Best-selling author Michael Crichton recently observed that environmentalism is a kind of pseudo-religion. He's right. Environmentalists have their own holy days (Earth Day, April 22), their saints (Rachel Carson, Jacques Cousteau), demons (George W. Bush), and Gardens of Eden (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). They also have their own Grand Inquisitor -- the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The Union's job is to hunt down heretics who desert the true faith. One of those is a Danish academic named Bjørn Lomborg. The green witch-hunters have been after him for the past three years.
Lomborg, a statistician, was once a member of Greenpeace, who believed in the green religion. But he began to doubt its articles of faith as he studied the facts about the environment. Eventually Lomborg reviewed all the latest research and compiled his findings in a 540-page book entitled The Skeptical Environmentalist, published in 2001.
Before long, the green version of the Inquisition began to hound Lomborg. Savage reviews of his book appeared in newspapers and journals, claiming the book was based on a "lie." The Union of Concerned Scientists even helped mobilize some of Lomborg's detractors.
In Denmark his enemies formally attack his scholarship. In January 2003, the oddly-named "Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty," a creation of the government-funded Danish Research Agency, sprang into action. Its verdict: Lomborg was "guilty" of "plagiarization" and "fabricating data."
Lomborg's "optimistic view of the world" made it impossible for scientists to credit his findings. The greens asserted that Lomborg tailored his book's conclusions to fit his belief that the global environment was in no danger of collapse. "[Lomborg's] values…regularly taint his conclusions," said one American reviewer, writing at the request of the Union.
But Lomborg has had the last laugh. Last week the Danish Ministry of Science overturned the January ruling. It found the Committee's judgment "completely void of argumentation."
Those who charge that Lomborg's research is clouded by bias would do well to look at their own history. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a strident political advocacy group conveniently based in the shade of Harvard at Cambridge, Massachusetts, typically interprets science to fit its politics.
In the 1980s it claimed President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) would never work. A Union spokesman said it would cost taxpayers $1 trillion to put 2,400 armed satellites in orbit to shield the U.S. against a Soviet missile attack. Persistent criticism finally forced the group to revise its figures downward -- to 800 satellites, then 300, and finally 162.
In 1984 the Union dropped all pretense to science or neutrality. Popular science writer Carl Sagan organized a 15-city tour by UCS members to bolster Democratic presidential
nominee Walter Mondale, an opponent of "Star Wars," in his unsuccessful campaign against President Reagan. In 1988, the Union and other "peace" groups opposed research on what's now called the "stealth bomber," claiming it would make war with the Soviet empire more likely. The Union lost that fight, too.
In 1992 the Union issued a "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity." This petition is no different from the jeremiads of Paul Ehrlich, Lester Brown, and other members of the environmental clerisy. None dare quarrel with their dark vision of the future. The “Warning” speaks of "vast human misery" and a planet left "irretrievably mutilated." Mankind "may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know."
However, the appeal hedges on the question of climate change. Increasing levels of gases in the atmosphere from human activities, including carbon dioxide released from fossil fuel burning and from deforestation, may alter climate on a global scale. Predictions of global warming are still uncertain -- with projected effects ranging from tolerable to very severe -- but the potential risks are very great.
"May alter"…. "still uncertain"… "projected effects"… "potential risks." The appeal calls on humanity to regulate its activities in order to fit the Union's fears about future climate change, despite the absence of certainty that climate change is actually taking place. Sounds like an example of how someone's "values" can "taint" their conclusions, doesn't it?
A more recent Union statement on climate change admits that the future remains "something that by definition cannot be known with certainty." But if that's true, then why should we willy-nilly accept the Union's claims about climate change? Why the rush to embark on a vast global policy program based on what is at the end of the day somebody's hunch about what could happen?
History shows that those who persecute heretics beget more heretics. The Union of Concerned Scientists' clumsy attempt to silence Bjørn Lomborg is sure to inspire more skeptical environmentalists.