Bjorn Lomborg: just another Al Gore

For a while there, Bjorn Lomborg seemed to make a certain amount of sense when speaking about climate change issues.  Trained as a statistician, he correctly pointed out the uncertainty that should have been acknowledged by the scientists making wild claims about global warming, its effects and the supposed solutions. His emphasis on investment in adaptation was also well founded.

But the attraction of celebrity status seems to have gone to his head – check out his personal website – and he is about to release his own version of An Inconvenient Truth, a film called Cool It!  Cool … or not.

Without doubt, his wackiest idea is that the world (mmmmm) should invest some $100 billion dollars to encourage the development of low cost and efficient means of alternative energy.  This massive amount of money – gravy trains come on down – would be doled out to universities and research organisations.  And, gosh, may be they will be able to override the laws of thermodynamics as well.  It gives PICKING WINNERS new meaning altogether.

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44 Responses to Bjorn Lomborg: just another Al Gore

  1. C.L. says:

    But the attraction of celebrity status seems to have gone to his head.

    Yes.

  2. JackP says:

    Well, he did title his book, “The Sceptical Environmentalist”.

    I guess we’re just seeing that side of him now…

  3. Karl Kessel says:

    Lomborg has barely changed in his assessment in response to AGW. In The Skeptical Environmentalist he happily accepted the ‘hide the decline’ Hockey Stick of MBH98.

    In the book Cool It he advocates a lower figure of 30Bn instead of the figure he is now putting around.

    This response to AGW is also advocated by a number of other academics including Norhaus, Pielke, Schellenberger, Toll and others. Similar schemes has also been advocated by Google ( E < C ) and by Bill Gates.

    A low carbon tax that funds research is a far better response to AGW than trading schemes and high carbon taxes. It's worth having a look at the book 'The Climate Fix' by Roger Pielke Jnr where he points out that such a response is robust with regard to the science behind global warming, i.e. it doesn't depend on the catastrophe scenarios that are made up by various environmentalists and would be a reasonable response to fairly mild warming.

  4. ken n says:

    He’s always said that the solution would be technological and (being a Scandinavian) the search for that solution should be managed and paid for by governments.
    I believe this is a very expensive and inefficient way of managing the problem but he is partly on the right track: we will manage the problem the way we have always managed problems – by technology and adaptation.

  5. TerjeP says:

    The solution is largely technical. We could start with nuclear power which does not need much new research.

  6. Rafe says:

    YES Nuclear energy is the 800lb gorilla in the room. How come it is not up and running since we are selling uranium to the Russians!!!

    Lomborg made sense when he was a skeptical environmentalist and got up the noses of the faithful by pointing out that things were getting better, not worse.

    He also made sense when he suggested that we learn to live with warming instead of fighting it.

    But anyone who thinks that governments can be trusted to administer large amounts of research money needs to read Terence Kealey’s book again.

  7. John H. says:

    The solution is largely technical. We could start with nuclear power which does not need much new research.

    Perhaps not, a recent study challenges the idea of nuclear power for one very simple reason: it generates heaps of heat. Damn bugger, a real spanner in my works.

  8. JC says:

    Look, Lomborg has basically been a reasonable, calming voice with all the hysterics around. I just think he’s saying this to avoid criticism.

    It’s pretty instructive that they try to kick the crap out of lomborg simply because he thinks AGW needs to be costed and treated as a problem requiring well thought out solutions and also terms of trade offs.

    As terge says, about nuke. However I would add one more point to that if people are really worried about AGW they need to be reminded that nuclear power is there, so in effect the hysterics are just that as the solution is there.

    As for development in the nuke field. USEC a US enrichment company has taken another step in acquiring DoE funding for the American Centrifuge Project by demonstrating the technology.

    Hitachi took a significant position in the firm last year. To give an example of how astonishingly important tech advances may be, the centrifuge project is to replace the old technology developed from the 50’s and 60’s.

    It promises to lower the electricity bill used to spin the centrifuges by 95%!

  9. JC says:

    http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=93662&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1490710&highlight=

    USEC’s power bill is around $700 million annually which could drop by 95% using the new centrifuges to enrich uranium and re process weapons grade to civilian use.

  10. TerjeP says:

    a recent study challenges the idea of nuclear power for one very simple reason: it generates heaps of heat.

    The waste heat from a nuclear powered world can be used for desalination or, shock horror, wasted. Either way it is not a big deal. It won’t cook the planet and anybody suggesting it will hasn’t done the math.

    Nuclear is only a partial solution because the stationary energy sector is only one of many sources of man made CO2. However it is a major one.

  11. TerjeP says:

    See:-

    “Would 10,000 nuclear power stations cook the planet?”

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/02/26/nuclear-wont-cook-earth/

  12. TerjeP says:

    p.s. The major problem with nuclear is that it would take years and years of focused construction to build enough to start to decarbonise the electricity sector. On the flip side it would take orders of magnitude longer to do the same thing with any alternate zero carbon solution.

    Delay isn’t a smart move. We should start scaling up our nuclear capabilities. We need to train a lot of nuclear engineers and they won’t come until there is some guarantee of a secure sector to employ them.

  13. Adrian says:

    my feeling is that a sacrificial lamb will have to be offered up to mother Gaia to plecate the AGW faithful. Lomborg’s ‘solution’ is the best of a bad lot. I’d rather his idea than a carbon tax or carbon trading scheme.

  14. TerjeP says:

    Meh. A revenue neutral carbon tax is nothing to lose sleep over.

  15. Mother Hubbard's Dog says:

    I have to say that spending $100 billion on research is better than spending an equivalent sum on windmills and rooftop solar PV panels. Germany has spent 43 billion euros on solar panels and gets 1.1 % of its electricity in return.

    Even if the research doesn’t find a silver bullet (it won’t) there will, no doubt, be some useful spinoffs in unexpected areas. And maybe it will keep the scientists out of our hair for a while.

    Re why no silver bullet: the key issue is energy density. Power generation that relies on mechanical energy of any sort (wind, wave, hydroelectric) is using the least dense form of energy. Hence any infrastructure using these methods has to be ridiculously large to generate significant amounts of electricity, even assuming 100% efficiency. The same goes for solar panels. The incoming solar radiation is insufficiently powerful.

    The next step up in energy density is chemical energy, what we use when we burn coal, petrol or diesel fuel.

    The next step is nuclear, which has almost unimaginable energy density. E=mc squared. The result is that fission can provide all the energy needs for a sizeable city (say Sydney) for five years, by converting around 200 grams of matter into energy.

  16. Adrian says:

    no tax is ever really ‘revenue neutral’. consider transaction and complicance costs for instance.

  17. TerjeP says:

    Adrian – if it is used to abolish other taxes that have compliance costs, eg payroll tax, then I don’t think your generalisation holds true.

  18. John H. says:

    Terje,

    The study I have in mind came out last week so I’m not interested in discussions from old data. The latest study directly challenges some of the assumptions in that post you referenced.

  19. Mother Hubbard's Dog says:

    So, John H., are you going to tell us where we might find this latest study?

  20. John H. says:

    Global energy accumulation and net heat emission. Int. J. Global Warming, 2009, 1, 378-391

  21. hc says:

    It is disappointing that Judithy implicitly promotes delusional ideas on climate change., Its a real problem Judith and the uncertainty you write of cuts in both direction – things can be much worse than this.

    $100b is peanuts if it can help to reduce dependence on carbon-based fuels and signikficantly reduce the real threat of climate change. Its about the amount of aid developed countries offered at Copenhagen to give developing countries each year to reorient their power sector expansion plans to low carbon fuels.

    The US just spent $600b buying back Treasury bills!

  22. FDB says:

    Why not use the excess heat to generate further power?

  23. JC says:

    To Greens supporters like you perhaps $100 billion is peanuts Hare, but to regular people of average numeracy $100 billion isn’t chump change, champ. It’s real money.

    As for your comparison with the Fed buying bonds… Are you freaking serious? You think that’s an apt example? FFS man grow up or stop commenting about things you understand next to nothing about.

    Its about the amount of aid developed countries offered at Copenhagen to give developing countries each year to reorient their power sector expansion plans to low carbon fuels.

    To what? From logs to peddle pushers? Obviously they wouldn’t be able to use the money to buy coal plants which means the rich world was offering propellers on sticks and plastic panels.

    No wonder that stupid meeting was laughed off the air.

  24. JC says:

    Why not use the excess heat to generate further power?

    Because it’s a stupid idea, that’s why. How’s your ankle, FDB. They mended it?

  25. Mother Hubbard's Dog says:

    Thanks, John H. Anyone else interested in this paper can get a PDF here http://inderscience.metapress.com/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,23,24;journal,5,5;linkingpublicationresults,1:121488,1.

    My comment (I beg forgiveness in advance): this paper has hardly set the world on fire. Only 5 citations.

  26. Yobbo says:

    We are going to spend close to $100 billion dollars to get faster porn downloads. Bjorn’s suggestion doesn’t seem so bad in comparison.

  27. JC says:

    at least you may end up with fast porn downloading ability, but with this you’ll end up with nothing and more subsidy whoring after the money has been burned through.

  28. Chumpai says:

    Spending money on scientific research isn’t such a bad idea, I guess its bad it suddenly there’s an extra $100 billion to go around and a bunch of dodgy ideas get funded.

    But starting with $10 billion/year globally allows labs to take on more staff/students who publish results and (or get patents hopefully) then go on to compete for their own funding. They take on students/staff etc. Sure some bad ideas will get money but after failing to produce results they will be defunded – but at least you will have produced a cohort of highly skilled workers equipped to work on good ideas start their own businesses and so forth.

  29. JC says:

    It’s sort of happening now, Chump.

    The US DOE is potentially handing out a loan of $2 billion to USEC in order to build a far superior centrifuge system.

    That’s just a small part I know. I bet if we combed governments around the world there probably already is $100 billion being spent right now.

  30. Samuel J says:

    The future for energy is nuclear fusion. Unlimited and cheap. We just need to control it.

  31. FDB says:

    “We just need to control it.”

    And meanwhile..?

  32. Samuel J says:

    Meanwhile, FDB, we just continue the status quo and increase the use of nuclear fission. I’d be happy for a reactor in my backyard. It would help warm the house in winter and cool it in summer.

  33. FDB says:

    But who’s going to put the money into getting fusion up and running, when the horizon even for the next generation of fission keeps getting pushed back due (primarily) to technical problems needing loads of money to solve?

    You might be right that it’s the future – I hope you are – but unless you don’t believe carbon emissions are a problem (or that there’s unlimited uranium for fission), then it won’t come fast enough.

    JC – presumably you’re aware that heat can generate electricity. If not, then now you are.

    My question was a genuine one – anyone involved in power generation knows that heat can be used to generate electricity and presumably they’re not doing it with “excess” heat from nuclear reactors. Well, why not? What exactly is “excess” about heat in power generation anyway? It’s an absolutely crucial part of turning the potential energy of coal (or uranium) into electricity.

  34. JC says:

    JC – presumably you’re aware that heat can generate electricity. If not, then now you are

    You’re talking about the heat around the reactor where water is used to cool it?

    Doofus, you don’t want that freaking water to be piped somewhere else in case there’s a leak. You want the water enclosed in a secure area.

    Look genius, there are some really smart fucking geeks around in that business. Do you honestly think you’re the first person in the world to have thought about it. Don’t flatter yourself.

  35. Samuel J says:

    FDB – the status quo can run a while, but there will be a need for a huge increase in energy at some stage: then nuclear fusion will be the only candidate.

  36. PSC says:

    Look, Lomborg has basically been a reasonable, calming voice with all the hysterics around. I just think he’s saying this to avoid criticism.

    He’s been an absolute idjit. TSE is a long exercise in apples to oranges comparisons.

    For instance (from memeory):

    – comparing species surveys with red-book criteria extinctions.
    – the whole fisheries chapter.
    – the global warming chapter rests on the difference between the old broken UAH estimates and other temperature estimates.

    The major problem with nuclear is that it would take years and years of focused construction to build enough to start to decarbonise the electricity sector.

    Bollocks.

    The major problem with nuclear is the 10+ year lead time from nutty regulation. And the monster debt costs for a capital intensive project because any lender will price in the sovereign risk.

  37. Chumpai says:

    The major problem with nuclear is that it would take years and years of focused construction to build enough to start to decarbonise the electricity sector.

    If you look at South Korea they have built six 1000 MWe reactors since 1999 and are building another 8 1000-14000 MWe reactors between now and 2016. Yes its a long time but the optimist in me reckons that over 15 years we could probably build 10 large nuclear power plants with a combined capacity maybe 10-14,000 MWe (equivalent to ~30-40% of Australia’s current energy production).

    Add to that in 15 years you could import a hoard of small factory assembled 100 MWe reactors to power small towns, mining facilities etc.

  38. JC says:

    He’s not an idiot, PSC. He makes decent points about trade offs and makes the obvious observation except to scardy cats that there also is a cost of acting quickly and that it needs to be taken into account.

    He’s far from idiot.

  39. TerjeP says:

    Why not use the excess heat to generate further power?

    The laws of thermodynamics place a limit on how much work (eg to turn a generator) can be extracted from a heat engine (steam boiler). The waste heat isn’t due to bad design so much as limits imposed by the laws of physics. To get a more efficient heat engine (ie higher percentage of heat energy converted to electric energy) you need to increase the operating temperature of the plant. However there are diminishing returns and there are also physicaltemperature limits to available construction materials.

    For more on this read up on the Carnot cycle.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnot_cycle

  40. TerjeP says:

    Yes its a long time but the optimist in me reckons that over 15 years we could probably build 10 large nuclear power plants with a combined capacity maybe 10-14,000 MWe (equivalent to ~30-40% of Australia’s current energy production).

    I was focused on decarbonising on a global scale not on the national scale. And whilst you are probably right on a national scale we will have problems if we try that sort of ramp up on a global scale because we will soon hit a wall in terms of experts. Whilst Australia is an open economy and can import experts the world isn’t and can’t. To make matters worse a lot of the worlds current nuclear experts are old and due to die soon. We need to school up a new generation but would you go into uni to study for a job in this industry given the current politics?

  41. TerjeP says:

    Doofus, you don’t want that freaking water to be piped somewhere else in case there’s a leak. You want the water enclosed in a secure area.

    The cooling water isn’t radioactive and does not need to be secure. Except in so far as it is hot water and you don’t want burns from a scalding. And even if this wasn’t the case the need for security does not in itself preclude using the heat for some process. You can’t however get more electrical energy out of the system, secure or otherwise, than is physically permited by the Carnot cycle (discussed above).

  42. Alan Moran says:

    The warning signs were always there. From the outset he confidently predicted that wind would be cheaper tha coal based electricity by 2030. How? He extrapoated from trends using a straight line regression formula. At least if he had put an x squared into the formula he would have realised that early gains actually taper off.

    Now he wants to achieve his forecasts by a massive diversion of resources into dead end technological prospects.

  43. FDB says:

    Terje – that’s more or less what I had in mind. The nuclear plant itself is operating at such high temperatures that it’s inefficient to reintroduce heat from the cooling water to the reactor.

    But there are other forms of generation, and other uses for heat.

    i.e. Co-generation.

  44. TerjeP says:

    FDB – harvesting the heat to use as heat isn’t the same as using the heat to make electricity which is what you infered originally.

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