A note from Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Project, which seeks to prioritize global policy decisions according to sound science and rational cost-benefit analysis rather than media-driven hysteria:
The pain caused by the global food crisis has led many people to belatedly realize that we have prioritized growing crops to feed cars instead of people. That is only a small part of the real problem.
The crisis demonstrates what happens when we focus doggedly on one specific—and inefficient—solution to one particular global challenge. A reduction in carbon emissions has become an end in itself. The fortune spent on this exercise could achieve an astounding amount of good elsewhere.
In a year, malnutrition in mothers and their young children will cause 3.5 million deaths. Conflict will wreak havoc and cause untold suffering. Malaria will take a million lives—most of them among children.
Yet famine, war, and disease are rated poorly when residents of the First World are asked to name the planetary challenges causing them the most concern. Along with climate change, the issue that creates the most anxiety is terrorism.
The Copenhagen Consensus 2008 project is designed to put fear to one side and highlight the best solutions among all of the world's biggest problems. The research on these pages reveals our stark spending choices in 10 areas.
Comparing costs and benefits is a transparent and practical way to show whether expenditure is futile or worthwhile. It gives us a means to step back and weigh competing options for the public purse or philanthropist's checkbook. It prompts us to take another look at our current priorities and ask: is this really the best that we can do?
Acknowledging that some investments shouldn't be our topmost priority isn't the same as saying that the challenges don't exist. It simply means working out how to do the most good with our limited resources, right now.
In the last week of May, top economists—including five Nobel Laureates—will gather in Copenhagen to weigh the costs and benefits of each policy option, and make a prioritized list showing the best and worst choices.
Have your say ahead of their decision. With limited resources, which challenge do you think global decision-makers should tackle first?—Bjorn Lomborg
What follows are short discussions about how to deal with 10 areas, ranging from air pollution to global warming to women and development. Each topic section includes two options to ameliorate the situation. Each solution has been assigned a benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) by researchers commissioned by the Copenhagen Consensus Project 2008. For information about the researchers for each section, please go here.
reason online readers are invited to rank which areas of concern they think are most important and which solutions you prefer. You may submit your rankings here. The results will be tabulated and announced on the site next week.
1. Air Pollution
The Olympic Games has given China the motivation to get serious about the smog that chokes its capital city.
Major polluters have been shifted away from Beijing. Coal-burning boilers have been converted to cleaner fuels, and vehicle emission standards have been introduced. All this so that athletes—and the world's media—see clear skies. Sadly, few other cities in the developing world have similar motivation to clear the air. Air pollution—in the form of outdoor urban pollution and of ‘indoor' pollution caused by old-fashioned cooking methods—kills nearly 2.5 million people each year; 90 percent of the fatalities happen in developing nations.