With scientific data piling up showing that the world has reached its hottest-ever point in recorded history, global-warming skeptics are facing a high-profile defection from their ranks. Bjorn Lomborg, author of the influential tract "The Skeptical Environmentalist," has reversed course on the urgency of global warming, and is now calling for action on "a challenge humanity must confront."
Lomborg, a Danish academic, had previously downplayed the risk of acute climate change. A former member of Greenpeace, he was a vocal critic of the Kyoto Protocol -- a global U.N. treaty to cut carbon emissions that the United States refused to ratify -- as well as numerous other environmental causes.
"The Skeptical Environmentalist," published in 2001, argued that many key preoccupations of the environmental movement, including pollution control and biodiversity, were either overblown as threats or amenable to relatively simple technological fixes. Lomborg argued that the governments spending billions to curb carbon emissions would be better off diverting those resources to initiatives such as AIDS research, anti-malaria programs and other kinds of humanitarian aid.
[Photos: The world's most polluted places]
Lomborg's essential argument was: Yes, global warming is real and human behavior is the main reason for it, but the world has far more important things to worry about.
Oh, how times have changed.
In a book to be published this year, Lomborg calls global warming "undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today" and calls for the world's governments to invest tens of billions of dollars annually to fight climate change.
Lomborg's former foes in the environmental movement are so far unimpressed by news of his conversion. Calling him a "shrewd self-promoter," Grist.org's Jonathan Hiskes marveled at Lomborg's ability to "play the media" in simply "adopting a position already held by millions of sensible people." And Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Mike Childs told the U.K. Guardian, "It appears that the self-styled skeptical environmentalist is beginning to become less skeptical as he enters middle age."
(Photo of Lomborg via AP/Christopher Patrick Grant)