The global warming debate is dominated by two extremes. Those on the Left insist climate change mandates a dubious cap-and-trade policy, while those on the Right insist climate science is a fraud or a United Nations-sponsored conspiracy. Put simply, the Left rejects practicality, and the Right rejects reality. Bjorn Lomborg’s movie attempts to spark a reasonable conversation about an important topic badly in need of sanity.
Sanity, however, is not easy to find. Early in the film, Mr. Lomborg discusses how some of his critics attempted to destroy his career. These vicious personal attacks culminated in a Danish government investigation of Mr. Lomborg’s book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, after which he was ultimately cleared of scientific dishonesty or wrongdoing. Fortunately, the opposition Mr. Lomborg has faced has not stopped him from advancing his worthy ideas.
Mr. Lomborg’s thesis is straightforward: Global warming is real and humanity needs to do something about it. However, scare tactics and exaggerations, typified by Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, are both unscientific and unproductive. Memorably, Mr. Gore trumpeted the improbable claims that humanity only had 10 years to save the planet, and if we failed, the oceans would rise by 20 feet. Essentially, the annihilation of Earth was a foregone conclusion unless there was an immediate international agreement to adopt a multi-billion dollar cap-and-trade scheme.
Thankfully, Mr. Lomborg walks us back from the ledge. He points out that even if the Kyoto Protocol had been fully adopted and implemented, it would only decrease global temperature by 0.008 degree Fahrenheit by the year 2100. Similarly, current European Union climate policy will cost $250 billion of GDP annually, yet it will likely decrease global temperature by a mere 0.1 degree Fahrenheit. Isn’t there a better use for all that money? Mr. Lomborg says yes.
Instead of wasting all that money on politically-correct ideas that do not work, the money should be invested in practical solutions that do. For example, if global warming increases the incidence of malaria, the sensible solution is to provide medicine and vaccines. If global warming threatens polar bears, the best solution is to stop shooting them. (Yes, people still hunt polar bears.) If sea levels rise by the current UN estimate of approximately one foot, the rational plan is to construct flood control systems, such as the one used by the Netherlands.
Besides being outrageously expensive, policies intended to curb pollution may also end up curbing economic growth and development. Climate change activists who ignore this are overlooking a simple fact of human existence: Poor people want to improve their lot in life. Citizens of developing countries, such as India and China, are not interested in saving the planet. On the contrary, they are interested in technological advancement. (This, of course, requires more electricity, and the easiest way to get that is by burning fossil fuels.)
The stark contrast between the mentalities of the developed and developing world was poignantly portrayed in two classroom scenes: Schoolchildren in Europe were concerned about global warming, while schoolchildren in Africa were concerned about malnutrition and disease. While European children envisioned nightmares of a burning planet, African children dreamed of owning a television. The futility, and perhaps even cruelty, of imposing carbon caps on a world preoccupied with escaping poverty was crystal clear.
The ultimate solution to climate change, Mr. Lomborg believes, is not increasing the cost of fossil fuels (through cap-and-trade or carbon taxes) but by making alternative energy desirably cheap. He believes this can be done through investing in green energy research using the money the world would save by not implementing economy-killing climate laws. In addition to solar and wind power, Mr. Lomborg supports research into algae biofuel, geoengineering, and nuclear reactors powered by waste.
While Mr. Lomborg neither addresses his solutions in great detail nor discusses the likelihood of global water shortages, he has made an admirable attempt to inject reason, practicality, and decency into a bitterly divisive issue. If the United States and international community hope to make progress on combating climate change, it would be best if there were fewer people like Al Gore and more people like Bjorn Lomborg.
Alex B. Berezow, Ph.D., is the Editor of RealClearScience.