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Archive: Bjorn Lomborg sets priorities for saving the planet

Posted by: Tedstaff

For the next two weeks, we’re presenting some of our favorite TEDTalks from among the 270+ talks and performances we’ve posted since June 2006. Look for brand-new TEDTalks starting August 18. Until then, enjoy these gems — and suggest your own by writing to contact@ted.com or joining the conversation on TED.com.

Given $50 billion to spend, which would you solve first, AIDS or global warming? Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg comes up with surprising answers. Whether or not you agree with his results (and many TED.com commenters do not), it’s an invigorating argument, and a new lens on some global problems that might otherwise seem too big to comprehend. (Recorded February 2005 in Monterey, California. Duration: 16:53)

Watch Bjorn Lomborg’s 2005 talk on TED.com, where you can download it, rate it, comment on it and find other talks and performances.

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Comments (3)

  • John Blum commented on Aug 8 2008

    The reasons his argument is flawed is because it assumes the costs must be paid by the commons, or our government. It is true regarding temperature, all models show the same thing, and it’s really not worth it to spend that money for such a small difference, except temperature isn’t really the point: stabilizing the climate at 450-500 ppm CO2 is.

    The $150 billion is around the levels of other estimates. But it has been demonstrated that using more energy efficient and less wasteful practices, companies could spend that $150 billion and get a $900 billion return. Less energy costs, less water costs, less sewage and waste costs, and less CO2e equals more capital and usually a more safe workplace that is more productive, and it will be even easier to do in the developing world because their labor costs are more cheap. There are immediate climate change abatement strategies companies can use that will have a return on their investments within a year, and if longer, within a few years. And the area under the curve of those savings approaches the area under the curve of the measures that will have actual costs.

    You can invest that money, immediately save, create jobs, create less hazardous working conditions, have less disposable and toxic waste, pollute less, and save money while abating climate change.

    But otherwise, I agree with Lomberg. His thesis has always been that there are challenges that will be costly with action or inaction, but we are well poised to meet many of those challenges, and the doomsday scenarios aren’t likely, and there are areas we can do better and have an immediate effect. I agree 100%. If that money is to come from the government and is earmarked for some social issue, it probably is better to spend it on something else. Then again, $150 billion is what the US is going to spend this year in Iraq alone. Considering that number is 375 times the US energy research R&D, we are paying 375 times more for security of supply in 20-30 years — a non solution — than we are for developing a solution.

    Climate change is tied to energy; economy is tied to energy. It’s true, in the US we consume twice as much energy as we would need for the same level of economy, but the only way climate change will be abated is if we have an energy supply that can meet the demands for a growing economy. The good news is we can do lots right now to cut energy and CO2e and it pays immediate dividends, if we can convince the private sector to do it. Then we can leave the government/UN aid for non climate change social programs. I think we can do both, because there is not one organization holding $150 billion that needs to decide how to best use it. There are numerous individual agents and then there is the government. We can do both.

  • James Chai commented on Aug 6 2008

    Ever since his TED talk, his reasoning concerning global warming has become more and more flawed. This is especially disappointing given that he’s a statistician. For example, last year he compared the cost of bed nets for fighting malaria with the total cost of climate change mitigation — such comparison only makes sense if the only problem that fixing climate change would cure is the spread of malaria.

    He made another flawed comparison last November on the Financial Sense news hour where he pointed out that the historical rise in average temperatures of major cities already exceeds the global average rise predicted for the entire planet so we can easily adapt to the worst of climate change. This brings to mind that joke about the statistician with one foot in a roaring oven and the other foot frozen in a block of ice, and saying on average he feels fine.

    And in his latest Wall Street Journal article he applies cost/benefit analysis only to the mean expected temperature rise, totally ignoring the significance of highly costly damages occuring at lower (but still significant) probabilities. In the light of his more recent statements, I think his Copenhagen Consensus is about rationalising why we should be protecting free markets rather than anything to do with saving the planet.

  • Phoebe Bright commented on Aug 6 2008

    I blogged about this talk under the heading ‘how to keep awake on a long drive’ http://pbjots.blogspot.com/2008/07/how-to-stay-awake-on-long-drive.html.

    For a statistician, who must understand that no study can accurately predict the impact and timing of climate change. To base his ratings on statements like “It is going to cost $150bn a year to reduce climate change and all models show that it is only going to delay climate change for 6 years.” takes away all creditbility as far as I am concerned.