Bjorn Lomborg – Denmark

Linked with our presentations of The Copenhagen Consensus Center, and of the
Copenhagen Consensus 2006.

He says: “Environmentalists said Kyoto would be virtually cost-free, most countries are starting to realise that it will be very costly”.

And he says also: “Two hundred years ago, the left was an incredibly rational movement. It believed in encyclopedias, in hard facts, and in the idea that mastery of these basics would help make a better society. Since then, the world’s do-gooders have succumbed to romanticism, they’ve become more dreamy.”

Bjorn Lomborg - Denmark.jpg

Bjorn Lomborg – Denmark

TWO years ago, a Danish environmentalist called Bjorn Lomborg had an idea. We all want to make the world a better place but, given finite resources, we should look for the most cost-effective ways of doing so. He persuaded a bunch of economists, including three Nobel laureates, to draw up a list of priorities. They found that efforts to fight malnutrition and disease would save many lives at modest expense, whereas fighting global warming would cost a colossal amount and yield distant and uncertain rewards. That conclusion upset a lot of environmentalists. This week, another man who upsets a lot of people embraced it. John Bolton, America’s ambassador to the United Nations, said that Mr Lomborg’s “Copenhagen Consensus” (see articles) provided a useful way for the world body to get its priorities straight. Too often at the UN, said Mr Bolton, “everything is a priority”. The secretary-general is charged with carrying out 9,000 mandates, he said, and when you have 9,000 priorities you have none. So, over the weekend, Mr Bolton sat down with UN diplomats from seven other countries, including China and India but no Europeans, to rank 40 ways of tackling ten global crises.

The problems addressed were climate change, communicable diseases, war, education, financial instability, governance, malnutrition, migration, clean water and trade barriers. Given a notional $50 billion, how would the ambassadors spend it to make the world a better place? Their conclusions were strikingly similar to the Copenhagen Consensus. After hearing presentations from experts on each problem, they drew up a list of priorities. The top four were basic health care, better water and sanitation, more schools and better nutrition for children. Averting climate change came last. (Read the whole article on the Economist, June 22, 2006).

We essentially spend lots of money in the West, which is not intended to do good for all. This is true for money we spend on UK highways, UK health care and our private spending for vacations and food. But it is also true for UK military expenditure (which is clearly not spent primarily to do good for the rest of the world). So while it might be tempting to say we should do all good things, we should spend less on the military, that is really too easy – the military spending doesn’t come from the same ‘do-good’ pot. We are talking about how to spend extra money. Thus, this list is not implying we should recast the world and only do what is on top. Instead it means, as we do more, we should focus our increased efforts on the top priorities first. So. What do you think? What would your priority list look like? (Read the whole article on the Guardian, July 1, 2006).

A FEW years ago Bjorn Lomborg argued that with limited resources, to make the world a better place, we needed to give priority to global health and environmental issues and look at the most cost-effective way of achieving our long-term goals.So if we had a notional $2 billion to spend to make Australia an environmentally better and healthier place, what would we spend it on? Would climate change rank near the top? Would bird flu and the threat of a possible human pandemic be on our list, and would issues like indigenous health, the emerging HIV/AIDS crisis in the Pacific, obesity, workplace accidents or antibiotic resistance be among our priorities? Who decides such things? Is it government, big business, the media, or do they just seem to happen? Climate change and bird flu fall into the same category. They are both important and few would debate their potential impact, but no one knows how severe they will be, or in the case of bird flu, whether it might usher in a human flu pandemic. In the case of climate change, Lomborg has pointed out that the solutions so far advanced are extraordinarily expensive and perhaps we would do better to first confront some of the world’s pressing issues where we might be able to produce much needed change. It would appear that many leaders from developing countries would agree with him, and to them the real issues are basic health care, malnutrition, water and sanitation and more schools, not climate change. (Read all on Sydney Morning Herald, July 10, 2006).

NEW YORK–Bjorn Lomborg is a political scientist by training, but the charismatic, golden-haired Dane is offering me a history lesson. Two hundred years ago, he explains, sitting forward in his chair in this newspaper’s Manhattan offices, the left was an “incredibly rational movement.” It believed in “encyclopedias,” in hard facts, and in the idea that mastery of these basics would help “make a better society.” Since then, the world’s do-gooders have succumbed to “romanticism; they’ve become more dreamy.” This is a problem in his view, and so this “self-avowed slight lefty” is determined to nudge the whole world back toward “rationalism.” Well, if not the whole world, at least the people who matter. In Mr. Lomborg’s universe that means the lawmakers and bureaucrats who are charged with solving the world’s most pressing problems–HIV/AIDS, malaria, malnutrition, dirty water, trade barriers. This once-obscure Dane has in recent years risen to the status of international celebrity as the chief advocate of getting leaders to realize the world has limited resources to fix its problems, and that it therefore needs to prioritize. (Read more on PipelineNews, July 8,2006).

With Warren Buffett’s largesse added to his own, Bill Gates has about $60 billion to spend on health and development–how should he spend it? The Copenhagen Consensus, a group (and process) put together by Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg, coordinated a response to this question last year. The group commissioned papers from experts on the best life-saving interventions in various fields and then reached a consensus on what provided the best ‘bang for the buck’ if they were to be in charge of $50 billion to spend. Their conclusions could be of use to Mr. Gates.(Read more on American Enterprise Institute, July 19, 2006).

Mr. Lomborg is a realist. He doesn’t expect miracles from political leaders and bureaucrats, hoping instead for “getting it slightly less wrong.” An appropriately modest proposal from the skeptical environmentalist. Henry I. Miller, a physician and fellow at the Hoover Institution, headed the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology from 1989 to 1993. Barron’s selected his most recent book, “The Frankenfood Myth…” one of the 25 Best Books of 2004. (Read all on TCSdaily, July 14, 2006).

Book: The sceptical Environmentalist. Bjørn Lomborg challenges widely held beliefs that the global environment is progressively getting worse. Using statistical information from internationally recognized research institutes, Lomborg systematically examines a range of major environmental issues and documents that the global environment has actually improved. He supports his argument with over 2900 footnotes, allowing discerning readers to check his sources. Lomborg criticizes the way many environmental organizations make selective and misleading use of scientific data to influence decisions about the allocation of limited resources. The Skeptical Environmentalist is a useful corrective to the more alarmist accounts favored by green activists and the media. (Read reviews on his own website, and on

Bio: He is born on January 6 1965. He has a M.A. in political science (Cand.scient.pol.) 1991. A Ph.D. at the Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen in 1994. He is Assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Aarhus, from 1994 to 1996. And Associate professor same place, 1997-2005. Then Director of Denmark’s national Environmental Assessment Institute February 2002-July 2004. Organizer of the Copenhagen Consensus May 2004, prioritizing the best opportunities to the world’s big challenges. Today he is Adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School 2005-, and Director for the Copenhagen Consensus Center 2006-.

Bjørn Lomborg was named one of the 100 globally most influential people by Time magazine in April 2004. Foreign Policy and Prospect Magazine had him listed as the world’s 14th most influential intellectual in October 2005. He is adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, and author of the best-selling “The Skeptical Environmentalist”, where he challenges our understanding of the environment, and points out how we need to focus our attention on the most important problems first. His first book has been published in the major languages around the world and he is a frequent participant in the current debate, with commentaries in such places as New York Times, Wall St. Journal, Globe & Mail, The Guardian, The Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Times, The Australian, the Economist. He has also appeared on TV, such places as Politically Incorrect, ABC 60 minutes, CNN, BBC, CNBC, and PBS. (Read more on his website).
(He) … is a Danish political scientist and former director of the Environmental Assessment Institute in Copenhagen. He is most known for his best-selling controversial book The Skeptical Environmentalist. In the wake of the book’s publication, Lomborg was confronted with allegations of scientific dishonesty from members of the Danish scientific community. He is now an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School. Lomborg is also a vegetarian (although he is not a supporter of animal rights), and known to wear jeans to formal business meetings. According to an interview published in 2005 by the San Francisco Examiner, the book he would most liked to have written is Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Society, by Jared Diamond. (See all and more on wikipedia).

Letters in the Guardian;

Jared Diamond on our World People’s Blog;

A skeptical look at The Skeptical Environmentalist;

The truth about the environment;

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