TCS Daily

Gore's Next Act

By Pete Geddes - October 16, 2007 12:00 AM

Congratulations to Al Gore on winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on
global warming. Mr. Gore asserts climate change is a moral and spiritual
issue. In order to make responsible decisions on these dimensions, Mr.
Gore's next mission should be to focus on the tradeoffs his policy choices
necessarily imply.

I suggest when flying to Stockholm, he prepare by reading an important book
by the late Reverend Paul Heyne. Paul was an unusual economist, an ordained
Lutheran minister with a Ph.D. in ethics and social thought from the
University of Chicago. He spoke at several FREE programs on environmental
policy and we use selections from his book, The Economic Way of Thinking, in
FREE's conferences.

Paul explained that all policy questions require choosing among competing
values. Good intentions alone will not suffice. Global warming is no
exception. Does climate change demand drastic and dramatic action now? If
so, at what cost? For example, will we accept a $6.00 per gallon tax on gas?
Such questions are also the message of another book Mr. Gore might consider,
Bjorn Lomborg's Cool It.

I believe Paul would be comfortable with the main theme in Cool It. We have
limited resources and face many opportunities to use them productively, for
ourselves and for others. Here's a simple truth: The resources expended to
combat climate change are not available for other beneficial projects, such
as eradicating malaria, killer of 2 million people each year, 90 percent of
whom are children under 5. Those who believe climate change trumps all else
ignore tradeoffs among competing values. This is irresponsible on many
dimensions, ethical, environmental, and economic.

Lomborg emerged in 2001 after he published The Skeptical Environmentalist.
Time magazine later named him one of the world's most 100 influential
people. In The Skeptical Environmentalist, Lomborg examined the "Litany,"
i.e., persistent claims of pending eco-catastrophes. Here's a sample of the
"Litany" from a 1997 article in Wired magazine: Our resources are running
out. The air is bad, the water worse. We're trashing the planet. The
limits to growth are upon us. Unless we act decisively, the final result
is written in stone: mass poverty, famine, starvation, and death.

These views (circa 1970) still underpin much of modern environmentalism, a
movement that perfected crisis entrepreneurship. Lomborg's book was a direct
assault on their carefully crafted narrative; nurtured over decades, abetted
by a compliant media, and digested by a largely scientifically illiterate

Cool It, a tightly written and highly readable book, is an extension of
Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus project. The project asked some of the
world's leading economists, individuals who specialize in evaluating
tradeoffs, "What would be the best ways of advancing global welfare, and
particularly the welfare of developing countries, supposing that an
additional $50 billion of resources were at governments' disposal?"

They ranked the world's ten biggest problems as identified by the United
Nations. These challenges are: civil conflicts, climate change, communicable
diseases, education, financial stability, governance, hunger and
malnutrition, migration, trade reform, and water and sanitation.

Climate change received the lowest ranking. Why? It takes enormous
expenditures to achieve very small reductions in greenhouse gases and the
benefits are far distant in time and highly uncertain.

Just as a church must choose between energy conservation and sending funds
to its foreign missions, societies must choose among competing goods and
values, such as more health care or safer roads. It is intellectually and
morally irresponsible to deny the logic of opportunities foregone. This is
the take home message in Cool It.

Eradicating malaria, providing access to clean drinking water, reducing
infant mortality, increasing female literacy, and access to primary
education provide more immediate benefits to the world's poorest than
seeking to slow global warming by cutting CO2 emissions.

UN and World Bank data clearly show the world is becoming wealthier. Wealth
dramatically increases resiliency to all sorts of stress, including climate
change. Cool It proposes that the best climate change policy is to foster
economic growth in the developing world. Any policy that retards this
outcome is suspect at best. If Mr. Gore again runs for president, he will
confront this inconvenient truth.


TCS Daily Archives