Cool It

Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg is a terrific book. It takes the predictions of the IPCC and shows that using standard economics that attempting to reduce C02 by large amounts is a bad investment.It’s a book I’m rereading as I’ve just bought it. Lomborg is the famous author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, a book that is something akin to Silent Spring for people who are skeptical of the claims of  Environmental lobbyists. The extraordinary largely ad hominem attacks launched against Lomborg were a statement of the threat it poses to people who believe in environmental scares.

The book is short at only 164 pages, to the point but extensively documented. The references are actually used in an odd way in the edition that I now have., rather than the usual numbers and notes in the texts instead there is a long notes section at the end that is used for references in the book. It has some attractions, the text is cleaner, but it does make up following the references a little harder.

In the first chapter, Polar Bears: Today’s Canaries in the Coal Mine? Lomborg starts out by pointing out that more polar bears are shot than are at risk from global warming and that the overall known population of Polar Bears has been increasing since the early 1980s. The large photogenic mammals that are used in environmental propaganda are doing just fine. Lomborg states that the bears are typical of environmental arguments, often vastly exaggerated and emotional claims that are used to try and convince people.

In the second chapter, It’s Getting Hotter: The Short Story Lomborg accepts the IPCC figures and looks at what exactly will get warmer. You wonder if people have thought about whether the warming will be completely uniform or will occur in particular places at particular times, particularly staunch environmentalists. It turns out that global warming will increase the cold minimums, particularly at night, more than daytime temperatures. Given that more deaths occur during the cold of winter than the heat of summer this will reduce temperature inflicted deaths. The European figures are that excess heat kills about 200 000 people per year where as cold kil 1.5M. The net effect of warming in Europe will be to save lives. However, due to other costs that occur C02 does still cause damage. Lomborg goes on to put costs on a single ton of C02. He gets the figure that each ton does about $1 of damage. The problem is that mitigating each ton is costly. Lomborg then first presents where money could instead be spent and the expected returns. He did this more thoroughly and has written another book about his Copenhagen Consensus where top economists were asked to put prices on problems and their solutions. His top 4 best addressable global problems are HIV, providing micro-nutrients, trade liberalization and malaria control.

The third chapter, Global Warming: Our Many Worries looks at a number of the problems and some of the hyped issues that global warming believers push. Lomborg points out that sea levels have risen by about 30cm in the past 100 years and this has not been an issue. Another rise is likely similar. He discusses glacial melting and how it has been going on since the ending of the little ice age. He attacks the extreme weather hype and makes the point that the increase in costs of hurricanes in the US is due to more people living near the sea. He looks at the issue of malaria spreading due to global warming and points out that malaria was endemic to 36 of the US states before the 1950s or so. What has brought it under control is direct mitigation. The same has occurred in Europe. He briefly discusses the ridiculous scenarios of the gulf stream stopping and other fancies and dispatches them.

Chapter 4 addresses the politics of global warming. It points out that there are many problems humanity faces and a monomaniacal attitude toward global warming is deleterious. Here he first mentions his, and many skeptics, preferred approach that is increasing funding on alternative energy R&D. He suggests that 0.05 percent of global GDP should be put into alternative energy research which would amount to 25B a year. This is a very sensible approach. He then discusses how sensible dialogue with many believers in global warming has been curtailed. He should point out what a coup on the part of Green groups this is. He looks at the Stern report and points out that it is biased towards scary scenarios, inflates the damage from global warming by using damage figures from non-peer reviewed sources and includes some damages several times over and arbitrarily increases others up to eightfold, it also vastly underestimates the costs of abatement. It is, in short, a political report intended to justify government action. Such reports have their place, in Australia a similar piece of propaganda was written on the benefits of work choices and was shredded by journalists and others. It is a great pity that the same standards were not applied to the Stern, and also Garnaut, report. In critiquing the economics Lomborg also mentions William Nordhaus who is an economist and written extensively on the economics of global warming. He is also a Democrat and hopefully the incoming Obama administration will listen to him.

Chapter 5 sums up the book and reiterates Lomborg’s points that Global Warming is exaggerated, that dialogue about it is difficult because of the way it has been framed and that there are other issues that are more important. He reiterates that HIV, malaria and micro-nutrients provide a far better return on money used to improve the planet. He also pushes his idea of putting more money into alternative energy research.

The book is an excellent counter to the Garnaut & Stern reports. Hopefully the beareaucrats that are involved in creating climate policy have read the book. It is short and would take them little time to inform themselves of alternative views. But perhaps policy is largely driven by the possible, by talking to lobby groups and attempting to forge a workable consensus.

Cool It uses the same IPCC data that they do but comes to very different conclusions. It would be interesting to look at lower scenarios, that climate skeptics like Roy Spencer and others believe will occur. Lomborg places a lot of faith in long term models of climate and economics, others are less certain. One of the key areas that is difficult to predict is new technology. Nordhaus addresses this and points out that this adds a huge amount of uncertainty to global warming discussions.

The book is however, an excellent short piece that puts forward a sane view toward global warming.

4.5 /5


6 responses to “Cool It

  1. your favourite alarmist

    Ch 2 sounds like classic inability to think on a systems wide basis. It’s silly to just pick temperature in isolation without looking at the overall effect on climate, and climate’s effects on food production, resource availability, and the economy’s ability to function.

    Also, I don’t understand why you would put that amount of GDP into alternative energy research if global warming is not a problem. We have 800 years of coal left. If burning it is not a problem, why waste that money on solar/wind etc?

    Happy to read it, but I don’t think it’s going to win me over 🙂

  2. Lomborg goes into the effects of climate change on just about everything. It just isn’t in the review.

    If you could have completely pollution free energy that would be highly desirable. Potentially new forms of energy could be cheaper too. That’s why researching alternative energy is worthwhile.

  3. Sure it’s worthwhile, but if pollution is not a problem, as Lomberg seems to be claiming, how can he justify spendng that amount of money now?

    How is the figure of $1 of damage calculated? With emissions running at 27 billion tonnes per year from fossil fuel use alone (source), and rising, that’s a lot of damage, every year.

    What does he have to say about people who live in low lying areas like the Mekong delta or Bangladesh?

  4. Lomborg does not claim that pollution is not a problem. He says that pollution is a problem, the most damaging pollution to human health being burning trees for fuel in small huts, followed by particulate emissions in places like Shanghai or Mumbai. Then comes global warming.

    He mentions the Mekong and Bangladesh. He points out that fewer people die in Bangladesh now than did in the 1970s because they are getting richer and are getting better able to deal with flooding. The 30cm predicted sea level increase over the next 100 years can be comfortably dealt with directly, i.e. with flood management, rather than by attempting to tackle the issue obliquely by spending trillions on global warming.

    Clearly the book would have something interesting for you. It will answer the questions better than I can.

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