Opinion | Opinie 09/03/2010

Opinion writer’s block!

Lots to think about, but little of anyone else’s interest to write about. Hmm.

Well there is this (don’t watch it, read my opinion first, it may save you twenty minutes :p).

A so-called TED talk, about what problems we, as humanity, should be focussing on to solve (that’s a rough summary, see the talk if you want the details).

Climate change, surely!? Or…

In sum, the main argument put forward in this talk is that we should be spending money on fighting malaria and HIV/AIDS, because there the “return of investment” would be greatest.

An additional (weaker, IMO) argument runs along the lines of, in 100 years time, when climate change will become a real problem, people everywhere will be so much richer that it will be easier to fight global warming.

…malaria and HIV/AIDS? Really?

To tackle the first argument, it is far from self-evident that we “should” spend money where it is the most cost-effective. The costs for fighting malaria and AIDS are fairly low, resulting in good-looking cost/effectiveness (or ROI) figures; but the number of people affected by it are also relatively low.

I’ve made comparisons with the Titanic before, so i’ll stick to that. IMO it compares (I do know I am exaggerating) to saving all of the passengers from drowning by fitting enough lifeboats for all, at the cost of say, $1M, or saving half of them, which would cost only $250k, or saving only one in ten, which would cost even less, say $10k. See? Would you really choose the latter option because it is most cost-effective? (Well, you would, if you were the shipping company that fitted the titanic :p)

IMO (again) tackling climate change is precisely so expensive for two reasons. First, it does affect a lot of people, and fundamentally – it requires changes in our lifestyle as a whole, as opposed to simply taking a pill or using a condom. Secondly, it has become so expensive because so far, we have done next to nothing about it. This is where it links to the second argument, that of increased welfare in developing countries in the future making it easier to fight climate change then, not now.

Development in the developing world

One of the greatest risks we are taking in fighting climate change is that a), the costs to change it will grow exponentially – and faster than a (global) increase in welfare, or b) even worse, the climate will reach a tipping point, from which there simply will be no turning back, no matter the cost and no matter our efforts. I don’t think we should be taking that risk. The obvious Titanic comparison to make here is that now, we can see a vague iceberg in the fog dead ahead, but we postpone steering left or right until we have got a better view of it – by which time we may be too close to avoid hitting it at all.

Another counter-argument to the “increased welfare” argument is that this increase in welfare (in the talk Lomborg reckons with a hundred years) is based on the assumption that, in developing countries such as Bangladesh, the welfare will keep increasing. However, if climate change proceeds, this is far from certain.

From the top of my head I know that several predictions say that crop harvests are most likely to suffer in developing countries – they are warmer already, so crops are “stretched thinner” as well. In any case I think crop yields are generally lower in developing countries as we speak. This may mean that, rather than every country getting richer proportionally, the rich get relatively richer (as usual).


To summarise, I don’t think Lomborg is a climate change denialist – he flat-out accepts climate change throughout his talk, and acknowledges it as a big problem. He clearly is honest in his opinion and believes in it. His few jabs at climate change having the “pretty pictures” (like Al Gore is such a hunk, aye?) and the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” are baseless and he should refrain from them. If anything, global warming is too abstract to grasp; malaria and AIDS, with suffering children and suchlike, are the causes that have the potent imagery on their side. Without further referencing I don’t know what to make of the youth of the world agreeing with “his” order of problems; in my surroundings (many university-trained people) I’m pretty sure most people would put climate change high on the agenda, not low.

The bottom line – I disagree with his views, because he looks at it too much from an economical point of view, overlooking a few moral and scientific aspects of the whole problem.

(so far for writer’s block :p)

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