Features

Cool-headed

"Cool-headed" Continued...

Issue: "Don't fence me out," April 21, 2007

But Douglass C. North, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and advisor to Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus, explains that "while China is growing at an enormous rate, it's also still very poor. The Chinese say, 'Well, our priority is still economic growth and not worrying too much about the environment.'"

Whether China and India choose to change their attitudes presents a far greater determinant of future warming than any emissions-cutting policies in Europe or the United States ever could. North told WORLD that such uncertainties push global problems other than climate change to the top of the priority list. Furthermore, he explained, unfettered economic growth around the world may do more to ease the consequences of global warming than actually lessening the rise in temperature: "Most of the serious effects of climate change are going to be well off in the future, 50 or 60 years from now. At that time, all of the world is going to be so much richer than it is today that it won't be nearly as serious a problem as it would be if it happened overnight."

The latest summary report from the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) argues that much of the predicted sting from a warming planet will fall on people too poor to adapt-and Lomborg responds, "If poor people are going to suffer the most, that should indicate to everyone that maybe we should try to make them not poor. That means focusing on things like cutting agricultural subsidies and allowing for free trade in general, which would undoubtedly make the world amazingly richer."

Greater wealth in Third World nations would also contribute to fighting problems more pressing than climate change-namely, the spread of disease, malnutrition, and clean water shortages. Unlike the projected consequences of global warming, these issues claim lives now and could be greatly alleviated at a comparatively low price.

Take malaria, a topic featured in Gore's Academy Award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. The film argues that rising temperatures will drive mosquitoes into new cities and spread the disease among new populations. Lomborg agrees but contends that the mosquito surge will increase the number of people at risk by only 3.2 percent-and that attacking the malaria issue with climate-change policy is highly inefficient.

Instead, Lomborg proposes offering assistance to developing economies and building health infrastructures in nations with a high incidence of malaria, measures that would require about $3 billion per year-2 percent the cost of Kyoto. For that low price, studies indicate that malaria infections could decrease 50 percent by 2015. "If we really care about malaria victims, we should focus first on much more efficient policies and strategies that actually help deal with malaria," Lomborg said.

But if global warming truly threatens the earth's habitability, as Gore claims, then even 100 percent malaria relief is of no consequence. Such a scenario would require the unmitigated abandonment of all other concerns and complete focus of all planetary resources on stopping climate change.

The IPCC predicts no such scenario. In fact, the projected harms of its latest summary report stem from a hypothetical analysis that assumes no change in human behavior-an unlikely outcome that inflates impacts from their likely real-world levels.

Still, Lomborg does not advocate that nations ignore the problem of global warming. He wants smarter solutions, those that deliver significant bang for the buck-and he wants to see those develop, instead of settling for inferior choices. Research and development into new technologies offer far greater promise for a comprehensive and effective long-term strategy.

Supporters of immediate and drastic emissions-cutting policies such as a cap-and-trade program believe governmental controls will force rapid innovation. Technologies will spring up, they say, because the costs of buying the right to emit CO2 will demand it.

But such high hopes have not materialized in Europe, where companies have turned to short-term tricks and tactics to avoid the oppressive restraints of Kyoto. The high costs of innovation have become a luxury that few strapped energy or manufacturing plants can afford.

The Washington Post recently reported on several European factories in dire financial straits due to emissions restrictions. A silicon carbide manufacturer in the Netherlands uses the latest pollution-reducing equipment but has had to lay off 40 of 130 employees and must shut down for hours each day to manage the ballooning cost of electricity. Other companies are losing clients to foreign providers that have no emissions restrictions to drive up their price points.

Such problems create an environment of emissions outsourcing and can push businesses to relocate abroad. Lomborg believes that government-funded research and development presents a vastly superior alternative. He proposes that nations cease the bureaucratic morass of reducing emissions and start investing in whatever low-carbon-emitting technologies or techniques they consider prudent-conservation, renewable energies, fusion, fission, carbon capture, or some novel idea yet unknown.

Comments

You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading

     

    Together again

    Movie’s Black Album hits the right post-Beatles note but…

    Advertisement