False Alarm is an essential book. If anyone in your family or circle of friends has succumbed to XR mania, this could be an invaluable corrective, providing balance, solutions and optimism. We are not, Lomborg says, on the brink of imminent extinction. “Humans adapt to their changing earth. They have for millennia and will continue to do so.”
His main argument is that we should place greater emphasis on adaptation, while focusing on research to find zero-carbon energy sources that work at acceptable cost. Many of his points hit home. Renewable energy isn’t likely to be the world’s saviour. It has actually been falling as a share of global energy — from 25 per cent in 1900 to just 11 per cent today. And most of that isn’t fashionable “new” renewables such as wind and solar, but traditional fuels such as wood and dung fires. Pushing poor countries into adopting wind and solar isn’t just counter productive; it’s immoral, preventing them from achieving higher levels of development through the only means we know how — the burning of fossil fuels.
The content of False Alarm will be familiar to those who have read Lomborg’s previous books, The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It. New findings and evidence are twisted and forced into the same haranguing narrative for his new contribution. Shellenberger’s book is far easier to read, at least near the beginning, but gradually descends into a bitter rant against environmentalists, the media and politicians who do not share his fervour for nuclear power.
As a matter of policy, I typically decline to review books that deserve to be panned. You only make enemies. Even a slight barb opens a wound the writer will seldom forget. In the case of this book, though, I felt compelled to forgo this policy. Written with an aim to convert anyone worried about the dangers of climate change, Lomborg’s work would be downright dangerous were it to succeed in persuading anyone that there was merit in its arguments.
This book proves the aphorism that a little knowledge is dangerous. It’s nominally about air pollution. It’s really about mind pollution.