The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World / Edition 1

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Overview

Bjørn Lomborg, a former member of Greenpeace, challenges widely held beliefs that the world environmental situation is getting worse and worse in his new book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. Using statistical information from internationally recognized research institutes, Lomborg systematically examines a range of major environmental issues that feature prominently in headline news around the world, including pollution, biodiversity, fear of chemicals, and the greenhouse effect, and documents that the world has actually improved. He supports his arguments with over 2500 footnotes, allowing readers to check his sources. Lomborg criticizes the way many environmental organizations make selective and misleading use of scientific evidence and argues that we are making decisions about the use of our limited resources based on inaccurate or incomplete information. Concluding that there are more reasons for optimism than pessimism, he stresses the need for clear-headed prioritization of resources to tackle real, not imagined, problems. The Skeptical Environmentalist offers readers a non-partisan evaluation that serves as a useful corrective to the more alarmist accounts favored by campaign groups and the media. Bjørn Lomborg is an associate professor of statistics in the Department of Political Science at the University of Aarhus. When he started to investigate the statistics behind the current gloomy view of the environment, he was genuinely surprised. He published four lengthy articles in the leading Danish newspaper, including statistics documenting an ever-improving world, and unleashed the biggest post-war debate with more than 400 articles in all the major papers. Since then, Lomborg has been a frequent participant in the European debate on environmentalism on television, radio, and in newspapers.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is one of the most valuable books on public policy - not merely on environmental policy - to have been written for the intelligent general reader in the past ten years. The Skeptical Environmentalist is a triumph."
The Economist

"… a superbly documented and readable book."
The Wall Street Journal

"… it is a surprise to meet someone who calls himself an environmentalist but who asserts that things are getting better … Strange to say, the author of this happy thesis is not a steely-eyed economist at a conservative Washington think tank but a vegetarian, backpack-toting academic who was a member of Greenpeace for four years … The primary target of the books, a substantial work of analysis with almost 3000 footnotes, are statements made by environemtal organizations like the Worldwatch Institute, the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace. He refers to the persistently gloomy fate from these groups as the Litany, a collection of statements that he argues are exaggerations or outright myths."
The New York Times

"The Skeptical Environmentalist should be read by every environmentalist, so that the appalling errors of fact the environmental movement has made in the past are not repeated. A brilliant and powerful book."
Matt Ridley, author of Genome

"Lomborg pulls off the remarkable feat of welding the techno-optimism of the Internet age with a lefty's concern for the fate of the planet."
Rolling Stone

"Bjørn Lomborg is an outstanding representative of the 'new breed' of political scientists - mathematically-skilled and computer-adept. In this book he shows himself also to be a hardheaded, empirically oriented analyst. Surveying a vast amount of data and taking account of a wide range of more and less informed opinion about environmental threats facing the planet, he comes to a balanced assessment of which ones are real and which are over-hyped. In vigorous and what needs not to be done about those turning out to be pseudo-problems."
Jack Hirshleifer, University of California, Los Angeles

"Bjørn Lomborg raises the important question whether the costs of remedying the damage caused by environmental pollution are higher than the costs of the pollution itself. The answer is by no means straightforward. He has written a pioneering book."
Richard Rosecrance, University of California, Los Angeles

"When Lomborg concludes that 'the loss of the world's rainforests, of fertile agricultural land, the ozone layer and of the climate balance are terrible' I agree. But we also need debate, and this book provides us with that in generous amounts, incl 2428 footnotes. If you, like I do, belong to the people who dare to think the world is making some progress, but always with mistakes to be corrected, this book makes important reading."
Lars Kristoferson, Secretary General, WWF Sweden

"… probably the most important book on the environment ever written."
booksonline

"Lomborg is right on his points, that his critique of much green activism and its reporting in the media is just, and, above all, that where there is room for disagreement, Mr Lomborg invites and facilitates discussion, rather than seeking to silence it."
The Economist

Economist
This is one of the most valuable books on public policy not merely on environmental policy to have been written for the intelligent general reader in the past ten years.
Matt Ridley
...he has put his conclusions in a remarkable book, probably the most important book on the environment ever written. Its importance lies partly in its relentless statistics. With 173 charts, nine tables and a staggering 2,930 footnotes, The Skeptical Environmentalist will be a source of reference for years to come. But it is also a readable, accessible and simple account of the state of the world, told as much in the illuminating charts as in the text itself. And it is a fascinating polemic, too.
The Daily Telegraph (London)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521010689
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 12/14/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 515
  • Sales rank: 256,767
  • Product dimensions: 6.85 (w) x 9.72 (h) x 1.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Bjørn Lomborg is an Associate Professor of Statistics in the Department of Political Science, University of Aarhus, Denmark. He has published in international journals in the fields of game theory and computer simulations. He has given invited lectures on the subjects discussed in The Skeptical Environmentalist in leading universities in North America and Europe following the success of the original Danish edition which has had a significant impact on the terms of the environmental debate within Scandinavia.
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Table of Contents

Introduction; Part I. The Litany: 1. Things are getting better; 2. Why do we hear so much bad news?; Part II. Human Welfare: 3. Measuring human welfare; 4. Life expectancy and health; 5. Food and hunger; 6. Prosperity; 7. Conclusion; Part III. Can Human Prosperity Continue?: 8. Are we living on borrowed time?; 9. Will we have enough food; 10. Forests - are we losing them?; 11. Energy; 12. Non-energy resources; 13. Water; 14. Conclusion; Part IV. Pollution: 15. Air pollution; 16. Acid rain and forest death; 17. Indoor air pollution; 18. Allergies and asthma; 19. Water pollution; 20. Waste: running out of space?; 21. Conclusion; Part V. Tomorrow's Problems: 22. Our chemical fears; 23. Biodiversity; 24. Global warming; Part VI. The Real State of the World: 25. Predicament or progress?; Notes; Bibliography.
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Customer Reviews

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( 18 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2003

    Junk Science

    The false optimism of this book leave the reader with the impression that if we just close our eyes to the destruction of wetlands and rainforests and our mouths and noses to the increasing pollution in the air, everything will be just fine. The very premise of the book--that statistics about the environment are false--is backed up with other statistics designed by the author. I hope I'm not the only person to notice the hypocrisy there...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2003

    science? hardly

    Book Busted This book interested me, so I did some research. Apparently the book is not based on accurate science. Why? Read on... 'But now that the Danish Research Agency¿s Committees on Scientific Dishonesty has busted the author, contrarians may have to wait for a new treatise. After examining scientific criticism of The Skeptical Environmentalist (see 'Mixed Media,' March/April 2002), the Danish agency, which is akin to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, concluded that the book fell 'within the concept of scientific dishonesty' and 'was clearly contrary to the standards of good scientific practice.' But because Lomborg lacks 'any special scientific expertise,' the agency could not rule that he 'misled his readers deliberately or with gross negligence.' In other words, the committee did not accuse Lomborg of intentionally distorting science, but only of knowing too little science to be able to do so.For example, he assures us that the percentage of people starving in sub-Saharan Africa decreased from 38 to 33 percent between 1970 and 1996. What he doesn¿t mention is that the population of the region roughly doubled during this period, meaning that the actual number of starving people has greatly increased. This sly approach also lets him contend that acid rain is harmless to forests, by using a single graph that was never published in a peer-reviewed journal¿while conveniently ignoring numerous reputable forest studies that document serious damage. Similarly, Lomborg¿s estimate of extinction rates of .7 percent every 50 years is 15 to 40 times lower than that of almost all the qualified scientists who have studied extinction. To arrive at these figures, he juxtaposes the known number of extinct species against a total number of millions of species about which we have no information at all. Lomborg addresses global warming by choosing economic models that claim it¿s too costly to mandate reductions in carbon-based energy emissions. But then he assures us that emissions will decline anyway 'as we move towards ever cheaper renewable energy sources.' Technological change will somehow save the day even though his sources say that it¿s unaffordable. Like his predecessors¿, Lomborg¿s effort fails because of half-truths, super-selective use of data, and egregious misinterpretation. A better title might have been The Selective Opportunist. Lomborg¿s authority to write this book hinges on his environmentalist credentials¿which, apart from being endlessly promoted in news releases, are incredibly thin. Membership in Greenpeace in the 1980s hardly qualifies one as an environmental authority. One has to wonder if Cambridge University Press abandoned the normal protocol of peer review to publish a book by a statistician with no proven expertise in environmental science. This would be akin to a journal like Nature publishing, without review by an astronomer, an article on celestial motion by an accountant. ¿Jeffrey A. Harvey, Department of Multitrophic Interactions, Netherlands Institute of Ecology

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2002

    DANGEROUS GREENWASH

    the environmental threats to the earth have been well demonstrated by sound science expertise in stastics is not particulary useful to a general analysis of the subject area the attempts of industry to greenwash all the problems away is well demonstrated the respected journal THE ECOLOGIST reviewed it briefly giving the web site of environmental studies at the author's university as a critical reference, as stating that this book did not deserve any publicity this book deserves to be treated with extreme caution

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2014

    Given the choice, would you rather have a cardiac surgeon perfor

    Given the choice, would you rather have a cardiac surgeon perform your heart surgery or would you prefer your auto mechanic to perform the surgery.  Bjorn Lomborg is a Statistician and he’s NOT an Environmental Scientist.  The contents of the book are filled with cherry picked pieces of information that’s disingenuously reorganized to make it persuasive for the laymen.  This book represents the perfect example of quote, “The best lies are based on the truth, at least in part” - Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel.  Unfortunately, special interest groups now use this book as a tool for promoting their political and financial agendas which causes people to vote in ways against their own self-interest. 

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  • Posted March 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    REAL ENVIRONMENTALISM

    i might be UN-PC, politically incorrect... but i've been a real environmentalist since EARTH DAY ONE... i've cleaned streams... cleaned garbage... got my hands dirty

    this is why i like BJORN LOMBERG

    SCIENCE IS DISCUSSION... SCIENCE IS TRUTH... SCIENCE IS REPEATABLE

    he offers real science... real thinking.... NO DOGMA

    think impact... think choices... think less impact

    do your research... call the press and tell them what you find out... then tell CONGRESS... then tell THE WHITE HOUSE

    stand up and ASK why DATA IS DESTROYED.... ASK is there a HIDDEN AGENDA... be it PROFIT or GLOBAL GOVERNMENT...

    then stress real environmentalism... do more research... DEMAND LESS IMPACT FROM BUSINESS AND GOVERNMENT

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2005

    A balanced analysis of environmental issues

    This is an extremely critical book on a range of environmental topics. The approach is to examine the statistical basis of many assertions and observations regarding environmental issues, and focuses on long-term trends. The outcome of this analysis is that indeed environmental problems and concerns have been remediated, and the future looks very good. The book's findings challenges the prevailing paradigms of European bureacrats and American environmentalists and shows that the sky isn't falling, nor is it necessary to panic from short term observations. The key lesson is to verify before asserting and hyping a problem, to look at long-term trends and to use rigorous and quantitative methods to evaluate the results. That doesn't mean there aren't problems, but the good news is they can be addressed and solved, and most have been solved. I had to downgrade the rating because of the awkward writing style of the author. Frankly speaking, I fault the editors at Cambridge Univesity Press for (1) failing to properly edit the wordy text and rambling writing style, and (2)failing to make many of the diagrams self-contained. At one time, I taught for nearly 24 years at the University of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign, and if Lomborg's mansucript was turned in to me for a PhD (or Master's) dissertation, I would have required a massive rewrite before recommending acceptance and awarding the degree.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2004

    Those who panned the book didn't read it

    Outstanding analysis of the environmental debate. Those who gave the book 'one star' never read it. With 2930 footnotes and a 72 page bibliography Lomborg lays out ALL the accepted data (mainly from UN development agencies), rather than picking and choosing 'the sky is falling' items like the religious zealots who call themselves environmentalists. By putting things in perspective, voters can make better decisions on how best to allocate our resources to have the best life for everyone on the planet.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2003

    Lomberg vindicated

    Contrary to the reviews of others here, Lomberg has been cleared of charges of academic dishonesty and the committee that brought the charges against him has been publicly chastised by the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. It seems clear that the smear campaign conducted by the environmental lobby against this book is a result of their knowledge that Lomberg is correct. Get the facts by reading this book

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2003

    Whose science is the junk?

    Those put off reading this book by the report from the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSC), may be interested to note that on December 22, 2003 the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation severely repudiated this board. The DCSC report was, to be charitable, a piece of junk, but its conclusions, coming from an official body, have nonetheless been given prominent display in the world's media. The Ministry of Science characterized the DCSC's treatment of the case as 'dissatisfactory,' 'deserving criticism,' and 'emotional.' It found that the ruling was 'completely void of argumentation.' The DCSC relied for its ruling on excerpts from a Scientific American article. The only other evidence came from Time magazine. In its conclusion, the Ministry sent the case back to the DCSD 'with an injunction that the DCSD should allow itself to be advised by the Danish Social Science Research Council in matters regarding good scientific practice. In summary, the Ministry must also state that, in its opinion, the treatment by the DCSD of this case deserves criticism.'

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2003

    Vindicated by the Danes

    As some have previously alluded to, The Skeptical Environmentalist was under review from Danish courts. Only, this time, they actually managed to read the book and came to the same conclusions. This is a wonderful book with more facts, figures, references, and charts than any topic ever written on environmentalism and the political structures built around it. The decision in the court case is listed at http://www.techcentralstation.com/121703F.html

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2003

    Criminal Betrayal

    Those of us in the general public depend upon dedicated scientists objectively studying and presenting findings through the critical application of scientific method. It is a criminal betrayal and an intellectual travesty when political agendum are legitimized by misrepresenting falsehoods, deceptions and outright lies as 'scientific' results. Dr. Lomborg's book helps restore some integrity to the analysis of serious concerns that have been trivialized by the 'sky is falling' human hating arguments of the radical environmentalist.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2003

    Fine defence of creative industry

    Bjorn Lomborg, Associate Professor of Statistics at Denmark¿s Aarhus University, aims to allow us to see the real state of the world more clearly by confronting myths with data. He seeks to use only the best available statistical information from internationally recognised research institutes: 2930 references and a 70-page bibliography attest to the depth of his research into health, life expectancy, food, forests, resources, pollution and global warming. For example, we are constantly told that our forests are vanishing, but according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world¿s forests covered 40.24 million square kilometres in 1950, and 43.04 million in 1994. 80% of the world¿s original rainforest is still intact. The evidence that Lomborg presents undermines the misanthropic scare mongering of leading environmentalists like Paul Ehrlich, who said in 1967 that India was doomed. Lomborg explodes the Greens¿ litany of disaster and their liberal contempt for productive forces; he shows how wonderfully creative workers are, and how technological progress brings great benefits. Listening to some Greens, you would think that our factories produced only pollution! In the historic debate between the anti-industry parson Malthus and the pro-industry Marx, Lomborg is clearly with Marx. Unfortunately, Lomborg mistakenly credits `market economies¿, not workers¿ creativity, for this progress, although, as he notes, the most important welfare improvement of the last 50 years was achieved in post-revolutionary China, and the most significant worsening of welfare has happened in post-counter-revolutionary Russia and Eastern Europe. Some environmentalists mistakenly damn GM foods, pesticides, the chlorination of water and vaccination, technological achievements that all help to save us from killer diseases. As Lomborg points out, nobody has died from eating GM foods, or from cancer caused by pesticides, or from chlorination or vaccination. Banning GM foods and pesticides would reduce yields of fruit and veg, making them dearer and diets worse, and would therefore increase deaths from cancer. Peru didn¿t chlorinate its water, which resulted in the cholera epidemic of 1991. Falling rates of vaccination are increasing the risks of lethal epidemics. He does not ignore the huge problems facing the world: every year, ten million children under the age of five die of preventable diseases; 1.1 billion people still have no clean drinking water, and 2.5 billion have no access to sanitation. But to solve these problems, we need a clear-headed prioritisation of resources, not counsels of despair.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2002

    Bringing Sanity to the Debate

    Lomborg brings reason and sanity to the debate on the state of the world. The debate for the most part has been dominated by leftists political extremists posing as environmentalists. And, of course, the main stream media can not be relied on for accurate information. Lomborg fills a great vaccum.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2002

    Snake Oil

    In this book Mr. Lomburg proves to have a preoccupation with reality, and that¿s not a bad thing. It is very refreshing to find someone who can represent environmental science on a factual instead of fictional standing. It has been very frightening to watch the art of soothsaying elevated to the height of an actual science and then this so-called ¿science¿ used to achieve political power. As Stephen Schweider (global ¿cooling¿ scare/scam) has said, ¿Each of us (greens) has to decide the right balance between being effective and being honest¿ which in fact tells us our gullibility is no longer in question. The peer review process so often mentioned is no more than bad science ¿back patting¿. I have read the reviews in the so-called reputable publications and have found very little resembling objective science rebuffs. Instead they have resorted to emotional tantrums and irrational outbursts, which is typical of those not having a leg to stand on. One good thing did come out of reading these reviews though¿ it provides me with a very good guideline of what publications not to rely on for scientific insight. With this book Mr. Lomburg successfully weakened the cartoon foundation the greens have been building for so long. It is now up to ACTUAL scientists to knock it down altogether, re-take the intellectual high ground and prevent science from ever being used as a political weapon again. It¿s up to us to stop buying the snake oil.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2002

    Extraordinary.

    Very many people have been and will be upset by Lomborg's book. I personally was intrigued by it because I subscribed to two different publications that took opposite sides in their reviews of it, namely The Economist and Scientific American, both outstanding publications. I obviously liked the book -- I read it in practically one day, on vacation. If you listen to the negative press and avoid reading the book, you will be missing a chance to exercise your mind and challenge many preconceptions you may have about the state of the world today. After (or even before) you've read the book, track down the detailed negative review and point-by-point rebuttal that Lomborg submitted to Scientific American, on Sci Am's website or Lomborg's home page. Be warned, you're going to have to decide for yourself who speaks more clearly, who makes more sense. Lomborg notes (as do I) that many of the folks who are crying foul are those who are targeted in his book, and I note someone from the World Research Institute has also responded negatively on this site. Whomever you end up believing, it is clear that everyone who addresses environmental issues must come to terms with the facts raised in this book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2002

    Astonishing and provocative

    Lomborg makes a strong case that most of the environmental scares that consume newsprint are paper tigers. There are masses of data to support his arguments, which is very reassuring since there is enough for the reader to study the data themselves and draw one's own conclusions. He is certainly rather glib in places; for instance in discussing oil, he blithely adds up all the oil, compares it to consumption, and says we have at least 60 years left. This gives no consideration to the fact that the vast majority of the oil is found in the most unstable parts of the world. As an example of the kind of risk we run all the time and don't give a second thought to, he points out that plants are loaded with natural pesticides (because they can't defend themselves by running away) and these have measurable carcinogenic risks. The risk from coffee for instance if far higher than any synthetic pesticide, and alcohol is a hundred times higher again. It shows beautifully how people fear the unfamiliar to a much higher degree than is rational.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2002

    Finally a qualitative scientific evluation of the Environment

    We are doing some things right. We CAN improve the environment and the quality of life on this planet. The author of this book was skeptical about statements made by some American business men stating that the world environment was actually improving on many fronts. The author assigned his top students and researchers to debunk the statements. What they found was that a rational scientific analysis of the data clearly shows that WE ARE MAKING PROGRESS and that by most measures, the world environment is IMPROVING. This is not to say that we do not have a lot of work to do. We do. However we must make accurate measurements and assessments of the current conditions so that our efforts may be directed to the right places. All too frequently environmental groups such as Green Peace cry wolf and overstate a problem to the extent their credibility goes to zero. Read this book before taking any more gloom and doom statements at face value. Excellent book. Well researched. Very well documented with many references.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2001

    Skeptical About Bjorn's Book

    Healthy skepticism about extraordinary claims is a hallmark of good science. Such skepticism is useful in reading Bjorn Lomborg's new book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. In it, the Danish statistician makes extraordinary claims that environmental quality is improving around the world, and the environmental community is not telling the truth for its own cynical reasons. In making the case for a more rational and scientific debate on environmental issues, Lomborg commits the same sins for which he attacks environmentalists. He exaggerates, makes sweeping generalizations, presents false choices, is highly selective in his use of data and quotations and, frequently, is simply wrong. Lomborg paints a caricature of the environmental agenda based on sometimes mistaken views widely held 30 years ago, but to which no serious environmental institution today subscribes. Leading environmental groups are well aware of what biological and climate science tells us, they work with major corporations, and they pursue strategies based on providing information that allows people to make informed choices. Moreover, despite its 3000 footnotes, the book is riddled with misleading arguments and factual errors. For example, Lomborg asserts that ¿marine productivity has almost doubled since 1970.¿ While tons of fish taken from the sea have indeed doubled, many marine fish stocks are now badly depleted as a result and harvests of cod, swordfish, halibut, and many other commercially important species have crashed. Other commentaries, including those by Lomborg¿s colleagues at the University of Aarhus, can be found at the website of the World Resources Institute.

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