POLITICS

Zakaria Presents Celebrated Pseudo-Science Charlatan As 'Very Smart' Environmental Thinker

Fareed Zakaria hosts a CNN show called Global Public Square, and because there are presumably a ton of cranks making their way through the public square, smelling of stale fruit and carrying block letter signage about how the CIA is beaming reruns of The Days And Nights Of Molly Dodd directly into their brains and making them itch uncontrollably, Zakaria feels obligated to give them equal time. An amibitous undertaking that features the likes of some of the intellectual world's least ambitious people.

People like Bjorn Lomborg, vacuous Ken Doll frontman to the environmental denier and delayer set. The Dane was featured on this past Sunday's iteration of GPS, and was presented to the audience as "extremely smart," and as "one of the world's best known global warming skeptics" - a term that Grist describes as inaccurate on the grounds that "skeptics...do not continue repeating arguments that have been discredited." Zakaria takes further pains to inform us that Lomborg "is not a scientist" but "an economist." Lomborg, however, goes on to demonstrate a startling inadequacy in both fields.

The first point Zakaria engages Lomborg on is his now famous take on polar bears. Lomborg is under the impression that his take on polar bears is "common sense proof" that the concerns of the greenhouse gas/Kyoto set are misallayed.

LOMBORG: Well, first of all, polar bears will probably have a problem, as global warming will cause diminishing and eventually disappearing some Arctic ice. But let's just remember two things. First, polar bear populations have probably increased threefold (ph) over the last 50 years. So, they're not immediately threatened. But the second part -- and the most important part is, what can we actually do? Well, if everybody did the Kyoto Protocol, including the U.S., and everybody lived up to this for the next 100 years, what would that actually mean to polar bears?

Well, if you do the models, it will probably save about one polar bear every year. Now, the cost would be about a couple hundred billion dollars. That's a lot of money to save one polar bear. And all I simply try to point out is, isn't that curious that we don't have a conversation about the fact that we shoot somewhere between 300 and 500 polar bears every year? So, shouldn't we stop shooting 300 polar bears first? Wouldn't that be smarter, cheaper, and ultimately much better for polar bears?

Uhm, as someone who has always advocated for negotiating with the polar bears without preconditions, I am personally okay with us making the promise to not shoot them, provided they do not force my hand. But this is pure pseudo-reasoning. In the first place, these animals are threatened - and even the Bush administration agrees: the United States Geological Survey "says we'll lose 2/3 of the world's current polar bear population by 2050 in a best-case scenario for Arctic ice."

Additionally, Lomborg seems to view the plight of the polar bears in complete isolation to all other external factors other than our thirst to shoot a few hundred of them every year. But the climate change - and Lomborg agrees that climate change is real and occuring ("Yes, global warming is real," quoth Lomborg) - is going to have broad effects on the habitat that the polar bears share, and once their food supply starts declining, we might think about shooting more of them, to put them out of their misery.

But Lomborg maintains that they "aren't immediately threatened" and in his book, Cool It, he has a daffy reason why: in the event of the loss of habitat, polar bears will "will increasingly take up a lifestyle similar to that of brown bears, from which they evolved."

That's right. Polar bears will UN-EVOLVE themselves. Here's what the people at ClimateProgress have to say about that:

Wikipedia notes:

According to both fossil and DNA evidence, the polar bear diverged from the brown bear roughly 200 thousand years ago; fossils show that between 10 and 20 thousand years ago the polar bear's molar teeth changed significantly from those of the brown bear.
Doh! Lomborg is giving the bears a few decades to undo tens of thousands of years of evolution.

And that's not just terrible science, that's terrible economics. If polar bears could pull off the reversal of hundreds of thousands of evolutionary trends in forty-two years, surely it would be smarter for them to evolve forward and seize control of the global economy to faciliate their own escape from the planet via spaceships. I thought Lomborg's whole raison d'etre is to point out how inefficiencies plague the pro-Kyoto side of the debate.

Perhaps that's why when Zakaria presses him on rising sea levels, Lomborg responds thusly:

LOMBORG: Take, for instance, sea level rise. Yes, it will be a problem. But to try to help, for instance, Bangladesh, by cutting carbon emissions is probably the least efficient way of helping, because it's going to lower sea level rise slightly by the end of the century. But of course, what really matters is that Bangladesh gets rich, so that they will defend themselves against sea level rise -- and also, all the other problems that they are going to be facing.

So, it's about saying, if you really want to help people, why is it we don't talk about how you could do so in the smartest possible way?

The smartest possible way is to hope that the Bangladeshis realize that they should want to be rich? Is there something in the air there that makes them not want to be prosperous and defend themselves against looming environmental demise? This isn't efficient thinking, it's the plot of an M. Night Shyalaman movie.

ZAKARIA: So, what you're really talking about is adaptation to global warming, rather than sort of preventing it from happening or slowing it down. Because what you're saying is, help the Bangladeshis build walls to stop the sea from coming in.

A lot of people would say the problem is, it's going to happen in all kinds of places -- hundreds and hundreds of cities, hundreds and hundreds of regions. And you can't possibly build walls everywhere. You can't adjust to every climate change. Far better to attack the root of the problem...

LOMBORG: Yes, yes.

ZAKARIA: ... which is the climate change itself.

LOMBORG: And it plays very much to our understanding. Yes, we ought to attack the root. But the honest answer is, no, we've done the models, and it turns out that it's much, much easier to actually, yes, prevent all these different places.

By building walls! The only way Lomborg's ideas could promote efficiency is if you could harness the energy of MY MIND REELING.