What Lomborg Leaves Out

Danish author Bjorn Lomborg has articulated one of the most compelling arguments against the agenda of the climate alarmists – not by denying climate change, but by demonstrating how wasteful all government attempts are to control it.  For years, in books such as Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming, Lomborg has been the adult in the room, pointing out that hundreds of billions of dollars have been squandered on green energy even as one billion of the world's people go hungry.  Had those dollars been invested productively, the world would be a better place.  In this conclusion Lomborg is most certainly correct, and he has shown extraordinary courage in confronting the climate alarmists.

Still, his analysis is flawed on two important points.

First, Lomborg would redirect state spending to targeted projects rather than return it to the private sector.  State spending to fight poverty and disease is a worthy end but one that Western governments have been engaged in for half a century with little result.  If anything, Western aid has worsened the condition of the poor in developing nations by strengthening the position of ruling elites who siphon off funds to preserve their rule.  Those countries that have made strides, such as Botswana in Africa or India under Prime Minister Modi have done so because they have embraced Western values of capitalism and the rule of law – not because of foreign aid.  The best medicine for impoverished countries that refuse to embrace capitalism is to allow them to fail and to learn the lesson that capitalism works, while socialism does not.

Second, Lomborg has not adequately stressed the underlying issue of why the world's leaders have so readily signed on to climate change initiatives such as that agreed to in Paris in April 2016.  If Lomborg is right and government actions to slow climate change are doomed to fail, why is it that so few world leaders have recognized this?  If his idea of redirecting climate spending to more efficient ends makes sense, why is it that no nation has agreed to so do?

The answer is that governments view the climate "crisis" as an excuse to increase revenues, not as a means of halting climate change itself.  As Lomborg himself shows, if every nation delivers on its Paris Agreement promises, the earth's temperature will drop by 0.08 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, according to U.N.-sponsored models.  The people of the U.S. and other developed countries are asked to make unprecedented sacrifices, akin to rationing that took place during the Second World War, to achieve an imperceptible 0.08-degree drop in temperatures on the basis of unreliable computer models.

And yet over 200 nations (counting the EU members separately) signed the Paris Agreement.  It wasn't to save the planet.  It was, I suspect, to expand state power and to enrich world leaders and their cronies.  How many bureaucrats in Brussels and elsewhere owe their lucrative employment to the myth that climate change threatens the planet?  The directorate general for climate action, part of the European Union Climate Change Programme, has a staff of 160.  It is just one of hundreds of such bureaucracies generously funded in Europe and North America.  It goes without saying that none of these bureaucracies produces a single drop of oil or kilowatt of electricity.  Just the opposite, they impose obstacles to production.

No politician, once he gains power, wishes to reduce the scope of his own power.  The climate change agenda is just too tempting.  By spending on green energy, taxing carbon, and regulating emissions, governments gain a stranglehold on the energy sector – and with it they gain the power to redirect spending to constituencies and extract contributions from lobbyists.  In many cases, government officials engage in outright corruption; their control of the energy sector makes possible graft on an enormous scale, as has been alleged or proven in Russia, Brazil, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, and other states.

While Lomborg's analysis of the economics of climate change spending is compelling, it doesn't go far enough.  It quite properly labels green spending as wasteful, but it fails to highlight the real motive for that spending.  Everyone from world leaders and corporate CEOs on down to the leaders of environmental non-profits and media commentators has a stake in promoting climate alarmism.  The energy sector, comprising some 8% of global GDP, is simply too tempting.  At this point, everyone has their fingers stuck in the pie, and it is unlikely they will extract them any time soon.

Conservatives should be grateful to Lomborg for his keen analysis of just how ineffectual the environmentalist response to global warming has been. But Lomborg is not a free-market conservative. Redirecting the flow of global warming funds to "more worthy" state-sponsored projects is not the same as allowing the free market to operate as it should, unfettered by government mandates, regulation, and excessive taxation.  Lomborg's seemingly worthwhile project of ameliorating climate change – for example, by spending more state funds on green technologies rather than restricting carbon usage – is just another statist approach to a problem that doesn't exist.

If man-made warming is growing as slowly as Lomborg suggests and natural inputs account for a significant percentage of warming over the past century (with essentially no warming over the past 15 years), why should governments be entrusted with trillions in revenues to spend on new technologies, given their disastrous record so far?  Lomborg makes a strong case against government regulation of carbon, but his support for an aggressive program of green technology development sounds a lot like one million Solyndras.

Bjorn Lomborg offers a brilliant and clear-sighted analysis of the failings of the climate alarmism, but his thinking, if carried to its natural conclusion, does not support increased government spending on green energy technologies.  Rather, it points to an embrace of the free market unburdened by government control.  For more than two decades, Lomborg has courageously defied climate alarmists by forcing them to account for the costs of their green energy "solutions."  The next logical step would be for him to admit that with energy production, as with all other sectors of the economy, laissez-faire capitalism works best.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).

Danish author Bjorn Lomborg has articulated one of the most compelling arguments against the agenda of the climate alarmists – not by denying climate change, but by demonstrating how wasteful all government attempts are to control it.  For years, in books such as Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming, Lomborg has been the adult in the room, pointing out that hundreds of billions of dollars have been squandered on green energy even as one billion of the world's people go hungry.  Had those dollars been invested productively, the world would be a better place.  In this conclusion Lomborg is most certainly correct, and he has shown extraordinary courage in confronting the climate alarmists.

Still, his analysis is flawed on two important points.

First, Lomborg would redirect state spending to targeted projects rather than return it to the private sector.  State spending to fight poverty and disease is a worthy end but one that Western governments have been engaged in for half a century with little result.  If anything, Western aid has worsened the condition of the poor in developing nations by strengthening the position of ruling elites who siphon off funds to preserve their rule.  Those countries that have made strides, such as Botswana in Africa or India under Prime Minister Modi have done so because they have embraced Western values of capitalism and the rule of law – not because of foreign aid.  The best medicine for impoverished countries that refuse to embrace capitalism is to allow them to fail and to learn the lesson that capitalism works, while socialism does not.

Second, Lomborg has not adequately stressed the underlying issue of why the world's leaders have so readily signed on to climate change initiatives such as that agreed to in Paris in April 2016.  If Lomborg is right and government actions to slow climate change are doomed to fail, why is it that so few world leaders have recognized this?  If his idea of redirecting climate spending to more efficient ends makes sense, why is it that no nation has agreed to so do?

The answer is that governments view the climate "crisis" as an excuse to increase revenues, not as a means of halting climate change itself.  As Lomborg himself shows, if every nation delivers on its Paris Agreement promises, the earth's temperature will drop by 0.08 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, according to U.N.-sponsored models.  The people of the U.S. and other developed countries are asked to make unprecedented sacrifices, akin to rationing that took place during the Second World War, to achieve an imperceptible 0.08-degree drop in temperatures on the basis of unreliable computer models.

And yet over 200 nations (counting the EU members separately) signed the Paris Agreement.  It wasn't to save the planet.  It was, I suspect, to expand state power and to enrich world leaders and their cronies.  How many bureaucrats in Brussels and elsewhere owe their lucrative employment to the myth that climate change threatens the planet?  The directorate general for climate action, part of the European Union Climate Change Programme, has a staff of 160.  It is just one of hundreds of such bureaucracies generously funded in Europe and North America.  It goes without saying that none of these bureaucracies produces a single drop of oil or kilowatt of electricity.  Just the opposite, they impose obstacles to production.

No politician, once he gains power, wishes to reduce the scope of his own power.  The climate change agenda is just too tempting.  By spending on green energy, taxing carbon, and regulating emissions, governments gain a stranglehold on the energy sector – and with it they gain the power to redirect spending to constituencies and extract contributions from lobbyists.  In many cases, government officials engage in outright corruption; their control of the energy sector makes possible graft on an enormous scale, as has been alleged or proven in Russia, Brazil, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, and other states.

While Lomborg's analysis of the economics of climate change spending is compelling, it doesn't go far enough.  It quite properly labels green spending as wasteful, but it fails to highlight the real motive for that spending.  Everyone from world leaders and corporate CEOs on down to the leaders of environmental non-profits and media commentators has a stake in promoting climate alarmism.  The energy sector, comprising some 8% of global GDP, is simply too tempting.  At this point, everyone has their fingers stuck in the pie, and it is unlikely they will extract them any time soon.

Conservatives should be grateful to Lomborg for his keen analysis of just how ineffectual the environmentalist response to global warming has been. But Lomborg is not a free-market conservative. Redirecting the flow of global warming funds to "more worthy" state-sponsored projects is not the same as allowing the free market to operate as it should, unfettered by government mandates, regulation, and excessive taxation.  Lomborg's seemingly worthwhile project of ameliorating climate change – for example, by spending more state funds on green technologies rather than restricting carbon usage – is just another statist approach to a problem that doesn't exist.

If man-made warming is growing as slowly as Lomborg suggests and natural inputs account for a significant percentage of warming over the past century (with essentially no warming over the past 15 years), why should governments be entrusted with trillions in revenues to spend on new technologies, given their disastrous record so far?  Lomborg makes a strong case against government regulation of carbon, but his support for an aggressive program of green technology development sounds a lot like one million Solyndras.

Bjorn Lomborg offers a brilliant and clear-sighted analysis of the failings of the climate alarmism, but his thinking, if carried to its natural conclusion, does not support increased government spending on green energy technologies.  Rather, it points to an embrace of the free market unburdened by government control.  For more than two decades, Lomborg has courageously defied climate alarmists by forcing them to account for the costs of their green energy "solutions."  The next logical step would be for him to admit that with energy production, as with all other sectors of the economy, laissez-faire capitalism works best.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).