November 30th 2006
Without scooting my chair, I can pluck my well-worn copy of Bjorn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist off my reference shelf. A lot of pages are dog-eared and on some pages highlighted lines outnumber regular lines.
When Lomborg, the Danish statistician who tests enviro-hysteria claims and finds them wrong, attacks environmentalists’ causes, it’s not because he hates the environment; it’s because he wants to protect it and knows our resources to do so are limited and should be properly prioritized.
Today on TCS, he spelled out my arguments against Warmie hysteria quite well, thank you. First, whether it’s true there’s no debate any more on the topic:
I think for a while [the debate on environmentalism] really was moving in the right direction and people were understanding the issues and the arguments better. But I think what is happening now is that we are increasingly seeing a tailspin into hysteria over the global warming discussion, where it is almost commonplace to say things are worse than we thought.
It’s at the stage where people are saying its even worse than we thought yesterday, and that it is going to be catastrophic, and chaotic and disruptive – all these kinds of words. This has actually led to one of the lead modellers in the UK to come out and say it’s bizarre that before we had the debate between the climate change skeptics and the scientists, and that now we have the debate between the scientists, who are now becoming the skeptics, and those who are saying it’s all going to end in chaos, when it is going to do nothing of the sort – and this is not what the UN panel is telling us.
Perhaps this is most clear when you look at the movie from Al Gore. Everything he says is technically true. He says for instance that if Greenland melts, sea levels will rise about 20 feet. This is technically true. But of course the very evocative imagery of seeing Holland disappear under the waves – or New York, or Shanghai – leaves the impression that this is all going to happen very soon. Where in fact the UN climate panel says that the sea level rise over the next 100 years is going to be 30 cm – about 20 times less than he talks about. So there is a dramatic difference between what we’re being told and what we’re actually seeing.
Because global hysteria tends to suck up global resources, the Warmies are taking money away from causes that could do much more to advance the health and wellbeing of mankind. This is what drives me craziest about the Warmies, and Lomborg agrees:
Global warming is an important issue and one which we should address. But there is no sense of proportion either in environmental terms, or indeed in terms of the other issues facing the world.
If you just take the environmental problem first, it’s very clear that what causes by far the majority of deaths is lack clean drinking water and lack of sanitation. Millions of people are dying each year from this. Also taking the new WHO estimates of what really kills people, these are the huge issues.
The second biggest problem is indoor air pollution, which probably kills somewhere between 1 and 3 million people each year, basically because people are too poor to use good fuels and end up using dung or cardboard or whatever they can find. Only a very distant third comes climate change, which the WHO puts at 150,000 to die right now.
Of course WHO’s figure on global warming deaths is totally bogus. If you accept that 150,000 people die annually because it’s gotten marginally hotter — not because there was a typical cyclical heat wave somewhere or a typical hurricane on the coast — I’ve got a bridge I want to sell you. But that’s not even the point, says Lomborg:
This of course ignores those people that are no longer dying from cold-related deaths. For some inexcusable reasons, I would argue, they have the idea that they will only look at things that are going to be bad and don’t have to look at will be good from climate change.
One of the top climate change economists has modelled – and several papers that came out a couple of weeks ago essentially point out – that climate change will probably mean fewer deaths, not more deaths. It is estimated that climate change by about 2050 will mean about 800,000 fewer deaths.
We’ve spent billions on climate change. Who even knows how much? And compliance with the Kyoto accord basically doesn’t exist, carbon dioxide emissions are increasing, and all we’re getting is hot air and money that could be treating malaria or providing clean water going to wealthy scientists and peevish regulators.
“And you’ve got to ask yourself,” Lomborg concludes, “couldn’t we have spent that amount of time and effort and consideration on addressing some of the issues in the world where we could have done an enormous amount of good?”
Lomborg’s now working on a book on global warming that will come out next year.