The polar bear example is instructive because the solution being urged upon us to save the bears is a massively expensive but ultimately nearly fruitless effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions. If we follow Kyoto or some other framework, we can at best save .06 bears per year. "But," Lomborg writes, "49 bears from the same population are getting shot every year, and this we can easily do something about."
It's the same with climate change writ large. Drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions is hardly cost free. To achieve the goals outlined in the Kyoto accords, for example, would cost the world $180 billion annually for 50 years.
Examined rationally, it is clear that while global warming will do harm to some parts of the world, it will also do good to others. Might not the money be better spent mitigating the negative effects of a warming planet?
Lomborg's book focuses on trade-offs. If we're going to spend a fixed amount of money to improve the world, what makes the most sense? Or to put it another way, which dollar spent produces the greatest benefit? According to a group of economists (including four Nobel Prize winners) who examined this question in 2004, the answer was clear. One dollar spent fighting HIV/AIDS produced $40 in social benefits. One dollar spent on fighting malnutrition yields about $30 in social benefits. Other efforts, like ending agricultural subsidies in the wealthy countries and ensuring worldwide free trade, would net a $15 benefit for a one-dollar cost. Cutting CO2 emissions, by contrast, yields between 2 and 25 cents per dollar invested.
The consensus is wrong on global warming. Wonder when The New York Times will figure it out? In the meanwhile, Lomborg points the way toward clear analysis.