‘Skeptical environmentalist’ says best fix for global warming is to make everybody wealthy

Tue, 2007-09-11 11:41Bill Miller
Bill Miller's picture

‘Skeptical environmentalist’ says best fix for global warming is to make everybody wealthy

A Danish political scientist and author, Bjorn Lomborg says if the rest of the world were as wealthy as New York City they could afford to shore up their coastlines against rising sea levels and buy air conditioners to ward off hotter summer weather.

Lomborg dismissed Kyoto-style treaties to cut greenhouse-gas emissions as “a mistake” because they cost too much and do too little too late. Lomborg runs the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which gathers economists to set priorities in tackling global problems.

Some suggestions have merit. To prevent coastal flooding, he advocated limiting development and expanding wetlands. Planting more greenery and painting roofs and streets white would help cities cope with summer heat. He called for a carbon tax and treaties forcing nations to budget for research into low-carbon energy technologies.

But apart from the sheer implausibility of his central idea, Lomborg overlooked the fact that wealth increases consumption, which in turn raises greenhouse-gas emissions. So while most observers are pushing for less consumption, Lomborg is calling for more.

He also forgot about population growth; the number of people in the world is doubling every 30 years or so – the U.S. alone is forecast to exceed one billion this century and China and India are growing even faster. He should ponder the impact that will have on climate change.


“But apart from the sheer implausibility of his central idea,”

Okay, so increasing the world’s standard of living is “implausible” – but having the government control the weather is not?


“Lomborg overlooked the fact that wealth increases consumption, which in turn raises greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Ergo, your preferred “solution” is to ensure continued poverty.

Thanks for putting it in black and white.

Increasing the world’s standard of living in the face of burgeoning human populations seems implausible to me, especially with continued resource depletion. If Lomborg has addressed the issues of overpopulation and the impact of increasing consumption on global warming, he should certainly share his views. What insures continued poverty more than anything is global warming.

Here we go again.

Lomborg’s comments point to – whether inadvertently, or more likely, intentionally – one of the reasons climate science has been attacked; economic impact.

The current economic system in the US primarily rewards the producers of negative externalities at a cost to energy consumers, in a system that has been described as one in which profit is privatized while cost is socialized.

Moreover, debate over the economic impact of energy decisions often mis-characterized the situation as a black-and-white fallacy, in which the choice is between economic development and no economic development. Use of this economic argument, therefore, is an alarmist technique employed by denialists.

We might compare his argument to one that argues against reinforcing the dikes in New Orleans prior to hurricane Katrina. And Lomborg’s solution is akin waiting for the flood before letting the “invisible hand” correct the damage.

Economic development can and should play a role in providing a solution, but macroeconomic adjustments are necessary. Specifically, exogenous economic variables have to be adjusted to remove the incentive for producing greenhouse gases.

Lomborg’s beliefs appear to be closer to Market Fundamentalism, a naive belief in curative powers of lassez-faire capitalism. In truth, a large part of the problem is the structure of the economic system. The problem is not with economics per se, but with entrenched special interests who gain by adding to the global warming problem. And – or course – Lomborg’s rhetorical technique is a red herring argument designed distract our attention away from who gains in the current system. Lomborg obviously represents the main beneficiaries of the status quo, and his so-called solution is an attempt to protect their economic interests rather than solve the problem of global warming.

The issue is very complicated – so much so that any short comment could be attacked for leaving out relevant facts. One is that wealth tends to slow overpopulation (see the doubling rate in rich versus poor countries). Even just such a simple statement could be debated for many pages because of incomplete context. Some results indicate that all that is needed is to educate young women to slow population growth – I don’t think anybody knows for sure because there are too many uncontrolled variables for a proper test to be done. So, as I said, it’s very complicated. The problem with Lomborg is that he’s not in any way a good judge of these complicated issues. The guy (and his collection of economists) didn’t have “avoid war” highly ranked as an objective reduce environmental problems. Why anyone takes him seriously is beyond me.

Lomborg’s reasoning is that of a radical cornucopia-ist. It’s like the Stern report with half the parameters missing, such as the insurance-industry predicted economic destruction brought on by climate change events.

Lomborg claims that people as rich as Americans can avoid the effects of climate change by, say, driving their SUVs into the mountains. Then he claims that in a hundred years time even the children of poor Bangladeshi farmers will be as rich as Americans are today – on the basis of the god-given 3% economic growth of world economy.

It doesn’t go beyond this back-of-the-envelope calculation, and ought to be really easy to take to task. This and his false dichotomy that if you do anything about climate change, you are directly taking food from the mouths of starving children whose parents have died of AIDS.

Making everybody wealthy is probably harder to achieve than dramatically reducing Co2 emissions. We haven’t done very well at either so far. As we create more wealth we often end up creating more poor at the same time.

There is some further discussion on Lomborg’s book here: http://talkclimatechange.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=94

If the people have no bread then let them eat cake!

Marie Antoinette didn’t actually say anything like that, but it does seem to be what Lomberg is saying. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Antoinette#Crowning_and_reign

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