This weekend Barron’s ran a Q&A with Bjorn Lomborg, an expert on global warming who expresses a clear eyed view of the problems with the planet’s rising temperature and the smartest ways to deal with it.
Lomborg believes that the planet is warming and CO2 contributes, but he doesn’t see it as an unmanageable catastrophe. For example, citing U.N. research, he says sea levels will only rise by 6 inches to 2 feet by 2100. Compare that to the fact that sea levels rose by 1 foot in the past 150 years. We’ve managed pretty well as a species in the past century, so, rising sea levels are ” a problem we can deal with.”
Barron’s: Bjorn, what do you think will be the outcome of the negotiations to curb global warming this December?
Lomborg: The participating nations will again agree to spend quite a bit of money to cut carbon emissions and again achieve virtually nothing. We already tried that twice — in Rio in 1992, and in Kyoto in 1997. Both of these treaties failed. We will see a lot of posturing, but presumably this isn’t about having a lot of environmental ministries or even presidents and prime ministers come out and claim credit for making costly commitments that we won’t be able to live up to, and which would barely make a dent in the problem anyway. When I first started in the global-warming debate, I was struck by the fact that the world was going to pay $180 billion a year for a protocol that could at best reduce the temperature by 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the 21st century. The U.N. estimates that for less than half that amount, we could provide clean drinking water, sanitation, and basic health care and education to every single human being on the planet. The same warped sense of priorities will continue to bedevil us this December in Copenhagen.
…What would you do to curb the demand for carbon-emitting fossil fuels?
Global warming is definitely a problem, and we should definitely do something. But we shouldn’t do just anything — we should do the smart thing. The main difficulty with global warming is that fossil fuels are not only fairly cheap, they also make this world so rich and so good to live in by providing us with all the amenities that we see around us: light, heat, the ability to propel ourselves to many different places. So we aren’t going to give up fossil fuels without having a great alternative. Right now there is no good alternative to fossil fuels. And so the Chinese and the Indians and everybody else — but also the Americans and the Europeans — will keep on burning a lot of fossil fuels.
Everybody seems to be saying, let’s make carbon-emitting fossil fuels so expensive, nobody will want to use them. But that is bound to fail. So rather than making fossil fuels so expensive, we should try to make green energy so cheap that everybody will want to use it. That means investing in research and development to get better technologies available for 2020, but especially for 2040 and afterward. Investing in making solar panels so cheap that even China and India will want to buy them.
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