Bjorn Lomborg: Saving the world from phony analogies

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The unconvincing environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg stepped out today with a (password protected) Globe and Mail article likening the effects of climate change to the death toll from traffic accidents: it’s something we could easily fix, Lomborg says, but we don’t want to because driving around is too convenient.

Lomborg may be on to something when he starts talking about the intelligence of reducing speed limits: that would save energy as well as lives. But, typically, he takes the argument to an insane extreme, suggesting that addressing automotive safety would require us to reduce speed limits to five miles per hour. And having set up this patently goofy “cure” he quickly dismisses it as, well, patently goofy, and concludes that we should just go on as before, confident that we have canvassed the alternatives and judged them to be wanting.

The man doesn’t merely miss the point: he drives by at express speeds and tries to carry us all along with him. First, climate change and traffic deaths are NOT analagous. We can kill an infinite number of people in traffic and (as long as we deal with the other environmental effects of automobiles) the world will remain habitable for humans. All you have to do is stay away from dangerous intersections.

But you can’t stay away from climate change. The pollution that is being lofted into the air – by cars, coal-fired power plants and by hundreds of other fossil fuel-based sources – will find you wherever you try to hide. The downstream effects of shattered eco-systems and extreme weather events will seek you out. An UNinhabitable world is completely within the realm of possibility.

Lomborg suggests a worldwide .05-per-cent of GDP investment in research on non-carbon-emitting technologies. Great idea.

But that’s his only idea. And whether the world’s governments accept it or not, he is running around telling us that making any other effort to address climate change is unnecessary or economically inconvenient. He is, in short, nothing more than a patsy for those who want to do nothing – an extremist: the Industrialists’ Environmentalist. It’s hard to believe – no matter how willing he is to break big global issues into ridiculously little pieces – that he doesn’t recognize what a toxic influence he is having on the chance for an intelligent international policy debate.

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