Just Chill

As global warming messages are gaining momentum, one author tells us to cool it.

By Susan Cosier

Bjorn Lomborg says he wants to help humanity and the environment. He believes there are ways to prevent needless deaths from extreme temperature, malaria, and floods—problems often associated with a warming planet. And while he admits that global warming is real, he argues that many people are exaggerating its consequences and blowing the issue out of proportion.

In his new book, Cool It: A Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming, Lomborg, a professor at the Copenhagen Business School, discusses the consequences of a hotter planet and policies to prevent damage. He explains that from an economic perspective, policy makers aren’t considering the whole story and some proposals could actually hurt people. Though the writing is dry and some of the arguments fall flat, the book does present some interesting ideas.

Lomborg (who penned the 1998 book The Skeptical Environmentalist) says that cutting carbon emissions might not be the best way to improve our chances of survival in the future. Instead of taking drastic measures that are not cost beneficial, like attempting to tax or slash our carbon output, he says the world should be adopting policies that are more realistic and will do more good.

For instance, he argues that the only agreement currently out there to cut tons of carbon, the Kyoto Protocol, isn’t even that effective. It would only delay temperature increases by seven days in 2100 (if no other agreement is reached after 2012), and the policy would only reduce the temperature by 0.1 degree Fahrenheit. Instead of spending time and money reducing the amount of carbon we release into the atmosphere, Lomborg says we should invest in malaria controls, agriculture, and research and development into new technologies.

By putting money towards helping people become better farmers and investing in agriculture, “we can avoid 229 million people going hungry throughout this century for $10 billion annually. For the same amount of money spent on Kyoto, we can help one-eighteenth that number toward the end of the century,” says Lomborg. 

Those aren’t the only figures in the book—in fact, it’s chock full of numbers. In one section, Lomborg describes how reports on global warming focus on deaths that will occur with higher temperatures, but omit information about how warmer days and nights will reduce the number of deaths from cold. “In Europe as a whole, about two hundred thousand people die from excess heat every year. However, about 1.5 million Europeans die annually from excess cold. That is more than seven times the total number of heat deaths,” Lomborg says. “That we so easily neglect these deaths and so easily embrace those caused by global warming tells us of a breakdown in our sense of proportion.”

Lomborg obviously prefers media articles to scientific studies, and his presentation of data leaves something to be desired. He says, for instance, that global warming will actually lead to more rain and availability of water. But he fails to mention that the glaciers and snowmelt are disappearing and will no longer provide water for people who currently depend on them. And in warmer climates, that moisture will evaporate more quickly as air temperatures increase.  

Other shortcomings are that he doesn’t discuss programs already in place through the UN and the Gates Foundation, which invest heavily in malaria control and promote better farming practices. And the multiple references to Al Gore, seemingly designed to portray Cool It as a personal rebuttal to An Inconvenient Truth, fall flat.

If you're looking for hard numbers on the costs and benefits of reducing carbon output and some feasible alternatives that might help improve the quality of life, look no further. Cool It gives its readers some solutions to the problems of the planet, but it doesn’t tell us what to do with the tons of carbon that we just can’t resist emitting into the atmosphere.

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Lomborg's global warming scenario as described in this article does not take into account the breakdown of multiple ecosystems, as well as the loss of large numbers of species. How does he think humans are going to last at the top of the foodchain with a paucity of agricultural land and a lack of variety as other contributors to humans dying off.

We have a chance here to remodel our business and living practices so that it shows we remember we're part of nature, instead of currently using nature as some sort of separate-from-us dumping ground.

Lomborg is infamous for picking and choosing his facts to suit his argument.

While I agree that the current Kyoto Protocol probably won't make much of a difference, I don't see how feeding hungry people will help offset the problems caused by global warming. Perhaps the argument is better framed in the book, but in this context it just sounds like a distraction tactic.

It is interesting that he chose to use "global warming" in his title rather than "climate change," since there is a good chance that different parts of the world will see different effects. If the oceans' salinity is changed by the influx of melting freshwater, ocean currents could change -- which could result in a much *colder* Europe, not hotter. His arguments do not seem to account for this.

It really frightens me that people may use this book as a definitive resource on the subject, particularly because the title caters to a target audience that is inclined to believe this misinformation.

While I haven't read the book... I don't like getting up in the morning to look out my window and see polluted haze with the news caster telling me not to run or bike because the air quality is so bad. Thats enough reason to slow CO2 if global warming doesn't kill us.

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