By Matt Palmer
I had the opportunity to hear Bjorn Lomborg speak at the University of Calgary last Thursday night. It was part of the Insitute of Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy’s (ISEEE) Distinguished Speaker series. ISEEE is one of my partners on my documentary project.
I read Lomborg’s 2007 book “Cool It” a few years ago when I first began researching this project. It is a fascinating book and Lombog has a different take on how to approach the issue of Climate Change. First of all, despite having the nickname of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” he is not skeptical about climate change. In thinking about the challenges of climate change though, he differs greatly from the conventional wisdom of dealing with the issue through measures like Kyoto or Durban. For Lomborg, a big part of the conventional approaches problems comes down to economics – costs vs end results.
I agree with some of what he advocates, and question other elements. But here are some of his salient points. Firstly, he asks what we are trying to achieve? Make a better world. In doing this however, we should be doing what is rational not what is fashionable. He points to actions like the WWF Earth Hour as examples of actions that make us feel good, but make no good rational sense. Secondly, he feels we are overworrying about some things and underworrying about others. We are all after the same thing, but some of the proposals to get there – to solve climate change aren’t working or won’t have the desired effect.
I won’t go into all of his presentation, I have included a link to one of his TED talks below, but I would like to put up for discussion a couple of points. Lomborg argues that one of the predicted outcomes from climate change will be increased heat. He agrees that there will be more heat deaths as a result of climate change. It is predicted that 2000 more people will die from heat in the UK by 2050, but he argues that this misses the other side of the equation, mainly that fewer people will die from cold. In fact, he points out globally more people die from cold than heat every year. He states that 1.4 million fewer people will die globally from cold by 2050 as result of climate change. My question to this line of argument is this: he is making the assertion that climate change is about rising temperatures, but I would argue that climate change, as I understand it, is about more extreme and unpredictable weather cycles – not just more heat and less cold.
One of Lomborgs other main points is about where we should be spending our money to get the greatest desired effect. His argument is to prioritize the world’s greatest problems and then start spending the money where it can have the greatest impact. For example, he feels that plans like Kyoto will have minimal impact on climate change and increased teperature by 2100. It will be very costly to impliment. Instead, we should be focusing on issues on the third world, like eradicating malaria, clean water, sanitation, basic healthcare, and education. Working to aleviate poverty will have positive effects towards reducing carbon in the atmosphere. For example, giving people better options than burning dung or charcoal for cooking and heating will reduce CO2, and improve the health of families who live in the fumes. Increasing the standard of living of those in the Third World and developing countries is the right thing to do, but it will come with unintended consequences like increased consumption, something that also needs to be addressed.
What I like about Lomborg’s ideas is that he is advocating that we think more about smarter choices and solutions, and taking more time to prioritize what needs to be done, and where we get the biggest imapct for dollars spent. The challenge as I see it, is that these decisions can not always be made purely on an economic basis.
We face some daunting challenges in the years ahead, but taking a moment to breathe, not be overwhelmed, and thinking critically about the possibilities will get us much further than succumbing to campaigns of fear about a looming armageddon.
This is an older video from a TED talk given by Bjorn Lomborg in 2005, but he is still making the same arguments.