Apr 17th 2014

Global Warming’s Upside-Down Narrative

by Bjørn Lomborg

 

Bjørn Lomborg, a visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business School, is Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center. 

NEW YORK – When politicians around the world tell the story of global warming, they cast it as humanity’s greatest challenge. But they also promise that it is a challenge that they can meet at low cost, while improving the world in countless other ways. We now know that is nonsense.

Political heavyweights from US Secretary of State John Kerry to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon call climate change “the greatest challenge of our generation.” If we fail to address it, Kerry says, the costs will be “catastrophic.” Indeed, this has been the standard assertion of politicians since the so-called Stern Review commissioned by the British government in 2006.

That report famously valued the damage caused by global warming at 5-20% of GDP – a major disruption “on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the twentieth century.”

Tackling climate change, we are told, would carry a much lower cost. The president of the European Commission promised that while the European Union’s climate policies are “not cost-free,” they would amount to just 0.5% of GDP. Indeed, politicians of all stripes have reiterated the Stern Review’s finding that global warming can be curtailed by policies costing just 1% of world GDP.

Climate policies, moreover, are said to help in many other ways. US President Barack Obama promised that policies to combat global warming would create five million new green jobs. The EU claimed that green energy would help “improve the EU’s security of energy supply.”

With the completion of the latest report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we can now see that this narrative is mostly wrong. The first installment of the IPCC report showed that there is indeed a climate problem – emissions of greenhouse gases, especially CO₂, lead to higher temperatures, which will eventually become a net problem for the world. This result was highly publicized.

But the report also showed that global warming has dramatically slowed or entirely stopped in the last decade and a half. Almost all climate models are running far too hot, meaning that the real challenge of global warming has been exaggerated. Germany and other governments called for the reference to the slowdown to be deleted.

The second IPCC installment showed that the temperature rise that we are expected to see sometime around 2055-2080 will create a net cost of 0.2-2% of GDP – the equivalent of less than one year of recession. So, while the IPCC clearly establishes that global warming is a problem, the cost is obviously much less than that of the twentieth century’s two world wars and the Great Depression.

Again, not surprisingly, politicians tried to have this finding deleted. British officials found the peer-reviewed estimate “completely meaningless,” and, along with Belgium, Norway, Japan, and the US, wanted it rewritten or stricken. One academic speculated that governments possibly felt “a little embarrassed” that their previous exaggerated claims would be undercut by the UN.

The third installment of the IPCC report showed that strong climate policies would be more expensive than claimed as well – costing upwards of 4% of GDP in 2030, 6% in 2050, and 11% by 2100. And the real cost will likely be much higher, because these numbers assume smart policies, instantly enacted, with key technologies magically available.

Again, politicians tried to delete or change references to these high costs. British officials explained that they wanted such cost estimates cut because they “would give a boost to those who doubt action is needed.”

Green jobs have been created only with heavy subsidies, costing a similar number of jobs elsewhere. Indeed, each extra job created cost more than $11 million in the US. And facile claims that renewable sources can boost energy security look a lot less convincing after the crisis in Ukraine; Europe now understands that only large and stable energy supplies matter.

Climate change has been portrayed as a huge catastrophe costing as much as 20% of world GDP, though brave politicians could counter it at a cost of just 1% of GDP. The reality is just the opposite: We now know that the damage cost will be perhaps 2% of world GDP, whereas climate policies can end up costing more than 11% of GDP.

What makes this story all the more amazing is that experts have known almost all of these facts for a long time. The Stern Review was produced by bureaucrats and never subjected to peer review. Economists knew that the damage costs had been extensively massaged, and that the estimates were outliers compared to the academic literature. The unfathomably low projections for policy costs were artifacts of ignoring most liabilities, again contradicting the academic literature.

The media, eager for breathless headlines, share the blame with politicians for this state of affairs. Following the release of the Stern Review, one British newspaper reportedly wrote: “Act now or the world we know will be lost forever.” Being accurate is less sexy, but much more informative.

We live in a world where one in six deaths are caused by easily curable infectious diseases; one in eight deaths stem from air pollution, mostly from cooking indoors with dung and twigs; and billions of people live in abject poverty, with no electricity and little food. We ought never to have entertained the notion that the world’s greatest challenge could be to reduce temperature rises in our generation by a fraction of a degree.

The solution is to stop applauding politicians who warn of catastrophe and promote poor policies. Instead of subsidizing inefficient solar and wind power with little benefit, we need to invest in long-term green innovation. And we need to give more attention to all of the other problems. This is perhaps less entertaining, but it will do much more good.


Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2014.
www.project-syndicate.org


Youtube: Baroness Bryony Worthington and Bjorn Lomborg debate Geoengineering and the IPCC Report 2013:



Recent related article on Facts & Arts:


Why Facts Matter: Science Is Not an Opinion

by Jeff SchweitzerAdded 09.04.2014
In a recent tweet,  Donald Trump  threw out this witticism: "In New York, March was the coldest month in recorded history - we could use some GLOBAL WARMING!" The capital letters and exclamation point are his, so sure is he of his deep insight...

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jan 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Thanks to cutting-edge digital technology, cars are increasingly like “smartphones on wheels”, so manufacturers need to have access to the latest patented 4G and 5G technologies essential to navigation and communications. But often the companies that hold the patents are reluctant to license them because manufacturers will not accept the high fees involved, which leads to patent disputes and licensing rows."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Recent polling from Pew Research demonstrates how the public’s attitudes toward the US and President Trump have witnessed sharp declines in many nations across the world. In Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East favorable attitudes toward the US went from lows during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency to highs in the early Obama years to lows, once again, in the Trump era. And in our Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling we found, with a few exceptions, much the same trajectory across the Middle East."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "In the absence of a declaration of war against Iran, the killing of a foreign official – by a drone strike on Iraqi territory – was possibly illegal. But such niceties do not perturb Trump. The evidence is that Trump’s decision was taken without consideration of the possible consequences. The national security system established under Dwight D. Eisenhower, designed to prevent such reckless measures, is broken to non-existent, with ever-greater power placed in the hands of the president. If that president is unstable, the entire world has a very serious problem."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is possible that Trump’s reverential base won’t be sufficient to keep him in the White House past 2020. But such ardent faith is hard to oppose with rational plans to fix this or that problem. That is why it is so unsettling to hear people at the top of the US government speak about politics in terms that rightly belong in church. They are challenging the founding principles of the American Republic, and they might actually win as a result."
Jan 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "If anything has become clear in our recent Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling in Iraq, is that most Iraqis are tired of their country being used as a playground for regional conflict, especially the conflict between the US and Iran. In fact, our polling has shown Iraqis increasingly upset with the role played by both the US and Iran in their country. Majorities see both of these countries as having been the major beneficiaries of the wars that have ravaged their nation since the US invaded in 2003. "
Jan 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Under his [Suleimani's] leadership, Iran helped Hezbollah beef up its missile capabilities, led a decisive intervention to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported the Houthi rebels who have been waging a war against Saudi-led forces in Yemen, and backed a wave of resurgent Shia militias in Iraq. According to Gadi Eizenkot, who completed his term as the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of general staff last year, Suleimani had plans to amass a proxy force of 100,000 fighters along Syria’s border with Israel."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: ".....stunning technological progress during the 2010s makes it possible to cut GHG emissions at a cost far lower than we dared hope a decade ago. The costs of solar and wind power have fallen more than 80% and 70%, respectively, while lithium-ion battery costs are down from $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to $160 per kWh today. These and other breakthroughs guarantee that energy systems which are as much as 85% dependent on variable renewables could produce zero-carbon electricity at costs that are fully competitive with those of fossil-fuel-based systems."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "Predicting the next crisis – financial or economic – is a fool’s game. Yes, every crisis has its hero who correctly warned of what was about to come. And, by definition, the hero was ignored (hence the crisis). But the record of modern forecasting contains a note of caution: those who correctly predict a crisis rarely get it right again. The best that economists can do is to assess vulnerability. Looking at imbalances in the real economy or financial markets gives a sense of the potential consequences of a major shock. It doesn't take much to spark corrections in vulnerable economies and markets. But a garden-variety correction is far different from a crisis. The severity of the shock and the degree of vulnerability matter: big shocks to highly vulnerable systems are a recipe for crisis. In this vein, the source of vulnerability that I worry about the most is the overextended state of central-bank balance sheets. My concern stems from three reasons."
Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."