599 of 667 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2001
Worthy causes, whether religious, political or moral tend to see themselves as above the duty to provide evidence to substantiate both their claims about reality and the suitability of their proposed measures to improve said reality. To their believers, the state of the world is obvious (usually bad), and they are genuinely astonished to find that most people are unconcerned about the grave issues that drive them. Their natural reaction is to become even more feverish about their respective causes and to step up efforts to proselytise and convert the benighted masses.
Bjorn Lomborg started working on the issues that would eventually make up the content of his book by leading some of his statistics students into debunking some claims made by University of Maryland's professor Julian Simon. Julian Simon had claimed that things were actually getting better rather than worse, and that most negative environmental indicators were connected to poverty, violence and bad government rather than consumption or wealth. To their surprise (for he initially took Simon's claims as evidence of typical American arrogance), Lomborg and his students found that Simon was roughly right. It was true that things were getting better, and that many of the claims coming from environmental advocates were contradictory (for example they both dreaded global cooling in the 1970s and global warming in the 1990s as absolutely negative, although clearly both have benefits compared to each other, and neither is all bad), or tendentious (for example, advocates for particular causes often choose particular extreme years to show a negative tendency in a variable, while ignoring the long term trend), or simply shoddy (such as using a report on a tiny plot of slanting land in Belgium to extrapolate the global impact of erosion on land fertility). Lomborg published some articles discussing his findings on a left-leaning newspaper in Denmark, that greenest of countries, and was astonished at the public reaction. He decided to take upon himself a Gargantuan project, one that (I think) he couldn't possibly have thought through before embarking on it, or I predict he wouldn't have done it. He decided to review the state of the world from many, many angles, including humanity, all types of resources, animals and plants, as well as their interactions. The amount of work required to cover all these subjects, and to come up with data to back up his conclusions, must have been staggering. I have sometimes done this type of work, and I am in awe at Lomborg's achievement. It is truly a tour de force.
While I don't claim that everything Lomborg says makes perfect sense, or that all his data are correct (surely he won't deny his readers the right to apply skepticism to his own claims as well, and it is quite easy to use the WWW to check out his opponents' arguments), this is a rare book that attempts seriously to consider all facts from a variety of angles, which tries to answer objections or qualifications from opponents, and which carefully connects all the variables into a global picture, incorporating the temporal dimension both past and future. Lomborg is truly skeptical, in the sense of taking nothing for granted and approaching all the issues dispassionately. These are, as Descartes told us in his Discourse on the Method, some of the conditions for true knowledge. Reading Lomborg one sometimes feels like the light has been turned on or the mists have cleared on many topics. One is surprised to find many catastrophe-peddlers (such as Stanford's Dr. Erlich, who is unrepentant of the obvious failure of his predictions for the 1980s of widespread famine and scarce resources due to population growth) are still around and doing fairly well. At least Lomborg takes them to task, and finds them wanting in logic and veracity.
I predict (and it doesn't take Nostradamus to figure this out) that this book will be purchased by many people who normally wouldn't think of reading even a newspaper article on environmental concerns. Many of these probably won't make it through the entire book. In spite of Lomborg's great asides about his debates with WorldWatch and with Danish government ministers and his glee in demolishing yet another sophism, he is sometimes prolix, and there is a point were yet another chart showing that some metal's price has not gone up but down in the past hundred years is one too many. But let's not forget his calling (he is a statistician, although an unusually lively one), and let's not ask him from more than what he offers (which is a rational, dispassionate look at the environmentalist discourse). His chapter on global warming is both exhaustive and exhausting. I predict also that Mr. Lomborg will become a darling of the libertarian think tanks in the US and elsewhere, and a villain in the eyes of environmental organizations and their supporters. Both attitudes are mistaken. The only way to dismiss Mr. Lomborg is by showing that his data or his inferences from them are wrong. And, although roughly aligned with them on most issues, Mr. Lomborg is probably not of the libertarians' perspective (they should be scared if Mr. Lomborg decides to write a book testing many of the libertarian's claims, such as the trickle-down theory of economic development). Everything else is just taking things on faith, something Mr. Lomborg hasn't done. He is entitled to the same treatment.
49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2004
It is true that Lomborg's book does contain some errors. And that is why I am giving it only 4 Stars. But Lomborg has freely admitted them; More importantly, however, these minor mistakes do not undermine his main conclusion that the Earth's Environment is improving, rather than declining. We have had predictions of mass famine in the 1960's too due to the growing world population but the subsequent Green Revolution boosted crop production and supported the increased population. My point here is that Scientists and Prognosticators cannot predict the future. Personally, I do think that we should do more to curb Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions and increase Fuel Economy Standards in both Canada and the US. Having a higher gas or electric bill tends to focus one's mind on buying energy saving devices, light bulbs, etc. Having said that, we should equally NOT Demonise individuals such as Bjorn Lomborg who argue that the Earth's Environment is gradually improving rather than going to hell in a hand basket. Rather we should rationally examine the scientific facts first and then form a conclusion as Lomborg attempts to do in his book.
Some critics of Dr. Lomborg have referred to the January 2003 report by the Danish Commitee on Scientific Dishonesty(DCSD) as essentially discrediting the entire basis of The Skeptical Environmentalist. But, in fact, many lay people have pointed out serious flaws in the Methadology of DCSD's conclusions and on its refusal to give Lomborg prior to the release of their critical report. The Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation has now(December 2003) intervened to harshly criticised the DCSD's methadology and to repudiated their findings on Lomborg's book. Among the points cited is that firstly, the DCSD failed to substantiate its case against Lomborg's book and did not state where exactly Lomborg committed his alleged mistakes. In such a situation, Lomborg could not be expected to respond to the DCSD's critiques--which some have said merely copy Scientific American's previous criticisms of Lomborg's work.
Secondly, while DCSD emphasised that all scientific work should go through a peer review, they omitted to examine whether such a procedure had been done in Lomborg's case. In fact, Lomborg's book had, in fact, been reviewed by 4 recognised scientists prior to its publication by the Cambridge University Press. Thirdly, the Danish Ministry of Scienace, Technology and Innovation criticised the language and tone of DCSD's report as being highly emotional and error prone--in other words, somewhat unprofessional for a scholarly Committee.
Fourthly, DCSD's procedure of presenting Lomborg's case before 3 separate scientific Committees instead of the usual one was quite irregular and procedurally incorrect. Moreover with this new situation, a ruling which was issued by the Individual Committee within whose area of study Lomborg worked could be overturned by the 2 other Commitees. Fifthly, it was "clearly wrong" to deny Dr. Lomborg an opportunity to first defend his book before the Danish Commitee of Scientific Dishonesty prior to the Committee's release of its judgement. Finally, the Chairman of the Sub-committee in the Lomborg case came from the Health Sciences, rather than from the Social Sciences Department, which is Dr. Lomborg's field. I thought it was quite funny that this was the case--it wld be like asking a Biologist to study the work of Chemist and makes no sense at all!
In summary, the Janury 2003 DCSD ruling seems to have been intended as a hatchet job on Lomborg's work. Perhaps it was an attempt to discredit the views of those who don't subscribe to the Environmentalist viewpoint. But fortunately, there is some justice to this world and the DCSD report has now been publicly repudiated by the DCSD's own superiors. As Lomborg states after the release of the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation's report: "It has been hard, but I am happy that we now have confirmation that freedom of speech extends to Environmental debate. Now that this distraction is behind us, we can concentrate our efforts on matters of importance--namely how to prioritize our effort for the earth." I think he couldn't have said it better. One should let the scientific facts on the ground--rather than the angry rhetoric and threats emanating from Environmental groups and their supporters against both Lomborg or his publisher, Cambridge University Press--to control the debate over how to preserve the Earth's Environment for the benefit of our future generations. These actions strike me as an attempt to suppress dissent on such an important topic.
102 of 116 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2004
Lomborg has read through an impressive amount of scientific research and attempted to reach general conclusions about the state of the environment. Most of what he says in the book is true, but keep in mind that he has an agenda. He is trying to convince us not to worry so much about the environment. Whenever possible, he prefers to put a positive spin on the numbers.
Skip this book, and go straight to the online debates that followed. Specifically, what you want to read is Scientific American's angry 11 page reply to this book. Then read Lomborg's equally angry reply to Scientific American. You can find both of these on Google. Lomborg no longer posts Scientific American's original reply, but a group called Greenspirit has it up.
After you've done that, go to the Scientific American website and search for their follow up replies, which are in response to Lomborg's response to them.
If you read all of these, you'll have a pretty good idea of what the environmentalists and the anti-environmentalists agree on, and what they disagree on.
A lot of the debate boils down to "Is the glass half full, or half empty?" In his book, Lomborg essentially said at one point, "The environmentalists lied about endangered species! Only 0.7% of species are expected to go extinct over the next 50 years." Then Scientific American said, "Lomborg is trying to trick you! Thousands of species will go extinct over the next 50 years!" But, if you kept reading the debates, eventually you learned that , since there are millions of species, the numbers Lomborg was using meant the same thing as Scientific American's numbers. The only difference was, Lomborg represented the numbers in a way designed to make them seem good, but Scientific American prefered to write them in the way that made them seem bad.
44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2003
Contrary to what the critics are claiming, this book does not tell us "everything is alright". Basically what the book does is place al problems in context and then it tries to compare them so we can judge where our money makes the biggest difference.
But some people apparently don't like the resulting priorities like "we could give all people in the world food and clean water forever for less than the yearly costs of Kyoto". Notice that the writers sympathy is with the sick and starving, not with the wealthy.
What is so good about the book that the writer uses the most acclaimed sources in each field, so people that don't like the resulting priorities find themselves fighting their own conclusions.
As you've guessed from the title I've carefully read the 11 page Scientific American article, Lomboks even larger rebuttal, Scientific Americans reaction to that and finally the ruling of the DCSD (the Danish group of scientists that ruled him biased).
This Scientific American article uses a very heavyhanded and even rhetoric approach to stress that the critics are scientific heavyweights in their field, not te be disputed.
But after the dust clears only two factual errors (that are never relevant to the main theme) remain: (1) the tekst contains the term catalyse where it should have been electrolyze (translation error according to Lombok) and (2) a "20% dependence" on nuclear energy in nations having nuclear power should have been a "20% dependence for electric use".
So here's a book picked to pieces by heavywheights and these are the only factual mistakes they can find!
In his rebuttal (DO read it: I'cant put in web adresses here but you'll find it in no time) Lombok comes up with a long list of errors on the part of his critics. The obviously misleading quotings where the most annoying. Often his critics point a finger at Lombok for giving one view but not the other when Lombok gives exactly the same view not one paragraph later, really! Don't take my word for it but read the text.
I'm a long fan of Scientific American but Lombok is not nobody so I wanted to investigate. Since all the data was readily available I could do just that. It disturbs me to find that this journal so eagerly cooperated in what turns out to be a scientific witch hunt.
I've spent some time in academic circles and have many friends there. My estimate is that Lomboks "crime" is not that he has gotten his facts wrong but that he is a threat to the scientific powers that be. Their reputation and careers are on issues like global warming, energy depletion and population growth and they are viciously defending their turf. However, the political agenda surrounding these problems is too important for that attitude to be acceptable.
This book is an excellent overview of what it says it is. If you want to make you political decisions better informed and your outlook less pessimistic then this book is perfect for you.
128 of 148 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2002
Whatever your views about the state of the Earth are, they are bound to be shaken by "The Skeptical Environmentalist".
This book will challenge you to think that the world is not getting more and more polluted but, rather, the opposite, that world population is not growing out of control, that we are getting healthier and richer, that fewer people die of starvation every year, that deforestation is not happening on an alarming scale and that the extent of global warming may have been grossly overestimated.
Surely these statements will raise quite a few eyebrows among most of us since we are regularly told by the environmental organisations that our modern lifestyle is endangering the life of the planet.
The irony of this book is that Lomborg originally started his investigation with the aim of challenging the views of Julian Simon, an economist critic of the green movement. Lomborg, a former Greenpeace activist, set off to prove him wrong using the sources commonly quoted by environmental activists. Much to his surprise he came to the conclusion that Simon was right on most issues. Lomborg thus turned himself into a "skeptical environmentalist".
While some scientists have praised Lomborg's effort to put environmental issues through a tough scrutiny, many more have accused him of distorting the truth and misleading the public.
Most of these accusations are unfair. Lomborg may be wrong on some issues. He may also forget that if the world is not in such a bad state, it is also thanks to the efforts of the environmental organisations which warned of the dangers a few decades ago. "The Skeptical Environmentalist", however, deserves attention since it is well documented and Lomborg's writing does not lack clarity and enthusiasm.
Furthermore, the progress of science cannot avoid the confrontation of ideas, particularly when these are highly controversial and provocative.
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2004
Well, unlike my esteemed reviewer below, I *haven't* read the correspondence between Lomborg and Scientific American, so instead of commenting on that, what I will comment on here is the *book* at the top of this page, to wit THE SKEPTICAL ENVIRONMENTALIST.
The environment is one of those areas like religion where it has become practically impossible to have a rational, reasonable debate or even a conversation, because there's so much rancor on both sides. (People commenting on the book without bothering to read it demonstrate the point: this subject is *so* emotional that there's an unwillingness to give an honest, open-minded look at the arguments being presented--on either side.) However, in this contentious area, Lomborg does two things that immediately got my attention: a.) he cites the hell out of his book (71 pages of sources) and b.) he hammers home the point that EVERYTHING IS A TRADE-OFF. *Nothing is for free.* Increased spending on the environment must come at the expense of other areas, including areas such as anti-poverty spending that most people--including environmentalists--would consider to be worthy goals. And given that we don't have unlimited resources, it is best to focus our resources where they will do the most good. (2000+ sources don't make for an unbiased book? I'd be curious to know, then, what exactly does...particularly as Lomborg pulled many of his figures and statistics from UN sources. And as for this book allegedly not having gone through peer review, I'd be interested to know whether prominent environmental tomes like EARTH IN THE BALANCE have gone through peer review.)
Lomborg also leans on the point that long-term forecasting is an incredibly tricky business (which it is--chaos theory, anyone?) and comments that today's computer models are not complex enough to carry this out accurately, which I find thoroughly plausible (in fact I would find it unrealistic to argue otherwise! the idea that we understand everything about the environment--or indeed, *any* subject under the sun--smacks of hubris to me.) He asserts that natural climate change probably plays a large part in global warming while not denying that humans are having an effect and that restriction of greenhouse gases is an important part of the strategy to deal with it (in fact, his position is that current efforts, including the Kyoto treaty, are too lax to have much effect), but also states that serious efforts must include imposing more penalties on the developing world and our resources might be better spent attempting to assist them. In fact, the second point he hammers home throughout his work--that it would probably be best from a cost-benefit analysis for us to spend our resources alleviating poverty, in particular Third-World poverty--hardly enshrines him in the first rank of Evil Capitalists.
Are there problems with this book? Sure. Lomborg's assertions that we will continue to find new deposits of natural resources in the future seem just a tad too blithe to me, for one (although he is right in pointing out that we can probably find new and more efficient ways to extract resources from less-desirable sources, should we have to) and he doesn't address that there might be other considerations as to whether we use the ones we have. For example, I'm originally from Michigan. The Great Lakes represent a rich and varied ecosystem, as well as a tremendous tourist resource and state symbol, and I think I speak for most Michiganders when I say that I would not like to see the Great Lakes drained to provide drinking and irrigation water. Not that Lomborg suggests this, understand, but this is an example of one of the problems with access to this type of resource that he doesn't really discuss. I would also like to have seen more of an examination of the ways in which various types of environmental effects might "stack" with each other--for example (not increased population, since the "population bomb" has apparently fizzled--another example of the difficulties of long-term forecasting) but water usage with land usage, for instance. From a literary/historical standpoint, I think he could have tied the popularity of the "Litany" and "sky-is-falling" scenarios into a long tradition in Western thought of viewing the world as in a state of decline and degeneration (for example the ancient Greeks with their ideals of the Golden Age down through to the Iron Age, and medieval Christianity viewing the world as having degenerated from the days of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden--primarily as a punishment for human sinfulness. Hmmm. But that's more of a literary criticism.) His deconstruction of the tone of press releases and of some of the motives behind environmental claims was interesting and on-target, and I would have liked to see more. And I certainly intend to do some snooping through the sources he provides, primarily to check for context, especially of some of the quotes he pulls out. But the fact that he provides these sources at all is a huge mark in his favor, as is his cool-eyed appraisal of a very heated subject.
64 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2003
I especially recommend this book to liberals like myself. Lomborg, predictably, is under attack from the left, and his defenders tend to be people who enjoy reading Ann Coulter. This is grossly unfortunate because Lomborg is not a conservative, and his book is not a right-wing political screed but a measured, balanced, thoughtful appraisal of data that's available to anyone. To me, it appears that the attacks on Lomborg are because, after examining the evidence, he failed to come to the politically correct conclusion. It makes me look upon my liberal brothers and sisters in a colder light, and that makes me sad.
No one should want to be a knee-jerk anything. Dare to be wrong! Examine the evidence! Listen to opposing points of view before drawing conclusions!
That's the end of _my_ screed.
75 of 87 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2002
Those of us who care about the environment are thankful for Lomborg's book. It is a Herculean effort to compile and analyze this immense amount of data on so many fields to give us a rather dispassionate, but certainly much-closer-to-the-truth view on many environmental issues.
In the beginning of the book, Lomborg skillfully explained why most people believe that the environment is in bad shape by pointing out some interesting statistics: most people believe that their own immediate sphere, a town or village, is in better shape environmentally than his country, and that his country is in better shape environmentally than the world at large. (And similarly over 70% of drivers rate themselves as above-average drivers!) So, the "environment is in bad shape" is not a personal experience, but has been communicated to them. Lomborg than correctly pointed out that incentive structure for the career environmental scientist/activist tilt them to communicate bad, or even alarmist, scenarios. Basically, it is money (donations and government grants) and livelihood (career and fame.) Similarly, the media is incented to communicate "news" that attracts a large viewership - the only real news is bad news. .
Lomborg's method is quite straightforward: present a "received wisdom" of some claim of crisis, provide some explanatory material and put the issue in context, then expose the claim as either having no data or evidence to back it up, or is soundly contradicted by subsequent, more authoritative data, or its prediction wildly off the mark.
This book documents how the "Silent Spring" never came to pass, "Our Stolen Future" is actually quite secure, the "40,000 species loss per year" is utter fantasy, the "50% drop of the human sperm count" is not to diminish our manhood. And there are many more...
I do not come away thinking that everything is rosy - it is not the message of this book. Even though Lomborg does not have any startling new discovery to share, I certainly feel that his work is most valuable, and he is much more objective and credible than Paul Ehrlich, Lester Brown and other luminaries who have made a career of making outrageous (and wrong) predictions of environmental disasters year after year.
Lomborg's point is not that there are no environmental issues, or that none of the environmental regulations has done any good. He merely points out that if we use scientific methods (rather than faith) and make claims responsibly (rather than based on self-interest), the populace will have a better understanding of the true state of the environment, and resources can be directed to the areas that are truly a source of concern. But of course that might well mean that less governmental money, and less environmental research jobs. Lomborg did not make many friends of the environmental stripe by publishing this book....
117 of 138 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2001
We like trees and other good environmental features. We're lucky to live (on purpose) in one of the most dedicated environment-preserving towns in the SF Bay Area. We belong to Sierra Club, give money to Open Space trusts, hike, travel, value a good environment, etc.
Get this book, read it carefully, preferably with a Web browser handy as well as a printer, and make your own judgements. This book is (correctly) complicated and difficult to summarize well, but it has the sort of analysis and backup we need.
People use "Pareto analysis" to measure the problems carefully, then focus their efforts on the more important problems first. It is simply impossible to do that very well without careful, realistic data. Of course, real data is often confusing, and a good feature of the book is its inclusion of caveats, contradictions, and more footnotes than I've seen before in one book.
This book has a bimodal distribution of opinions: people love it or despise it. As I value skepticism, I checked out some of the negative reviews, chased URLs, reread the book ... and thought there were more errors in the reviews, and few pointers. I'd love to see more negative reviews if they only followed Lomborg in backing up comments with checkable references.
To summarize this *review*, it is very difficult to summarize the *book*, as it it tries so hard to avoid over-simplification. As always in real science, there is noise in the data, incomplete data, differences in data measurements, etc. Still if you care about environmental quality, and care that your money is spent where it actually does the most good, you need the best numbers you can get. It is easy to have good goals, like "good environment and quality of life", but the real issue is balancing priorities dynamically as the real world requires. Managers are usually forced to understand this issue, or if you like computer games, try playing one of the "Civilization" or similar games. It's painful when your civilization fries due to global warming.
Get this book, read it carefully, and make your own judgements, and (hopefully) support efficient environmental causes that make sense based on rational analysis, not random doom-saying.
10/19/14 Update: of course, within a few weeks of writing this, I'd had time to dig deeper into Lomborg's references, had gotten some other books, and started see the patterns of cherry-picking. I'd still say it was an important book to read, but within a few months I didn't believe what he wrote. It turned to gbe excellent practice and got me interested in this area, but see later; Lomborg and Playing the Long Game (2009) http://thingsbreak.wordpress.com/2009/01/08/lomborg-long-game/
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Bjorn Lomborg, a mild-mannered professor of statistics at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, has got the green lobby running scared. Since the Danish version of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" was published in 1998, an international smear campaign has been mounted against him.
All he said was that most of the "Litany" fails to withstand scrutiny under statistical analysis. The Litany is the green creed that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, that soon we will not have enough food or fuel or space, that we are busy killing off most of the other animals and plants, that we are sickening ourselves with pesticides and pollution, and that, to top it all off, we are cooking the planet.
Problems face us, Lomborg admits, but the answer is not to abandon wealth but to make the developing world -- where most of these problems are most acute -- as rich as the developed world.
Others, like Peter Huber in 'Hard Green.' have said the same, but they were not rewarded with an intercontinental counterattack.
The reason, presumably, is that Lomborg and his 10 students have backed up their version of the past and vision of the future much more capably than previous critics of greenness.
There can be no question that Lomborg is right about the past. His hundreds of graphs -- all based on the common fund of data from the United Nations and similar open sources -- prove that, for example, the number of poor people in the world with access to safe drinking water has grown from 30 percent to 80 percent since 1970. "Not good enough," Lomborg says, but clearly whatever we have been doing was on the right track.
"Poverty and not the environment is the primary limitation for solutions to our problems," he writes, which is no different from Huber's remark that a starving peasant hunched over a dung fire is not green, just poor. Who could argue with that?
Lots of people. The counterattack has taken a weird form. First, the critics say Lomborg is lambasting the environmental cassandras of 30 years ago, but that those statements no longer represent green thinking. The critics seem not to understand that this complaint concedes that we shouldn't have been listening to the Chicken Littles of a generation ago.
Be that as it may, the complaint is false. As Lomborg says, thanks to the Internet he was able to update his book with statements published as recently as a few months before the 2001 publication date of the English edition.
And his text proves it. It turns out, in fact, that the preposterous statements made by the likes of Paul Ehrlich and Lester Brown in 1970 -- predictions that, for example, the population of the United States would have been reduced by famine to 22.5 million by now --are still being made by new Chicken Littles. (The old ones haven't shut up, either.)
Pick just about anything you have been told to worry about in the last decade, and you will find the situation graphed in "The Skeptical Environmentalist."
Epidemic of breast cancer? Adjusted for age, down 18 percent. Mass extinctions, running at 40,000 species per year? Actual rate unknown but at least a thousand times slower. Destruction of the rainforest? The biggest one, in Brazil, is still 86 percent intact.
However, numbers don't tell the whole story. At current rates of reduction, the Brazilian forest will be much smaller within a generation or two. And, unlike temperate forests, which in North America have been cut down in some places three times and today fool people into thinking they are primeval, rain forests, once destroyed, tend to lose their soils and not to come back -- or not come back the way they were. (I live in a rain forest; this is happening in my backyard.)
On the other hand, Lomborg's finding that there is plenty of iron ore left (contra the Litany) is actually too pessimistic. The United States made 100 million tons of steel a year for 100 years -- 10 billion tons. Some is tied up in the Brooklyn Bridge, but there is plenty to recycle. The need for mining more ore is very small, and Lomborg's estimates of how many years' supply remain are too small by a huge factor.
Lomborg says if you don't understand what the problems are, you won't know how to deploy scarce resources to fix them. In particular, the precautionary principle, which says that if you are not absolutely certain you will not cause harm, you must do nothing, will prevent human progress.
Lomborg's assault against the precautionary principle is subtle, but he is not shy about the conclusion: "A lack of prioritization, backed by however many good intentions, can in the final analysis result in the statistical murder of thousands of people."
Most of the book is easier to follow than the argument against the precautionary principle. "Many of our deeply engrained beliefs from the Litany are not supported by the facts," writes Lomborg, and the numbers back him up.
This will not come as news to those who have read such analyses as Aaron Wildavsky's "But Is It True?" That was the first substantial critique for non-scientists of green doomsaying. Lomborg raises the critique to new levels, and the screams of his targets show that his arrows are hitting them where they live.