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Empty Gestures on Climate Change

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Empty Gestures on Climate Change

When climate campaigners urge people to change their everyday behavior, they trivialize the challenge of global warming. The one individual action that citizens could take that would make a real difference would be to demand a vast increase in spending on green-energy research and development.

MALMÖ – Switch to energy-efficient light bulbs, wash your clothes in cold water, eat less meat, recycle more, and buy an electric car: we are being bombarded with instructions from climate campaigners, environmentalists, and the media about the everyday steps we all must take to tackle climate change. Unfortunately, these appeals trivialize the challenge of global warming, and divert our attention from the huge technological and policy changes that are needed to combat it.1

For example, the British nature-documentary presenter and environmental campaigner David Attenborough was once asked what he as an individual would do to fight climate change. He promised to unplug his phone charger when it was not in use.

Attenborough’s heart is no doubt in the right place. But even if he consistently unplugs his charger for a year, the resulting reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions will be equivalent to less than one-half of one-thousandth of the average person’s annual CO2 emissions in the United Kingdom. Moreover, charging accounts for less than 1% of a phone’s energy needs; the other 99% is required to manufacture the handset and operate data centers and cell towers. Almost everywhere, these processes are heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

Attenborough is far from alone in believing that small gestures can have a meaningful impact on the climate. In fact, even much larger-sounding commitments deliver only limited reductions in CO2 emissions. For example, environmental activists emphasize the need to give up eating meat and driving fossil-fuel-powered cars. But, although I am a vegetarian and do not own a car, I believe we need to be honest about what such choices can achieve.

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Bjørn Lomborg Sings WSJ’s Same Old Climate Change Song: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Bjørn Lomborg Sings WSJ’s Same Old Climate Change Song: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Bjorn Lomborg’s latest op-ed in the Wall Street Journal resurrects repeatedly demolished distortions of fact to downplay the real and increasingly documented threats of climate change. His trademark tactic is to acknowledge that climate change is real and human-caused, only to then dismiss the solutions—reducing emissions and promoting clean energy now—as unnecessary or infeasible.

Fortunately, his longstanding fight against climate action is failing to persuade the public, as an overwhelming majority of Americans understand that climate change is a serious threat and that we’re already feeling the impacts. More to the point they support action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially through continued expansion of clean energy and new rules for coal-fired power plants.

Mr. Lomborg has relied on similar distortions for his arguments many times before, even drawing censure from the Danish government for his “perversion of the scientific method.”

After the release of Lomborg’s “deeply flawed” book The Skeptical Environmentalist, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science remarked that Lomborg’s work was a testament to the “vulnerability of the scientific process…to outright misrepresentation and distortion.” One researcher decided to fact check Lomborg’s claims, and had so much material that Yale published it as a book: The Lomborg Deception. In the book, Lomborg’s many sloppy citations and misleading myths are thoroughly debunked, but that hasn’t stopped him from repeating the same general arguments in years since.

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