Bjorn Lomborg seems to be causing a stir again with his new book, ‘Cool It’. I haven’t read the book but the essence of it seems to be that the dangers of climate change are over-rated. Lomborg also proposes that trying to cut emissions might be part of a good policy response to climate change, but it shouldn’t be the entire response. He says in an interview with Bill Maher,
Right now, we talk a lot, and we say, let’s do the Kyoto Protocol, which costs a lot of money; we actually don’t implement [it], and then even if we did, [it] would do very little good… Instead, we should focus on cutting the cost of cutting emissions. That is, invest in research and development on non-carbon-emitting energy technologies.
Whether Lomborg’s right about the numbers or not, it raises an interesting point: in our haste to talk about ways of cutting emissions have we lost sight of the basic economics principles which should guide us? Lomborg points out that good things can come from global warming too, such as the opening of the Northern Passage. If we can no longer prevent it happening, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to invest in making it productive? Essentially, his point is that many of the responses to climate change have a higher marginal cost than marginal benefit and a re-allocation of resources would be beneficial to everyone.
On a broader lever, does there come a point where we have to acknowledge that, given the lack of action so far, many of the predicted consequences are unavoidable? At that point, would it be more beneficial to invest in technology that will take advantage of a different global climate than continue to aim for an unachievable first-best outcome of preventing climate change? I don’t pretend to know much about the issue but books such as Lomborg’s that address such questions in a reasonable fashion are vital to the construction of effective policy. Climate change is simply too important to let a knee-jerk reaction dictate the future of our planet.
Check out comments by people who’ve read the book at MR.