In a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorial published July 8, K.A. Strassel reports on a new and recent ‘Copenhagen Consensus‘ (CC) meeting in Georgetown, arranged by Bjørn Lomborg, a controversial Danish public figure. I personally find the name ‘The Copenhagen Consensus’ a misnomer because it does not reflect what it is all about – I think that ‘The Lomborg exercise’ would be a more appropriate name. The WSJ article and the Lomborg meeting do not involve much science in my opinion, but are mere political exercises. However, since the CC, Lomborg, and the WSJ editorial in my opinion employ rhetorical means for downplaying the importance of climate change, the story warrants a comment on the RC forum. I will try to expose the poorly hidden communication concerning the climate change. Thus, the focus of this post is on the communication concerning climate change as well as the logic behind the arguments.
Lomborg gave the CC participants (that included some ambassadors, most notably the US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton) an exercise, where he asked them to rank (prioritize) a number of problems according to which to be solved first if they had an extra 50 billion US$ to spend. The ranking was done among a number of worthy causes such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, clean water, poverty, climate change, etc. Before proceeding, I think it is important to ask what we can learn from such an exercise. Topics such as HIV/AIDS (‘Communicable Diseases’) topped the list, but different problems involve different temporal and spatial scales, so framing the problem within a 5-year context already biases the outcome (to be fair, this is acknowledged in the editorial). Does it mean that the longer-term and more global problems such as climate change is less important? Is it valid to think that one can only address one problem at the time, and that there is just one actor? (Ever heard of teamwork, where different people have different tasks?) When there are several pressing problems, sometime all must be addressed, even if some economist manages to place a different price on each of them (how would they know how to put a real price on e.g. climate change?). What if we asked you to choose between breathing, eating, drinking, or providing shelter? (breathing would of course carry a higher price – at least on a short-term scale – than shelter). Thus, the problem with the Lomborg exercises is that it is framed – biased – in such a way to ignore long term strategic decision in favor for short term fixes (so-called ‘fire extinguishing’).
It also seems to be that it is a given in the Lomborg exercise that all efforts aiming at reducing climate change is extremely costly – never mind that alternative and renewable energy sources may reduce the critical dependency of finite energy sources and improve energy security. I also get the impression that people like Lomborg often do not distinguish wasteful use of energy from productive use – surely burning off the fuel more quickly driving big guzzling cars must be less sensible than using a tractor to produce food? Improved energy efficiency can furthermore go hand-in-hand with lower levels of pollution, but is it not typical to neglect part of the equation to the total cost? An aside to this issue is the focus by some contrarians on the exaggerated degree of uncertainty associated with a climate change on the one hand, and then the statement of how expensive mitigation is on the other. The point is that costs cannot be assessed unless one knows the whole equation – i.e. how bad the consequences will be.
The WSJ article does not explicitly say that climate change is unimportant, but reading between the lines, this is indeed the impression a reader gets from Lomborg’s statements. This is the main problem with the editorial – I don’t think it’s honest and up-front. For example, Lomborg says that the world needs more Al Gores, for HIV/AIDS, TB, clean water, poverty, etc. It is strange that Lomborg ranks climate change as the least important, but then proceeds devoting column space to exactly climate change and not communicable diseases (other than wishing for Al Gore clones with a stronger HIV/AIDS focus). Would it not be natural to move on to solutions for HIV/AIDS and how to combat poverty and provide clean water? It’s a bit strange that the Bill Clinton’s foundation and Bill Gates were not mentioned in the WSJ, nor the movie – ‘The Constant Gardner’ (if it is films such as The Inconvenient Truth that are important). Who’s making the greatest impact in their respective field is of course up to debate. One may wonder if Lomborg thinks that climate change is not a worthy cause, and that he thinks that Al Gore clones should deal with other pressing problems instead.
My main criticism of Lomborg’s communication strategy is to pit several worthy causes up against each other, when in fact all needs to be addressed. Furthermore, the way he dwells on the climate change rather on the topics that he sees as more important serves to belittle the importance of climate change rather than finding solutions to the other problems. One example is that Lomborg, according to the quotes in WSJ, seems to be that a rise in the global mean sea level is not important. To quote him (the WSJ):
The U.N. tells us global warming will result in a sea-level change of one to two feet. It is not going to be the 30 feet Al Gore is scaring us with. Is this one to two feet going to be a problem? Sure,” he says. “But remember that this past century sea levels rose between one-third and a full foot. And if you ask old people today what the most important things were that happened in the 20th century, do you think they are going to say: ‘Two world wars, the internal combustion engine, the IT revolution . . . and sea levels rose’? It’s not to say it isn’t a problem. But we fix these problems.
To be fair, observations published by IPCC TAR (Fig 11.9) indicate 1-2 mm/yr between 1910-1990, implying a 10-20 cm rise over the past 100 years, so the quoted range is in agreement with the TAR. However, Lomborg has a knack of putting the problem in perspective – if the past climate change really was not by far as bad as the two world wars, it doesn’t mean that climate change is unimportant (compared to the Big Bang, nothing seems important, not even HIV/AIDS…). And 50 years ago, I think it’s fair to state that most people didn’t think that HIV/AIDS was important either (most people hadn’t heard of it…), but that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant now. These are some examples of rhetorical tricks he and CC use: As opposed to a wholistic solution, Lomborg presents a picture where one can applies a few fixes here and there. Thus, I think Lomborg, CC, and/or WSJ are/is sneaky and try to wrap a hidden message (that they don’t believe that climate change is important) inside another story.
37 Responses to "The Copenhagen Consensus"
David Wilson says
good work indeed, given the world as it is the ‘science’ of communication will have as much to do with finding solutions as the science of climate, and I think it is especially important to remain objective and even-handed as you have done here
several links which touch on this in various ways came to me today, CS Monitor – When media aims for balance …, Spiegel – Global Warming Did Al Get the Science Right?, and Spiegel – Interview with Al Gore
maybe it is simple minded but it seems to me that the coming struggle will be decided as people are convinced one-by-one to change their ways, and this convincing can only be accomplished calmly
thanks and be well
Mark J. Fiore says
Was there any discussion of the Apollo alliance which seeks 300 billion fron the Feds to promote renewable energy?. It seems to me that if the Democrats push for this $$ we could do a lot of good with it. The $$ would come from taxing the oil industry, as I understand it.This is a good website.Thanks, Mark J. Fiore
I think that his point is more about what should take priority. Obviously there are a lot of items to address. If we attempt ot address them all we dilute our efforts to non-existance. So where do we get the best results.
Mike Bauer says
Nice analysis. The secret of Mr. Lomborg’s “sucesss” truely lies here:
It’s easy to see that Lomborgâ??s real target is AGW. Spot the “odd one out”:
A psychoanalysis may show that the man has been deeply disappointed that previous scenarios of environmental disasters have not come to pass. They tend not to when society acts on the warnings (DDT, acid rain, lead in petrol, CFCs, cancer causing substances, atmospheric nuclear testing etc.).
Therefore, concludes the converted B.L., AGW is just another exaggerated environmental threat which must also be a dud.
A supporting comment: “It is strange that Lomborg ranks climate change as the least important, but then proceeds devoting column space to exactly climate change and not communicable diseases”
His message seems to be: “If you think action should be taken on AGW, then you’re causing deaths now by HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, lack of clean water, malaria… etc..”
B.L. is playing his emotive ace.
Joseph O'Sullivan says
The RC forum is ideal for posts like these.
The copenhagen consensus is really a panel that is going to do a cost- benefit analysis (CBA). Cost-benefit analysis is a favorite tool of groups that want to stop or reduce government regulation of economic activities. CBA is far from an exact science and is easy to manipulate to get a pre-ordained result.
There’s a good discussion on the use and abuse of CBA here:
Mark A. York says
Yes that’s precisely what they’re doing. The present a bifurcated argument by division: a false dilemma of which climate change is the least of our problems and thus by comparison not worthy of any concerted effort and allocation of public funds. That’s no accident seeing that Lomborg’s book erased all environmental damage done i n the last 50 years. The air is cleaner; trees more abundant; we have more fish and so on. He does this with a lack of context, and an overgeneralization fallacy. We have endangered certain species key to our survival, and remote sensing of old growth forests look like the glacier receeding historical air photos. More trees that are small, monculture and more fire prone is not an improvment. This is an insidious tactic and common these days.
Mark Shapiro says
Does the CC mention subsidies to the energy industry? Every economist I know says that subsidies lower total wealth by distorting markets. So CC, which claims to be concerned with allocating money properly, doesn’t even acknowledge that you could increase wealth AND move in the right direction on AGW just by identifying and eliminating subsidies?
Could CC please address subsidies?
wayne davidson says
Its all about planning for the future, and allocating the proper funds for projected needs. First it does cost no money to take bicycle to corner store instead of SUV, it is not a good argument to say that treating AGW with billions will solve the problem, my view is the contrary, treating AGW is done with less money rather than more, a full effort to renewables could be extremely effective, and in the long run , less costly worldwide. So Lomborg’s premise, is a joke, a cat chasing its tail in circles.
Well done for exposing some of the problems with CC. However, it is a good exercise nonetheless to prioritise the problems and given a finite amount of money and how far $1 will go fixing them, what is our highest priority for investment. But Lomborg paints a false picture that climate change is too expensive to tackle. Yes, lets have a go at all our major problems, especially climate change. Many people (including politicians) think that AGW is our biggest problem when it may not. That does not preclude fighting AGW, but it ensures that the finite $$ in the world are wisely spent for the biggest bang for the buck.
Steve Latham says
I wouldn’t be the first to suggest that $$ spent on going back to the moon and then to Mars could be better allocated elsewhere. And this isn’t the forum for complaining that military-industrial spending is probably a net negative. But perhaps another way to approach this is to discuss the number of projects that might be given a lower priority than AGW initiatives.
Terry Aust says
Given that AGW is a rational belief. Then the next step is what is the best way to take this ‘fact’ into account.
CC is one way in which this very complex debate is being carried out.
If the political regime is capable of enforcing its will on the population then accepting the scientists belief is easy (as in China you shoot the dissidents).
In the kind of society most of us live in it is going to be a more complex task.
The productivity of the USA is so high compared to other competing economies it can impose costs on its economy and still survive.
Some of are dependent upon less robust economies and need our Government to take care not to impose costs that other competing economies are not bearing.
The long term history of the human species is that it can survive climate changes. OK so we will have to shift activities from place A to place B. We do this routinely eg in a ‘minor’ way ask the auto manufacturers is this all bad?
Gar Lipow says
>The copenhagen consensus is really a panel that is going to do a cost- benefit analysis (CBA). Cost-benefit analysis is a favorite tool of groups that want to stop or reduce government regulation of economic activities. CBA is far from an exact science and is easy to manipulate to get a pre-ordained result.
>There’s a good discussion on the use and abuse of CBA here:
Cost/Benefit is often abused, but this does not make it worthless if done right. For example one criticism made of it in the link is that it uses discount rates for lives saved. So, which you prefer -something that prevents you from dying tomorrow or something that prevents you from dying 50 years from now? On the other hand it is fair enough that the discount rate for social costs should probably different from the discount rate used by investment bankers. And in properly done CBA reasonably low discount rates often are used.
The “Copenhagen Consensus” was NOT a properly done CBA. It failed to count either costs or benefits properly. For example, it assumed absurdly low benefits to reducing global warming, and absurdly high costs. It did not claim to be a CBA of course – but in practice you are right to point out that was what it was; but with costs and benefits assumed rather than studied.
Hank Roberts says
The political spin steps of the package laid out so far:
— claims all climate work by IPCC is wrong (“hockey stick” arguments)
— removal of NASA from service of earth climate science (satellites mothballed, policy redefined)
— claims none of the scientists contributing so far are honest (Peggy Noonan in the WSJ)
— claims “the people” must demand new scientists to come up with new answers (ditto)
— claims saying the Copenhagen meeting represents a new “Consensus” replacing the IPCC
What next? Have they started targeting individual scientists’ grants and funding and positions to shut down their work? Would we hear about it if it’s happening?
Big Lie tactics, staged, sequential, methodical, well funded.
You know, if it became apparent that it were space aliens changing the ocean and climate to suit their weird needs, trying to take over Earth by causing this to happen, we’d work together to defeat them.
Doug H says
I sent this to the WSJ on July 8th after the opinion piece was published:
I am a strong supporter of prioritizing our problems and systemetizing our efforts to solve them, but I seriously doubt that Lomborg’s effort gave global climate change a fair shake. One might quibble with the modest estimate of sea level rise, but more importantly, there are significant impacts of global warming beyond rising sea levels. For instance: (a) the oceans are becoming more acidic which has repercussions throughout the oceanic food chain; (b) ocean currents and weather patterns could dramatically shift drmatically channge the climate in densely populated or agricultural regions; (c) tropical diseases such as malaria will expand into more populated areas; (d) soil-moisture stress and other effects of increased CO2 could wreak havoc on agriculture and forestry; (e) the insurance industry is already awakened to the risk of increased storm damage; (f) water stored in snowpacks will decrease rendering our reservoir systems inadequte; (g) widespread species extinction is likely; and (h) all thses changes will cause social strife and war which recent experience tells us are quite costly. When all these costs are considered global climate change should rise in importance as a problem in need of our immediate attention.
It’s the suggested solutions to global warming that are costly. One reader suggested bicycling to the store rather than driving. He fails to understand the meaning of opportunity costs. Bicycling may take more time; may be more inconvinient for carrying a lot of groceries; that time and effort is away from something else – productive and thus has real costs.
As another reader said, we do not have infinite resources and especially politicians do not have infinite amount of money to put into solving different kinds of problems. The question that CC poses does not try to solve all the problems in the world, but instead it tries to get people to acknowledge that we do need to understand economic scarcity and focus our efforts as well as possible.
The best use of our resources, of course, as another reader pointed out, is to get rid of subsidies to energy sector, as that will get rid of inefficiencies, thus making us richer and help solving AGW problem [help, not solve].
[Response:You’re right: we do not have infinite resources, so why waste them? Why not get the most out of the energy instead? Burning oil is depleting the planet’s wealth in terms of stored up energy. The only way one could argue for wasting energy would be from a purely selfish and shortsighted standpoint. But this is a bit beside the point, and I think that it’s too easy to fall into the economist’s narrow frame of mind, which I don’t think is universally true. Even if the economic theory were correct and could describe everything, with the balance between supply and demand, would not a higher oil price as a result of curbing the oil consumption lead to new markets for alternative energies? Which may not be so bad… If the economy does not work like that, on the other hand, then our economy is fairly sick as it’s too dependent on just one source of energy which is finite (which may lead to conflicts, thus taking us to CC’s view on wars)… Furthermore, the assumption about rational behaviour on which the theory of marked economy is also sadly being falsified these days too. Taken together with the notion of economy of scale, that is used to argue that growth is always necessary, our economy seems a bit like a pyramid game (perhaps someone could enlighten me more on this issue if I have misunderstood the concept?). The important thing is that we need energy, not so much of which form it is (let’s be realistic – we are not talking about closing down the society). Anyway people cannot ignore theatening problems because someone say they are too costly – think about what the defense industry costs! Furthermore, different people will value things differently. Then, the real cost of mitigation is most likely not yet exposed, however, the release of the next IPCC report in 2007 will likely shed more light on the issue. What is ‘cost’ anyway? The way I understand it, cost is basically a ‘trade off’. Money is just a medium for the exchange. So, what’s the preference? More time? Additional barrels of oil (up to a point as it is finite)? Do we want more food or clothes? Entertainment? Cars? Computers? How much stuff do we really want or need? I think there is a name in economics for the notion that the first cup of coffee is much more enjoyable than the 12th cup, but I cannot remember what it is (Diminishing returns?). So does this mean that the real costs would in theory be greater for the people how have less, all else being equal? One problem with this idea is that the poor don’t consume oil. Thus, the problems of conflict, poverty, energy security, health, and climate change are not independent. It may even be possible to deal with several issues through one solution. So let’s get back to the issue of cycling: i) diabetes is a growing problem because people do not exercise enough, ii) oil is a scarce resource which is non-renewable most of which is available from unstable regions (energy security), iii) less combustion of oil reduces the CO2 emissions, iv) cars kill a lot of people though accidents. Cycling can alleviate these problems (to some extent). If you worry about time, then you could watch less TV, or sue the advertisers for stealing your time ;-) (actually, TV-ads are really costly if you sum up all the time people waste watching it and the number of people…)… Isn’t economics fun?-rasmus]
wayne davidson says
May be Mikko should demand payment for his comments since his time is so valuable. There is a whole lot of things we can do to reduce wasteful energy practices until non polluting vehicles take over.
Wayne, there is a difference between the _value_ of one’s own time and the value of one’s time to someone _else_. I, for one, prefer to spend my free time writing comments in blog posts and trying to shed some economic understanding to others rather than biking to the closest grocerie store.
That said, I usually walk to my grocerie store since it’s right across the street. And apart from this trip to US that I’ve done, I also do >90% of my trips either by foot or by public transportation. :)
Now if we get deeper into interesting questions of how to conserve energy, not all methods are alike and I fully agree with the writer that there is waste in energy use that we could easily get rid of. As an example, there are 100 fold differences in the amount of energy that a standby mode thing takes when sleeping in different devices. The amount of energy it consumes is not a big amount of money for a consumer, so it is not a primary choice factor – but if we could make it somehow more profitable to companies to use less energy consuming standby mode receivers (or whatever you call them) or less profitable to use those that consume more energy, we might save quite a bit energy in the long run. Or it might be enough to get the awareness that energy consumption is an important issue to those making decisions.
Gar Lipow says
Re: Comment 18
I hope this is proves to be accurate. But this story seems pretty much taken directly from a press release. I note also that it does not include actual cost per peak watt installed – not a good sign in someone claiming a cost breakthrough.
Every now and then you see someone comment on a new technology with palpable relief. “The breakthrough we need has been made. At least we can get started.” And then the breakthrough either turns out to have been hyped, or does exactly what it claims – which turns out to be a very fractional contribution to the problem. And people go back to waiting for the next breakthrough.
It is important to understand that a combination of efficiency and renewables could provide all our needs in t his regard – not only in the U.S., but in Europe and in poor nations as well.
I’ve written a book on this call Cooling it! No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming which I hope will be accepted for publication soon.
I’ve put together a site describing the book: http://wwww.nohairshirts.com
On the official page from “IFE” here http://www.ife-net.de/en/angebote.php you find more infos including the kWp and costs. I think you meant this?
Here are investor information http://www.ife-net.de/en/investoreninformation.php – you need like 1 million to become part of this at least “good sign technology”.
i replyed to fast yesterday :(
This is the correct site http://www.johanna-solar.com (currently only german), but on the IFE-net.de are infos about Johanna Solar in english language.
And there are currently no plans for the public of becomeing part of this project.
Johanna Solar is part of the IFE. On the 2. Juni 2006 construction of a factory in germany begun.
South Africa: Refreshing Response to Realities of Climate Change
‘Even Jeffrey Sachs, adviser to the United Nations’ Kofi Annan took time off from beating up the International Monetary Fund to acknowledge that climate change is contributing to poverty.’
Catherine Jansen says
The Economist covered the Copenhagen consensus as well. My father showed it to me as “proof” that it wasn’t worth worrying about global warming. Sigh. I couldn’t think of an adequate response, although I did point out that the Economist has long been an advocate of a carbon tax as a means of reducing GHG emissions. You did a good job of explaining what was wrong with the reasoning and why the consensus came up with the response they did.
I don’t know whether the WSJ covered the point that the participants balked at ranking the issues, saying that they were all worth spending money on. But they were told they had to, so they did.
Gar Lipow says
Re: 22 – not saying that the cells are not decent cells. But I think the price difference from silicon is not as great you were implying. It looks to me like the cells will be about $1.00 per kW peak capacity given the most optimistic assumptions. Given that – making the cells into panels and installing them will probably raise the price to $3.00 per KW of peak capacity, compared to about $5.00 per pk KW for conventional cells. An improvement, but not a magic breakthrough. At that is using the bottom range estimates.
Look there is tremendous potential for breakthroughs. At some point we will get $1.00 per peak kWh solar panels – installed. At some point we will get cheap electricity storage. They are important possible and would have a tremendous market – so one can confidentally predict that they will happen; various types of public investment could make them happen sooner than they otherwise would. But we can’t afford to wait for this, and don’t need to. We have hundreds of existing efficiency technologies. We have expensive renewable sources available now, which combined with the money saved via efficiency can provide total energy needs from renewables at a market price comparable to that of fossil fuels. That is the key. Use energy efficiency technologies we know how to do now (like insulation); combine them with more expensive sources like solar thermal with storage in molten salts. The NET market price ends up the same as fossil fuels. But, while there are things individuals can do, ultimately it is a social choice. It won’t happen without policy that encourages it.
Hank Roberts says
I used Google for the terms then Google Scholar for the materials used. The scientist named has published a lot over some years; this is promising stuff.
These are licensed to a German company and in production. Estimated cost for the final product, just cost to buy, is said to be about 25% lower than for current silicon based solar cells — nice, not astonishing.
Longevity is not discussed. The material is very, very thin — that may be good and bad in different conditions.
Efficiency when new and change over time is not discussed — may be too early to know, we would expect output to drop off over time, but from what best level and how long they’ll be good, not stated.
If this is a thin film easy to apply and easy to keep working in actual use, it’s very promising.
Mike Atkinson says
$50B spread over 5 years is really not that much money, far less than total world funds allocated to international development and aid. UK government aid is about that amount on its own.
So the question has to be if enough funds are available why are the top few items on the priority list not already solved? Obviously, either the priorities of the real aid and development budgets are different or the top problems are much harder (and consequently more costly) to solve.
Another major problem with the CC process is that in practice, people are never just given $50B with no strings attached. The money would have to come from governments and hence ultimately from taxes. This means that voters and governments decide not a consensus body, their priorities are different, most taxes must be spent in the taxed country. Even most development funds go to paying for consultants, loans of various sorts, buying food in the donor country, etc.
Another falicy is that giving money to one project denies another. In practice the projects that governments decide to fund get funded almost indepenently of what else gets funded. For if instance NASA funding for manned spaceflight were taken away, the amount of funding for unmanned would not changed much.
To counteract Climate Change money needs to be spent in industrialised countries changing the electricity generation and transport industries (among others) and in energy efficiency improvements. This is a completely different pot of money than used for international development and aid.
On the other side of the equation most of the damage (in monetry terms) is in the developed world. This is different from the monetry costs of the other problems that fall almost entirely on the developing world.
Finally I don’t understand why Carbon taxes are ranked so lowly. Surely a tax raises money, taxing inefficient activities and using the money raised to promote efficient ones increases the overall efficiency of an economy. Moderate carbon taxes would fall into this category and so should be a net gain.
It is a long time since I looked at your site and I see that Mr Lomburg has appeared. Some points :
1. Mr Lomburg is not an accurate rapporteur of his own meetings. The economists who reviewed Mr Cline’s discussion paper suggested that something had to be done about climate change and suggested that a carbon tax introduced gradually would be the best option but it was an option that wasnt offered them for consideration. In addition his very own youth forum at the same CC opted for a carbon tax administered by the WTO with import duties for offenders – something which I wholeheartedly support.
2. Their rejection of Kyoto seems to me quite intelligent. Kyoto will never work because : it is too polite, non urgent, requires agreement from many parties, sets up a whole bureaucracy of assessors and inspectors, distorts the market, leaves too many escape holes for offenders and on and on. I advise you all if you havent already, to look at the Kyoto website, read at least one country report and then look at the compliance and enforcement committee section. For pros and cons of emissions trading schemes and taxes I recommend the UN website.
3. The Economist journal, which I read every week because it is in general very good on a range of topics, screwed up on Climate Change just as it did on Iraq. The journal has now recanted on both. The bad name it deservedly got for supporting Mr Lomburg was, I guess, because someone’s brain in the editorial department got switched off.
4. The error that people seem to make is not that CBA is bad nor that the maths is wrong – please google on CBA there are any number of sites explaining it – it is that you need to know what you are talking about. A bit like climate science if you will. As I have posted before, people only go to good doctors or good accountants or good lawyers or good climate scientists.
5. The key to pushing action on climate change down the list of projects at CC was because the CBA model used a discount rate appropriate for sales of soft drinks but not for the interactive nature of climate change over a long period. For people who would like some simple maths there is a paper by Hoel and Sterner on the http://www.rff.org site which explains in simple terms how negative discount rates can push climate change rapidly up the list of action points.
6. Lastly, why would I or any else want to know what a group of the world’s ambassadors think about climate change or HIV/AIDS? I am not being rude about ambassadors but their job is to carry the message not to have opinions.
Just curious but where does Mr Lomburg get his income from ? Is it the same place as Mr Michaels ?
Dear group, I thought that your site might cheer me up but….
Mike Atkinson says
> 5. The key to pushing action on climate change down the list of projects at CC
> was because the CBA model used a discount rate appropriate for sales of soft
> drinks but not for the interactive nature of climate change over a long
> period. For people who would like some simple maths there is a paper by Hoel
> and Sterner on the http://www.rff.org site which explains in simple terms how
> negative discount rates can push climate change rapidly up the list of action
I totally agree about high discount rates. If however some measures to limit climate change have negative costs (e.g. high efficiency lighting) then high discount rates would make those measures be even better.
The Copenhagen Consensus is discussed on
This homepage is created by biologist Kaare Fog, Denmark. His conclusions about Copenhagen Concensus are:
The Copenhagen Consensus conference suffers from the following flaws:
– The earmarked sum is so small that only projects which give a high rate of return on invested capital in a short time will be selected.
– In order to compare projects, a rate of discount of 5 percent was applied for climate mitigation, whereas the rate for AIDS prevention was 3 percent. This is contrary to the principle that rates of discount should be lower for longer time spans, and that a rate as high as 5 percent cannot be used on time horizons larger than about 30 years.
– The high discount rate means that projects with a long time horizon will automatically get bottom priority. Therefore it was certain from the beginning of the conference that climate mitigation would receive bottom priority.
– The selection of panel participants was biased towards economists that do not favour expenditures on combating climate change.
– The ranking was subjective, based on the panel expertsÂ´ own opinions on the worldÂ´s problems, and not directly on benefit/cost ratios.
The criticism concerning the discount rate had been presented to Lomborg many times before the conference. To no avail, of course.
All in all, it is evident that the whole exercise had been rigged. The conclusion was determined in advance by Lomborg. The setting of priorities was humbug.
LomborgÂ´s sponsor and loyal supporter, The Economist, wrote in an article: “. . This gave rise to suspicion in some quarters that the whole exercise had been rigged.” (6). Experience of Lomborg, and his supporters, shows that they themselves often make great play with what we should be suspicious of. When they strongly deny what could be suspected or could be criticised, this may be taken as a sign that the suspicions are warranted. The more vehement the denial, the closer we are to the crucial point.
Hey, on economic growth:
I study this subject and can tell you that the view is moving towards a less “materialistic” form of growth. Basically, the growth function used by old economists today assumes an infinite resource base, which is nonsense. Thus, most economist that are failing to see the problem of global warming and hydrocarbon dependency not only have an “economic” incentive to not see the problem but are old and learned about exponential growth on a finite resource base…
There is an environmental trend in the field that has been getting stronger.
Today, we observe growth functions that take finite resources into consideration (unthinkable a couple of decades (years?) ago) and scholars who study technological and efficiency based growth rather than only capital and resource based growth. And yes, many of the old assumptions of rationality are being questioned (I am working along those lines…)
Thus, dont put us all economist into the bag of skeptics. I am a strong advodcate to fight global warming but I also consider my self an economist :) Although, I hope my type is not in the polar bear category… (extinction…)
Finally, I had like to ask a question. It may be offtopic in this particular thread, but not on the website in general. Can anyone direct me to a source (or provide an explanation) that explains the reason at the molecular level that makes a gas be a green house gas? I have been trying to find something, but the best I got was a simple symmetry explanation that did not quite satisfy my appetite. Thanks a lot guys, you rock!
[Response:The molecules of a greenhouse gas absorb long wave radiations (infrared light, IR) but let visible light trough. Thus the gas is opaque for light with long wave length (IR) but transparent for shorter wave length (visible). This property is determined by quantum physics: the electron levels and bonds between the atoms, and what energies excite these (such as excitation from one electron state to the next, or increase the vibrational or rotational energy of the molecule). -rasmus]