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  Sierra Magazine
  November/December 2008
Table of Contents
 
  COLD SWEAT:
Ice Manliness Cometh
A Six-Dog-Power Engine
I (Heart) Snowshoeing
Skiing Yellowstone
Freeze-Frame
 
  MORE FEATURES:
Welcome Back to the World
Rotten Fish Tales
Big Fun in the Green Zone
 
  DEPARTMENTS:
Spout
Create
Enjoy
Hey Mr. Green
Smile
Act
Explore
Grapple
Comfort Zone
Mixed Media
Bulletin
Last Words
 
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Radio | Books

Books

The Selective Opportunist
The Skeptical Environmentalist, by Bjørn Lomborg, Cambridge University Press, $47.95 hardback; $17.95 paper

In the contrarian tradition of Gregg Easterbrook and the late Julian Simon, Danish statistician Bjørn Lomborg offers a new attempt to discredit environmentalists. His highly publicized Skeptical Environmentalist sets up a litany of problems related to food, water, forests, biodiversity, global warming, acid rain, and prosperity and then attempts to downplay most of them as vastly exaggerated. For example, he assures us that the percentage of people starving in sub-Saharan Africa decreased from 38 to 33 percent between 1970 and 1996. What he doesn’t mention is that the population of the region roughly doubled during this period, meaning that the actual number of starving people has greatly increased. This sly approach also lets him contend that acid rain is harmless to forests, by using a single graph that was never published in a peer-reviewed journal–while conveniently ignoring numerous reputable forest studies that document serious damage.

Similarly, Lomborg’s estimate of extinction rates of .7 percent every 50 years is 15 to 40 times lower than that of almost all the qualified scientists who have studied extinction. To arrive at these figures, he juxtaposes the known number of extinct species against a total number of millions of species about which we have no information at all.

Lomborg addresses global warming by choosing economic models that claim it’s too costly to mandate reductions in carbon-based energy emissions. But then he assures us that emissions will decline anyway "as we move towards ever cheaper renewable energy sources." Technological change will somehow save the day even though his sources say that it’s unaffordable.

Like his predecessors’, Lomborg’s effort fails because of half-truths, super-selective use of data, and egregious misinterpretation. A better title might have been The Selective Opportunist. Lomborg’s authority to write this book hinges on his environmentalist credentials–which, apart from being endlessly promoted in news releases, are incredibly thin. Membership in Greenpeace in the 1980s hardly qualifies one as an environmental authority. One has to wonder if Cambridge University Press abandoned the normal protocol of peer review to publish a book by a statistician with no proven expertise in environmental science. This would be akin to a journal like Nature publishing, without review by an astronomer, an article on celestial motion by an accountant.
Jeffrey A. Harvey, Department of Multitrophic Interactions, Netherlands Institute of Ecology

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope debated Bjørn Lomborg at Harvard College on March 13, 2003. You can read his remarks here. (pdf document)


New from Sierra Club Books
Two charming children’s books by artist/illustrator Barbara Bash are now available in paperback. In the Heart of the Village: The World of the Indian Banyan Tree explores the history and meaning of the sacred tree known as the Many Footed One, and its role in rural Indian culture, through lyrical prose and glowing watercolors. Ancient Ones: The World of the Old-Growth Douglas Fir delves deep into a lichen-covered terrain whose air is thick with the fragrance of decomposing needles, tracing the life of the stately conifer and the marbled murrelet, Douglas squirrel, millipede, and sow bug that call the forest home.

Order these titles from the Sierra Club Store by phone, (415) 977-5600, through our Web site, www.sierraclub.org/books, or by writing the store at 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.

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