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Responding to the critics, part 2

January 28th, 2005

Today’s Fin (subscription only) has a couple of letters responding to my review of Lomborg’s “Global Crises, Global Solutions

. One from Brent Howard takes the Copenhagen panel to task over their approach to discounting the future costs of global warming. I agree, and will maybe post more on this later. The other, from Rajat Sood, is odd. He doesn’t address the main review at all, focusing instead on my summary of The Sceptical Environmentalist. Sood denies my initial claim that Lomborg did not argue that the scientific evidence on global warming was wrong, focusing instead on the idea that it would be better to spend money on aid projects. (full letter over the fold) I expected the review to be attacked from various directions, but this one surprised me.

In response, I can’t do much better than quote Lomborg himself

Let us agree that human activity is changing our climate and that global warming will have serious, negative impacts. Nonetheless, all the information from the UN climate panel, the IPCC, tells us that it will not end civilisation … The end-of-civilisation argument is counterproductive to a serious public discourse on our actions. We do have a choice. We can make climate change our first priority, or choose to do other good first.

If we go ahead with Kyoto, the cost will be more than $150bn (£80bn) each year, yet the effect will first be in 2100, and will be only marginal. This should be compared with spending the $150bn each year on the most effective measures outlined in the Copenhagen Consensus, saving millions of lives. The UN estimates that for just half the cost of Kyoto we could give all third world inhabitants access to the basics like health, education and sanitation.

It’s true that Lomborg spends some time in his book discussing arguments that the threat of global warming may be overstated in scientific terms, but (wisely) he doesn’t rely on any of them.Here are a couple more sources, favourable and hostile, giving broadly similar summaries of Lomborg’s position.

Sood’s letter

It is difficult to take a book review seriously when the author undermines his own credibility in the opening paragraphs. In his review of the Copenhagen Consensus’s “Global Crises, Global Solutions” (AFR Review, 21/1), John Quiggin misrepresents Bjorn Lomborg’s previous project, “The Skeptical Environmentalist”.

Quiggin says that in the earlier book, Lomborg argued that “…the severity of [most] problems had been overstated or that progress in mitigation had been ignored.” However, with respect to global warming, “…neither of these claims seemed plausible, and Lomborg adopted a different tack. Rather than disputing the scientific evidence of global warming, he argued that the cost of addressing the problem through the Kyoto protocol would be better spent dealing with more urgent issues…” This summation – which is simply wrong – is then used as a platform to criticise the treatment of global warming in the book under review. In “The Skeptical Environmentalist”, Lomborg spent 19 pages (from page 265) arguing that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s predictions were probably too high for a variety of scientific reasons. Lomborg then spent another 12 pages arguing that the consequences of global warming were likely to be less harmful than commonly believed, which is another way of saying that the problem has been overstated. Only on page 300 did Lomborg begin discussing the costs and benefits of different policy options. John Quiggin has unfortunately stooped to the level of many other distinguished academics who have falsely represented Lomborg’s work to promote their own agendas.

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