The Magazine

Green with Rage

Why environmentalists throw pies at Bjorn Lomborg.

Feb 25, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 23 • By JAMES K. GLASSMAN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Even more distressing is the response to the book of E.O. Wilson, the Harvard biologist and prolific and celebrated author. He deplores what he calls "the Lomborg scam" because of "the extraordinary amount of scientific talent that has to be expended to combat [him] in the media. . . . [Mr. Lomborg and his kind] are a parasite load on scholars who earn success through the slow process of peer review and approval."

Back in the 1960s, campus radicals used to say that their demonstrations would provoke college administrators, the police, and government authorities into showing their "true nature." That is what Lomborg's book--unwittingly--has done with the environmental movement. What has he revealed? A petulant, angry, selfish child that whines that it must have its own way.

Wilson complains about wasting time, but what of Lomborg himself? He devotes 33 pages, with tiny type, on his website (www.lomborg.org) to refuting the criticisms of Schneider, Wilson, and the other Scientific American authors.

Lomborg's unruffled earnestness is admirable, and he is a wonderful witness for the prosecution. When he presented his views at a panel discussion I moderated at the American Enterprise Institute last October, he wore a T-shirt and jeans and drank water from a McDonald's cup. In an article this month in the American Enterprise magazine, Eli Lehrer aptly describes him as "a mild-mannered Danish statistics professor who believes in environmental protection laws, votes on the political left, avoids eating meat, and thinks that governments should redistribute wealth....The left-wing environmental movement hates him with a passion."

And this is the point. The environmental movement does not defend "science," as editor Rennie would have it. Rather, it uses science as a weapon to advance the cause, as Charles T. Rubin put it in his Weekly Standard review. In a letter to Scientific American, Matt Ridley, author of Genome, writes, "By the end of the four articles I was astonished to find that none of the critics had laid a glove on Lomborg. They . . . found only a few trivial misquotations and ellipses--mostly by distorting the point Lomborg was making." What Lomborg had revealed, said Ridley, was "a narrow but lucrative industry of environmental fund-raising that has a vested interest in claims of alarmism." Ridley continues, "Lomborg is as green as anybody else. But he recognizes that claims of universal environmental deterioration have not only been proved wrong often, but are a counsel of despair that distracts us from the many ways in which economic progress can produce environmental improvement as well."

Yes, but radical--or, more accurately, reactionary--environmentalism has become a religion, or a religion-substitute. Arguing from reason, with 2,930 footnotes, against The Litany may be as futile as arguing from reason against communism or fanatical Islam. Still, it's great to see someone try. What Lomborg is doing is precisely what Rennie claims that his four horsemen of the apocalypse are doing: defending science against lies and distortions.

James K. Glassman is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, host of the website TechCentralStation.com, and author of the new book "The Secret Code of the Superior Investor" (Crown).