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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Economists Weigh in on Global Warming, Seal Trainers Offer Advice on Heart Surgery

(Keywords and tags: , , , , , some want to put on the backburner)

Carl Pope, author and Executive Director of the Sierra Club, writes over at The Huffington Post:

Almost a year ago, I was in Bombay when the worst rainfall ever to hit India devastated the city with 36 inches in a single day, killing more than a thousand people. Afterwards, a record number of individual plaintiffs signed up for a lawsuit criticizing the city's planning and response, and a huge new drainage project was begun, while the city and state started, and then hesitated, to ban the thin plastic bags that clogged many of the drains and led to the record flooding.

I wasn't in Bombay this week when the skies opened again and another three feet of water fell. This wasn't a record event -- the rainfall accumulation was spread across several days this time -- but it turned out not to matter: the streets and subways still flooded, even the finest buildings leaked, and infrastructure collapsed. Once again, the city's economic future has been called into question.

Friends in India tell me that a strong consensus is emerging among meteorologists there that global warming has permanently intensified the monsoon pattern on India's west-central coast, and that Bombay simply was not built for, and cannot handle, the kinds of rainfall events it can now expect routinely.

The piece is titled, The Economic Price of Global Warming, addresses global warming from a similar perspective as I did with a post titled Global Warming is About Money, OK?. Both argue that we can't afford global warming.

But it looks like the anti-global warming moonies have that approach covered, as well. The Wall Street Journal (surprise, surprise) tells us that a brain trust has found that global warming is too expensive to deal with immediately.

Bjorn Lomborg is a political scientist by training, but the charismatic, golden-haired Dane is offering me a history lesson. Two hundred years ago, he explains, sitting forward in his chair in this newspaper's Manhattan offices, the left was an "incredibly rational movement." It believed in "encyclopedias," in hard facts, and in the idea that mastery of these basics would help "make a better society." Since then, the world's do-gooders have succumbed to "romanticism; they've become more dreamy." This is a problem in his view, and so this "self-avowed slight lefty" is determined to nudge the whole world back toward "rationalism."

Well, if not the whole world, at least the people who matter. In Mr. Lomborg's universe that means the lawmakers and bureaucrats who are charged with solving the world's most pressing problems--HIV/AIDS, malaria, malnutrition, dirty water, trade barriers. This once-obscure Dane has in recent years risen to the status of international celebrity as the chief advocate of getting leaders to realize the world has limited resources to fix its problems, and that it therefore needs to prioritize.

Prioritization, cost-effectiveness, efficiency--these are the ultimate in rational thinking. (It strikes me they are the ultimate in "free markets," though Mr. Lomborg studiously avoids that term.) They are also nearly unheard-of concepts among the governments, international bodies and aid groups that oversee good works.


Yet the experience left Mr. Lomborg with a taste for challenging conventional wisdom. In 2004, he invited eight of the world's top economists--including four Nobel Laureates--to Copenhagen, where they were asked to evaluate the world's problems, think of the costs and efficiencies attached to solving each, and then produce a prioritized list of those most deserving of money. The well-publicized results (and let it be said here that Mr. Lomborg is no slouch when it comes to promoting himself and his work) were stunning. While the economists were from varying political stripes, they largely agreed. The numbers were just so compelling: $1 spent preventing HIV/AIDS would result in about $40 of social benefits, so the economists put it at the top of the list (followed by malnutrition, free trade and malaria). In contrast, $1 spent to abate global warming would result in only about two cents to 25 cents worth of good; so that project dropped to the bottom.

The article might as well add, "Lomberg later invited the world's top veterinarians to fix the transmission on his Volvo." This is what anti-science campaigns always do. They put together a blue ribbon panel of experts to declare the findings they want. The problem is, they're always experts in something else.

During the eighties, we had law professors telling us that smoking and exposure to asbestos wasn't harmful, the creationist/'intelligent design' movement has astronomers and philosophers disputing biology. Now we have economists deciding that global warming shouldn't be a priority.

According to WSJ:

Wondering how all this might go over with Al Gore, I ask Mr. Lomborg if he'd seen the former vice president's new film that warns of a climate-change disaster. He's planning to, but notes he wasn't impressed by the trailers: "It appears to be so overblown that it isn't helpful to the discussion." Not that Mr. Lomborg doesn't think global warming is a problem--he does. But he lays out the facts. "The proposed way of fixing this--to drastically reduce carbon emissions now and to solve a 100-year problem in a 10-year time frame, is just a bad idea. You do fairly little good at a fairly high price. It makes more sense to solve the 100-year problem in a 50-year time frame, and solve the 10-year problems, like HIV-AIDS, in a five-year time frame. That makes sense, and is the smart way to spend money."

What Lomberg is talking about are findings by the United Nations, which reports, "Predictions of future climate impacts may be fuzzy, but they are not meaningless: what they show is that the consequences could vary from disruptive to catastrophic. The minimum warming forecast for the next 100 years is more than twice the .6 degree C increase that has occurred since 1900. . . and that earlier increase is already having marked consequences." What he calls a '100 year problem' is based on an arbitrary time frame. The UN doesn't say we have one hundred years to take action, it simply puts the problem within a frame of reference. The Washington Post reported in 2004:

Ten of the nation's top climate researchers warned yesterday that policymakers must act soon to address the dangers associated with global warming, which they described as a looming threat that will hit hardest and soonest at the world's poor and at farmers.

"By mid-century, millions more poor children around the world are likely to face displacement, malnourishment, disease and even starvation unless all countries take action now to slow global warming" and sea-level rises that will follow, Michael Oppenheimer, who teaches geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, said at a conference. "Imagine the difficulties faced by families in Bangladesh. An area where about 8 million people now live would be underwater if global sea level were to rise half a meter. Where are they going to go?"

Last I heard, a half century was fifty years, not one hundred. By Lomberg's and the CC's reasoning, we should just about be wrapping up our effort to reverse global warming when everyone in Jamaica lives on boats and wears hip-waders.

In 2001, one hundred Nobel Laureates signed a statement stating that the two greatest and most immediate threats to humanity were global warming and war. "The most profound danger to world peace in the coming years will stem not from the irrational acts of states or individuals but from the legitimate demands of the world's dispossessed," the statement reads, "Of these poor and disenfranchised, the majority live a marginal existence in equatorial climates. Global warming, not of their making but originating with the wealthy few, will affect their fragile ecologies most. Their situation will be desperate and manifestly unjust."

The signatories include physicists, chemists, medical researchers, Peace Prize winners (including the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu) and - wait for it - four economists.