Bjørn Lomborg is a Danish academic and environmental economist who has been prominent in the climate change debate. I bumped into him at the BBC’s Millbank studios on Friday Oct 11th. We were both appearing (separately) on the Andrew Neil Daily Politics Show.
Lomborg is famous as the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist. He has adopted a position which is unusual, but which illustrates a key point in the argument. He accepts the IPCC’s “consensus science” – effectively the Al Gore position – but he argues that the things we are doing in an attempt to mitigate global warming will have little impact on the climate. They are essentially gesture politics, they are vastly expensive and they are a complete waste of money.
He set up his “Copenhagen Consensus” think-tank to propagate this view. It looked at a variety of ways in which spending money might contribute to human happiness and the welfare of mankind, and ranked them in value-for-money order. Top were initiatives like providing micronutrients (vitamins) for infants in poor countries, with clean water, sanitation, education and so on not far behind. Spending to mitigate global warming not only came bottom of the list, but practically off the page.
As an example, Lomborg calculates (using the IPCC orthodoxy) that the $110 billion which Germany has spent on renewables should, by the end of this century, in 2100, delay the impact of global warming by only 37 hours. A change far too small to measure.
Lomborg would argue that relatively small investments into cost-effective low-carbon energy solutions would, in value-for-money terms, beat spending on current renewables by several orders of magnitude.
It is interesting to contrast Lomborg’s position with that of UKIP. We have three clear lines of argument against current policy: (A) The science is highly questionable, and we just don’t believe that man-made CO2 is a major factor influencing the climate; (B) The things we are doing today are ineffectual in a global context, and economically damaging; and (C) Intermittent renewables don’t actually deliver planned savings in fossil fuel use or emissions, because they simply export intermittency and inefficiency to the essential fossil-fuel back-up.
You don’t need to buy all of this – if you agree with any one of these three propositions, then you have to agree that the UK’s current green policies are a huge mistake. And from my point of view, the key thing about Lomborg is that he makes a resounding case for point (B). If he’s right (and no one has mounted an effective challenge to his position, so far as I know) then the UK’s current policies are both wrong and hugely damaging. Ed Davey, please take note.
I was very interested, therefore, to see that Bjørn has published a new book, “How much have global problems cost the world? A scorecard 1900-2050”.
I don’t have my hand on a copy yet, but I’ve read the press releases, and it’s clear that he’s making the same vital point ever more cogently.
A couple of key insights. Bjørn argues that the cost of the UK’s climate programme on current plans will be £1.5 trillion by 2100, and (even if you accept global warming theory) this will reduce global temperatures by only 0.005oC. Whereas he argues that shale gas exploitation in the UK would have ten times the climate impact, yet instead of costing, it would increase tax revenues by £6 billion annually.
And after all the scare stories about global warming, he quotes a best estimate of the impact of the slight warming over 1900 to 2025: It has increased global welfare by up to 1.5% of GDP. There’s something they don’t teach kids in school. But maybe that’s why warmer periods like the Minoan Optimum and the Roman Optimum are called “Optimum”.