16 july 2020

Are We Overreacting on Climate Change?

By Joseph E. Stiglitz, The New York Times, July 16, 2020

How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet
By Bjorn Lomborg

The thesis of Bjorn Lomborg’s “False Alarm” is simple and simplistic: Activists have been sounding a false alarm about the dangers of climate change. If we listen to them, Lomborg says, we will waste trillions of dollars, achieve little and the poor will suffer the most. Science has provided a way to carefully balance costs and benefits, if we would only listen to its clarion call. And, of course, the villain in this “false alarm,” the boogeyman for all of society’s ills, is the hyperventilating media. Lomborg doesn’t use the term “fake news,” but it’s there if you read between the lines.

As with others in Lomborg’s camp, there’s the pretense in this book of balance and reference to careful studies. Yes, climate change is real. Yes, we should do something about it. But, goes his message, let’s be real, there are other problems, too. Resources are scarce. The more money we spend on climate change, the less we have to grow the economy; and as we all know (or do we?) everybody benefits from growth, especially the poor. And besides, there’s not much we can do about climate change.

He’s not completely fatalistic. He urges imposing a carbon tax and investing much more on innovation, both good ideas, although neither is a panacea, especially since the carbon price he suggests is far too low. Among the many contradictions within the book is that while he seems to say that innovation may be our savior, he also suggests that the model he relies on shows that we’ve invested all we wisely can in innovation. We’ve done all we should. Evidently, we’re supposed to pray that nature be more forgiving as it bestows good fortune on our research efforts.

Somehow, missing in his list of good policy measures are easy things like good regulations — preventing coal-burning electric generators, for example. Lomborg, a Danish statistician, exhibits a naïve belief that markets work well — ignoring a half-century of research into market failures that says otherwise — so well, in fact, that there is no reason for government to intervene other than by setting the right price of carbon.


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