Don’t miss the essay in the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 19, 2015 by Dr. Bjørn Lomborg, the Danish author and environmentalist, featuring what I regard as uncommon sense on climate change.
No Wall Street Journal subscription? If you have a library card in your purse or wallet, you can probably retrieve the article at your library’s web site. My Seattle and King County library cards give me same-day access to the Journal and hundreds of other newspapers.
I believe it was Lomborg who years ago introduced me to the idea of cost-benefit analysis in environmentalism.
Here’s what grabbed my attention in the WSJ essay:
The World Health Organization estimates that the effects of climate change are currently responsible for 141,000 deaths annually. If we look far ahead, to 2050, the death toll is expected to climb to 250,000. By contrast, some 4.3 million people will die this year from indoor air pollution. That is the direct result of poverty, of almost three billion people using dung and wood to heat and cook. Another 3.7 million people will die this year from outdoor air pollution.
The background for Lomborg’s essay is a United Nations meeting this week that will endorse international development goals for the next 15 years. The meeting is the culmination of four years of research aimed at developing policy priorities for helping the world’s most disadvantaged people. The U.N. is likely to endorse as many as 169 development goals that resulted from years of what Lomborg describes as a process “beset from the start by horse-trading, haggling and endless consultation.” Lomborg’s take: “Giving priority to 169 things is the same as giving priority to nothing at all.”
Lomborg founded the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank. The center asked 82 leading economists to do standard cost-benefit analyses on the 169 U.N. development goals. The key finding: Concentrating on just 19 of the 169 U.N. development policies would produce $30 of benefit for each $1 spent. Focusing on fewer than two dozen development goals would in effect boost efficiency by a factor of four.
[C]ompleting the World Trade Organization’s Doha agreement would return more than $2,000 of extra value for each dollar spent to retrain and compensate displaced workers. It would lift 160 million people out of extreme poverty, giving every person in the developing world an extra $1,000 in income every year by 2030.
The elimination for fossil-fuel subsidies “would free up resources for education and health while at the same time cutting air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. The benefits would be worth more than $15 for every dollar spent in direct support for the very poor who are unable to afford higher fuel prices.” Drastically increasing production of renewable energy, by contrast, “would return less than a dollar for every dollar spent, despite the carbon dioxide reduction, because renewable forms of energy remain expensive and are available only intermittently.”
Lomborg writes that tripling preschool access in sub-Saharan Africa “would have benefits worth more than $30 for every dollar spent, because of improved future earnings and other social benefits.” Spending the same amount to improve exams and teacher accountability “are much more challenging to achieve, and the benefits would only amount to $5 for every dollar spent.”
Once world leaders return home from their big meeting in New York, they will have to make practical choices about which of their many development objectives to focus on. I would suggest that they pick the relatively small fraction of them that will produce demonstrably greater benefits in the world.
What’s not to like about that?