BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Friday, 27 February, 2004, 10:02 GMT
'Eco-myths are a gun to the head'
By Mark Kinver
BBC News Online

Dr Bjorn Lomborg, BBC
Bjorn Lomborg remains committed to his alternative green agenda

The scare tactics used by environmental groups to emphasise their green agenda is like having a gun held to the head.

That was the provocative message delivered in a lecture by Bjorn Lomborg, the author of the controversial book The Skeptical Environmentalist.

Dr Lomborg, whose best-selling writings angered greens around the world, told an invited audience in London that such tactics made people panic about an impending ecological meltdown and lose sight of what really mattered.

He used his lecture at the Adam Smith Institute, a right-wing think tank, to up the ante in a long-running feud with groups such as Greenpeace.

Environmental myths

Building upon his alternative views outlined in The Skeptical Environmentalist, he warned that the fixation with issues like global warming meant more important issues, such as access to clean drinking water, were missing out on vital funding.

Dr Lomborg argued that many of the beliefs held close to environmentalists' hearts - global warming, starvation and pollution - were red herrings in the green agenda.

He said the more that was spent in such areas, the less there was to spend in others.

"As all politicians love to point out, there is only one bag of money, so if we spend the more here then we can't also spend it somewhere else," he said.

"The idea I have, the metaphor I have for this myth that there is a doomsday, that things are going in the wrong direction, that we are somehow heading towards doom, is that we really have a gun to our heads and if we have a gun to our heads we are likely not to act rationally.

Gun to head

"If somebody comes up to you and puts a gun to your head and says give me your wallet, you are not going to stand around and say gee I really wanted to buy a toaster, you hand over the money."

It appeared as if the recent endorsement from the Danish government had given the sceptical environmentalist renewed vigour.

In January 2003, the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD) upheld claims by environmentalists that his book bent facts to suit his arguments.

However, Dr Lomborg, director of the Environmental Assessment Institute in Denmark, was absolved by the Danish Ministry of Science. It repudiated the DCSD's findings, describing them as "dissatisfactory".

Lone voice

The appreciative audience were certainly in no doubt who had the stronger argument when it came to the environment.

Dr Eamonn Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute, said Dr Lomborg was approached because the institute admired those who were willing to be a lone voice speaking out against conventional wisdom.

1998 - Controversial book first published
Sept 2001 - English version is published
Feb 2002 - First complaint to DCSD
Jan 2003 - DCSD passes 'scientific dishonesty' ruling
Dec 2003 - Danish government clears author of dishonesty
"He has opened up the entire debate on environmental policy by challenging the 'facts' environmental groups use to promote their doom stories."

When BBC News Online approached Greenpeace, who were not among the audience members for Dr Lomborg's lecture, for their reaction to the "gun to the head" analogy, they were far from impressed.

Greenpeace UK spokesman Ben Stewart said it was something the Dane used to hit the headlines, while hiding weak arguments.

"His work is flawed in several aspects but he still continues to travel around, banging it out to right-wing cheerleaders.

"Take his position on climate change; he accepts it exists and it is a result of human activity, yet he advocates doing absolutely nothing about it."

Gathering storm

Dr Lomborg was unrepentant. He told us: "We all want a Greenpeace that shouts about potential problems... but we should not trust them to be the sole source of information.

"In a democracy, you do have arguments but to skip the discussion and follow just one argument, that is a much scarier scenario."

It appears as if this stormy relationship is set to worsen. Dr Lomborg's Environmental Assessment Institute will host a major conference called Copenhagen Consensus at the end of May.

Its aim is to bring together leading opinion formers, scientists and academics to hammer out what problems facing the world should really be at the top of the agenda.

Guess what? Greenpeace are not invited.

  • An earlier version of this story included this quote from Dr Lomborg: "The myths about the environment have convinced people that we are heading in the wrong direction. This is not true. It is like a street criminal pointing a gun at you and demanding your money".

    These comments were taken from a copy of Dr Lomborg's speech made available to us before the event. Dr Lomborg used different words when he delivered the speech and these are now included in our report.

Lomborg celebrates ministry ruling
22 Dec 03  |  Science/Nature
Danish panel criticises Lomborg
08 Jan 03  |  Sci/Tech

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific