Saturday, September 22, 2007

Costs, Benefits, and Global Warming

Last night on Real Time with Bill Maher Bjørn Lomborg argued before the panel that global warming is not the problem society should be focusing on; there are many other problems that are more important. After the video feed ended the panel didn't quite get it. Rob Thomas said "I have no idea what that guy was talking about." Allow me to explain, Rob.

Lomborg is saying that there are all kinds of problems in the world: hunger, disease, war, intolerance, climate change, and so forth. Some of these are big problems, having a very real impact on those affected. Suffering and dying. But some are not big problems. They're still problems, like a broken leg or getting your car towed, but compared to larger issues, they aren't that scary.

Lomborg is also saying these problems also differ in our capacity to solve them. Both cancer and malaria are deadly but, in developed countries, malaria's easier to cure so there's much more focus on cancer. Since society only have so many resources (time, money, personnel) to devote to solving problems, the smart thing would be to focus on the big problems that are relatively easy to solve; that way we can do the most good.

Global warming fails both criteria. It is very expensive to solve and not that big of a deal. There should be more focus on making it cheaper to mitigate the problem: focus on making good solar panels, not installing lots of crappy ones. Going to the moon's a lot cheaper in 2007 than in 1907. Lomborg is asking us to prioritize better.


jeremy h. said...

There is disagreement on the discount rate to use, and depending on which rate you choose global warming could be much more catastrophic.

Anonymous said...

Bjørn Lomborg is widely recognized to be full of crap by people who aren't idiots and ignoramuses.

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