The Kyoto Poll

Sanitation beats warming


In October the maverick environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg asked 24 ambassadors and high-level diplomats to answer everyone's favorite fantasy question: If you could spend $50 billion to better the world, what would your first priority be? In 2004 Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, made headlines asking the same question of celebrated economists. When they ranked global warming dead last on their list of cost-effective spending priorities, critics alleged that he had cherry-picked sympathetic thinkers. So Lomborg opened up the discussion to experts on international development and diplomacy.

The countries represented ranged from Australia to Zambia, covering 54 percent of the world's population. The results? Once again, sanitation, communicable diseases, education, and hunger scored far higher than global warming in the final list of priorities.

On the list of 40 ways to solve the world's problems (or, as the diplomats referred to them, "opportunities"), the first entry related to climate change—the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty limiting the emission of greenhouse gases—snuck in at number 23. According to Lomborg, a few nations ranked the treaty very high (he suggested they were primarily developing nations on whom the treaty would not impose much immediate cost), but most ranked Kyoto very low.