We need to find a middle ground on global warming to start tackling it effectively. Drastic carbon cuts won't workby Bjorn Lomborg / November 25, 2007 / Leave a comment
Discussion about climate change seems stuck in an unproductive dichotomy. One side argues vehemently that global warming is nothing but a grand hoax. The other side maintains that the planet is headed for catastrophe. In my book, Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming, I point out how neither side is right, and propose that we stake out a more sensible middle ground.
However, many people in this debate appear to identify almost tribally with one set of arguments. Kevin Watkins’s review of my book (Prospect, October) is a case in point. He claims that while I don’t deny that climate change is real, I understate the problems it causes.
In Cool It, I explore the impact of the most likely temperature increase over this century: the median estimate of a 2.6°C rise reached by the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC), whose estimates start at 1.8°C and go up to 4°C. This seems too low to Watkins, who accuses me of having a “cavalier approach to scientific evidence” and then himself only talks about a rise of the magnitude of 4°C or 6°C.
Watkins is bothered by my reporting that the IPCC’s estimates show that oceans will rise between 18-59cm, and that the most likely scenario is around 30cm. That’s similar to what the planet experienced in the last 150 years and it (rather obviously) coped. Watkins also accuses me of being fixated on low estimates, yet I also consider the IPCC’s projections of what would happen if Greenland were to melt much faster: sea levels would rise about 7cm and—at most—about 20cm.
Another complaint is that I encourage readers to “look on the bright side” of global warming. I submit that looking at both the negative and positive impacts of climate change is reasonable. Rising temperatures will mean more heat waves, but the cold is a much bigger killer than the heat. By 2050, global warming will cause almost 400,000 more heat-related deaths each year. Yet at the same time, 1.8m fewer people will die from cold. In this respect, global warming will save lives.
Cooling our fears of global warming is important, because our panic often seems to affect our abilities to tackle the challenges of the 21st century. Yes, we need to fix global warming in the long run. But we are blindly focusing on policies that will not achieve this.