The Green Inquisition

From Project Syndicate

by Bjørn Lomborg

COPENHAGEN – When it comes to global warming, extreme scare stories abound. Al Gore, for example, famously claimed that a whopping six meters (20 feet) of sea-level rise would flood major cities around the world.

Gore’s scientific advisor, Jim Hansen from NASA, has even topped his protégé. Hansen suggests that there will eventually be sea-level rises of 24 meters (80 feet), with a six-meter rise happening just this century. Little wonder that fellow environmentalist Bill McKibben states that “we are engaging in a reckless drive-by drowning of much of the rest of the planet and much of the rest of creation.”

Given all the warnings, here is a slightly inconvenient truth: over the past two years, the global sea level hasn’t increased. It has slightly decreased . Since 1992, satellites orbiting the planet have measured the global sea level every 10 days with an amazing degree of accuracy – 3-4 millimeters (0.2 inches). For two years, sea levels have declined. (All of the data are available at

This doesn’t mean that global warming is not true. As we emit more CO2, over time the temperature will moderately increase, causing the sea to warm and expand somewhat. Thus, the sea-level rise is expected to pick up again. This is what the United Nations climate panel is telling us; the best models indicate a sea-level rise over this century of 18 to 59 centimeters (7-24 inches), with the typical estimate at 30 centimeters (one foot). This is not terrifying or even particularly scary – 30 centimeters is how much the sea rose over the last 150 years.

Simply put, we’re being force-fed vastly over-hyped scare stories. Proclaiming six meters of sea-level rise over this century contradicts thousands of UN scientists, and requires the sea-level rise to accelerate roughly 40-fold from today. Imagine how climate alarmists would play up the story if we actually saw an increase in the sea-level rise.

Increasingly, alarmists claim that we should not be allowed to hear such facts. In June, Hansen proclaimed that people who spread “disinformation” about global warming – CEOs, politicians, in fact anyone who doesn’t follow Hansen’s narrow definition of the “truth” – should literally be tried for crimes against humanity.

It is depressing to see a scientist – even a highly politicized one – calling for a latter-day Inquisition. Such a blatant attempt to curtail scientific inquiry and stifle free speech seems inexcusable.

But it is perhaps also a symptom of a broader problem. It is hard to keep up the climate panic as reality diverges from the alarmist predictions more than ever before: the global temperature has not risen over the past ten years, it has declined precipitously in the last year and a half, and studies show that it might not rise again before the middle of the next decade. With a global recession looming and high oil and food prices undermining the living standards of the Western middle class, it is becoming ever harder to sell the high-cost, inefficient Kyoto-style solution of drastic carbon cuts.

A much sounder approach than Kyoto and its successor would be to invest more in research and development of zero-carbon energy technologies – a cheaper, more effective way to truly solve the climate problem.

Hansen is not alone in trying to blame others for his message’s becoming harder to sell. Canada’s top environmentalist, David Suzuki, stated earlier this year that politicians “complicit in climate change” should be thrown in jail. Campaigner Mark Lynas envisions Nuremberg-style “international criminal tribunals” against those who dare to challenge the climate dogma. Clearly, this column places me at risk of incarceration by Hansen & Co.

But the globe’s real problem is not a series of inconvenient facts. It is that we have blocked out sensible solutions through an alarmist panic, leading to bad policies.

Consider one of the most significant steps taken to respond to climate change. Adopted because of the climate panic, bio-fuels were supposed to reduce CO2 emissions. Hansen described them as part of a “brighter future for the planet.” But using bio-fuels to combat climate change must rate as one of the poorest global “solutions” to any great challenge in recent times.

Bio-fuels essentially take food from mouths and puts it into cars. The grain required to fill the tank of an SUV with ethanol is enough to feed one African for a year. Thirty percent of this year’s corn production in the United States will be burned up on America’s highways. This has been possible only through subsidies that globally will total $15 billion this year alone.

Because increased demand for bio-fuels leads to cutting down carbon-rich forests, a 2008 Science study showed that the net effect of using them is not to cut CO2 emissions, but to double them. The rush towards bio-fuels has also strongly contributed to rising food prices, which have tipped another roughly 30 million people into starvation.

Because of climate panic, our attempts to mitigate climate change have provoked an unmitigated disaster. We will waste hundreds of billions of dollars, worsen global warming, and dramatically increase starvation.

We have to stop being scared silly, stop pursuing stupid policies, and start investing in smart long-term R&D. Accusations of “crimes against humanity” must cease. Indeed, the real offense is the alarmism that closes minds to the best ways to respond to climate change.


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Can we hear about actual science instead of op-eds by non-scientists who have been repeatedly embarrassed by their outrageous claims? It’s incredibly disingenuous to use two years of data to claim that sea levels aren’t rising. The long term trend is quite clear. 2004 & 2005 were lower than 2006, for example. This is absurd.

Given all the warnings, here is a slightly inconvenient truth: over the past two years, the global sea level hasn’t increased. It has slightly decreased .
You know as well as I – the instruments were faulty or miscalibrated. Trust me, the adjustments ARE coming.

Bill Marsh

Hmm, let’s see, Argos shows the oceans either not warming or ‘slight cooling’ and sea levels dropped the last two years…. coincidence?
Wonder if it’s ‘Thermal Contraction’? Plus, cooler oceans can absorb more CO2, which could set up a negative feedback cycle.
I was interested in Freeman Dyson’s estimate of 12 years for CO2 residence in the atmosphere. This is significantly shorter than the IPCC estimate of 200 years (at least I think that’s their estimate and the one used in GCMs I believe). If its 7 or 12 rather than 200 it would significantly impact model outcome.

Ron McCarley

The Lomborg article says that satellite accuracy since 1992 has been 3-4mm. I seem to remember that Jason altimetry accuracy was about 3.5cm, not mm as quoted in the article, and that they were hoping to get to 2.5cm or 25mm accuracy with the new Jason satellite. Am I incorrect?

Pierre Gosselin

Whe is the country going to wake up to these madmen?

Pierre Gosselin

Hansen has become your classic, story-book mad scientist.

George Bruce

Maybe if Hansen, et al, gained control of things, any skepticism of any aspect of the AGW theology will be classified as mental illness, thus justifying involuntary commitment to caring facilities until we “recovered.”
It would be for our own good……….and for the greater good.

Ron McCarley

I just checked the NASA website about the Jason satellite accuracy, and it appears to be 4cm, and I believe they eventually got to 35mm. What’s always confused me is how statements re: a rate of sea level rise of 3.0-3.5cm per year the last few years can be made when the satellite accuracy is 10 times greater. I must be missing something. Do multiple runs by a satellite tend to reduce the probability of error? How would we know for sure?

Leon Brozyna

A smart and level-headed look at the problem.
Al Gore’s looney tunes idea that the entire infrastructure on which our society is based can be converted in ten years will never get off the ground. The guy needs to get a grip.
A century ago Mr. Ford unveiled his Model T and it took decades for that innovation to transform the American landscape. A century before that, illumination was with candles and oil lamps {kerosene lamps didn’t appear until mid-19th century}. Any change to the current infrastructure can only happen when two things happen — the actual cost of energy supplies rise too high and the real cost of alternatives drop so that they become competitive. And I qualify these two conditions {actual & real} to make it clear that for such a change to happen successfully there should be no efforts at government manipulation to inflate costs of present technology or subsidies to create a false impression of value to a new energy source. Who knows what type of technological breakthroughs will occur over the next century.
Despite the fine writing in this article, there are still references to models which make me cringe. I wish I could now find a written critique of the problem with models that was written from the perspective of someone in the arena of microchip manufacture. The point was raised that in the manufacture of microchips (a closed system with limited known variables), the best they could get from models was about a 50% predictive capability. They then went on to question the value of a model for an open system with a huge number of variables, many still unknown. Right now, when I see someone refer to what a model predicts will happen in an open system, my response is, “You haven’t got a clue!”

Ron McCarley

Sorry, my mistake. 3.0-3.5 mm/yr.

Robert Wood

Peter, two years of dropping sea levels is very spectacular considerinfg the very clear trend hgas been going on since the last ice-age.

David Suzuki, too? I used to love his show when I was a kid.

David Segesta

Lomborg is an economist, not a scientist. He believes in AGW but suggests a rational approach to dealing with it. Among AGW’ers he’s like the designated driver in a room full of drunks.

A. Fucaloro

Re Jason’s accuracy: I do not know whether or not this is the case for Jason, but offer it for your consideration.
Scientists make a distinction between accuracy and precision. Accuracy is a measure of how close the value is to the “true” value, precision is related to the repeatability of measurements. Thus it is quite possible to have an accuracy of 3.5 cm and a precision of 3.5 mm. If this is the case, then annual comparisons on the order of 3.5 mm are valid. Again, I do not know if this is indeed the case.

Jeff B.

I agree with Pierre. Someone should do a YouTube video where a “Dr. Evil” like parody is made of Hansen. Hansen’s career will be reduced to a parody in short order.


I have been a fan of Bjørn Lomborg since I read his book, “The Skeptical Environmentalist”. I found it a great book and I highly recommend it!
What led me to the book originally, was the incredible number of negative reviews that were published. Reading them, you could tell the reviewers either didn’t understand the book, or were too fearful of the message that they had to quash it.
Instead, I found it written such that it was easily understandable as well as easily verifiable. He also proposes what should be obvious to everyone. Let’s think about how best to respond to the problems of the modern world – without the hysterics.


Great points!
0.0100% CO2 has absolutely zero (0) effects on you or me. How the hell can 0.0100% CO2 have “significant” effects on a planet?
It’s a trace gas folks. When is America going to wake up? We need to drill AND create renewable energy. Stop with the scare tactics.


Lake Superior was down 19 inches last summer. I wonder if 19 inches * 31,700 sq. miles ( 82,100 sq. km) of Lake Superior’s area adds up to in mm of sea level? Since the recent claim was that some of the sea level rise was held up in dams constructed during the last century, one has to wonder what kind of an impact a drop in the Great Lakes would have. Just sayin. Of course it recoverd that loss this year, I think, due to very heavy winter precipitation. Maybe that is the source of some of the rise and drop?


By the way, just to be clear. Lake Superior dropped due to Global Warming and rose due to weather. If you call BS, I suggest you google up the news on both events.

Ron McCarley

I’m looking at Jason-1 data that shows an orbit precision of 2cm after orbit stabilization, but don’t see any discussion linking precision/accuracy together. I’m still confused why, with such relatively big precision/accuracy errors, how can the science world make statements that sea level is rising significantly over the traditional sea level rise of 1.0-1.8mm per year? Does sea level rise in conjunction with Hansen’s rises?

Jeff B. (10:13:31) :
“I agree with Pierre. Someone should do a YouTube video where a “Dr. Evil” like parody is made of Hansen. Hansen’s career will be reduced to a parody in short order.”
If I may suggest a slight rewrite: Hansen’s career would, in short order, become broadly recognized as the parody it has become .

Tilo Reber

I’ve posted this chart here before. But since it is on subject I will post it again. We have actually had three years of no sea level rise.
But so as not to be too much on subject, here is a linear regression trend line run through the last century of sunspot data.

Ron McCarley

I hate to be a pest, but it looks like my day. If I understand the precision/accuracy argument for the Jason satellite correctly, it means that, if the satellite tells me that 2+2=5 every time, it has great precision even though the answer is never accurate. Doesn’t seem too valid to me. I don’t see how the precision argument helps when you’re talking about a sea level accuracy of 35mm, and the annual change that you’re measuring is 10 times less.


The Colorado graph clearly shows todays sea level to be BELOW the highest sea-level back in 2002/2003.
As the earth has cooled, sea level rise stopped and has retreated.
Thats science.
Hate-filled attacks on Lomborg for pointing it out makes you look like an inquisitor.
See level dropping is an “Inconvenient Truth”.


Well, re sea level, wikipedia says it’s risen 120 meters since the last glaciation. That would make it about 400 feet. I’m not sure that’s accurate.
In any case for the past 6 ice ages the fall and rise of sea level has been around 400 feet. A few months ago I read a series of pdf’s by a geologist in California, McClenney, I think, where he talked about this and said the sea still has a ways to go. He had photos of highstands still visible in California, and even accounting for uplift, showed the sea to be much higher than now during those times in the past 600,000 years. (the evidence prior to that has been erased.)
So the sea has risen since its last low point, probably hasn’t reached its high point before the next ice age and will continue to rise. I cannot imagine that the rate of rise has been absolutely constant over the past thousands of years and would expect the rate to fluctuate in the future.
Back to wikipedia, if I were the conspiratorial type, I would posit that the claim sea level has already risen 400 feet is to be able to make the claim that any further rise would be ‘unnatural’ and our own fault. I’ll leave it to others to investigate or not. 🙂

Charles Price

Ron McCarley #22
Here is a simple example of precision and accuracy. I once had a mercury thermometer with a glass bulb glued to a cardboard backing that contained the temperature scale. One day the bulb fell off and I glued it back on. But I screwed the position, so that when the tempurature was 70 degrees, my thermometer showed 75 degrees. If the temp rose to 70.5 degrees, my thermometer showed 75.5 degrees. In other words the precision was still quite good and I could easily detect a change in tempurature of only one half of a degree, but the accuracy was quite poor, since the individual readings were off by 5 degrees.
In this case the problem was simply poor calibration, but in a complex instrument there can be many effects that may compromise accuracy without affecting precision.

Tony Edwards

Ron McCarley, I think that I might be able to point out the difference to something that I have to do in my work (machining). Having measured, say, a hole, I read it as being 1.000″ in diameter, but my vernier had been recently dropped, so I have an uncertain error. However, if I machine a dowel to 1.000″, using the same, possibly inaccurate, vernier, then, because the vernier measures the item precisely, if wrongly, the dowel will fit. Accuracy, on the other hand has been lost, because there may be an error in the vernier, but I don’t know what it is.
Similarly, the Jason data may only be known to within 3.5 cm, but if the error is relatively constant, then, if the reading tomorrow is 3.6cm, then I can assume the level has gone up from the previous level by a very small amount, I just don’t know exactly what either levels are, just that day two is up by 0.1cm.
I think.


Countering the water being held back in dams, is the water that has been drained from the world’s aquifers over the last century. That has to account for some of the sea level rise.


It’s not that the answer is wrong, ala 2+2=5. It’s more like, sea level = 100M +/- 2.5cm. Then we take the same reading 100 times, and all readings are within 2.5mm of each other.

Ron McCarley

Re: Charles Price answer: The NASA site claims a pecision of 20mm and an accuracy of 35mm for the Jason satellite. It is unknown to me if they’re incorporating one into the other, but either one is much larger than the 3-3.5mm they claim for sea level rise for the past few years. I guess I get the difference between the two terms, but both seem to be way off from what they’re measuring.


Hansen has become your classic, story-book mad scientist.

Where are the giant robots? There are supposed to be giant robots!
Therefore, he’s not a mad scientist. Or not a scientist.


I assume you mean wind-powered giant robots?

Who would want a giant robot that only works 25% of the time; and, otherwise, just clutters up the place?

Toyota Mail

I agree!


Functional efficiency would be far less important than making sure recycling centers would be in place to deal with any wind-powered robots disabled by the hero.

Ron McCarley

I give up! I’m outnumbered. I’m going to assume that the orbital precision of 20mm doesn’t affect the measurement precision of the Jason satellite, and that even though the accuracy of the satellite is 35mm, its precision is on the order of 2-3mm. Anyway, I’m happy that sea level is dropping. It seems like it should have been with Argo temp numbers the way they are.


Peter — re sea levels Lomborg is merely pointing out that the prediction of drastic rising of the levels isn’t happening lately.
“It’s incredibly disingenuous to use two years of data to claim that sea levels aren’t rising.”
Too many of your persuasion miss the point of this and similar observations; e.g. recent temp coolings relative to what came before. You and yours point out that the long term trend is what matters, as if skeptics are somehow too stupid to fathom the obvious.
On the other hand, what’s repeated in movies and the media and so forth is some 6 feet of sea level rise by 2100, and a bit of quick arithmetic says that the **average** ought to be 18.3 mm per year. Bear in mind that was based on 6 FEET; imagine if I expanded the average annual rise to the actual 6 METER claim. …Hint: bigger number…
Lomborg is merely pointing out that we’re not seeing this, and backs it up with a small factoid to underscore the point, which from what I could tell, one has to work quite hard at to miss.

No more calls. We have a winner.


— Ron McCarley —
Forget the references to verniers etc as these are misleading. Accuracy is an indicator of the ability of an instrument to accurately measure across it’s field of view. If a rectangular field of view then the accuracy of being able to measure the same object in various places ought not exceed the 35mm figure stated. That is, the absolute spread of derived measurements has to be inside this number. The actual performance will generally follow the toolmaker’s rule, which essentially is that the precision of the instrument ought to be 10x smaller than what’s being measured.
What the vernier argument posited and what you think are similar in that the accuracy isn’t equivalent to the absolute calibration. This is a separate thing. The accuracy refers to the ability to get the correct measurement even if an object is not perfectly aligned in the instrument centre.
As for the precision, this number is generally a figure representing the absolute (guaranteed) 3 sigma repeatability. If 20 mm then what this means is that 99.7% of measurements will fall in the 20 mm range of actual. And again this is using the same toolmaker’s rule.
The upshot here is that assuming accuracy/precision is as stated that the numbers aren’t bad and the instrument is doing what is claimed.
Does this help?


Peter: “The long term trend is quite clear.”
The trend you link is 0,2 m every 100 years, and this is the normal sea level rise of the last 200 years. Also a sea level rise which the earth normally has occured since the beginning of the interglacial period 8000 years ago. (Before that the sea level rise was more like 200 cm every 100 years, constantly for 1000s of years.)
So what was your point?
[Personal attack deleted~Charles the Moderator]

Pamela Gray

I think someone should really invite Hansen to Wallowa County (pack long johns). It is 26.5 degrees colder than last year, 8.6 degrees colder than last month, and currently raining on all the baled hay still sitting in fields. Last week we had 32 degree frost on the ground. Looks like we will be getting frost on pumpkin BLOOMS way before we get frost on the pumpkin! Just sayin. Scare tactics? If Hansen wants to be scared, let him try some of our still snow bound mountain trails.

“This doesn’t mean that global warming is not true. As we emit more CO2, over time the temperature will moderately increase, causing the sea to warm and expand somewhat.”
C02 is absorbing most of what it can absorb, and it is about as powerful as a mouse pushing a huge boulder uphill compared to the sun’s influence and that of cosmic rays. A strong mouse? Yes, but still a mouse.
The idea that temperature will moderately increase is a theory, not a fact. To learn more from a true expert on sea levels look at the work of Morner.


“Countering the water being held back in dams, is the water that has been drained from the world’s aquifers over the last century.”
You don’t understand the game. You only count in one direction.


Peter. When it comes to sea level rise, it is of course not correct to mention a few years as a trend or sea level rise as something with relevance to long term mean values. Josh Willis in the Argo project, which measured the sea temperature, suggested that the sea level rise the last 4 years indicated that the temperature instruments had some error.
That’s stupid, I think.
Btw it seems actually as the sea level rise periodically has slowed down about every 11th year and actually during solar minimum. (I think Jennifer Marohasy mentioned this in a post):
Changes in clouds, precipitation and the atmosphere’s water vapor content may very well be an off set from the average (normal) sea level rise.
Finally: Criticize Lomborg for what he’s saying, not with comments he’s no scientist and that others has claimd he has errors (the site you linked for those errors I found extremely weak). Lomborg is an adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School and no one has claimed he is anything else.
What is Peter?
Please back down from the personal attacks, not just try to get around the proscription~Charles the moderator.

Ray Reynolds

MarkW, water withdrawn from the ground is often surplus water that would flow into an ocean or sea eventually. The use of that water short of mining the stuff (dropping the water table) may effect ocean levels but only while human make temporary use of it. Afterwards it either infiltrates back into the ground or is exposed to evaporation where it goes back into the water cycle.
Well, except that cache of water balloons my son has behind the rear fence.

Tilo Reber

“Hansen has become your classic, story-book mad scientist.”
For any of you that read Moby Dick, you know that Hansen’s psychological profile is almost perfectly described by Melville in the character of Captain Ahab.
It appears that Roy Spencer has just testified before the US Senate committee on environment. So at last they have had an opportunity to hear from someone not obsessed with killing the great white whale of global warming. And they have also been presented with an alternative cause for the warming that has been observed. This is going to have Hansen steaming and screaming. He will probably call for Spencer to be arrested and tried.
Here is Spencer’s testimony:


Ron McCarley (09:05:30) (and other times),
FWIW: I went and asked the Jason people about their measurement accuracy and they pointed me to:
I haven’t completely read it but it has the following statement a:bout the orbit measurement accuracy. I think (but am not yet sure) that the Z axis is altitude.

In the Z direction, the average of the mean ECF offset is at the 1-mm level with standard deviation of less than 4 mm and a ∼120-day periodicity

Don’t confuse orbital accuracy budget with precision. Think of accuracy as the known absolute altitude and the standard deviation (its repeatability, if you will) is the precision. Another way of putting it: don’t confuse measurement precision with the ‘true’ value confidence interval. Charles Price and Tony Edwards gave fairly good explanations.


Nils Axel Morner wrote a piece a few years ago in which he recounted the ‘handling’ of satellite data on sea level rise. The first ten years of data (1992 – 2002) showed zero trend up or down, which did not agree with the tide gauges preferred by the IPCC (Hong Kong, for example, where ground subsidence was occurring). So, the following year (2003) the satellite data was corrected by adding a 2.3 mm/year increase to the essentially flat raw data. Dr. Morner was, to say the least, apoplectic.
Based on satellite and tide gauge data, I’d say the recent (2 decades) annual sea level rise is 0 mm, +/- 5 mm.

Senator Boxer saw fit to point out during the hearing that Dr. Spencer is the “official climatologist” of the Excellence in Broadcasting Network, in an attempt to discredit his testimony.

Jack Simmons

The 19 inch drop in Lake Superior is equivalent to a change of 0.00186 inches (0.0472 millimeters) in the world’s oceans.
The oceans cover some 140 million square miles. It takes a lot of water to change the sea levels.
King Canute learned, if he didn’t already know, he could not stop the seas.
However, in his acceptance speech, Obama claimed he would stop the sea rising.
Maybe the sea is already obeying Obama, even before his election.