Friday, May 15, 2015

Bjorn Lomborg demonstrates why universities should steer clear of him

Hat tip:  Greg Laden

Australia's do-nothing-on-climate government attempted to foist luckwarmist Lomborg on University of Western Australia, with a sweetener of a $4 million to take him. UWA's administration bent the knee so enthusiastically that they faceplanted, with the actual academics rising up successfully against having this guy join them.

While there are countless reasons why Lomborg doesn't belong at a university, his cover-up of how his "consensus" analysis deliberately underplays the impact of climate emissions shows the lack of honesty that should stop any university from associating with him. It's not just underplaying, it's how he covers up what he's done.

Here's the exchange in Danish newspapers (emphasis added, some typos corrected):

Kare Fog, a critic of Lomborg:
....Lomborg will presumably refer to his Copenhagen Consensus conference, where it is shown with - seemingly - matter-of-fact cost/benefit calculations that it pays better to solve other problems than global warming..... 
[The audience members] do not know that the figures have arisen by discounting calculations and that Lomborg has cheated in these calculations. He has used one discount rate for climate projects, and another discount rate for the remaining projects. 
 If he had used the same rate for all projects, an endeavour for the climate would have appeared much higher on the ranking list; it would have obtained a more favourable cost/benefit ratio than the endeavours against tuberculosis, malaria, child diseases and heart diseases....

Lomborg responding some days later:
Kåre Fog writes...that we in Copenhagen Consensus have "cheated with the calculations", because we have used one rate of interest for climate projects and another rate of interest for the remaining projects. 
This is simply wrong. Indeed, our Nobel laureates have stressed the importance of using the same rate of interest for all projects (which naturally is also the only fair approach), and this yields that solely CO2 cuts are an extraordinarily poor way of helping future generations....

Fog responds again:
....There really have been used different rates of interest. This appears from the papers in the Copenhagen consensus conference, and it has also been confirmed to me by one of the climate economists of the conference, Richard Tol.... 
...in Jamison´s text on diseases and in Horton´s text on malnutrition they will see that there has been used a discount rate of 3 percent (as prescribed by Lomborg) (the rate of discount is easily found by searching for the word "discount" in the text). But if they enter the climate papers, they will see that Yohe et al. has a discount rate of 4 to 5 percent, and Green has a discount rate of 4 percent.... 
[Green's] climate project gives a benefit/cost ratio of approximately 16 when he uses 4 percent, but if he uses 3 percent, like in the health projects, this yields a ratio of no less than 28.5.... 
So what does Lomborg do to ensure that the climate projects do not look so favorable? He has them evaluated at a more unfavorable rate of interest....

And then Lomborg again:
...KF claims that the health paper uses only a low rate of interest of 3%. This is wrong; on page 60 it clearly apears that the paper also evaluates a high 6 percent rate of interest.....all papers were asked to evaluate all projects at both 3 percent and 6 percent. In some fields, for instance the climate models, this is extraordinarily cumbersome, and therefore the climate economists chose one rate of interest "in the middle" and made a qualitative evaluation of the estimates at higher and lower rates of interest.
....all the papers have presented, as well as it is possible, costs and benefits for a range between 3 and 6 percent rate....the Nobel laureates insist on thereafter prioritizing all solutions at the same, consistent rate of interest.

Finally, the last from Fog:
....It is a rather large detective work to unravel how the calculations have been made, and especially it is unclear - remarkably unclear - how Lomborg has arrived from the particular cost/benefit calculations to the final ranking list.  
....It is actually true that all other projects than the climate projects have applied a rate of discount of three percent. In addition one has also worked out what the result would be with six percent, but the result of these supplementary calculations has not been used to rank the projects ...[Lomborg] has compared the profitability of non-climate-projects with a rate of three percent and of climate-projects with a rate of four-to-five percent. 
If the climate- and non-climate projects had been calculated with the same rate of interest, investment in climate technology would rank higher than vitamin A supplementation....Thus it must also be maintained that the project calculations are not comparable and that the ranking in Copenhagen Consensus is not worth the paper it is printed on.  
 I have actually waited for a long time when Lomborg would include this detail about the extra six percent as his next step in the process of confusing people....

None of this would have come out if Fog hadn't been as tenacious and knowledgeable, and if the Danish paper hadn't been willing to let the dialog happen. I expect in the vast majority of situations, Lomborg's initial denial would've been the end of it. He's another Benny Peiser, saying something he knows to be wrong when it's possible that the audience doesn't know.

My question for a university dean pondering whether to take the money and have Lomborg on campus is this:  does Lomborg's second response demonstrate whether his first response is honest? That first response demonstrates the quality of work you should expect. Then decide whether the money to take him in is enough.

17 comments:

David B. Benson said...

Off topic, except it shows that there is first rate work being done in Australia:
http://bravenewclimate.com/2015/05/15/potential-for-worldwide-displacement-of-fossil-fuel-electricity-by-nuclear-energy-in-three-decades-based-on-extrapolation-of-regional-deployment-data/

Mark Ryan said...

Love yer work, Eli.

It is of course no accident that Lomborg's preferred message does not appear in peer-reviewed literature. After he dropped "Nobel Laureates" for the umpteenth time, I particularly liked Fog's final paragraph:

"Lomborg has found five Nobel laureates who support his theses that one should do nothing about the climate...The fact that a deliberate humbug maker as Lomborg is able to associate some Nobel laureates as figureheads for his project (whereas other Nobel laureates clearly stay away) cannot be used as an argument that then the calculations must be OK. They clearly are not OK"

EliRabett said...

Not to take credit but Brian wrote the post, not Eli to be sure.

As to the Nobel Prize winners they are all economists of the libertarian persuasion as Eli has been told.

Mark Ryan said...

"As to the Nobel Prize winners they are all economists of the libertarian persuasion as Eli has been told."

OMG! Who knew?!

Andy S said...

There are some old but good zingers in Gary Yohe's Guardian article from 2008.

'Lomborg claims that our "bottom line is that benefits from global warming right now outweigh the costs" and that "[g]lobal warming will continue to be a net benefit until about 2070." This is a deliberate distortion of our conclusions. '

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/aug/22/climatechange.carbonemissions

Fernando Leanme said...

I haven´t seen anything solid to show that global warming harms the world´s economy at this time. On the other hand, I have seen enough to tell me it´s probably a benefit to this point. After all, the surface temperature has only increased 0.8 degrees C above preindustrial. I find it extremely comfortable as it is.

The continuous character assasination of Dr. Lomborg is really a sign of intolerance. This is getting pretty weird.

izenmeme said...

@-"I haven´t seen anything solid to show that global warming harms the world´s economy at this time. On the other hand, I have seen enough to tell me it´s probably a benefit to this point."

So the evidence is sufficient to falsify the null hypothesis - climate change has NO effect on the world economy - in one direction, as a positive benefit.?

I await with interest an indication of the source of this strong evidence capable of showing definitive positive benefit from global warming while remaining too uncertain to deduce any negative impacts.!

Barton Paul Levenson said...

LP: I haven´t seen anything solid to show that global warming harms the world´s economy at this time.

BPL: Drought doesn't harm the economy? Why don't you ask about that in Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Russia, Texas, or California? I understand the Texas drought has cost $12 billion so far.

snarkrates said...

Fernando,
So it doesn't bother you that Lomborg uses a different discount rate for climate change than for the other priorities to determine his ranking--and hides this fact by having both discount rates in the papers?

Bernard J. said...

"I haven't seen anything solid to show that global warming harms the world's economy at this time."

Go talk to Lloyds of London, or Munich Re. They'll enlighten you.


"On the other hand, I have seen enough to tell me it's probably a benefit to this point."

What exactly have you seen?

ibarringer said...

"all papers were asked to evaluate all projects at both 3 percent and 6 percent. In some fields, for instance the climate models, this is extraordinarily cumbersome..."

Hmmm. In my finance career I did hundreds of net present value and discounted cash flow calculations. And for each, changing the discount rate required... one keystroke per significant digit. I guess these economists aren't very good at Excel.

Lars Karlsson said...

Lomborg: "...all papers were asked to evaluate all projects at both 3 percent and 6 percent. In some fields, for instance the climate models, this is extraordinarily cumbersome, and therefore the climate economists chose one rate of interest "in the middle"..."

Why would that be cumbersome? If you have the undiscounted values for each year, applying different discount rates ought to be easy.

Hank Roberts said...

> I haven´t seen anything solid ...

As the guy who'd just jumped off the tall building said, on his way down.

That sort of self-centered short-horizon view gets tiresome.

It may explain why, although for good and obvious reasons there are no libertarians in airplanes, on the larger scale, Spaceship Earth has quite a few. They just can't see the horizons, I guess.

Russell Seitz said...

The claimed absence of libertarians in airplanes is a reflection of their absence from the TSA, which , since its inception , has wasted more human lifetimes on airport kabuki that Al Qaeda laid waste to on 9-11.

Long live general aviation- smoke em if you've got em .

Brandon R. Gates said...

Oh dear, how is it that I'm only just now finding out about this Ed guy. Fuck me running he's hilarious.

Lotharsson said...

"There are some old but good zingers in Gary Yohe's Guardian article from 2008"

It was recently pointed out to me that Lomborg and Yohe had a reconciliation of sorts and ended up with joint bylines on an article in The Guardian to explain it.

On the other hand, IIRC it was implied by the source pointing out this article that this meant that Yohe had no remaining significant critiques of the consensus methodology (at least for that year's project). This is not true, as the jointly written article indicates that

...a constrained "mitigation alone" option, failed the cost-benefit test because discounted benefits fell short of discounted costs. In the authors' opinion, however, this failure could be traced to faulty design. Allowing for more efficient allocation of mitigation efforts over time (with the major part of a reduction in the second half of the century), recognising uncertainty (including emissions scenarios that were higher and lower than the baseline), and/or including more timely participation by rapidly developing economies like China and India (the authors assumed that only developed countries constrained emissions before 2100) all pushed estimated benefits significantly above cost."

There's also discussion of the Chris Green proposal that Fog is referring to in the OP - and critiques of this option by the authors of the challenge paper (including Yohe).

The last sentence of the third last paragraph sounds eminently reasonable:

"In either case, we agree that adaptation, CO2-cuts and R&D in some combination are all necessary to tackle global warming."

This however appears to be distinctly at odds with the results of that particular Consensus Project, results that were AFAIK not changed to be more in line with this position after this position was publicly stated.

EliRabett said...

Basically Yohe decided it was not worth the time and effort needed to keep on and fudged the argument.

Lomborg ground him down, which he has not been able to do with Fog.