Sceptical Environmentalist mistaken and misleading

Bjørn Lomborg, the author of the notorious The Sceptical Environmentalist which questions the existence of environmental problems such as acid rain, climate change and water pollution by toxic chemicals, based his opinions on poor science, say a group of Danish scientists in their new book.

The Sceptical Environmentalist was published in August last year and was immediately welcomed by many national newspapers. Lomborg, an associate professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, “offers a message bound to win support: who would not like to hear that all is well, and that environmental problems will sort themselves out along the road?” say Christian Ege and Jeanne Lind Christiansen in a new report published by the Danish Ecological Council.

“Despite his limited knowledge of the environmental field, Lomborg’s exceedingly optimistic view of the state of the environment has been given a free ride by the media,” say Ege and Christiansen in Sceptical Questions and Sustainable Answers. “Lomborg presents himself as an impartial scholar, drawing conclusions on a well-founded basis.”

An example of Lomborg’s arguments is in the field of climate change. According to Jesper Gundermann, one of the authors, Lomborg’s claim that carbon dioxide concentrations are not all on the rise was based on erroneous data from Hawaiian measuring stations. With regard to the claim that increased concentrations are not necessarily caused by anthropogenic sources, Gundermann notes that the isotope composition of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the sea indicate that the increase is due to man-made emissions. However, he admits that there is still some uncertainty regarding individual items of the carbon balance.

Lomborg also notes that as the annual interchange of carbon dioxide between oceans and the atmosphere is 100 billion tonnes, the seven billion tonnes of anthropogenic carbon dioxide are of no consequence. Gundermann agrees that there is a large amount of carbon dioxide moving between the two media. However, he states that as ocean and atmospheric carbon dioxide are in near equilibrium there is constant movement, but the net movement is a mere one to two million tonnes – a fraction of the mass of man-made emissions.

The scientists have also counteracted Lomborg’s scepticism towards acid rain, which he describes as a myth of the 1980s. Following 15 years of research, there is widespread agreement that the causes of forest dieback are complex, says Per Gundersen, Senior Scientist at the Danish Forest and Landscape Research Institute.

In some regions, the direct impact of air pollution on leaves and needles of trees has played a major role. In other areas remote from the source of the pollution, impacts are indirect, says Gundersen. Strong acids wash essential nutrients out of the soil and increase concentrations of aluminium, impairing resilience to climatic stress and pests.

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