False Alarm by Bjorn Lomborg [1/10]

As an actuary, I was taught to make risk-based calculations into the future using a three-stage approach: assiduously gather all data; carefully analyze all aspects; and reach conclusions. “False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet” came to me with great promise because, like many non-scientists, I need to “judge” the massively complex science of global warming because … well, because the fate of my grandchildren depends upon it. My political actions should be based on science and analysis, and certainly not “panicky.” I’m using to reading polemics on the broad subject of climate change, and I enjoy polar views expressed with zest, but what bothered me immediately with “False Alarm” was that it purports to not be a polemic but to tell us what the science reveals, yet its methodology is clearly shallow and unscientific. What made my reading task even harder was that Lomborg, a political scientist (is it possible that his specialty has blinded him to proper analysis?), writes cleanly and cogently; I could easily have been swept up. But as I walked carefully through the text, it quickly became clear to me that my first precept – to assiduously gather data – was not being met, as the author nitpicks data points out of context, snipes away at the edges of climate science (one of his favored techniques, no doubt familiar from politics, is to use one scientist’s discomfort with another’s conclusions to invalidate the established scientific view; it staggered me to see him using quotes from IPCC reports to discredit “extreme alarmism” while never referring to IPCC’s increasingly alarmed prognostications for the future of Earth and humanity under global warming; again and again, he did not absorb the IPCC data but cherry-picked random bits that appealed to his political message), decries alarmism, generalizes about humanity’s historical ability to mitigate, and then concludes some vague, slow-paced action in the future will make things all right. Let me make myself clear: I wanted to find gems of hope in this book but inordinate time spent reading his elegant prose in depth failed to find anything but a travesty of process. No doubt well meaning, Lomborg has ignored most of four decades of scientific research, has teased out some interesting analysis that fails to elucidate what the science says, and has recommended no future action beyond reassuring mitigation platitudes. If only, I sighed to myself, he had called the book “Don’t Listen to Science: Trust in Optimism” … then I might have enjoyed the read and recommended it. But for a book that claims to explain the science (and economics, don’t get me started on his work there), “False Alarm” is genuinely dangerous and I recommend you avoid it. Overall, I rate it 1/10 (avoiding 0/10 due to stylistic elegance).

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