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Global Or Verbal Warming- with Bjorn Lomborg

BEN WATTENBERG: Hello, Iím Ben Wattenberg. Our guest today is Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.
BJORN LOMBORG: The reason why they came up with saying that Kyoto or doing something more than Kyoto is a bad deal is simply because itís very inefficient. Itís not saying that global warming is not happening, itís not saying that itís not a big problem, but itís saying that what we can do about is very little at a very high cost.
BEN WATTENBERG: The topic before the house: Global warming or verbal warming?
BEN WATTENBERG: Bjorn, welcome to THINK TANK. Tell me a little bit about your background.
BJORN LOMBORG: Iím from Denmark, Iím a Danish national. I went to the US one year. Thatís how I picked the accent. I studied at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia for a year.
But I have my PHD from the University of Copenhagen. I do political science. I -- basically right now I try to get people to think about priorities [unintelligible].
BEN WATTENBERG: Itís political science but youíre also an economist, is that right.
BJORN LOMBORG: [speaking over] Yes, well, I do economics now, but I am really a political scientist --
BEN WATTENBERG: [speaking over] Do you have a degree in economics.
[speaking over each other]
BEN WATTENBERG: Thatís a plus -- no, go ahead, right, right.
BJORN LOMBORG: But you know political scientists we tend to believe that weíre qualified to do -- dabble in any of these areas.
[speaking over each other]
BEN WATTENBERG: That is one of the worldís greatest oxymorons, political science. I mean, I can testify to that and you probably can also --
[speaking over each other]
BJORN LOMBORG: I used to be a member of Green Peace. I ran around with a back pack, with a badge and I have the poster back at home and was very very worried. And indeed all my discussion and the environmental discussion started off because I read an interview in Wired Magazine where an economist, Julian Simon, said things are getting better, not worse.
And my immediate reaction was, oh, right wing American propaganda. But I set out to disprove him. I actually gathered 20 of my best students. We were going to have fun debunking him.
It turned out that a lot of what he said was right and that was what started me down the road of saying we need to access the data and not just believe the story that we hear.
It doesnít meant that the environment is not important but it means we need to get our priorities right.
BEN WATTENBERG: Julian and I are like that.
BEN WATTENBERG: He is -- we were very very close. He died a very untimely death, but he was a quite remarkable human being and indeed -- I donít know if everything he said was right, but he has a very very good track record, doing the same sort of thing that --
BJORN LOMBORG: [speaking over] I got the Julian Simon prize from the competitive enterprise institute.
BEN WATTENBERG: Your first book, tell me the title.
BEN WATTENBERG: And whatís the next one going to be?
BJORN LOMBORG: Well, right now weíre working on -- weíre going to do the next Copenhagen Consensus in May of 2000 -- this year -- again, with a lot of Nobels, even more information on a lot of different topics, so itís going to be very exciting and hopefully will help to set an even better global priority.
BEN WATTENBERG: So, you were a Green Peace badge carrying environmentalist. What do they call you now?
BJORN LOMBORG: Theyíre not all pleased with me --
BEN WATTENBERG: [speaking over] Do they call you a traitor.
BJORN LOMBORG: Well, the point is -- at least when I discussed -- you know I debated [unintelligible] -- I debated a lot of people from Green Peace, Friends of the Earth, and so on -- I think they all realize that, you know -- even though theyíre annoyed by the fact that Iím there, because it hinders some of their arguments, they also realize this is about getting the data right.
And I think grudgingly they accept that perhaps they were somewhat over worried about some of the things.
Curiously, one of the biggest environmental problems in the world -- well, everybody will talk about climate change or oxygen depletion or some other exotic thing that we hear about.
But of course the real biggest environmental problem is indoor air pollution. It kills more than a million people in the developing world. [unintelligible] canít afford easily accessible fuel. They use dung or cardboard or whatever they can get their hands on.
BEN WATTENBERG: And they smoke cigarettes.
BJORN LOMBORG: Well, cigarettes is a whole different --
BEN WATTENBERG: [speaking over each other]
BJORN LOMBORG: -- bag, but the idea is to say Iím trying to defend boring problems that might be much more --
BEN WATTENBERG: [speaking over] let me ask --
BJORN LOMBORG: But donít get as much newspaper --
BEN WATTENBERG: [speaking over] Let me ask you a question. You say that some of your environmental friends -- that they got a big problem with you, but grudgingly they acknowledge that, well, maybe youíre right and theyíve been overstating things.
BJORN LOMBORG: Yeah, they grudging accept part of that.
BEN WATTENBERG: Okay. To your knowledge has any one of them who says that to you said it publicly -- said, you know, I talked to Bjorn Lomborg and Iíve changed my mind a little bit.
BJORN LOMBORG: Yes, for instance, the director of the World Wildlife Organization in Denmark, we had a whole series of debates around Denmark -- he actually -- he wrote an op-ed much to his -- you know, youíve got to give him -- that was pretty positive.
Wrote an op-ed about how he was watching the news with his 11 year old daughter and heís been constantly saying, Oh, Bjorn, nobody believes the thing about things are getting worse. Everybody knows things are in general getting better.
And he realized his daughter was terrified about where the world was going. And then he wrote this op-ed saying, you know, Bjorn is wrong about a lot of things, but you got to give him credit for the fact that he really pointed out in general things have actually improved.
So, yes, it is important, because we need to create a culture I think of opportunity, of belief, that we can actually fix these problems rather than a culture of fear where we just think weíre doomed.
Thatís just not what the track record tells us. If anything theyíre pretty ingenious and we will make better solutions for the future.
BEN WATTENBERG: Youíve become quite a controversial person, as you know. Whatís the name of the important book, whatís your basic point and letís take it from there.
BJORN LOMBORG: My basic point is we need to get our priorities right. We have a tendency to worry about things that have scary stories or great pictures. But itís unlikely to be the best way to prioritize our scarce resources.
Global warming is a good example. Thatís my latest book on how we need to cool our rhetoric.
BEN WATTENBERG: What is it called?
BEN WATTENBERG: Itís point is?
BJORN LOMBORG: The point really is to say global warming is real and itís manmade so we need to own up to the fact that, yes, global warming is happening, but we also -- very often being portrayed very one sided, very alarmistic point of global warming and thatís very unlikely to make us make good judgments.
We need to realize that very often weíve been this one sided story of catastrophe, first and foremost. You know, the Al Gore -- the sea levels are going to rise 20 feet, when in fact the UN climate panel is telling us, no, itís going to rise somewhere between half and two feet. Most likely about one foot. And thatís a huge difference --
BEN WATTENBERG: [speaking over each other] He was wrong by 19 feet, give or take --
BJORN LOMBORG: He was alarmist and telling us -- he was not wrong, because he said, if Greenland melts. But nobody actually says Greenland is going to melt, certainly not within the last --
BEN WATTENBERG: [speaking over] And now he won the Nobel prize, shared it with the --
BJORN LOMBORG: The UN Climate Panel --
BEN WATTENBERG: The UN Climate Panel -- and a few days before he won it, the English Board of Education -- the schools were showing his movie, Inconvenient Truth, and they put in an edict that you have to have an addendum showing that seven major findings were just wrong.
BJORN LOMBORG: Thatís one of them. Yes. And thatís why we need to take the alarmist, we need to take the propaganda, if you will, out of the --
BEN WATTENBERG: [speaking over] Let me ask you something. Do you think Al Gore knew these things were wrong?
BJORN LOMBORG: Well, if you look at what heís saying, heís being very careful about framing it such that he doesnít say anything that specifically wrong. As I said -- he said if Greenland melts, then weíre going to see --
[speaking over each other]
BEN WATTENBERG: Do you think heís being purposely --
[speaking over each other]
BEN WATTENBERG: Hold it, hold it.
BJORN LOMBORG: Slightly misleading yes.
BEN WATTENBERG: Purposely misleading?
BJORN LOMBORG: I donít know his interest, but certainly he is well enough versed in this conversation to know that the UN Climate Panel tells a very different story.
BEN WATTENBERG: [speaking over] Youíd make a good politician. Now, you are not a scientist and you write a book about science.
BJORN LOMBORG: No, actually -- and thatís -- you say a skeptical environmentalist -- they teach environmentalism as a science.
BJORN LOMBORG: Yes, but I try to take and look at how can we actually do good things for the environment, thatís about social policy. Because as I said, climate change is real, but itís often vastly exaggerated and that leads me to the central point of my book that we need smarter policies.
Everybody right now talks about how global warming means we need to cut carbon emissions. What they never really seem to tell you is how much is that going to cost and how much good is it actually going to do.
And I understand that, because really the honest answer is itís going to cost a lot and itís going to do virtually no good, even a 100 years from now.
If we look at the Kyoto protocol which is the best studied issue --
BJORN LOMBORG: -- which is basically cutting carbon emissions in the western world about 30 percent from what they would otherwise have been by 2010 -- of course the US and Bush have famously rejected it, so itís not going to --
BEN WATTENBERG: [speaking over] We call him on this program President Bush.
BJORN LOMBORG: President Bush. Iím sorry, President Bush --
BEN WATTENBERG: Thatís okay --
[speaking over each other]
BEN WATTENBERG: You call him what you want, Iíll call him what I want.
BJORN LOMBORG: President Bush rejected it along with the Senate by the way --
[speaking over each other]
BEN WATTENBERG: 99 to 1 -- 99 to 1 they rejected it.
BJORN LOMBORG: Very large margin.
BEN WATTENBERG: So when one tells you Bill Clinton and Al Gore were not political mates, so they presented it to the Senate -- I think they might have had a clue it wouldnít pass. Right.
BEN WATTENBERG: So, it was sort of a symbolic act, which was turned down, 99 to 1, because the American Congress -- the American Senate felt -- I guess because China, India, particularly, were not included, which involves close to half of human kind -- that the game was not a level playing field.
BJORN LOMBORG: Yes. And, so, basically we know, if we study the Kyoto Protocol very very well, had the US participated, had everyone done as they had promised, famously Canada promised to cut its emissions six percent. Itís now 38 percent above that line. So, itís never actually going to manage -- and several others along the way as well.
BEN WATTENBERG: Has any country actually cut it?
BJORN LOMBORG: Oh, yes. I mean, for instance Britain has, but mind you Britain already had in 1977 when it promised the Kyoto Protocol so it was not that hard for them. Likewise Germany because they merged with east Germany --
BEN WATTENBERG: [speaking over] And these are -- Germany particularly is a country that is already losing population. So, when you lose population you have fewer people to emit greenhouse gases.
BJORN LOMBORG: A lot of countries I think are also -- certainly these countries have already lived up to the Kyoto Protocol -- have probably somewhat unrealistic expectations of how easy it will be to cut it even further.
But even if everybody had done what they promised in the Kyoto Protocol it would have done very little. By the end of the century, it would have postponed the warming by five years.
So, the temperature that we would have expected to see in 2100 we would now see in 2105. Thatís admittedly not doing very much --
BEN WATTENBERG: [speaking over] Now, let me ask you a question. TIME magazine and the United States has declared on several occasions that they are no longer going to cover global warming as science, because it is settled science.
Thatís a very strange thing for a news magazine to say, just as a journalist -- and yet my understanding -- and I got to check the facts on this -- was it 25 years ago roughly -- they ran a cover on global cooling. Are you familiar with that story.
Both TIME magazine and NEWSWEEK had stories on global cooling. They worried extensively about the fact that the Arctic was expanding.
BEN WATTENBERG: And this is recently, I mean, as the ice flies recently.
BJORN LOMBORG: [Laughs] Yes. Of course my argument would be to say just because -- you know, I think weíve gotten smarter. Certainly if we look at the models we know much much more about these issues now.
So, again, I would tend to say itís reasonable to assume that climate change is actually. We are causing the planet to warm up, but we have to be very careful about those very very broad brush statements --
BEN WATTENBERG: [speaking over] If you had to guess and the CO2 emissions caused what the UN commission said [unintelligible] is that going to be good, bad or indifferent for mankind.
BJORN LOMBORG: Itís going to be slightly bad. But chances are by the end of the century [Inaudible] noticed -- noticed the last 150 years. Sea levels rose about one foot. Yet, did we notice? Did any notice? Did anyone sit back and say that was the major thing that happened through the 20th Century? No.
It might be the two world wars of the suffrage for women --
BEN WATTENBERG: Oh, that, right right right those little things yeah.
BJORN LOMBORG: But not the fact that we saw sea levels rise one foot. And the point of course is that our much poorer forefathers were able to handle this very well. And chances are --
BEN WATTENBERG: [speaking over] In your part of the world they figured out how to build dikes.
BJORN LOMBORG: Absolutely.
[speaking over each other]
BEN WATTENBERG: Let me ask you this, best power source we have, really clean power, is nuclear. The [unintelligible] those are solar -- they donít give you much. Nuclear in France is 80 percent, in America itís 20 -- growing a little bit. And, yet, a lot of the environmentalists are anti-nuclear.
BJORN LOMBORG: And that of course shows one of the dilemmas. What do you worry the most about. And I think the -- the problem with nuclear is not so much what the environmentalists are against, but quite frankly the fact that by most economic analysis, nuclear -- certainly the one that we have had -- has turned out to be fairly costly.
That is, the cost per kilowatt has been somewhat higher, you know, on the order of 60 to 80 percent higher than from coal fire power.
[speaking over each other]
BEN WATTENBERG: Yeah, but if you worried about emissions, youíre going from a lot to zero.
BEN WATTENBERG: And a lot of the costs of nuclear power in my judgment is due to overregulation. So, you know --
BJORN LOMBORG: You could definitely have that conversation --
[speaking over each other]
BJORN LOMBORG: But you probably not convince many people.
[speaking over each other]
BEN WATTENBERG: Well, we make a living getting into arguments, so thatís --
BEN WATTENBERG: Now, Iím appointing you President of the world, right now. And you have a Congress or a parliament that agrees with you. And you say we have a small but real problem and you have to weigh it against other things. What do you do?
BJORN LOMBORG: Well, two things. First, I try to say everybody talks about cutting carbon emissions right now.
But as we saw with the Kyoto Protocol itís very expensive and itíll do very little good, even very far out into the future.
So this is not so much about cutting carbon emissions to show our good well. Itís about making sure that cutting carbon emissions becomes much much cheaper.
Take for instance solar [unintelligible]. Right now solar power -- certainly electricity generated with solar power -- cost about ten times as much as fossil fuels, which basically means rich people in the rich world will put up a few on their rooftops to show how good people they are. But most people wonít, certainly not in the poor world.
Thereís something fundamentally wrong about the idea of saying letís push people to put a few more of these very inefficient solar panels on their rooftops.
No, what you should do is invest in research and development to make sure that these solar panels become much much cheaper, hopefully cheaper than fossil fuels, in which case, of course the debate will be over [Inaudible]
[speaking over each other]
BEN WATTENBERG: Hold it, I just made you President of the world. That was nice of me right.
BJORN LOMBORG: It was and I actually --
[speaking over each other]
BJORN LOMBORG: -- sit up straight if you notice.
BJORN LOMBORG: Youíre going to stand for reelection. You come into office and they say, President Lomborg, what are you going to do? You have this problem. And you say, Iím going to do research.
BEN WATTENBERG: Are you going to get re-elected?
BJORN LOMBORG: I think so, because the point is this is much cheaper than battling climate change through cutting carbon emissions. Itís about ten times cheaper.
Yet, itís ten times more efficient because it will actually enable us -- spending 0.05 percent of GDP on research and development would actually increase the worldís research and development funds ten fold. So, we do ten times more with ten times less.
[speaking over each other]
BJORN LOMBORG: Yes, that is a winner.
BEN WATTENBERG: And what do you think weíd find out?
BJORN LOMBORG: We know already that we have done research both in wind and in solar, many other things. And we have dramatically lowered the costs.
Now, there still -- the wind is still somewhat more expensive, but itís certainly on the right path. Solar is in the same way, but just much much further behind.
But it seems likely that both wind and solar --
BEN WATTENBERG: Yeah, but I mean, --
[speaking over each other]
BJORN LOMBORG: -- mid-century.
BEN WATTENBERG: Iím for it. But right now wind and solar represents, what, about one --
[speaking over each other]
BJORN LOMBORG: Tiny fraction, less than --
BEN WATTENBERG: One-tenth of one percent, something like that. I mean, almost nothing. President Lomborgís program raises it ten fold. And you get -- you run for re-election and say, I raised it ten fold from one-tenth of one percent to one percent, arenít I wonderful. Are you wonderful?
BJORN LOMBORG: No, see, thatís exactly not what I would do. I would not put up a lot new windmills. I would make sure we made more cheap windmills, make them much better.
Look Denmark put up a lot of windmills in the 70ís and 80ís. We felt incredibly proud about it. They were all incredibly inefficient. Yet, we put up thousands of them.
What are we doing now? Weíre cutting them down, because we want to put up efficient ones. I simply saying maybe we shouldnít have put up all the inefficient ones.
BEN WATTENBERG: Well, no, but what Iím saying is -- look Iím -- I donít have a problem -- I mean, itís interesting you go to some of these wind farms and the same people who complain about visual pollution never complain about putting these huge turbines in the middle of beautiful wilderness. But letís assume it works.
It still, as I understand the science, doesnít give you a whole lot.
BJORN LOMBORG: No, it gives you a whole lot if it becomes cheaper than fossil fuels, because then everybody will want to do those.
BEN WATTENBERG: And it can go to 10 - 20 - 30 percent.
BJORN LOMBORG: The point is itís a little bit -- are computers really going to take over the world in the early 70ís. Of course theyíre incredibly expensive. Itís always something very very few people have and really only a play thing for very rich people.
But if you make them cheaper and cheaper, you cross a point where people will actually say, I would like one, and likewise with these technologies itís much more about finding smart solutions for the future than sort of greasing our conscience --
[speaking over each other]
BEN WATTENBERG: Are we going around in circles? Do you know of anyone, liberal or conservative, who was against research?
BJORN LOMBORG: Well, no, but I know a lot of people who are saying that oh, yes, an afterthought -- and very often one that gets cut away while theyíre very vividly arguing we need to cut carbon emissions.
If you look at those proposals, they are almost entirely about cutting carbon emissions and theyíre about putting up more windmills right now rather than investing in research and development on making the next generation much more effective.
BEN WATTENBERG: Mr. President, you have a choice -- governing is about choices. [clears throat] Youíve got ten billion dollars. Is it going to go to windmills or cancer?
BJORN LOMBORG: Yes. And thatís the other question that I try to --
BEN WATTENBERG: Yes is not answer.
[speaking over each other]
BEN WATTENBERG: The answer is windmills or cancer?
BJORN LOMBORG: Yes. I will get to the answer, but I need to qualify this. The point here is to say the other part -- both my book and my argument -- is to say if we really care about important problems in the world, thereís a lot more we can do to help the word.
There are many -- much more important problems where we can do much more good than climate change at much lower cost. Thereís communicable diseases, HIV/AIDS, malaria, thereís malnutrition, like micro nutrient malnutrition.
Thereís lack of access to first world markets, which essentially keep a lot of third world countries in poverty.
If we did something about those issues, we could do an immense amount of good at very low cost. Compare this to carbon emissions. There is no measurement. We could probably do somewhere between ten and a hundred more times more good if we focus on those issues.
So, if you ask me, where would I put my money first, of course it would be in doing things that would do an amazing amount of good for the world: HIV/AIDS, Malnutrition, free trade, before any climate change.
BEN WATTENBERG: Is it correct that insofar as we know how to measure climate that in the last seven years there has been no increase in climate -- in temperature.
BJORN LOMBORG: [speaking over] That would be accurate to say.
BEN WATTENBERG: Now, I will make the judgment that that is not generally known, that the way it is taught is my god it just goes up and up and up and up.
Now, I guess your point is seven years is a drop in the bucket and it doesnít mean very much necessarily. Is that right?
BJORN LOMBORG: Well, I would tend to say shouldnít judge it in seven years. But I take your point in that many times when the trends are going in the right direction for Al Goreís sort of arguments, itís fine to use one year trend -- take a look at the Arctic Sea ice that has been diminishing and was dramatically diminished last year.
Everybody said, this is a whole a new development but itís one year. And of course what they tend to forget is that the sea ice around Antarctica has actually increased and increased and itís now at a maximum.
So, we tend to hear --
BEN WATTENBERG: Hold it, say that again.
BJORN LOMBORG: The sea ice in Antarctica has increased over the last 50 years and is now at an all time record high.
BEN WATTENBERG: But the amount of ice in the Arctic --
BJORN LOMBORG: Arctic is diminishing.
BEN WATTENBERG: Is diminishing.
BJORN LOMBORG: But notice how we hear almost exclusively about the Arctic, because it fits the story. We donít hear about the Antarctic because it doesnít fit the story.
I would say thatís much more the tendency or the nature of the climate change debate, that we are being very one sidedly [SIC] fed stories that fit the model.
Let me give you another example of that, the polar bear, in many ways, has become the icon of global warming. And itís absolutely true. You should just know the polar bear population has actually quadrupled over the last 40 years from about 5 thousand to probably about 22 thousand now globally.
But, yes, global warming will probably make it harder for polar bears because diminishing and eventually --
[speaking over each other]
BEN WATTENBERG: Unless they move to the Antarctica.
BJORN LOMBORG: But -- yes. But let me just then tell you this is what you never hear. People say this shows that we should do something.
If we do the Kyoto Protocol that will probably save about one polar bear every year. Now, Iím all for saving a polar bear even, you know, even though a couple trillion dollars might be a little high price tag for that -- but isnít curious that at the same time we donít have a conversation about the fact that every year we shoot somewhere between 300 and 500 polar bears.
Iím just -- shouldnít we perhaps stop shooting 300 to 500 polar bears before we have a conversation about enacting policy that would cost trillions of dollars.
BEN WATTENBERG: Hold it. Weíre running out of tape. Bjorn Lomborg, thank you very much for joining us on THINK TANK. It was a very very enlightening conversation. I would like to continue this. Iíd like to get you back on our program with an adversary. Thank you very much.
And thank you please do remember to send us your comments via email. We think it makes THINK TANK a better program. For THINK TANK, Iím Ben Wattenberg.
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