I’m only about half way through reading Bjorn Lomborg‘s (blog here) “Cool It” and thought I’d share my “half-way thoughts”.
Premise of the book:
“Bjorn Lomborg argues that many of the elaborate and expensive actions now being considered to stop global
warming will cost hundreds of billions of dollars, are often based on emotional rather than strictly scientific assumptions, and may very well have little impact on the world’s temperature for hundreds of years. Rather than starting with the most radical procedures, Lomborg argues that we should first focus our resources on more immediate concerns, such as fighting malaria and HIV/AIDS and assuri
ng and maintaining a safe, fresh water supply-which can be addressed at a fraction of the cost and save millions of lives within our lifetime. He asks why the debate over climate change has stifled rational dialogue and killed meaningful dissent. ”
Agreed – I do think that we have lost some of our rational thoughts when it comes to the climate change discussions. Bjorn’s got a point.
But while reading the book, I can’t help but be irked at some of his own points…
1. Not everything can be measured by economic cost-benefit analyses
He quite often brings in the economist’s favourite tool – the cost-benefit analysis. Not bad, we need to use it sometimes. However, and this is a big HOWEVER – economic thinking is not always rational (interesting choice of words i know) because you:
A. can’t put a price on the environment . Sometimes it’s possible, but nature provides us with trillions – remember, our continuous production of “stuff” usually relies on nature’s (not so) infinite supply of resources.
B. How do you know you’re measuring everything that needs to be measured in that C-B analysis? Environmental issues are holistic and most often include externalities that we haven’t even thought of. i.e. it’s not just about temperatures rising! So, lining up items on the right and left side may show vastly different results depending on who’s making the analysis.
2. Not everything should just be measured by human death tolls
As sad as this sounds, I don’t think that the goal is to just increase our human life expectancy. One of the major points that Lomborg points out is that more people have died from cold deaths than heat deaths – eliminating the major scare-tactic that global warming will cause more people to die of heat stroke etc.
Interesting and likely valid point. But, when I think of climate change (and more aptly put, environmental issues on the whole) – I don’t think of just people dying. First of all, we do share the planet with other species, of which, are very important for our sake as well. But, moreover, “deaths by heat stroke” is only one tiny measure which he hits on the head over and over… Human happiness, on the other hand, is important – and even though we’re living, a life without clean water and fighting for natural resources isn’t such a good life.
3. Using scientific facts in the climate change talk deserves attention to references
Not saying I don’t believe the stats in his book (and likely his other book- which is sitting on my bookshelf untouched at the moment), but one of the major issues with the global warming talk is that everyone is using numbers and everyone is countering those numbers.
Especially for Lomborg who is really going against the grain on this thesis (and constantly challenging the other facts out there) – without telling me where you’re getting those facts, it’s hard to know who to believe. UPDATE (next morn): Oops, he has 40 pages of references. I guess I’m just use to footnotes – I can then check at least where it came from.
This is one of the major reasons that I wrote the “My thoughts on global warming: I don’t care.” post last year. “Let the scientists debate about the actual science, but just look at the issue with common sense…. I’m not saying don’t question, just don’t be ignorant. “
3. Solving world poverty is not the end goal
Lomborg says that we should look after the more pressing global issues such as HIV/AIDS, malaria etc. first. I can’t completely disagree. (Like everyone else in his consensus, how do you rank these?) However, economic development (the goal that he’s suggesting) won’t help fix our problems.
… These 50+ years can give the societies breathing space to tackle many of their more immediate concerns and grow their economies so that they will be better able to afford to build water-storage facilities.
p. 58 in regards to the melting Himalayan glaciers as the supply to India.
Umm.. the long term water supply is important – and won’t be solved by investing in new facilities. Money can’t buy us “new” water.
But anyways, we need to address AIDS, malaria etc., but more importantly we need a long term plan on sustainable development. (Read previous post on full thoughts on this). This is real, long term planning – something that economists have a hard time with… Answering “What to do now that we’re not poor?”, remembering that our western way of living won’t suffice for the planent.
Although I disagree with some of his points – at this half way stage – I value the different perspectives. It’s true, we have lost a lot of the meaningful dissent in this debate and surely, we’re spending ridiculous amounts on certain strategies which don’t have as much merit as others.
But again, let’s use our common sense. Sticking crap in the air is bad. Using a resource that we know won’t be there later is bad. Enough said. Time for bed.