Bjorn Lomborg, the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001), offers his thoughts on what are the cost-effective things to do about man-made global warming in an op/ed in the Washington Post. He points out that reducing the ability of people to create wealth blunts their ability to meet the challenges of future climate change. Unfortunately, the Kyoto Protocol turns out to be pretty effective at reducing wealth creation and not so effective at lowering global temperatures. To wit:
We shouldn't ignore climate change or the policies that could attack it. But we should be honest about the shortcomings and costs of those policies, as well as the benefits.
Environmental groups say that the only way to deal with the effects of global warming is to make drastic cuts in carbon emissions—a project that will cost the world trillions (the Kyoto Protocol alone would cost $180 billion annually). The research I've done over the last decade, beginning with my first book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist," has convinced me that this approach is unsound; it means spending an awful lot to achieve very little. Instead, we should be thinking creatively and pragmatically about how we could combat the much larger challenges facing our planet….
Even if the policymakers' earlier promises had been met, they would have done virtually no good, but would have cost us a small fortune. The climate models show that Kyoto would have postponed the effects of global warming by seven days by the end of the century. Even if the United States and Australia had signed on and everyone stuck to Kyoto for this entire century, we would postpone the effects of global warming by only five years.
Lomborg argues that there are far more cost-effective ways to address the problems exacerbated by man-made global warming:
The IPCC [U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] tells us two things: If we focus on economic development and ignore global warming, we're likely to see a 13-inch rise in sea levels by 2100. If we focus instead on environmental concerns and, for instance, adopt the hefty cuts in carbon emissions many environmental groups promote, this could reduce the rise by about five inches. But cutting emissions comes at a cost: Everybody would be poorer in 2100. With less money around to protect land from the sea, cutting carbon emissions would mean that more dry land would be lost, especially in vulnerable regions such as Micronesia, Tuvalu, Vietnam, Bangladesh and the Maldives.
As sea levels rise, so will temperatures. It seems logical to expect more heat waves and therefore more deaths. But though this fact gets much less billing, rising temperatures will also reduce the number of cold spells. This is important because research shows that the cold is a much bigger killer than the heat. According to the first complete peer-reviewed survey of climate change's health effects, global warming will actually save lives. It's estimated that by 2050, global warming will cause almost 400,000 more heat-related deaths each year. But at the same time, 1.8 million fewer people will die from cold.
The Kyoto Protocol, with its drastic emissions cuts, is not a sensible way to stop people from dying in future heat waves. At a much lower cost, urban designers and politicians could lower temperatures more effectively by planting trees, adding water features and reducing the amount of asphalt in at-risk cities. Estimates show that this could reduce the peak temperatures in cities by more than 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Global warming will claim lives in another way: by increasing the number of people at risk of catching malaria by about 3 percent over this century. According to scientific models, implementing the Kyoto Protocol for the rest of this century would reduce the malaria risk by just 0.2 percent.
On the other hand, we could spend $3 billion annually—2 percent of the protocol's cost—on mosquito nets and medication and cut malaria incidence almost in half within a decade. Malaria death rates are rising in sub-Saharan Africa, but this has nothing to do with climate change and everything to do with poverty: Poor and corrupt governments find it hard to implement and fund the spraying and the provision of mosquito nets that would help eradicate the disease. Yet for every dollar we spend saving one person through policies like the Kyoto Protocol, we could save 36,000 through direct intervention.
Of course, it's not just humans we care about. Environmentalists point out that magnificent creatures such as polar bears will be decimated by global warming as their icy habitat melts. Kyoto would save just one bear a year. Yet every year, hunters kill 300 to 500 polar bears, according to the World Conservation Union. Outlawing this slaughter would be cheap and easy—and much more effective than a worldwide pact on carbon emissions.
Wherever you look, the inescapable conclusion is the same: Reducing carbon emissions is not the best way to help the world. I don't point this out merely to be contrarian. We do need to fix global warming in the long run. But I'm frustrated at our blinkered focus on policies that won't achieve it.
In 1992, wealthy nations promised to cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. Instead, emissions grew by 12 percent. In 1997, they promised to cut emissions to about 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2010. Yet levels will likely be 25 percent higher than hoped for.
So instead of limits on greenhouse gases, what does Lomborg suggest?
Ideally, every nation should commit to spending 0.05 percent of its gross domestic product exploring non-carbon-emitting energy technologies, be they wind, wave or solar power, or capturing CO2emissions from power plants. This spending could add up to about $25 billion per year but would still be seven times cheaper than the Kyoto Protocol and would increase global R&D tenfold. All nations would be involved, yet the richer ones would pay the larger share.