Review of Lomborg’s new book

In the Financial Times, Clive Crook reviews Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming,

One man who was not rooting for Al Gore to win the Nobel Prize was Bjorn Lomborg. The smiling Dane is the anti-Gore. Unimpressed with An Inconvenient Truth , his new book challenges many of that film’s alarming statements about global warming. Mr Gore and his admirers are paying no attention, needless to say, and that is a pity.

Lomborg’s capacity to anger his opponents is limitless. Of course, he disagrees with them, an outrageous affront in itself. He says that the state of the environment is not dire. He also argues that cutting greenhouse gas emissions should not be the world’s top priority, another scandalous provocation. He makes it worse by being pleasant and reasonable (not to mention Danish), turning up in T-shirt and jeans all the time, supporting his arguments with too many footnotes and acting in other ways designed to offend. Continue reading

Prices, prices, prices

From BBC’s website,

The focus on reducing carbon emissions has blinded us to the real problem – unsustainable lifestyles, says Eamon O’Hara.[…]

We urgently need to think about the more fundamental concept of sustainability and how our lifestyles are threatening not only the environment, but developing countries and global peace and stability[…].

How many people are tired and weary of modern living? The endless cycle of earning and consumption can be exhausting and does not necessarily bring happiness and fulfillment. Can we do things differently, and better?

I don’t think an appeal to our better selves to change our lifestyles is going to work. And I certainly don’t want the government to tell me in detail what I can or can’t do.

What we need to do is to get the prices right. The enormous environmental problems in China and India show what happens if you don’t get prices for water, power, and pollution right. This is not at all simple and easy to do; rich OECD countries are also struggling to get to grips with it. But it is absolutely fundamental.

Terraforming Terra

What should scare us most, climate change or hubristic schemes to mitigate climate change?

The unintended negative consequences of e.g. biofuel production from food crops are large, and include tortilla riots in Mexico because of rising food prices, destruction of rainforests in Indonesia to make way for palm oil plantations, and a general expansion of land under cultivation.

Here is a harbinger of things to come. A company plans to dump iron particles into the ocean in a 100 by 100 kilometer area near the Galapagos Islands in order to stimulate the growth of plankton.

In this case it is not the action of some mad scientist, it is business. The company is peddling “carbon offsets”.

What will be next? Why not seed the stratosphere with sulphur particles and claim carbon credits for that?

The biofuel fiasco and other well-meaning attempts to improve nature – think of the introduction of rabbits in Australia – should make us vary of climate change interventions.

How should we experiment with our poorly understood, nonlinear planetary systems? Very, very carefully.

Climate change is not as scary as climate change mitigation schemes that are driven by the combination of a powerful rent-seeking lobby, investors’ feeding frenzy, opportunistic politicians, and political correctness. Biofuel from food crops is one such scheme. There will no doubt be other even more ambitious schemes in the future. The danger is that they will do more harm than good, and that they will be almost impossible to stop because of the groups that benefit from them.

Update: BBC: Galapagos experiment sparks alarm.

Let me add that I don’t think that dumping 100 tons of iron filings in a 10,000 square kilometer area in the ocean is a cause for alarm. It is not going to trigger a new ice age, destroy the Galapagos ecosystem, or end intelligent life on Planet Earth. The main effect will be to relieve some rather naive people of some of their cash when they pay for carbon offsets.