking of record rates of population growth is merely wrong . . ". Comment: The word "rate" may be used rather unprecisely in English language. It may designate "number of people per year" as well as "percentage of people per year". When the word is used in the former sense, WI´s statements are correct. In some other languages, such as Danish, the word "rate" is most often understood more precisely in the latter sense. In accordance with this, the Danish translation of the WI yearbook does not use the word "rate" in this place.

P. 14 left: FLAW

"Thus, in its shorthand appraisal of the state of the world since 1984 . . " Flaw: First, the first paragraph of the preface was of course not intended to present a "shorthand appraisal". Second, none of the statements are "just plain wrong". Third, WI was right in saying that none of the four problems has been "solved". Fourth, none of the problems has "improved immensely".


"Not a great score for 16 years . . merely a carelessness . . ". Comment: We have to repeat here: What Lomborg shoots at, is the very first paragraph of the preface. Nobody would expect a meticulous covering in that place.


"Of course, we should like to see such an accelerating pace being documented. But Worldwatch Institute immediately continues: . " Error: Here, Lomborg is manipulating. The quoted sentence is a summary of a long list of concrete examples: soil erosion in Kazakhstan; fisheries of Atlantic swordfish; the disappearance of fish in the Aral Sea; decline in the timber industry of the Ivory Coast and the Philippines; and decimation of oyster banks at Chesapeake Bay, USA. After these examples follows the quoted sentence, which is an apt summary of what the examples tell; and finally comes the endnote where Lester Brown refers to documentation for the examples. So, the documentation that Lomborg asks for, is exactly at the point where it "immediately" follows. When Lomborg writes: "Notice, we are not being offered any documentation as to these breakdowns" he is downright wrong. At best, this error is due to gross negligence.


" . . the Worldwatch Institute´s obsession with pointing out how they have finally found an example of concrete decline replacing progress . " Flaw: This is an unfounded derogation, considering that the criticized chapter has lots of examples of decline replacing progress. That Kazakhstan has been forced to abandon half of its cultivated land, isn´t that decline ? And why is it "ill placed" when Worldwatch Institute, in a summary chapter giving a survey of the state of the world, mentions the AIDS epidemic, but not ill placed when Lomborg in a book on the same subject does the same ?

P. 15 bottom left - top right: (GROUNDLESS DEROGATION)

"But Worldwatch Institute also gives us another concrete example of ecological collapse . . Thus, the best example that Worldwatch Institute can give us . . " Flaw: On p. 15, the reader gets the false impression that WI has little concrete basis for their "obsession with decline" and that they have hardly any other strong examples than the AIDS epidemic and the halt of logging in the Yangtze river basin. But first, the logging is not presented as an example of collapse, it is presented as an example that changes in one nation may cause spill-overs in other countries. Second, the chapter has lots of examples that are not inferior to the Yangtze logging example. Lomborg is not justified in saying that "these quotes show some of the strongest arguments" (p. 16 top left).

P. 15 bottom right: (COMMENT)

". . good economics, and not ecology". Comment: Knowledge about the water storage and flood control capacity of forests is - of course - ecology. So what is presented here, is an example that ecology may imply good economics. But in Lomborg´s way of thinking there seems to be a fundamental antagonism between the two, and this antagonism is forced on the text, even where it is not justified. So he purports to demonstrate an antagonism between ecology and economics which is primarily just an image in his own mind.

P. 16 left: (COMMENT)

Lomborg criticizes the claim that in 1997, fire burned more forests than at any other time in history. Comment: As will be explained in the comments to chapter 10, p . 116, the WWF postulate is correct, and Lmomborg´s criticism is not justified.

P. 16 left: ERROR

"In all, Indonesia`s forest fires affected approximately 1 percent of the nation´s forests." Error: According to an authoritative report by Goldammer & Hoffmann (see comments to chapter 10, p. 116), the affected forest area made out 4-5 % of the nation´s forests. In the region that was hardest hit, 25 % of the forest area burned.

P. 16 bottom left: (COMMENT)

"This seemed rather amazing to me, since most sources estimate about 20 percent". Comment: As is evident from the comments to chapter 10, it is likely that about 50 % of the world´s forests have disappeared.

P. 17 bottom right: UNDUE PRECISION

"The correct figure is closer to 0.7 percent in 50 years." Flaw: Neither Lomborg nor anybody else has sufficient information to tell with such a degree of precision what the "correct" figure is. See the comments to chapter 23.


" . . have attempted to examine all costs associated with electricity production . . ". Flaw: In Lomborg´s source it is clearly stated that the data analyses excluded costs associated with global warming, costs that "can easily swamp conventional damage differentials" across fuel sources. But Lomborg fails to disclose this.

Pp. 20-21, Fig. 4 left and note 157: (COMMENT)

"However, when estimating water and sanitation access, Gleick seems to stumble on the Litany . ." Comment: Lomborg refers to pages 10 and 187-189 in Gleick´s book, "Water in Crisis". However, Gleick´s text on pp. 187-189 is correct. On his page 189 we read: "Shown here are the populations presently unserved and the expected additional growth between 1990 and 2000 in . . populations that will have to be served by new drinking water and sanitation systems." There is a table presenting the "needs for water supply and sanitation", and the figures for 2000 are listed as "total additional population requiring service by 2000". So, Gleick writes nothing wrong here. However, the same data are presented in a shortened form in the introduction of his book, on p. 10. Here, the presentation is equivocal. Some sentences say the same as inside the book, but some sentences have been made so compact that they have become misleading, e.g. when the text beneath one of the figures says: "This graph shows the estimated number of people in developing countries without access to fresh water for 1980, 1990, and 2000." Thus, Lomborg´s ciriticism of Gleick is not fully justified, but is not completely unjustified either. It is correct as stated in Lomborg´s note 157 that Engelman & LeRoy have cited the misleading version of Gleick´s figures.

Pp. 21-27: (COMMENT)

Lomborg uses more than 5 pages to slate an article from 1998 by D. Pimentel and 11 of his students. Comment: The article by Pimentel et al. is misleading on some points, and it lists a lot of negative trends without also listing positive trends. It has been extensively criticized, and the criticism seems to be sober and mostly justified (Bioscience 49 (4) 1999: 267-271). Thus, Lomborg, too, could easily have written a balanced text where he pointed out the flaws of that article. Instead, however, Lomborg himself writes an exaggerated and biased text about the article, whereby he commits the same types of offences as those he criticizes. So, he loses an obvious opportunity to be acknowledged for rightful criticism of the pessimists. We could stop with this statement and just leave it at that. But Lomborg manages to give his readers a wrong impression of certain items, wherefore we have to point these errors to his readers.

P. 22-23: FLAW

Pimentel is criticized for giving an impression of a steadily increasing number of deaths due to tuberculosis in the world, and the reader gets the impression that actually, the number of such deaths is almost stable. Flaw: There are many flaws here. First, in the source that Lomborg refers to repeatedly in order to repudiate Pimentel´s claims - namely Murray and Lopez (1996) - it is seen that the total number of deaths due to tuberculosis is projected to rise slowly from 1990 to 2020. This is evident from precisely those tables that Lomborg has used to make his figure 8. Second, even the latest WHO reports from 2002 and 2003 on global tuberculosis control report a steadily increasing incidence rate in nearly all parts of the world. The global number of tuberculosis cases has increased by almost 1 mio. people from 1995 to 1999. In spite of greatly increased efforts at combating the disease, the estimated number of deatch cases has not dropped below 2 to 3 mio. deaths per year, and in the latest version of the WHO factsheet on tuberculosis we read: "Each year, more people are dying of TB. In Eastern Europe and Africa, TB deaths are increasing after almost 40 years of decline." A major cause contributing to this is that strains of bacilli resistant to TB drugs now occur in every suveyed country, and multidrug-resistant TB is spreading. Thus, Pimentel´s pessimism seems warranted. Next, Lomborg contrasts an "actual death toll" of 1.669 mio. a year with estimates of 2 to 3 mio. a year. However, these figures are not congruent and should not be compared. The figure of 1.669 gives the definitely known cases, whereas the more rounded figures include the estimated number of deaths that are not reported. Finally, the phrase "the WHO source that Pimentel most often uses" is misleading. Pimentel used the 1996 world health report, which indeed has a figure of 3.1 mio. deaths per year due to TB, whereas the 2000 world health report, to which Lomborg refers, does not bring a comparable estimate, but brings a statistical table with the 1.669 precisely recorded cases. It does not give the figure of 2 million dead over the 1990s.

P. 23 left: (COMMENT)

Comment: Although Lomborg´s presentation of the incidence of TB in USA seems to be correct, and although it is correct that the data points cited by Pimentel are misleading when seen in a longer perspective, a remark is still required. Pimentel´s reference is from 1993 and thus could not be expected to contain data after 1991. Therefore, in 1993 it must have looked as if pessimism was warranted. Lomborg says, with some right, that the data should have been brought up to date. However, if we agree with Lomborg on this point, then this will hit Lomborg himself. There are many cases (e.g. the AIDS epidemic) where Lomborg has not cared to check the very latest data, and where such a check would have changed his conclusions. In short, Lomborg demands a standard from others that he does not live up to himself.

P. 23 right: FLAW

Lomborg gives the reader the impression that the incidence of malaria has been approximately stable. Flaw: This is not correct. For instance, the World Bank factsheet "malaria at a glance" (www1.worldbank.org/hnp/malaria) tells that "Over the last decades, morbidity and mortality from malaria have been increasing due to deteriorating health systems, growing drug and insecticide resistance, periodic changes in weather patterns, civil unrest, human migration, and population displacement." Lomborg claims that Pimentel picks and chooses a lot of numbers to show that things are getting worse, but this criticism of Pimentel is not quite warranted. Pimentel´s text on malaria contains i.a. these sentences: " . .Approximately 90 % of all malaria cases occur in Africa, as do 90-95 % of the world´s malaria-related deaths. . . In some regions of Asia and South America, malaria prevalence decresed from 1950 until 1980 and has since remained fairly stable . . But in other regions, the number of malaria cases is now increasing. For example, Peru . . . Similarly, in Bangladesh . . ". This is not a misleading presentation. Furthermore, Lomborg himself has stressed that we can only elucidate global problems with global figures (p. 7 right). Therefore, we should focus on Africa which has 90 % of all malaria cases, not on a positive trend in a single country, like China, as Lomborg does. Lomborg´s text fails by his own standards and gives a misleading picture of the malaria situation.

P. 24 left and Figure 7: ERROR

Figure 7 is relevant in the context where the subject is to criticize Pimentel. The left part of the figure aptly illustrates the errors that might be made because of different criteria for malnutrition in different periods. Overall, the figure gives the impression that the total number of starving people in the world is steadily falling. Error: The right part of the figure may be criticized. It is not good practice to depict future trends as if they were real data, unless one could be so certain about future trends that they may be considered as actual data. This is clearly not the case here. The uncertainty of expected values should be marked e.g. by stippling the curve from 2000 onwards, and likewise, it should be clearly stated in the text that the figures are not actual figures. Lomborg does the opposite. On p. 25, he writes: "the percentage of starving people has dropped . . and further down to 12 percent in 2010 and 6 percent in 2030." Here, he speaks like a fortune teller who knows the future. However, one should not talk with certainty about what the future brings, because one might be wrong. And indeed, Lomborg was already proven wrong after a few years. In the FAO report: "The state of the food insecurity in the world 2003", the total number of starving people in the developing world is indicated to have gone from 817 mio. around 1991 down to 780 mio. around 1996, but again up to 798 mio. aorund 2000. A main explanation for the apparent recent turn of the global trend is that most of the improvement up to 1996 was due to the situation in China, where the scope for further improvement is not so large anymore.

In the later FAO report "The state of the food insecurity in the world 2009", it is evident that the number of people starving has risen from a low around 1996 and it is believed that the number surpassed 1 billion in 2009 (see figure inserted here to the right). Thus, at the point of time when Lomborg´s book was published, the total number of starving people in the world was increasing, not decreasing. Also, the 2009 report says that the percentage of  people starving has been rising since c. 2005.Altogether, now that we know the course of the curve up to 2009, we know that it has evolved completely different from Lomborg´s figure.
Because Lomborg writes in the present tense participle: "the percentage has dropped . . to 12 percent in 2010" pretending that he knows what is going to happen, when actually the trend was opposite of what he claimed already when he wrote the text, this is counted as an error.

The number of malnourished people in the World, according to a FAO report from 2009.
Number of malnourished up to 2009

P. 28 right: FLAW

Flaw: Although the quote from the Newsweek article from 1975 is generally correct, some sentences have been left out. Some of these omissions are without importance here, but an omission in the last cited paragraph is not without importance. The full text reads: "To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world´s weather. The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth´s climate seems to be cooling down. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But . . ."

P. 28 right: FLAW

"- from a time when we all worried about global cooling." Flaw: This is not true. The British scientist W. M. Connolley has a website where he discusses whether there was a general worry in the mid 70s about an imminent ice age. His conclusion is that although there were some articles in som public media in the mid 1970s about impending global cooling, these did not represent the general opinion. Especially, he discusses if an imminent Ice Age was predicted in the 70s by scientists, in scientific journals, and his conclusion on this question is no. For instance, Stephen Schneider wrote in his book "The Genesis Strategy" from 1976 on p. 91: " . . dramatic examples of unusual weather reported in the press . . may not necessarily be indications of an increasing trend of unusual weather variability; rather, they might simply indicate the increased vulnerability of society to weather disruption . . ." (here cited from Connolley´s web site).

P. 29 bottom right: FLAW

On Limits to Growth: "Indeed, gold was predicted to run out in 1981 . . ". Flaw: This is not a proper description of what is said in Limits to Growth. The years referred to were not predictions, but the result of simple model calculations based on the unrealistic premise that the reserves known by then were all that there were, and no more reserves would be found in the future. After having made such simplified calculations, the book proceeded to the more realistic scenarios where allowance was made for large future discoveries of additional reserves, which, of course, yielded much longer time limits. - Lomborg made this flawed presentation of Limits to Growth already in January 1998, and has kept it ever since. The flaw was pointed out to him in 1999 (Chapter 11 in "Fremtidens Pris"), but he has kept the wording nonetheless. It is therefore fair to assume that the flaw is a deliberate attempt to make the message in Limits to Growth appear as foolish as possible.

P. 29 bottom right: (COMMENT)

"Throughout this book, we will see a lot of poor predictions . . ". Comment: Ironically, this sentence bounces back on Lomborg himself. Already in 2004, just three years after he has published his book, several of his "predictions" have turned out wrong. This is so for the percentage of people starving in Africa, the mortality due to AIDS, and - most markedly - the oil prices. On p. 122, he refers to predictions that oil prices will remain below 27 $/barrel until 2020. But already by now (August 2004) they have passed 45 $/barrel. Addition May 2005: The price is now about 68 $/barrel.


Note 248 reads: "A prime example is Al Gore categorizing anyone not entirely convinced of the supremacy of the environmental question with Nazism (e.g. Gore 1992: 272ff)." Error: On p. 272 of his book, Gore writes something very different. He writes that it is wrong to wait too long to realize that a strong effort is necessary, and compares this with the situation up to World War II when most people hoped that a war against Hitler could be avoided. Gore compars those that realize the need for a strong effort to Winston Churchill, and those that do not realize this need to Neville Chamberlain. Thus, those that hesitate to protect the environment are compared to Chamberlain, not to the Nazists.

P. 33 left: FLAW

" - only when we get sufficiently rich can we afford the relative luxury of caring about the environment." Flaw: This conception is at variance with the results of the "Health of the Planet survey", presented in an article by Dunlop et al. (1993), an article which is extensively reviewed by Lomborg on his pp. 331-332. Based on interviews with persons from 24 nations - some rich, some poor - Dunlop et al. explicitly state the following conclusion: "The inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the results of the Health of the Planet survey is that concentional wisdom is wrong about the existence of major differences in levels of environmental concern between citizens of rich and poor nations. Environmental problems are salient and important issues in both wealthy and poor nations, and residents of poor nations express as much concern about environmental quality as do those living in wealthy nations." So, what Lomborg writes on p. 33, is directly contrary to what he has read elsewhere.