Book: Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg

Extremely interesting and readable book on the economics of global warming

Bjorn Lomborg
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
Knopf, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-307-26692-7
164 pages (main text)

Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg is a short and highly readable book about global warming, mainly looked at from the point of view of economics. At the beginning of the book, Mr Lomborg grants that antropogenic (human-created) global warming is a real problem. He also grants that current meteorological and economic models of global warming and its effects are generally correct. He then takes a seemingly-obvious step that it seems few other people take. He analyzes what those models imply about what people ought to do about the problem.

For one, he finds that scare-stories of extinct polar bears and sea-level rises of 20 feet don't stand up to scrutiny. Indeed, he points out that they often get in the way of sensible debate and rational calculation. For another, he finds that promises to make large reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions (such as the Kyoto protocol) are tremendously expensive and either accomplish vanishingly little or actually do harm, depending on whether you make less-plausible or more-plausible assumptions about the future. The problem with plans like that is that severely restricting carbon-dioxide emissions would quickly choke off economic development, leaving people poorer than they otherwise would be. Being poorer they'd then be less well able to deal with the actual probable results of global warming. But politicians like grand gestures that grab headlines. It's telling that almost invariably the reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions that politicians promise will really begin to bite only after they will have safely retired. Mr Lomborg finds that money can be spent far more effectively than that, producing much better results for people at a much lower cost.

Then what does Mr Lomborg propose? He proposes a tax on carbon-dioxide emissions of only a few dollars per ton (in line with the best estimates of the actual damage done) and a pretty big publicly-funded increase in research and development on low-emissions energy technology.

Now, anyone is free to disagree with any of that. But Mr Lomborg is very careful (you might say meticulous) in constructing his arguments and in documenting his sources. There is an average of more than one end-note per page of text and the book's bibliography runs to 41 pages of pretty small type. If someone wants to claim that Mr Lomborg is wrong and wants to be taken seriously, they'd need to indicate exactly where his logic is flawed or say which experts he refers to are mistaken.

Until someone makes an equally careful argument that the world must revert to a pre-industrial society to survive, I'll believe Mr Lomborg. I suspect that you will too if you read this book.

Posted: Sun - July 13, 2008 at 04:30 PM   Main   Category: