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The Danish “Skeptical Environmentalist” Beloved by American Conservatives

Bjorn Lomborg’s acceptance of global warming but denial of its consequences has earned him a regular gig in the Wall Street Journal.

Nicky Bonne/Redux
Danish author Bjorn Lomborg

Throughout September, as the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow approached, The Wall Street Journal ran a series of opinion articles by Bjorn Lomborg, a notorious climate “skeptic” from Denmark who has downplayed the threat of global warming. The articles purported to offer readers “a better understanding of the true effects of climate change and the real costs of climate policy”—a corrective, in other words, to the liberal hysteria around the issue.

A former statistics professor, Lomborg rose to prominence in 2001 with the English publication of his controversial book The Skeptical Environmentalist, which claimed to “measure the real state of the world”; the book accepted the reality of carbon-driven warming but concluded that if you “do the sums,” the cost of action would be greater than the cost of the warming itself. Lomborg was vegetarian, had belonged to Greenpeace, and came from a country known for sanity and social democracy, all of which gave him credibility as a truth-teller going against the grain of the radical left.

Two decades later, conservatives are mimicking Lomborg. Politicians have retreated from their empirical opposition to the scientific facts of climate change and fallen back on a kind of sociopolitical opposition. Senator Rick Scott of Florida, for instance, has said that he believes the government should address climate change, but “you can’t do it where you’re killing jobs.”

Lomborg’s new series relies on this misguided philosophy. After Hurricane Ida, he wrote that the number of landfalling hurricanes has decreased, brushing aside the way warmer oceans make these storms more powerful. In a column headlined “THE WORLD IS GETTING SAFER FROM FLOODS,” he used long-term statistics to minimize recent flood devastation. For his third column, he implied that global warming has reduced more cold deaths than it has caused heat deaths, as though the problem with climate change is that it would increase the absolute number of deaths on Earth per year.

Whatever the argumentative merits of these articles, their rhetorical purpose is clear. For conservatives at The Wall Street Journal no less than those at Breitbart, climate change is dangerous not because it threatens to mangle the planet but because it opens the door to progressive policies. The right would rather see the world fall apart than see governments enact major transformations to rein in fossil fuels. Thus the hardening consensus on the climate issue has come to resemble the conservative line on the coronavirus: The danger is not in the disease, but in the cure.