No matter what they think of his views, nobody denies that Bjorn Lomborg has shaken the environmental movement to its core. When he published his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, in 1999, the Danish statistician's goal was to inject quantitative rigor--and a note of realism--into the debate over such topics as global warming, population growth, toxic waste, and species extinction. Using readily available data, he argued that the global environment was actually getting better--not worse, as many environmentalists believe--and that policymakers should keep that in mind when allocating scarce government funds.
The reaction from environmental activists was explosive, especially after the book was published in English in mid-2001. Lomborg, 37, an associate professor of statistics now on leave from the University of Aarhus, was accused of being a fraud and an apologist for industry. Scientific American weighed in with an 11-page criticism of his book. Critics were most rankled by his charge that some environmentalists knowingly suppress good news about the state of the earth to keep politicians and donors in a state of fear--ensuring a continued flow of financial support.
Lomborg was stunned but not surprised by the vitriol: "People are really angry, which to me means this is a necessary discussion." He hasn't backed off from his conclusions, and he's now hitting the lecture circuit, giving a half-dozen speeches a month to academic and policy groups in Europe and the U.S. And to the dismay of Denmark's Greens, the country's center-right government tapped him in March to run a new agency that analyzes the cost-effectiveness of ecological spending proposals. Looks like Europeans will be contending with Lomborg's brand of environmentalism for some time.