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Bjorn Lomborg: A Profile

FRIDAY 23rd August 2002

With his blond, tousled locks, vegetarian diet and uniform of t-shirt and shorts, Bjorn Lomborg could be any Danish backpacker. He cycles to work and describes himself as a "comfortable, left-wing kind of guy".

But his detractors are calling him a fraud and an apologist for industry. He now opens his mail with care, and last year a well-aimed pie hit him in the face during a signing session in an Oxford bookshop. What has Bjorn Lomborg done to get his fellow environmentalists in such a statistical stew?

Well, he has said that world conditions are generally getting better, not worse, that we are not running out of natural resources, that hunger and poverty are in decline, that pollution is falling off, and the rainforests are facing only a "temporary problem".

The Sceptical Environmentalist

In his book, The Sceptical Environmentalist, he presents an encyclopedia of facts to support his main message, that global warming is not the greatest threat humanity faces. He calls the Kyoto agreement to cut carbon emissions a "tragic waste of resources".

And his most explosive charge is that some environmentalists suppress good news about the state of the earth to maintain a political culture of fear, and ensure their own continued funding.

A 37-year-old associate professor of statistics at the University of Aarhus, Lomborg was browsing in a Los Angeles bookshop when he came across the work of an American professor, the late Julian Simon, who argued that global resources would become more abundant and cheaper. Back in Denmark, Lomborg set his students the task of "debunking the man's myths, but found to our surprise that most of what he said was correct".

Cautious calculations

Lomborg's wealth of research led to his controversial but popular book, published by Cambridge University Press in England last year. Environmentalists have come out in droves to dispute his claims, but every time a dismissive article appears, Lomborg's profile goes up and he sells another copy.

And now Denmark's Greens have a real battle on their hands. Their centre-right government has appointed the statistician to run an agency, analysing the cost-effectiveness of ecological spending proposals. Lomborg is not going away.

As for the controversy he has stirred up, he remains unabashed, explaining, "People are really angry, which means to me this is a necessary discussion."

And of his new found celebrity? "It's not fun being famous," says Bjorn Lomborg, "but it is fun being right."