Lomborg Sets Priorities

Lomborg debates Pope of the Sierra Club in Foreign Policy. (From A&L.) His conclusion:

No matter how much money we raise, we should still spend it wisely. If investing in cookers is more cost effective than windmills, we should do the cookers first. It really isn’t more complicated. Advocacy groups understandably want to focus on headline–grabbing issues, such as mercury, mangroves, and global warming. But when we emphasize some problems, we get less focus on others. It has been hard to get you to say what the world should not do first. Such a strategy is, naturally, less charming. But if we really want to do good in the long run, it is more honest to put those terms on paper.

You end by repeating your claim that we are cooking the environmental books. No. We know there are environmental problems. But we face other challenges, too. Let’s tackle the ones where we can do the most good first. The rich world is dealing with many of its environmental problems because it can afford to. If the poor world became wealthier, they would follow suit. Tackling pressing issues such as disease, hunger, and polluted water will do obvious good and give the poor the chance to improve the state of their world.

The good thing about Lomborg is that he makes us want to roll up our sleeves and do something. The contrasting appeals of Lomborg & Pope are instructive: Lomborg is pragmatic, Pope is an Old Testament prophet railing at his people; Lomborg narrows his focus to prioritize while Pope blurs distinctions and argues all must be done now; Lomborg points to where life has been and where it can be made better and Pope describes “scary stuff,” “anger at the chasm between better energy solutions and our scarcity of leadership,” and reaping “the whirlwind.” Pope argues Lomborg “cooks the books” and Lomborg repeatedly asks Pope to “prioritize.” Lomborg’s tone does become impatient: “Now you suggest funding windmills in China? I suggest first distrubuting efficient cookers to combat indoor air pollution, which would save more lives and money,” but he remains (relatively certainly) reasonable. He also doesn’t bring in the kind of references to Enron or fighter jets (ad populum that works with Pope’s backers but generally not with those with other assumptions).

By the way, Pope’s vision seems less convincing here on the ground than it might be elsewhere. We live around wells – they are in the middle of our little town, poking under the earth in the midst of metropolitan areas, grasshoppers in some people’s front yards. We don’t see them or the boom/bust economy that goes with them as unalloyed goods, but we also see them in the midst of bustling life or in the middle of a pasture with cows grazing beside the gentle rhythm of the pump. Sure, it isn’t the decorative accessory you might choose for your ranch, but calling it destruction seems hyperbolic.

7 thoughts on “Lomborg Sets Priorities”

  1. Where are all the practical minded young people? The lunacy of environmentalist propaganda is transparent. Anyone with a basic grounding in reality can see through it. Is the education system so bad, so controlled by ideologues, that young people’s brains no longer function? It would seem so.

  2. Arkady,

    There are plenty of younger adults who are skeptical and pragmatic, but as such, they don’t bother fighting battles that they’re unlikely to win. Few things are more frustrating than getting shouted down for pointing out the obvious…

    The fundamental problem is that the debate isn’t about the ends, but rather the means. And because so many people have a zero sum attitude regarding the adoption of appropriate policy given actual conditions, there’s little point in trying to engage them in reasonable debate, especially when it’s easier to ignore them.

  3. As Thomas Sowell pointed out in “A Conflict of Visions” a refusal to address tradeoffs is symptomatic of all Leftist thinking. Pope certainly shows this in spades. He argues that we can make all these changes without any cost or disadvantages. Its all cheap and easy and we could do it all tomorrow if it wasn’t for a minority of evil, greedy people screwing things up for everybody else.

    I wonder if Pope understands just how childish he sounds? He can’t even answer Bjork’s simple question: “what should be our priorities?” Instead, he answers like a 3 year old in a candy store, “I want one of everything right now!”

  4. For example…

    What’s the point of discussing an Amazon protection project if one lacks the practical means to stop wholesale logging? Very few people or organizations have the actual power and contacts necessary to undertake such a thing… it’s easy to SAY one will “restrict logging” on a couple million acres, but very hard to do in practice.

    In Bangladesh, in the southern mangrove swamps where the Royal Bengal Tigers live, it was discovered that the Tigers were in danger of extinction. So a law was passed that stated only “Man Eating” Tigers could be killed. The problem was that hunters were hiring beaters to flush out the Tigers, and merely waiting for one of the beaters to get killed before labeling the guilty Tiger a “Man Eater” and shooting it. So the government of Bangladesh changed the definition. Before a Tiger qualified as a “Man Eater” it had to kill no less than five people.

    Well. Bangladesh is a very populous Country, and there’s a lot of villages of poor people in the mangrove swamps. Being unlettered peasants, the villagers failed to appreciate WHY exactly Tigers that only ate FOUR people at a sitting were any different than those that ate FIVE, and were quite upset when authorities refused to shoot the former Tiger until he finished his meal and became one of the latter Tigers. Never the less, almost no Bangal Tigers are shot any more…

    Today, most Tigers are beaten to death by groups of villagers.

  5. It really is no more complicated than whatever is considered to be “fighting the system”….the system being a vague conspiracy of corporations, government officials, republicans, law enforcement, and so on…will be embraced by many young people. All they really want is to FEEL like they are revolutionary or counter-norm…

    Also, it gives great comfort to non-individualistic people of all ages to feel like they can blame SuperHugeCo. for all of their problems…so it’s not THEIR fault they didn’t go out and set the world on fire after high school…there is a conspiracy working against them and their brothers…and one way to get back as SuperHugeCo. in their eyes is taking up environmental issues…

  6. “Lomborg debates Pope of the Sierra Club in Foreign Policy”

    I know Greenery is mostly a sublimated religion but I didn’t know the Sierra Club actually has a Supreme Pontiff!

    Now don’t that beat all?

  7. An enviromentalist is a person who does not want to solve provlems, he wants to be a problem.

    Oil $60/bbl? Easy we must use wind, solar, and biomass.

    Build a wind turbine? No, you’ll kil the birds and spoil the view.

    For evey problem the Enviromentalists a solution. And the solution is that the problem is impossible to solve, and you are worthless and weak.

    All future progress is contingent on ignoring those people.

Comments are closed.