A Better Way to Go Green

Posted: Nov 09, 2007 1:51 PM
A Better Way to Go Green

Next month, the world will get a chance to enjoy some brazen hypocrisy. Former Vice President Al Gore will speak in Oslo as he accepts his Nobel Peace Prize. No doubt he’ll offer plenty of hot rhetoric about the dangers of global warming, and warn listeners they need to act -- right now -- to save our fragile planet.

But how will Gore get to Norway? Maybe he’ll take a wind-powered Clipper ship and then climb aboard a dogsled to go the rest of the way. But if that’s the case, he’d better leave immediately.

No, it’s far more likely he’ll fly in, bringing a sizable entourage of family, friends, security officers and so forth. Gore, you see, leaves a large “carbon footprint” wherever he goes, even when he stays home. According to the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, his Nashville house uses more electricity in a month than the average American home uses in a year. In the introduction to his book “An Inconvenient Truth,” Gore writes, “The climate crisis also offers us the chance to experience what very few generations in history have had the privilege of knowing: a generational mission; the exhilaration of a compelling moral purpose; a shared and unifying cause; the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict that so often stifle the restless human need for transcendence; the opportunity to rise.”

Still, Gore would be doing all of us a favor if, instead of jetting off to Europe, he’d stay home and read Bjorn Lomborg’s new book “Cool It,” the skeptical environmentalist’s guide to global warming. Lomborg systematically dismantles Gore’s argument that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the biggest threat facing mankind, and that humanity must focus all our attention on fighting it.

Let’s begin with Gore’s “generational mission.” Why is it that virtually none of the thousands of generations of humans that have come and gone have had a “mission?” Well, it’s because we’re one of the first generations that hasn’t had to worry about our day-to-day survival. From the dawn of time right up into the 20th century, many if not most people lived in fear of starvation.

As recently as 1945, with the U.S. involved in a battle to the death with the Axis powers, more than a third of draftees were rejected as physically unfit for service, many because of malnutrition. Yet today, we no longer have to worry about where our next meal will come from, so we have the luxury of focusing on far-off problems, such as what the world’s temperature may be in the year 2100.

We defeated hunger through economic growth. The planet now produces more food with fewer farmers than ever, and we have efficient transportation systems to get that food to distant markets. As Lomborg explains, spreading the sort of wealth that First World nations now enjoy to everybody would be the best way to deal with global climate change. And he shows that Gore’s pet topic, the Kyoto accord, would actually make the world poorer.

“For the full Kyoto protocol with the United States participating, the total cost over the coming century turns out to be more than $5 trillion,” Lomborg writes. Yet it’s “a bad deal: for every dollar spent, it does the world only about thirty four cents’ worth of good.”

He advises us to focus instead on the Copenhagen Consensus, an attempt by economists to identify solutions to global problems. Economists involved in this project found that “preventing HIV/AIDS turns out to be the very best investment humanity can make,” he writes. “For $27 billion, we can save twenty eight million lives over the coming years.”

The group also advocates adopting policies to eliminate malnutrition. “Ending First World agricultural subsidies and ensuring free trade would make almost everyone better off,” Lomborg notes. “Models suggest that benefits of up to $2.4 trillion annually would be achievable, with half of that benefit accruing to the third world.” And making the world’s poor people wealthier will leave them better positioned to deal with the effects of global warming, whatever those may be.

Politicians like Gore don’t want to hear this, of course. They’d rather preach about the long-term problems of global warming and blame those problems on our capitalist society. But as Lomborg shows, instead of trying to adopt policies that will cause financial disruption today but won’t deliver benefits for several generations, we need to focus on what we can do to make the planet cleaner and richer.

In the end, it’s the quest for growth that’ll allow us to deal with our problems.