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The Copenhagen Distraction

Rebuttal to Bjorn Lomborg on Global Warming: Bjørn Lomborg intentionally or unintentionally obfuscated the political will to mitigate climate change and certainly gained recognition and made money on his assertions. He put together his own conference and called it the Copenhagen Consensus. He wrote a book called 'The Skeptical Environmentalist ' for which the Denmark Ministry of Science found him guilty of 'scientific dishonesty'.
The Copenhagen Distraction

The Lomborg Distraction

How bad is the Copenhagen Consensus?

To help understand this in proper context we need to know how people manipulate polls. This brings up the classic poll question: "Have you stopped beating your wife yet (YES or NO)? If you answer yes, that means you used to beat your wife. If you answer no, that means you are still beating your wife. This is basically what Lomborg has done here. He limited the scope of the questions and possible answers and created a straw man poll.

Lomborgs confusing mix of what might be called support-denial misleads his audience through subtle manipulations of the contexts involved, while ignoring more relevant contexts. Possibly the best way to describe his perspective on global warming is generally nefarious.

Example RealClimate - Have you stopped beating your wife yet (Yes/No)?


  • Insidious? Yes.
  • Misleading? Yes.
  • Disturbing? Yes.
  • Unethical? Yes.
  • Immoral? Yes.
  • Inappropriate? Yes.

Why would Lomborg create such a poll? Money? Fame? Well, he did receive both of those. Did he really intend to mislead everyone? One would hope not, but it does stretch his credulity when all things are considered in context.

Let's take a look at what a sophisticated red herring/straw man poll looks like:

Fall, 2010

Lomborg reversed his position with a new book and now claims global warming is a serious issue and needs to be placed higher on the priority list. Does this mean we should now start listening to Bjorn Lomborg? No!

It is possible and even apparent that Lomborg used, or even constructed, his controversial position to gain position in the debate, favor by the right wing talk shows, attention from the left wing and as a means by which to sell his books and get more public attention. It is also possible that he did not. In either case, it shows either greed and fame as motive, or incompetence. Why would anyone trust such a source?

How to Build a Giant Red Herring/Straw Man

The Copenhagen Consensus

Lomborg seems to be well aware of the power of positioning. In this sense maybe he wanted to give the denialist side of human caused global warming a new consensus to fight back with. While his intentions seem rather obvious, or dubious depending on your perspective, it is less important than just how 'irrelevant his message really is' when weighed in the context of time.

His main message seemed to be that we need to worry about aids and providing food rather than human caused global warming. What he fails to recognize is that global warming will make all the things 'he thinks' we should concentrate on, worse.

Rasmus Benestad - Norwegian Meteorological Institute "I personally find the name 'The Copenhagen Consensus' a misnomer because it does not reflect what it is all about - I think that 'The Lomborg exercise' would be a more appropriate name."

Lomborg should not be a part of any discussion on climate. Denmark’s Ministry of Science found him guilty of ‘Scientific Dishonesty’.

The DCSD cited 'The Skeptical Environmentalist' for:

  1. Fabrication of data
  2. Selective discarding of unwanted results (selective citation)
  3. Deliberately misleading use of statistical methods
  4. Distorted interpretation of conclusions
  5. Plagiarism
  6. Deliberate misinterpretation of others’ results.

The Method

Lomborg, with his, 'Copenhagen Consensus' looks at 10 problems based on cost and historical and current impact and then says what are the most important issues right now. This is short term thinking and it is not a stretch to say that this is narrow-minded thinking in the context of expected costs and impacts.

The Issues 2008


The 10 Challenges

  1. Air Pollution
  2. Conflicts
  3. Diseases
  4. Education
  5. Global warming
  6. Malnutrition and Hunger
  7. Sanitation and Water
  8. Subsidies and Trade Barriers
  9. Terrorism
  10. Women and Development

The Copenhagen Consensus Results

Old Source:

New Source:

Copenhagen Consensus 2008

The outcome of Copenhagen Consensus 2008:

Download the results as a PDF file

Micronutrient supplements for children (vitamin A and zinc)
The Doha development agenda
Micronutrient fortification (iron and salt iodization)
Expanded immunization coverage for children
Deworming and other nutrition programs at school
Malnutrition & Education
Lowering the price of schooling
Increase and improve girls’ schooling
Community-based nutrition promotion
Provide support for women’s reproductive role
Heart attack acute management
Malaria prevention and treatment
Tuberculosis case finding and treatment
R&D in low-carbon energy technologies
Global Warming
Bio-sand filters for household water treatment
Rural water supply
Conditional cash transfers
Peace-keepingin post‐conflict situations
HIV combination prevention
Total sanitation campaign
Improving surgical capacity at district hospital level
Improved stove intervention
Air Pollution
Large, multipurpose dam in Africa
Inspection and maintenance of diesel vehicles
Air Pollution
Low sulfur diesel for urban road vehicles
Air Pollution
Diesel vehicle particulate control technology
Air Pollution
Tobacco tax
R&D and mitigation
Global Warming
Mitigation only
Global Warming

Lomborg, with the Copenhagen Consensus wants to appear relevant and considerate from a scientific point of view, but in reality it appears that his thinking, and that of the consensus, is backwards.

  • Global Warming R&D and Mitigation come in last on the list, 29 & 30.
  • R&D in low carbon energies comes in at 14.

He places micronutrient supplements for children, immunization, lowering the price of schooling etc. above global warming without addressing the fact that as global warming progresses all these things on his list 'get worse and more expensive' because of 'Global Warming'.

The reasons why this is backwards:

  1. It is inconsiderate of the long term effects and costs of global warming in comparison to the other things on the list.
  2. It examines the past in order to judge future costs, which in this case has the opposite affect on economic capacity. In other words, all the things on the list get more expensive if global warming is not the top priority.
  3. Unfortunately (or conveniently), there is no possible way for this method to show climate change as important until it's historic cost and impact is felt economically in human society, and supersedes the costs of other issues.
  4. Due to thermal inertia, the longer we wait to deal with global warming the more costly and destructive it becomes.
  5. Lomborg and the consensus, with the method used, are not forward thinking, not prescient, and not wise.

This 'consensus report' undermines the critical importance of action regarding human caused climate change. Waiting substantially increases the cost of dealing with global warming, but also increases the cost of everything on Lomborg's list.

The lack of forward thinking will make everything he has been historically, and currently, ranking as top priority, much worse, not better.


It is reasonable to say right now, that the cost of climate change, if unattended, will not only dwarf all other listed issues economically (due to related cost amplification due to global warming), but will impact and challenge humankind's capacity to survive in a healthy natural environment such as the natural cycle would have provided had humans not interfered.

In other words, if governments listen to Lomborg, the costs of all of the above in his list will be exponentially higher than dealing with human caused climate change now.


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