Bjorn Lomborg raised one skeptical environmentalist's eyebrow in the New York Post when everybody’s favorite radical socialist, novice Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said last week “the world is gonna end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change.” Conceding that she was “just saying what many people believe” (though fortunately not that many) Lomborg said “she was still wildly wrong” because climate disasters are a far smaller threat today than ever before. The trouble, he notes, is that “The truth is comparatively boring.” To AOC maybe. But to us it’s far more interesting than any alarmist fantasy.
Lomborg has a habit of reading the IPCC reports that we are constantly told prove a catastrophe is unfolding and showing that they say no such thing. The latest major IPCC report says if we do nothing at all to stop climate change, we will lose between 0.2 and 2 percent of our incomes 50 years out, still leaving us three to five times as rich as we are today. Thus “Far from the “end of the world,” the impact of warming is what we’d expect from roughly a single economic recession taking place over the next half century.” (And while one might ascetically question what we’d do with six iPhones instead of one, or a 6,000 foot home, or three cars, for much of the world’s population a tripling of income would be the difference between starvation and comfort.)
Lomborg goes on that people find this assertion puzzling “when we are constantly told that extreme weather is wreaking ever-greater devastation.” But in fact, “Since 1990, the cost associated with extreme weather worldwide has actually declined, to 0.25 percent of global gross domestic product, from 0.30 percent.” Aaargh. Facts.
He offers more. “Extreme weather costs each French citizen about $25 a year; each American, about $56 per year. That’s what the average US worker spends on coffee in less than a month.” As for “the escalating costs of hurricanes, now inevitably held up as examples of climate change”, he cites “a major study in Nature” that hurricanes currently destroy about 0.04 percent of global GDP. So even if they doubled in impact by 2100, “increased prosperity and resilience mean the cost will have halved to 0.02 percent of GDP. What’s more, the UN panel finds there is no observable increase in hurricane frequency.” Aaargh. More facts.
It gets worse, or better if you don’t revel in catastrophe, because “extreme weather is killing fewer people now than at any point in the last 100 years”. In the 1920s, it did in about half a million people a year. Now, in a world with four times as many human inhabitants, the number is under 20,000. So, he says AOC’s call to stop measuring the costs of climate change policies is absurd.
For instance, the renowned William Nordhaus, “the only climate economist to win the Nobel Prize” has shown that “a globally coordinated, moderate and rising carbon tax could reduce temperatures modestly” at a cost of around $20 trillion, with “a net benefit of $30 trillion over coming centuries.” Now you’d have to be somewhat credulous to accept detailed numbers on an investment strategy over centuries. Things happen. But in any case, “aiming to reduce temperatures more escalates the costs and eventually leaves the planet $50 trillion worse off. Limiting temperature increases to 2°C or less, as many leaders promise, would prove even more costly.”
As Lomborg adds, “Green fretting about Armageddon is nothing new, of course. In the 1960s, mainstream environmentalists worried that the world was running out of food. In the 1980s, acid rain was going to destroy the planet’s forests. There were good reasons for concern, but a panicked response led to a poor, overly expensive response. We need to get smarter.”
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