TNS is 10: The Sceptical Environmentalist
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Bjørn Lomborg has a plan to save the world from global warming and environmental disaster and it’s got nothing to do with Al Gore or capping carbon emissions. The self-proclaimed ‘sceptical environmentalist’ says it’s something so cheap that Bill Gates could do it by himself, so why are his views so at odds with politicians and many others in the climate change debate? “Being sceptical used to be a very, very good thing,” Bjørn says when asked if he’s happy being known as the ‘sceptical environmentalist.’ He says being sceptical is about asking ourselves, ‘Are we really being the smartest we can be?’ The problem, he says, is that on such a politically correct issue like climate change the word ‘sceptic’ has gotten a bad rap and come to mean that you think global warming isn’t happening, that “it’s all just a bunch of poppycock.” “That’s not what I’m saying,” he says very emphatically. “I’m not sceptical about the science, but I am a sceptic of the solutions that we come up with. Fundamentally, the current approach is not working and we need to address that.” Initially it’s hard to tell why Bjørn seems to be a maverick in the realm of environmental activism, and why his books and opinions are the subject of academic criticism. He’s a Dane trying to save the world from man-made disaster, he’s vegetarian and he advocates polluting less and developing better green technologies. Where he differs drastically from the mainstream and the likes of Al Gore is his criticism of the Kyoto-style approach of solving global warming by reducing carbon emissions. “The current set of solutions they’re applying to it are very, very poor,” he says of plans to cut carbon emissions. “First of all we don’t do it, because it’s politically incredibly hard to do. But also economically it’s a very bad deal; spend a lot of money to cut carbon emissions a little bit and have virtually no impact on temperature.” As he explains it, the EU 2020 policy that promises to cut carbon emissions by 20% below 1990 levels within the next decade and sustain that level for the rest of the century will cost $250 billion USD per year ($20 trillion in total), but by 2100 it will only reduce temperatures by an average of 0.05 degrees centigrade. Cutting carbon emissions as a means to combat global warming is something Bjørn has argued against for a long time. In 2004 and 2008 he conceived and organised the Copenhagen Consensus, an event where top economists (including numerous Nobel Prize winners) analysed solutions to the top challenges of the world, including global warming, communicable diseases, malnutrition and the like. If we concede that we can’t afford to solve every problem in the world at once, the Consensus aimed to answer the question, ‘Which should we solve first?’ In 2004, global warming came at the very bottom of the list of priorities and didn’t fare much better in the 2008 follow-up. “If you look at the benefit/cost rationale of spending money on a Kyoto-style approach, for instance if you tried to limit temperatures at 2 degrees or you tried to do the EU 2020 policy, it turns out for every pound you spend you will end up avoiding a couple of pence of climate damage.”
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