Technology is key to solving environmental problems. The solution to smog crises in the '60s wasn't banning cars, but the catalytic converter.


Bjorn Lomborg

Analyzing costs and benefits of aid can be "mind-opening"

The renowned British publication The Economist published a full-page story on the Copenhagen Consensus Center's latest report for the African Academy of Sciences. The report helps identify African 'best buys' — where extra resources can do the most to promote African health, environment, and prosperity.

Yes, "cost-benefit analyses offend against the notion that life is priceless", but the Economist argues that policymakers shouldn't flinch at this "essential step in the war against poverty and disease: putting a dollar value on human life. Without one, it is impossible to compare efforts to vanquish HIV, malaria or diarrhea with other outlays, such as building railways, electrifying villages, conserving mangroves or educating preschoolers."

Indeed, economic analyses in development can be "mind-opening":
"Costing comes not just with costs, but also with benefits. It allows governments to compare policies that affect mortality with others that affect prosperity. Priorities can then be set on a sounder basis than gut instinct, sentimental appeal or the political clout of the people hurt or helped. That matters because some good causes are not nearly as good as others."

Humans can survive underwater

The latest alarming story about climate change is that huge swaths of densely inhabited land will be underwater by 2050. New York Times tells us that South Vietnam will “all but disappear” because it will be “underwater at high tide”. The paper says, “more than 20 million people in Vietnam, almost one-quarter of the population, live on land that will be inundated.”

Turns out most of South Vietnam is already below the high tide line, but its 20 million inhabitants live fine because of dikes, just like much of Holland or downtown London. The impact of extra sea level rise to 2050 will put almost no extra land at risk. Humanity will, of course, continue to adapt to rising sea levels with infrastructure that provides flood protection, as we have done for centuries.

Such alarming media stories scare people unnecessarily and push policymakers toward excessively expensive measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The real solution is to lift the world’s poorest out of poverty and protect them with simple infrastructure.

Lomborg's new column for Project Syndicate (available in five languages) was published by newspapers around the globe, including The Australian, CafeF (Vietnam), Prodavinci (Venezuela), My Republica (Nepal), Jordan Times and Sunday Times (Sri Lanka).

We are throwing money at the wrong climate solutions

During a recent visit with the Dallas Morning News' editorial board, Bjorn Lomborg urged policymakers to spend money on countering climate change more effectively. Rather than spending on feel-good green projects or urging people to make personal sacrifices such as giving up meat, leaders should approach climate solutions unemotionally and invest in the ideas that will do the most good for the most people.

He lists four initiatives that will be key to tackling climate change: (1) a well-designed and globally coordinated carbon tax, (2) a dramatic increase in investment in research and development into green energy, so these technologies can eventually outcompete fossil fuels and reduce emissions without stifling economic activity, (3) better adaptation and (4) the exploration of geo-engineering as an "insurance policy".

Talk is cheap, but climate policies remain expensive

Climate change is clearly an important global issue, but we are tackling it very badly and our overwhelming focus on reducing carbon emissions also distracts us from many of the world's most pressing problems. What makes it so hard to cut emissions is that CO2 is a byproduct of prosperous economies, and replacing cheap fossil fuels with today's mostly expensive and unreliable green alternatives remains incredibly expensive. An analysis for the government of New Zealand recently showed that achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 would cost the nation 16% of GDP.

In an interview with CNBC, Bjorn Lomborg argues that it's easy for politicians to make big promises for political applause now, but as the consequences of expensive climate policies become apparent, opposition will be strong, as we have seen in France and other countries. Instead of the grand rhetoric, policy-makers need to focus on innovating the next generations of green technologies that will make them feasible and affordable for everyone.

Denmark's new climate policy: 0.0001°C for $120 billion

The Danish government has recently increased its climate promises: instead of cutting 40% in 2030, it will now cut 70%. It will do little, but cost a lot. Even if the target will be achieved, the entire extra Danish CO₂ cuts from 2020-2050 will reduce the global temperature rise by just one ten-thousands of a degree Celsius by the end of the century. The price tag is at least $120 billion (DKK800bn) extra. Each dollar spent will avoid less than 3¢ of climate damage.

Read Lomborg's analysis in Berlingske (in Danish).

Lomborg on social media:

As societies get richer, they first pollute, then clean up

Deaths from extreme weather are decreasing

Are we going to build another nuclear power plant every three days to get to net zero emissions?

People who work from home now make more money than those who don’t

Why do the SDGs disappoint?

No, climate change won't lead to human extinction

More global articles and interviews:

World Toilet Day this week is not a joke, but deadly serious
The Economist

Climate activists are focused on the wrong solutions
Roy Green Show (Canada)

Det farlige ved dommedagsprofetier
Ny Tid (Norway)

Por qué la planificación familiar es una inversión inteligente
El Tiempo (Colombia)

EE.UU. versus China: la verdadera tragedia comercial
Listin Diario (Dominican Republic)

El impacto de nuestras acciones
La Prensa (Panama)

Porque é que o planeamento familiar é um investimento inteligente
Jornal de Negocios

Aktywiści klimatyczni koncentrują się na złych rozwiązaniach
Listy z naszego sadu (Poland)

Granice „przeskoczenia” progu opłacalności
Listy z naszego sadu (Poland)

Scorecard improves land e-mutation efficiency
The Financial Express (Bangladesh)

About Bjorn Lomborg and the Copenhagen Consensus 

Dr. Bjorn Lomborg researches the smartest ways to improve the environment and the world, and has repeatedly been named one of Foreign Policy’s top 100 public intellectuals.

He is the author of several best-selling books, an adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School and works regularly with many of the world’s top economists, including seven Nobel Laureates.

His think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center, was named Think Tank of the Year by Prospect Magazine, in US International Affairs. It has repeatedly been top-ranked by University of Pennsylvania in its global overview of think tanks.

Lomborg is a frequent commentator in print and broadcast media, for outlets including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, CNN, FOX, and the BBC. His monthly column is published in 19 languages, in 30+ newspapers with more than 30 million readers globally.
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