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Have we made any progress since 2005? Bjorn Lomborg updates his classic TED Talk in a new talk at TED HQ

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May
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Bjorn Lomborg, speaking Tuesday in the TED office, gives new tools for measuring progress on worldwide goals. Photo: Dian Lofton

Bjorn Lomborg: Global priorities bigger than climate change Bjorn Lomborg: Global priorities bigger than climate change Bjorn Lomborg gave a mind-blowing talk at TED2005 on making big decisions about our global priorities. In it, he asked the question: If you had $50 billion, enough to solve either climate change or AIDS — which would you pick?

A redditor who discovered the video just last week commented:

“Um… isn’t there any opinion since 2005 about global priorities that might be more applicable to late 2013?”

Coincidentally, we had just asked Lomborg to come by our New York office to give us an update too, as part of a Tuesday night salon called “Sights Unseen,” curated and hosted by Diana Enriquez, our summer intern on the Content Team.

Lomborg started the night by giving us a sobering — and inspiring — glimpse at the progress the world has made on big goals in the past 113 years, as well as the progress that will be made in the next 37. While it’s difficult to quantify improvement on global problems like human health, gender inequality, air pollution and malnutrition, Lomborg gave us a new measuring stick: the economic cost of these problems, expressed as a percentage of the Gross World Product. Using this measure, Lomborg revealed a graph that tells the story of a world that’s made leaps and bounds in the general quality of life since 1900, and yet still has far to go. “When we work to make a better world tomorrow,” he says, “we can focus on the problems that really count.”

Urban explorer Steve Duncan shows us what's become of a creek that ran through Greenwich Village. Photo: Dian Lofton

Urban explorer Steve Duncan shows us what’s become of a creek that ran through Greenwich Village. Photo: Dian Lofton

The next speaker of the evening, urban explorer Steve Duncan, gave the TED staff a new look at the city where most of us live — New York. He took us on a vertical tour of the city, directing us down through a spaghetti tangle of wires to the steam pipes to the subway system, to the drains and sewers and finally to the water supply, which can be as deep as 600 feet underground. In one especially cool moment, Duncan showed what happened to the streams and creeks visible on old maps of the city — they have been covered over with brick and stone in sewer pipes, right below our feet. Showing images shot far underground, and in places soaring over New York, he explained why his work is important. “We’re all caretakers of the city we live in,” he said. “We have to explore our environments in order to understand them and be the caretakers we should be.”

Rodrigo Canales talks about drug cartels in Mexico, and how they are sophisticated businesses. Photo: Dian Lofton

Rodrigo Canales talks about drug cartels in Mexico, and how they are sophisticated businesses. Photo: Dian Lofton

Following a lovely harp performance from Julia Easterlin, Rodrigo Canales stepped up to give a new view of a story told regularly in the news — the staggering number of people being killed by cartel-related violence in Mexico. What isn’t as visible as the bodies, says Canales, is the fact that these cartels are sophisticated global businesses with well-defined structures and brand management strategies — two of which are public relations and investing in social services for the people in their area. His point: that with the trade of illegal drugs in the United States valued at about $60 billion, wholesale, the current strategies of fighting cartels simply won’t work. Canales’ talk ended the event with a punch.

“Sights Unseen” was part of TED@250, a series of salons held at our New York office at 250 Hudson Street. Since our main conferences are only twice a year, TED@250 is an opportunity for talks that rethink headlines and respond to conversation happening in real time. It’s also a place for speakers with the kind of personal stories that simply work better on the small scale. Stay tuned. Some of these talks may be coming to TED.com.

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Diana Enriquez, our summer intern on the Content Team, hosts the TED@250 salon “Sights Unseen.” Photo: Dian Lofton