Foreword Thomas E Love

Ever a graduate student, I habitually turn to the back of a scholarly article or book to read the footnote or see what the citation actually is. Scholars do this not from some boring pedantic thoroughness, but rather out of true intellectual curiosity. As usual, I did that when reviewing the Skeptical Environmentalist for Scientific American. I remember my frustration at inadequate citations, so much so that I characterized them in the review as a "mirage in the desert." I reviewed only the forest and biodiversity aspects of the book as that was my particular expertise and assignment, and three others from different fields reviewed other aspects of the book. Little did I know that the entire volume was similarly flimsy.

I do recall at the time that fellow conservation biologists attending a Lomborg talk would correct his science, only to find the same assertions made in subsequent talks as if the corrections had never occurred. That left me disinclined to engage with Lomborg. Science and public understanding do not advance on the basis of assertions as opposed to conversations and discussion.

I do remember being puzzled at the time that Cambridge University Press had published the book, for surely a scholarly press would have picked up the problem in manuscript review. Later I came to understand that the review had been on the social science side of the Press even though the volume was in the Environmental Science list. So clearly there was a flaw in the reviewing process since it was an interdisciplinary subject. I still find it surprising the reviewer didn't question some of the assertions even if not an expert on environment from a scientific perspective.

Bjorn Lomborg was trained as an economist. Economics, of course, while contributing to environmental solutions in the case of some market based solutions like the sulfur markets in the United States, has some inherent difficulties in dealing with long term and big scale problems: witness the debate over discount rates between Sir Nicholas Stern and economists such as William Nordhaus. (The Stern Report excluded the use of discount rates because of the enormity and complicated time scales of climate change and its impacts.) The difference with the Lomborg approach is that Nordhaus is very rigorous: while using discount rates, he is impeccable about the understanding and use of physical and biological science.

In this work, Howard Friel does what nobody has done before, namely to systematically examine Lomborg's work citation by citation. This is no small task, so it is not surprising that this has not been undertaken until now.

Friel's work reveals the mirage to be pervasive, indeed, as big as the desert. This does not mean of, course, that everything that Lomborg writes is wrong or invalid but that it is a house of cards to a highly disturbing degree. Friel has used real scholarship to reveal the flimsy nature of the scholarly foundation of Lomborg's work.

What is unfortunate is that this took so long to come to light. A huge amount of time and energy has gone into addressing Lomborg's assertions, and the advance of policy about urgent environmental problems has been retarded.

The irony is that had Lomborg's scholarship been sound and some of the concerns of environmental scientists been demonstrated to have been incorrect, nobody would have been happier than scientists like myself. If there were not a grave and rapidly mushrooming biodiversity crisis, I could indulge in the intellectual joys of studying the marvels of life on Earth (my original motivation) without having to be concerned about biodiversity loss and ways to restrain it.

But environmental problems have indeed grown exponentially, with retreat of the Arctic ice, sea level rise now projected to rise a meter by century's end (and still probably underestimated), and the tipping point for dieback of the eastern half of the Amazon creeping closer. The rapidly changing global environment is beginning to seem like an Edgar Allan Poe short story.

In the meantime, the United States, once so much the global leader on environmental problems, is only now beginning to come to grips with environment and climate change. All along, like terriers nipping at heels, naysayers without the least qualifications delay and water down the process, and make the ultimate impact even greater for lack of strong and immediate action.

So let us hope a lesson has been learned, in particular that hope is false when based on poor scholarship. Even in this electronic age, where some students think any citation prior to the twenty-first century is irrelevant, and where it is so easy to troll for information in a cyber-world in which quality control is very uneven, it is still critical— with Kindle or whatever—to check the citation in the back of the book.

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