The Bright Side
I interviewed Bjørn Lomborg, the self-styled ‘sceptical environmentalist’, for Third Way on the 11th January 2011 in the Copenhagen Consensus Center.
The accolades you have received – three years ago, for example, the Guardian called you ‘one of the 50 people who could save the planet’ – are quite extraordinary. Would the people who knew you as a child have been surprised?
I don’t know. I think they would probably say they always knew I was a little bit weird, but they didn’t know whether it was weird in a good way. I excelled academically, and certainly I knew too many long words.
What kind of upbringing did you have?
I was brought up by my mom, who’s a primary-school teacher – my dad died when I was very young. I’m an only child and I had a huge amount of love. I’ve always felt that the reason I’ve been able to do what I’ve done is fundamentally because my mom told me, ‘You’re just amazing and I love you.’ So, you know, I don’t feel quite the same need to know that everybody else does.
Was there any religion in your background?
The stepdad who was the primary guy who brought me up was a liberal Catholic priest, in the Rudolph Steiner theology – a slightly odd offshoot of Christianity that mixed in a little bit of Hinduism: the idea of rebirth and karma, that kind of thing. I think it’s plausible, but I’ve always felt that what really matters is not so much, you know, what is supposed to happen after you die as whether you’re a good person here in this world.
Has that been a major driver in your life, the desire to be a good person?
I think it’s crucial to accept that you have needs yourself – you want to have a good life and to do things that excite you – but at the same time these should at least have some social value. So, I think the honest answer is that doing some good has been a partial driver.
The reason I ask is that you have spent much of the last decade asking how we can do most good for humankind on a limited budget. For one man that might be just an academic exercise, but for another it could be a matter of passionate concern.
I really think it has to be both. For me, compassion is about stopping and thinking, ‘What is the smart thing to do?’ – and then doing it.
One of the points that I’ve tried to make, especially in the [debate about climate change] but also in a lot of different discussions, is that there’s a lot of feeling good in many of these arguments – ‘I’ve put up some solar panels, so I feel I have done some good.’ But what really matters is that you actually do some good, which is – sometimes at least – not the same thing.
What is your take on human nature? I get the impression that you’re quite an optimist.
I love these questions, because these are not really things that I think about very much – so forgive me if my answers are a little bit extempore.
I think human nature is not inherently good or evil. I think we have a strong tendency to look out for ourselves, but we have an amazing ability also to care for others. The trick is to set up social structures that make sure that people get the comfort and security that they need but also make it possible for us to not harm others and to show compassion.
And what is your take on the non-human world? I don’t know much about Steiner’s theology, but there is a strain in Catholicism that teaches that the world exists merely for our use and has no intrinsic value, but then there is the line taken by Francis of Assisi, who talked of the ox and the cow as our brother and sister.
Well, I would definitely tend to think more like Francis of Assisi. I’m a vegetarian because I don’t want to kill animals. Obviously, a cow is not the equal of a person, but there is definitely a moral obligation to keep animals alive as well. I think they have a right more than just to exist for our pleasure.
We’re often reminded that you used to be a supporter of Greenpeace. What did that support consist of, and what did it mean to you?
My support for Greenpeace was merely that I [gave them money], I wore their badge, I had their poster up in my room – you know, the one with the quote from the [Native American] chief (which, by the way, I later realised was fake): ‘When the last tree is cut, the last river poisoned, and the last fish dead, we will discover that we can’t eat money…’ For me, it was more of a statement, a way of saying: We’re not treating our world well. We need to do more for nature.
I felt strongly about it – you know, when the topic came up. I remember the oxygen depletion we had in the open seas around Denmark in 1986-87: I was 21, 22 and it was the first time I had that really visceral sense that the world is coming apart and we’re doing nothing about it. The fish were dying – there were lots of dead lobsters – and it was all Man’s fault. And I felt: Why can’t we get this right? How can we just despoil the planet?
But still it was on a fairly low level – I wasn’t out in a rubber dinghy. And it didn’t have to be Greenpeace; I could equally well have been a member of the Nature Conservancy or something else.
How did you become disillusioned with Greenpeace?
Well, I read an article in Wired by [the US ‘free-market environmentalist’] Julian Simon saying: ‘Contrary to what you believe, things are getting better.’ My immediate reaction was: ‘Right-wing propaganda! It can’t be true.’ I thought it would be fun to get my students to show that he was wrong, but as we went through it, we realised that a lot of the things he said were right – and when you think about it, it’s kind of obvious. Air quality is getting better, not worse. Water quality is getting better. People are better fed, they live longer, they are not as poor or as sick as they used to be. We’ve actually managed to do a lot of good things.
And yet we have this whole culture – and it’s much, much more than just Greenpeace – that we’re going in the wrong direction, that things are falling apart. Everyone – politicians, journalists and certainly scientists – are telling us that things are getting worse and worse. But that is actually not the case with many – not all, but many – of those important indicators.
You know, some of my friends have been debating with themselves for years: Is it right to bring kids into this world? Now, if the world is coming to an end, kind of thing, certainly it’s a very relevant thing to take into consideration; but imagine choosing to forgo one of the most wonderful things that life offers, just because you were misinformed!
The Damascus Road experience you have described puts me in mind that the apostle Paul was arguably just as dogmatic after his conversion as he was before it. Do you see yourself as someone who is always open to another change of mind, or was that enlightenment it?
I hope I’m able to change my mind. I’ve certainly said that whenever the evidence changes, I change with it.
Just to be clear, you are still green?
Absolutely. Obviously, I still recycle. I don’t own a car.
What I’ve rejected is the idea that this is the end of the world and that we must atone – you know, ‘Thou shalt not do’ all these things. No. What we should do is collectively make sure that we can get all the good things but without the bad things.
And your attitude to nature is one of prudence, maybe, but not reverence.
You know, I like the idea of the environment in general – I think most people do. I like the idea of having lots of whales, I like the idea of having untouched rainforests; but I also recognise that basically we have gotten rich by cutting down virtually all of our forests. Do we want to deny the people of Brazil the same opportunities? I think we could pay them for not cutting down the rainforest; but I also think we need to recognise that their needs are probably more important than the need for an extra hectare of forest when we have lots of it.
You place a heavy emphasis on cost-benefit analysis. From a moral point of view, it’s important to say that it has limitations, hasn’t it? What value could you put on the last pair of blue whales in existence, for example?
As you say, it’s clear that the world is not just an Excel sheet and you cannot just say: Here are the costs, here are the benefits and that’s it: in a sense we’ve made the decision already. But likewise we cannot ignore the fact that there are costs and benefits, and I see this analysis as a very important part of understanding our choices.
I’m pretty sure that if a whale was threatened with extinction, we’d find a way to stop that happening and we’d be willing to pay for it; but we’re not willing to pay for an extra beetle that we didn’t even know existed. So, in a sense you could say we are already implicitly making these sorts of cost-benefit analyses. Fortunately, most of our choices are not about exotic, extravagant things like the whale. They’re much more: What would you do to save this fairly anonymous beetle?
What if I could demonstrate that the Grand Canyon was worth more economically as a landfill site than as a tourist attraction?
Yes, but… My sense is that that is actually a faux conflict, because you’re taking the Grand Canyon, which we all sort of really, really love. We don’t put landfills in spectacular places exactly because there are really, really boring places that are a dime a dozen and that’s where we put our garbage dumps. So, we are making precisely these sorts of comparisons all the time.
Am I right that you take it as read that climate change is happening and that it is predominantly man-made?
Yes, yes, yes, yes.
In my 2010 edition of Cool It, you seem to argue that the threat is hugely exaggerated and you say: ‘It’s obvious that there are many other and more pressing issues.’
However, in Smart Solutions to Climate Change, which also came out last year, you say it’s ‘a challenge that humanity must confront … We actually have only one option: we all need to start seriously focusing, right now, on the most effective ways to fix global warming.’
It sounds like two different people speaking – and a lot of reviewers of Smart Solutions have said that you seem to have changed your tune.
OK, OK. My sense of what I say in Cool It – and I make these boldface points very up-front in the book – remember this was 2007 [originally] – is: Global warming is real, though it’s not the end of the world (as it’s often portrayed), but the current solutions aren’t working. We should impose a $2 carbon tax (now $7, because the facts have changed) and we should invest the revenue in research and development. And that’s just what we say in Smart Solutions. I really don’t see the difference.
But it’s important for me to say: we should be doing this, and should be doing it right now. It’s tragic that for 20 years we have been following a strategy that we kind of knew was not going to work. Kyoto-style solutions are very costly and will do very little good – which is the argument I’ve been pounding for the past 11 or 12 years.
What exactly is wrong with Kyoto?
Our problem, very simply, is: we burn fossil fuels that emit CO2, which causes global warming. Well, why don’t we stop using fossil fuels? That seems to be the obvious answer, and that’s what pretty much everybody has jumped on. What we forget is, we don’t burn fossil fuels to annoy Al Gore, we burn them because they power pretty much everything we like about civilisation. Which is why half the world’s population that is poor want to use much, much more of them. And so unless we can find another source of power that provides all the same benefits but doesn’t emit CO2, we’re never going to solve this.
We’re never going to be able to ask people: ‘Can you please do without all that fun stuff?’ And that’s why we need to take a step back and see that it’s not about cutting a little bit of CO2 now, to make ourselves feel good; it’s about cutting a lot in the long run that does good – and that means technology.
One of the other areas where technology solved the problem is food. In the 1970s, [the US ecologist, and author of The Population Bomb (1968),] Paul Ehrlich and others were basically saying: We’re not going to be able to feed the world. Their solution was sort of: Well, let a lot of them starve and maybe the rest of us should stop eating so much, or maybe go vegetarian.
I remember the slogan: ‘Live simply so that others may simply live.’
Yeah, yeah. And that was never going to work. The guy who solved the problem was [Norman Borlaug, ‘the father of the Green Revolution’], who found a smart way to make rice and wheat much smaller so that there would be much more. So, it’s about better technology.
Did you argue for investment in R&D 11 or 12 years ago?
No, because I didn’t know it was actually a good idea. That’s part of the reason why I worked with some of the biggest and best environmental economists to find other ways to tackle global warming. We were clearly coming to the conclusion that the current solutions weren’t working, and so that was what I was saying first.
You know, I was simply saying: There are lots of solutions [to problems such as malaria and HIV] that do work. Let’s spend money here! There are clearly solutions that don’t work – the Kyoto-style solutions – let’s not spend money here!
Your books have made a big thing of presenting us with choices: should we spend money on preventing climate change or on fighting malaria? (You say that for a mere $3 billion a year we could reduce its incidence by half.)
Many people say that these are false choices. After all, you helped to persuade countries such as the United States to reject Kyoto, but did they then spend their money on fighting malaria instead? No. And isn’t the reason that the rich world has not dealt with it not that we have squandered our resources on Kyoto but that we don’t care? Climate change affects us directly; malaria doesn’t.
Sure. But actually, if you look at [George W] Bush’s legacy, he was very focused on malaria. Some people from the National Security Council told me that one of the main reasons why he gave another $1.3 billion to malaria was because of the outcome of the first Copenhagen Consensus. But I’m not going to take credit for that.
I do believe, though, that lots of people actually do want to help people [in the developing world], but there is a tendency to focus on a few things that make the headlines, that sound scary and exciting – and that does suck some of the oxygen out of the conversation.
A lot of people see you as being naive – which is strange, perhaps, in a political scientist – because, rather than persuading the world to look for another way to tackle climate change, your denunciation of Kyoto in effect encouraged much of the world to do nothing at all.
Well, but listen, back in 2001 there was no other solution on the table. I would have loved to have been able to say, ‘In the future, we’ll have a better solution’…
But the bandwagon that started rolling, that global warming is ‘the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people’, if you didn’t actually give it a push, you at least gave it room to gain some momentum.
Well, I mean, I would find that a very strange argument. I would say that if anything it was the amazing exaggeration – however well-intentioned – that we’ve seen from Al Gore and many others, who have said that this is the end of the world and we’ve got to throw everything and the kitchen sink at it – these are the people who have made it possible for the [James] Inhofes of this world to go to the other extreme. The path that I’ve been trying to tread is, if you will, the middle road.
If we had started much sooner saying, ‘Right, Kyoto doesn’t work. Let’s start thinking about other, smarter ways!’… But 10 years ago when I said this, it was anathema and people were outraged that I would dare utter this – apostasy, is that the word? It had these religious overtones. And now everybody is basically saying, ‘Oh yeah, Kyoto is a dead end and it was never really going to work, and we need to find a smarter way.’
Nonetheless, the official policy is to keep on down the same road – there is huge inertia. The reaction to the breakdown in Copenhagen [in 2009] was not ‘We need to find a different approach,’ it was simply ‘Let’s wait a year and say the same things again in Cancún!’ And that is what they’ll do next year in Durban and then next year in Rio. You know, it’s almost mind-boggling.
OK, so you feel that we have wasted time –
– but you don’t feel in any way responsible for that?
No, no, no. I think that’s a crucial point. It is true we’ve wasted a lot of time, but it’s because everybody in power – except perhaps for Bush and his administration – has been saying: There’s only one solution, and it’s Kyoto-style. And Kyoto was dead before it was even born.
Is there anyone anywhere who you think is pushing in the right direction?
There are a few places where they are doing something better, but very under-the-radar. For instance, the Indians are taxing coal at the equivalent of half a dollar per tonne of CO2 and spending the money on research and development. But they’re not making a big show of it, because it still isn’t the PC thing to do.
As you yourself point out, there are many measures that could help to prevent climate change that are both simple and almost cost-free – for example, planting trees, painting rooftops white, reducing speed limits… Why aren’t we forging ahead with these things?
Well, I think to a very large extent this is exactly what we saw with Kyoto: there is one right solution – namely, cutting carbon emissions. And a large part of the impetus for that is a very, very different thing from actually solving global warming: it’s about, you know, ‘Cars are bad’ or something. What this is really about, I think, is that, no, we don’t want industry, we don’t want all this – You know, we want a smaller, cosier society in which we all care for each other and have more time.
I suppose that attitude may prevail at the deep green end of things…
Yes, and if you deviate from that deep green argument, you risk a lot of fallout – and that’s not very nice. In some ways my career has been a good example of that.
Do you really think that the political establishment is dominated by deep green thinking?
Well, listen, if you were Tony Blair would you want to get everybody’s accolades by saying, ‘We’re going to cut emissions’ or would you say, ‘We’re going to paint the roofs white and plant more trees’ and get all the greens on your neck saying you’re butting out?
I don’t know if you remember cold fusion – back in ’89 for a couple of months we actually thought it might be possible. The Los Angeles Times asked a lot of environmentalists what they thought of this and they were all furious about it, because it would mean, you know, we’d get all wasteful! But wait a minute! If this is clean, cheap energy, how can they be against it? But they were – which sort of suggests that there is a whole different layer of things below this that people are really against. Because if this was about solving the problem of global warming, we’d be asking: What solves it the cheapest?
And so adaptation [to climate change] was totally off the table in the Nineties, because people felt: If you talk about adaptation, people won’t care about cutting carbon emissions. And there is some truth to that. But, you know, if you don’t want to have all the solutions on the table, you’re essentially saying that you care more about the particular solution than actually solving the problem. And the same thing is happening now with geo-engineering.
There does seem to be a lack of vision, or courage…
Well, I think to a very large extent it’s because this is about symbolic politics. It’s about politicians saying, ‘I’m going to save the world.’ They have no interest in actually doing it. Blair made all these promises, but he never actually did anything. And if you do symbolic politics, you don’t want to screw it up by annoying the people who are going to be lauding you for saying it.
Joseph Stiglitz has estimated that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 will have cost the US $3 trillion by the time it’s all done. (I can’t imagine any economist arguing for that on a cost-benefit basis.) Why do we seem to find it so much easier to mobilise to go to war, say, than to deal with an environmental crisis?
I think we make pretty bad decisions when we all get riled up about something. I think there’s this sense that if you get scared enough, if you get wound up enough, that’s the way you have to go. And it seems to me that that’s exactly what we have done with climate. It was like the oxygen depletion in ’86: in five weeks, we made the biggest environmental decision ever in Denmark – because of these dead lobsters, essentially. We got into a panic and there was this sense, ‘We’ve got to do something – and here is something we know how to do.’ And it turned out to be incredibly costly.
I think in some ways it shows the danger of hyperbole – and that’s the argument that I’m making against climate-change policy, that it’s been driven by hyperbole and that, I would argue, is a large part of why we haven’t been able to do anything for the last 20 years.
The debate over man-made climate change is extremely heated, and the title Cool It can be read as a rebuke to both sides. You yourself have been likened to Hitler. How would you characterise the two sides of the debate? Do you see people as being ideologically driven? Is everyone honest, disinterested, serious, well-meaning?
I tend to think of most of the participants in this conversation as well-meaning and honest. Even the people who say that a lot of the science is very dodgy, it seems to me, spend a lot of time trying to find out whether that is true or not. So, I think they are well-intentioned – and I don’t doubt that Al Gore is.
Also, I just find that there is no point disputing people’s motivation: it just blocks any kind of conversation from the get-go. And of course what you have to remember is, it’s not about convincing Al Gore or Inhofe, it’s about convincing the people who believe those people; and so it really is about engaging everybody.
Are there no people on the sceptical side whose aim is merely to protect corporate interests?
Oh, yeah. I’m not naive in that sense. I would definitely believe that the people who are just being paid by PR companies probably have no particular moral qualms in saying, ‘Hey, if we can create more confusion, that will probably help our cause.’ But the people that I’ve met, the people who actually have some intellectual weight in this debate, it strikes me that they have serious intellectual reasons for believing what they do – even people like Fred Singer, [the environmental scientist who founded the climate-sceptic Science and Environmental Policy Project in 1990,] whom I would tend to disagree with very much.
On the other side, [the Nasa scientist] James Hansen is said to be ‘close to panic’, and you yourself – not being averse to being rhetorical yourself sometimes – have described people such as Nicholas Stern as ‘screaming’. Do you think these people are just being hysterical?
No. I’ve met Nicholas Stern a couple of times and we have debated, though he doesn’t want to debate with me any more. I think he’s a very good economist, but I think what he did in his report was pretty poor and it was very clear that it was a commissioned result. Again, I don’t doubt that he actually believes what he’s saying…
I don’t know about their psychology, but I think their analyses are wrong. I can only guess, but if Jim Hansen is panicky about the fact that we’re not doing anything, I would say: ‘Well, that’s because we’re barking up the wrong tree. We’re basically trying, again and again, the same solution that hasn’t worked for the last 20 years. We need to look at other solutions.’ And to a certain extent I think that’s the point that Jim Hansen has also gotten to – he advocates that we need to look a lot more at technology and at fourth-generation nuclear, that kind of thing.
Nicholas Stern, I think, has convinced himself that it’s going to be very costly if we don’t do something – though his [assessment] is vastly exaggerated from the numbers that he bases it on – and his estimate of the cost of a zero-carbon society is significantly underestimated. But he never actually did a cost-benefit, which I thought was on the verge of not intellectually sound.
In cost-benefit analysis, one has to set a ‘discount rate’ that makes a judgement about the interests of future generations and how much weight should be attached to them. You’ve set a very high discount rate, is that right, and Nicholas Stern has set a very low discount rate?
No, I’ve set a low discount rate and he’s set a ludicrously low one. Most governments will set a much, much higher one than the one I have used.
The fundamental point is that cost-benefit analysis gives implicit values to human lives and implicit values to the present versus the future. Broadly, there are two different ways to approach this. The empirical one says: Well, how much do we care about people? We know that in Denmark, for example, we will put in a roundabout (for £1 million or thereabouts) where at least one person is killed, but not otherwise – so it must be because we value a human life at £1 million. And that is validated in many different circumstances.
It’s also very clear that we give a Third World life about one-tenth of the value of a human life here. That makes people very uncomfortable, but the point is that we actually act that way – otherwise, we would place all our new hospitals there, for example. It’s very clear that those values are implicit in our system. Likewise with the future. If we cared infinitely about the future, we would just live on porridge and leave everything else to future generations – and we clearly don’t. We say: ‘I want a lot, and I’ll leave some for my kids.’ And that implicit value is the rate we used in our estimate.
The other approach is the ethical one that says that all human lives should be valued equally and the future should be just as important as the present.
Encapsulated, perhaps, in that saying ‘We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’
Yes, yes. But the point is that, certainly for the last two or three hundred years, every generation has been a lot better-off than their parents. So, should we leave even more for the future and just starve ourselves? If that is the case, it’s the case for every generation and so everybody should be living on porridge and leaving an ever larger mountain of stuff for the future – which is, you know, arguably very silly.
But we don’t. And so my real problem with the second approach is that we are analysing the world as it is, if you will, and simply saying, ‘If you take seriously the judgements you implicitly make, this is what your priorities should be,’ whereas Nicholas Stern is saying: ‘If you accept that everybody, now and in the future, ought to be equal, this is how the world should be.’
Now, that’s fine – but of course it has a lot of other consequences. We should be spending virtually all our money on the Third World, and likewise we should be saving virtually everything for the future. And we don’t. And so it seems to me that unless you’re willing to accept all the other implications of Nicholas Stern’s argument, it’s not really very helpful. In a sense, you could say it’s just constructed to say: ‘If we turn a blind eye to everything else, we should be doing more on climate.’ And that’s obvious.
It’s clear from the analysis in your books that we can be easily hoodwinked by people who sound authoritative. What can lay people do to avoid being manipulated?
Well, I mean, you shouldn’t trust Al Gore, who’s a journalist, and you shouldn’t trust Bjørn Lomborg, who’s a political scientist, either. For the science, you should look at what the IPCC tells you. But remember, they basically cut out cost-benefit from their purview in 1998 – you could say (and I’ve no idea whether that’s true) because it didn’t come up with the right answer.
And also, you know, use some of your pragmatic ‘street smarts’. When half the world’s population don’t have food, don’t have education, don’t have access to clean drinking water and sanitation, and a quarter of everybody who dies dies from easily curable infectious diseases, it’s quite obvious to me – and to most people on this planet – that there are other, more immediate issues that we need to fix. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fix global warming also, but it does mean that it cannot be our only priority and be sort of exaggerated…
But then there is your comment – you know the one I mean –
Yeah, ‘We need to move right now.’
‘We all need to move right now.’
But listen, that’s exactly the point that I try to make. If we taxed CO2 at $7 a tonne (which is what we’re saying is pretty much the damage cost of an extra tonne of CO2), it would raise about $250 billion worldwide, which is about what the EU 2020 policy is going to cost the world – to reduce temperatures by 0.05ºC by the end of the century!
If we spent that money differently, we could spend $100 billion on research and development into green energy technology. Fifty billion dollars would basically save everybody from the flooding that we’re expecting from global warming (and cool all the world’s cities). And that would leave about $100 billion to deal with all the other problems: we could give clean drinking water, food, sanitation, basic health care and education to everybody who needs them.
My point is that instead of doing the one thing we’ve signed up to, which is absolutely silly, we could actually fix global warming and its impacts and all the other major problems.
The world is spending a trillion dollars a year on all its armed forces. Why do you never comment on that?
Actually $1.2 [trillion]. The reason why we don’t is that we’ve tried to set priorities for spending that is meant to do good for other people, and most people would agree that military spending is not meant to benefit everyone else – apart, maybe, from the US: they might argue that that’s what their military spending is for.
Remember, we spend about 98 per cent of our money on ourselves. I don’t say we should stop doing that. There’s an argument, ‘Well, if we didn’t spend so much on lipstick, or dog food, we could save the whale,’ but I don’t think you’re ever going to change that – and I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with that. We can have a conversation about should we spend 1, 2 or 3 per cent of our money on the rest of the world, but it’s silly to talk about 10 per cent – and it’s certainly not going to be 50 per cent. But I’m simply saying: whatever the percentage is, shouldn’t we try to spend it in the best possible way?
The US biologist E O Wilson, reviewing The Skeptical Environmentalist in 2001, described your ‘sallies’ as ‘characterized by wilful ignorance, selective quotations, disregard for communication with genuine experts, and destructive campaigning to attract the attention of the media rather than scientists’. How do you react to that kind of comment? I could quote many more like that.
Well, it’s hard to react in one sentence, but you’re right, there are lots of those quotes out there.
I’ve never debated with him – not for lack of trying but he’s said that he doesn’t want to, you know, waste any energy on what I’ve been doing. But the people I have met who have made similar comments I think feel that we need to have some sort of Kyoto-style approach and since I say that’s bad, I must be wrong in every other way. When they realise that what I’m trying to point out is that it’s not helpful to say that sea-levels are going to rise 20 feet [by 2100] – because it’s not true and also because it panics us and makes us make bad decisions – and yes, global warming is real but Kyoto is just not going to work, so let’s try a different approach, I think people start to think: Oh, maybe he has some sort of point. I don’t think that most people will come over to my point of view, but I think most people will realise that I’m actually well-intentioned, I have good data – it doesn’t mean it’s the only data – and I have valid arguments that are actually worth a hearing.
I think the best example of that is Rajendra Pachauri, who was the one who compared me to Hitler – in 2010 he wrote a great blurb for my book. His conversion really happened when he met me a year and a half ago in Lindau, where there was a climate-change debate among four Nobels and me. We were sitting next to each other and he was sort of, ‘I find myself agreeing with Lomborg, but…’ There was constantly a ‘but’, but he was very surprised that I was a much nicer and much smarter and much more well-informed person than he expected. And also, I’m sure, he couldn’t really believe that a vegetarian could be a bad person!
But the point is, when people start realising that the arguments I’m making are not wholly bunk but are genuinely meant and fairly well substantiated, I think a lot of people gain a lot more respect for me.
Photographs © Andrew Firth
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