49 People to Save the Planet? And, one to kill it?

The Guardian‘s 50 People who could save the planet is an interesting mix. There are some that I’ve heard of and admire. Many that I’ve never heard of and now admire. And some who I’ve heard of and ‘admire’ is far from a word that I would use for them. 

What was their guiding principle?

50 people most able to prevent the continuing destruction of the planet

The article provides a lengthy and interesting discussion of their process for selecting the 50. There are great and well-known names (anyone heard of Al Gore) and far less celebrated ones (Madhav Subrmanian … see below). 

Some people made it to the final 50 not just because of their work but because – like the man who has found a simple way to save energy in a refrigerator, or the boy who collects impressive amounts of money for the protection of tigers – they represented a significant grassroots technological or social movement. And some got on the list because they were considered the driving forces behind the decision-makers.

Oh, yes, Madhav Subrmanian:

next generation’s face of conservation, a 12-year-old Indian boy who goes round Mumbai collecting money for tiger conservation. With his friends Kirat Singh, Sahir Doshi and Suraj Bishnoi, he set up Kids For Tigers which works in hundreds of schools. He writes poems, sings on the streets, sells merchandise and has collected Rs500,000 (£6,500) in two years. Conservation awareness is growing in middle-class India, largely through young activists like him.

The list is interesting, even if there are many that I would have liked to see on it, with many new names and faces to me that I will now explore.  There is, on first blush, only one truly outrageous name there:

Bjørn Lomborg, Statistician

Bjørn Lomborg, 42, has become an essential check and balance to runaway environmental excitement. In 2004, the Dane made his name as a green contrarian with his bestselling book The Skeptical Environmentalist, and outraged scientists and green groups around the world by arguing that many claims about global warming, overpopulation, energy resources, deforestation, species loss and water shortages are not supported by analysis. He was accused of scientific dishonesty, but cleared his name. He doesn’t dispute the science of climate change, but questions the priority it is given. He may look increasingly out of step, but Lomborg is one of the few academics prepared to challenge the consensus with credible data.

Where do we start screaming.  Yes, Lomborg was (massively)  criticized (see here, here,  here, here, and, well, all over: see Putting the Heat on Lomborg for a sampling). But, where and how did he “clear his name”?  This is news to me.  As to “credible data”, we really have to ask what is meant by “credible“:

credible, plausible: appearing to merit belief or acceptance; “a credible witness”; “a plausible story” capable of being believed; “completely credible testimony”; “credible information”

Yes, Lomborg does cite data that is “capable of being believed”, data that “appears to merit belief or acceptance”.  Yes, “credible data” for those who are willing to accept it at face value, without questioning or analysis.  Seeing Lomborg’s name on the list put a horrible taste in my mouth.

Yes, the Guardian has given us 49 people who might help save the planet with 1 who is helping destroy it.


2 responses to “49 People to Save the Planet? And, one to kill it?

  1. The Lomborg choice appears purposely contrarian, as if the writers wanted one choice totally out of left field. To me, the real problem not just the silly rationale — “Lomborg is one of the few academics prepared to challenge the consensus with credible data” — a ridiculous statement, given that his data and methods have been thoroughly discounted. The problem is that they put a contrarian on the list but not a single person advancing the proper science. The only scientist working on climate change on the list is Gavin Schmidt, but he is rewarded for the fine blog real climate, rather than for his actual climate research.

    The problem of course is you can’t easily pick on e climate scientist because the entire community is in agreement on the basics of climate change. That’s the problem with making lists like this: the outliers, like Lomborg, get rewarded, and the massive but more boring group in agreement gets ignored.

  2. The title of The Sceptical Environmentalist the author presents himself as a “skeptical
    environmentalist” and not as a “skeptical scientist.” Lomborg had argued in his book that claims by environmentalists about global warming, overpopulation, deforestation, and other matters are not scientifically substantiated. In March 2004, the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty stated that since its finding had been to acquit Lomborg of the charges of scientific dishonesty (although they had criticized his biased selection of data), there was no basis to re-open the investigation, and dismissed the case.
    In fact this appear a case:
    Despite over three decades of modern environmental laws,
    the proliferation of citizens groups, think tanks, and other
    organizations concerned with environmental issues, and
    the maturation of environmental law and policy into distinct
    fields of study, one still sees basically two warring
    camps, both politically and ideologically entrenched on
    opposite ends of the environmental battlefield. In many
    respects, the Lomborg conflict is simply the most recent
    example of this sort of staunch ‘environmental tribalism’
    (Kysar and Saltzman, 2003).

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