How Lord Stern Got It Wrong Again

  • Date: 25/11/15
  • Andrew Montford, Bishop Hill

One of the problems with being a PR guy for an environmentally minded billionaire is that you sometimes find yourself having to utter complete drivel in public fora. There has been a lovely example of this in recent weeks, when, in a letter to the FT, Lord Stern claimed that 7 million deaths each year were caused by pollution derived from fossil fuels. This was disputed by Matt Ridley, who pointed out in another letter that most of these deaths were actually caused by burning wood and dung.

According to the World Health Organisation, the majority of these estimated deaths (4.3m) are from indoor air pollution, and the vast majority of them are caused by cooking and heating with wood and dung.

However, having stuck his neck out, Stern felt he couldn’t back down, and therefore decided to adopt a policy of “make some more stuff up and hope nobody notices”. So he wrote to the FT again, exhibiting his customary lack of integrity, this time insinuating that Matt had claimed that no deaths were caused by fossil-fuel-related pollution, claiming that he…

…fails to acknowledge that the World Health Organisation noted that coal, as well as wood and biomass, burnt for cooking and heating, is a major source of the indoor air pollution linked to the deaths of 4.3m people each year.

I’m sure that readers can see from the previous quote just how egregious Stern’s misrepresentation was.

Then, as if to underline just how badly wrong he had gone, Stern retreated to a claim of “it’s hard”:

Precision is not possible here but it does seem reasonable to conclude, as I did in my letter of November 12, that “7m people worldwide die each year due to indoor and outdoor pollution, mostly caused by the burning of fossil fuels”.

The mess into which Stern has got himself has now been firmly laid bare by Bjorn Lomborg, whose letter to the FT today sets out the figures in gory detail:

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