Global Warming's Danish Denialist Coming to America: Part 2
Yesterday in Part 1 of this series, we explained why American global warming denialists are eager to host Bjorn Lomborg at the New York Yacht Club next week: for he will come peddling his unique brand of inaction called the Copenhagen Consensus. Today, in Part 2, we take a look at the false choice that sits at the core of the Copenhagen Consensus.
The False Choice
On page 44 of his book, you'll find a chart that basically summarizes what the Copenhagen Consensus is, at a single glance. It's a prioritized list of 17 global problems that need attention. #1 on the list is HIV/AIDS. Last on the list is climate change. The chart is titled: "Global priority list for spending extra resources, from the 2004 Copenhagen Consensus." Other things on the list include battling malnutrition, various sanitation and water solutions, malaria control, even trade liberalization.
The list was prioritized by "a panel of top-level economists, including four Nobel laureates." (Note: that's Al Gore times four!) The single criterion they used? How much "good" in the world each dollar spent on each solution does. Thus:
Preventing HIV/AIDS turns out to be the very best investment humanity can make: each dollar spent on condoms and information will do about forty dollars worth of social good.
Does this mean that Bjorn's hosts -- the Manhattan Institute -- together with their fellow right-wing travelers, are now ready to campaign for greater global investments in HIV/AIDS control? Will they be handing out condoms with the Manhattan Institute logo at the Yacht Club breakfast? Unlikely. That's not the positive take-away they are ready to promote.
It is rather, this negative take-away about climate opportunities that they are focused upon selling:
....that for each dollar spent, we would end up doing much less than a dollar's worth of good for the world.
How much less? Bjorn says over the coming century, complying only with the Kyoto Protocol would cost the world $5 trillion and yield a benefit worth only $2 trillion.
This shows that Kyoto Protocol is a bad deal: for every dollar spent, it does the world only about thirty-four cents'
worth of good.
Therefore, let's be rational. Let's not do anything. Bjorn cites the work of Yale economist William Nordhaus as the source of his numerology. He provides no page references, however, and if you consult the work of William Nordhaus (his DICE model), the story he tells is far different.
He says the optimal emissions reduction rate -- based on his economic analysis -- is 25% by 2050. It is woefully short of scientific consensus, but it sees well beyond Kyoto -- which Bjorn calls a bad deal. And Nordhaus thinks the reduction effort would be a very good deal: more than $2 of good for every dollar spent:
The efficient climate-change policy would be relatively inexpensive and have a substantial impact on long-run climate change. The net present-value global benefit of the optimal policy is $3.4 trillion relative to no controls. This total involves $2.2 trillion of abatement costs and $5.2 trillion of reduced climatic damages.
There's a pretty glaring discrepancy between Bjorn's use of Nordhaus, and what Nordhaus has to say for himself. Bjorn has some explaining to do about his statistical sleight-of-hand.
But even more sinister is the false choice Bjorn's Consensus asks us to make. It asks the question: if you had "extra resources," what would be the best way to spend them. But that is not a choice we are facing, or
even can face. It's not as if generators of coal-fired electricity, for example, if relieved of internalizing the cost of carbon emissions, are going to go spend their money instead on global AIDS relief.
It is an astonishingly dishonest choice that Bjorn has set up, and he's even dressed it up in the clothes of morality. After all, wouldn't it be reprehensible for anyone to spend a nickel on climate action when that same nickel could far more effectively fight the spread of HIV/AIDS or put food in the mouth of a hungry child? That false choice is precisely the lie at the heart of the Copenhagen Consensus, whose warped logic would likely preclude any environmental action of any
The true choice is something more like this. How are we going to require polluters -- who until now have used the atmosphere as a free dumping ground -- to stop the behavior that is causing global warming? Many people are earnestly working on the answers and finding enormous opportunities for cost-effective action.
McKinsey and Company, for example -- Hyperion to Bjorn's satyr -- has estimated that for a global investment of $170 billion a year for the next 13 years -- or less than 1/2 percent of global GDP -- global energy demand and greenhouse gas
emissions can be cut in half by 2020. That's not all. The investments would yield a 17 percent rate of return and collectively generate energy savings that by 2020 would be worth $900 billion annually.
Separately, others are working on how we fight HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, poor sanitation, water scarcity, bad trade policies, etc. within their own spheres of influence.
No one has been dumb enough to actually halt action because of the Copenhagen Consensus.
Tomorrow: the third and final part of this series, in which we take a closer look at Bjorn's unique contention that global warming will save lives because fewer people will die of cold.