Bjorn Lomborg's Fundamental Mistake

Today's post is by Jon Anda, president of Environmental Markets Network. It's a response to a column in Tuesday's New York Times.

The column's writer, John Tierney, goes along with Bjorn Lomborg, author of the book "Cool It". Lomborg acknowledges that global warming is happening, but is against "hysteria and headlong spending on extravagant CO2-cutting programs."

In the world of greenhouse gases, the devil is in the details. Climate policy is not about any specific scenario – like the one-foot sea level rise Lomborg wades us through – but the chance of a catastrophic outcome.

Sensitivity of the climate to greenhouse gases, and the resulting sea level rise, both bear greater chances of worst-case outcomes than best-case (per the IPCC reports). Sound policy is about hedging a set of risks that are not normally distributed and therefore not suited to Lomborg’s base-case analysis.

So what policy creates an effective hedge? Lomborg wants government research to pick the winning technologies. That means market forces can’t reallocate capital when today’s winner becomes tomorrow’s loser. Lomborg also supports a small carbon tax that will encourage emitters to forgo technology investments, and keep polluting, while paying his relatively cheap tax.

These are not effective hedges. Mandatory emission cuts and a cap and trade system will give us the cost-effective technology and climate stabilization we need to hedge our risk.

Lomborg’s insistence on false choices, like AIDS/malaria versus climate, is wrong. Can we really tell future generations that instead of planetary stewardship, we just ranked all the projects and climate lost?

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2 Comments

  1. Ralphs
    Posted September 16, 2007 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Expand the coolness

    It is good to see a huge arising in truly ecological consciousness, including the matter of global warming [GW].

    As usual, Bjorn Lomborg succeeds in fueling the ongoing debate on GW. GW is now widely recognized as a fact. Moreover, it is crucial to address the consequences and possible solutions to the GW and it is best done by reaching as comprehensive a view as possible.

    Obviously, Lomborg fails to address the collective awareness at its subjective core values. It could be useful to take look at a wider scoop of perspectives or even other perspectives – and hopefully end up with an integral foundation of views as to make wise and proper decisions possible.

    In general Lomborg looks at the society’s objective values, and of course as an economist he assesses almost every matter in monetary (unit value)– as to say a very materialistic approach.

    A basic goal, I assume, is to minimize the total amount of suffering – and here I find we have to recognize a very basic concept; every time we try to measure or add up quality we end up with quantity. So we simply cannot quantify the impact on suffering – the gap here is between different quantum levels.

    First, we could add collective cultural perspectives, which emphasize intersubjective core values such as ethic and moral. And where can we find a common ground for such a perspective? We have to recognize that global warming is a truly global issue – and therefore explicitly calls for a common global set of core values. In my opinion, the various world religions can present the common ground and common values. It could be useful to obtain what we could call unified interpretations on the core values of the world religions – humbly I believe it could be “act harmless” or “ending of sufferings”.

    Bjorn Lomborg mostly focuses on various kinds of relatively singular items (AIDS, poverty etc). But from a planetary perspective, it seems, as all sentient beings will (more or less) suffer due to global warming – and a more pluralistic perspective on the eco-system seems appropriate.

    So what we have here is really a spiritual quest. And an integral spiritual perspective, which embraces and pervades both singular and pluralist perspectives, could bring great benefit as a tool for the entire humanity and especially for the decision makers.

    If we fail to acknowledge the integral spiritual perspective here, we will not succeed.

  2. Posted January 24, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

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