Global Warming — asking the wrong questionsTue 15 December 2009 by Kevin van Haaren
NPR ran a story on the Copenhagen meeting on climate change this morning and talked to Bjørn Lomborg. Lomborg is not a climate denier (those that refuse to believe that adding CO2 to the atmosphere causes warming and that if it does the human contribution doesn't matter.)
Lomborg's stance is that climate change is a minor issue compared to disease and poverty in the world, and that money spent on trying to curb CO2 emissions is better spent on disease and poverty. I don't agree with this, but do agree that this should be looked at -- risk/benefit analysis should always be done on problems and potential solutions.
The problem I have is that the NPR reporter's question to Lomborg's economic view of the problem was "what is the economic value of the last polar bear?"
This is idiotic. Humans are selfish. Sure we care about polar bears, but ask most people what the economic value of the last polar bear is and you'll probably get an answer of "0". Same as the value of the last Dodo and the last Passenger Pigeon. If you want humans to care about saving polar bears, or taking action on climate change, you have to relate why it's important to them. Polar bears being cute, or it sad to watch them swim for miles to search for food is good for many people, but not enough people to really make an effort.
The real question for Lomberg is -- "what is the economic cost of expanding malaria carrying mosquitos by 1%, 2%, 5%, 10%?" or "what is the economic cost of increasing the number of droughts in the US by x%" or so on. These are questions with real meaning to humans.
These of course might be offset by "Increased CO2 increases plant growth, what is the economic benefit of this?" (this isn't necessarily a benefit though, the increased CO2 benefits weeds as well, does this mean we have to spend more on weed killers?)
Until reports on climate change start showing the actual costs to humanity we're never going to get past this low support for climate issues.