Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Entirely Manageable

Today I will abandon, for a time, the tone of calm objectivity that has previously characterized my labors in the blogosphere, and indulge myself in mere opinion: Bjorn Lomberg is a flaming asshole, and deserves a swift kick in the slats.

Consider his latest column, in which he proposes to help that genial hayseed Obama understand politics:

He will be swamped with suggestions as to what to do first -- perhaps none more impassioned than those who advocate dealing with man-made climate change. He will be told that it is the biggest threat facing humanity and that its solution is the mission of our generation.
What Obama needs to realize is that all of this is lies. And here's why:
The United Nations science consensus expects temperature increases of 3 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, leading to (for example) sea-level increases of between one-half and two feet. Yet such a rise is entirely manageable and not dissimilar to the sea-level rise of about one foot we dealt with over the past 150 years.
Three points come to mind. First, a higher sea level is one of the problems that a 3-degree temperature increase would cause. There are others. This is also true of a 7-degree increase, obviously.

Second, the IPCC expects increases of 3 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, but says that an increase of 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit is possible.

Third, it's true that a two-foot rise in sea level is "not dissimilar" to a rise of one foot, inasmuch as water is water and feet are feet. But it is dissimilar when you think about the actual amount of water involved (hint: it's roughly twice as much), and its effects.

This is a knotty point, so let's try a thought experiment. Bjorn Lomborg is up to his neck in a tank of reeking, frothy elephant piss. The last two buckets I poured into the tank raised the level by about a foot. That being the case, Science tells us that the four buckets I'm about to add are likely to raise it by about two feet.

The question is, will this rise be as "manageable" for Our Hero as the previous one? More important, can we rely on speculation and hearsay for an answer, or must we insist on having clear scientific evidence, in the form of Lomborg's sodden corpse?

For an economist, and a man who constantly sees fit to slap the wrists of climate scientists, Lomborg is amazingly casual about numbers. Elsewhere, he calls 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit "almost immeasurable." That's not the attitude I'd look for in a CFO or a scientist, personally.

Lomborg goes on to assert cheerfully that a hotter world means a reduction in cold-related deaths, even though he knows as well as anyone else that I've already addressed this argument here.

The rest of the article comprises the usual arguments against cutting CO2 emissions, in favor of reducing poverty, malnutrition, disease, and so forth. As always, the possible results of climate change never seem to complicate Lomborg's humanitarian schemes: neither drought nor flood nor the loss of ecosystem services will stay him from his appointed rounds. And to the extent that his point is valid, it's still not a valid argument against cutting emissions. Sensible people should support mitigation and adaptation, just as the experts have been saying for years.

Lomborg's unique brand of economic logic can best be appreciated by considering his views on investing in solar panels:
Investing in existing inefficient technology (like current-day solar panels) costs a lot for little benefit. Germany, the leading consumer of solar panels, will end up spending $156 billion by 2035, yet only delay global warming by one hour by the end of the century.

If Mr. Obama invested instead in low-carbon research and development, the dollars would go far (researchers are relatively cheap), and the result -- maybe by 2040 -- will be better solar panels that are cheaper than fossil fuels.
Putting aside the fact that there are other benefits to solar power than climate mitigation -- and that these benefits include reducing malnutrition, poverty, disease, and economic hardship in the very countries over which Lomborg routinely weeps -- he's assuming that Germany will invest until 2035 in current-day solar panels, and that investing in low-carbon technology will bring about improved solar panels by 2040. The argument seems incoherent. If we're going to assume that Germany will spend the (comparatively small) sum of $156 billion over the next 27 years, and that solar panels can improve in efficiency over that time, why would we assume that Germany's panels will remain at 2008 efficiency levels for the duration?

Weirder still, Lomborg wants Obama to "invest in creating new technologies, rather than simply subsidizing existing ones." And yet he uses solar panels as an example of inefficient "existing technologies"...the very same solar panels that he says could be cheaper than fossil fuels by 2040, if only we have the wisdom to invest in "new technologies."

Anyway, you'll be happy to know that bold ideas like this "could realistically and cost-effectively fix global warming in the medium term" (thereby condemning 1.8 million souls to an icy death per annum, according to one of Lomborg's favorite statistics).

In other news, the Maldives intends to use tourist money to buy a new homeland. Opportunity never stops knocking!


chris said...

Also along the way he talks about the wonderfulness of "the Copenhagen Consensus."
Had to read all the way to the end of the article where I discovered this:"Copenhagen Business School professor Bjørn Lomborg is the organizer of the Copenhagen Consensus and author of "Cool It."
Funny he doesn't mention that in the article. Flaming asshole is too good for him.
Good to see you blogging again

chris said...

PS-This is kinda fun and I've not seen it before.


The name says it all.

Phila said...

Also along the way he talks about the wonderfulness of "the Copenhagen Consensus."

Every goddamn Lomborg article includes a plug for the Copenhagen Consensus, usually in the exact same words. The conclusions never really change.

As I noted here, the CC has (or had) some strange bedfellows.

Good to see you blogging again

Ta. Hoping to make a habit of it.

Joseph Dietrich said...

In my fantasy world, you submit this as a letter to the WSJ editor, it gets published, and Lomberg cast into the Outer Darkness.

Alas, it is only my fantasy world.

roger said...

as bob weir said in introduction to one of his songs...."watch out. here comes some free advice."

chris said...

Thanks for the link, phila. Gotta read more archives.
May I second Joseph Dietrich? although the NYT or WaPo might be a more suitable placement.