For the second time, the Copenhagen Consensus has taken a whack at figuring out which of the world’s problems could best be solved by throwing money at them. And for the second time, climate change was low on the list.
Let’s get ready to rumble.
The CC is a gathering of economists from around the world, who are presented with 30 proposed solutions to big problems and asked to figure out which are most cost effective. The first time, in 2004, they concluded that the world would get the most bang for its buck by spending money to fight HIV. Last on the list was global warming.
This year, a proposal to supply vitamin A and zinc to children in developing countries was determined to be at the top of the list. At the bottom was a proposal to alleviate global warming by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Basically, the economists found that the measure would achieve nothing. As a simple dollar-for-dollar matter, it would cost us more than we’d get back in economic benefits.
The people who participate in the CC are name-brand economists (including five Nobel Prize winners), so this isn’t just a collection of climate-change deniers. But there is also legitimate criticism of the exercise — mostly centered on how it’s skewed to favor smaller, less ambitious solutions, and how some problems supersede questions about cost effectiveness.
I can’t argue with that second point. If we determine tomorrow that a civilization-ending asteroid is bearing down on Earth, I doubt anyone will be debating whether we can afford the proposed measures to avoid extinction.
But is global warming an apocalyptic problem? Beats the hell outta me.
I’m a believer in science, and I also find traction in reality. Science indicates that the globe is indeed warming, but the reality is that we don’t know what temperature the world is meant (or supposed) to be. I don’t see how reducing carbon emissions can be anything but good, but I also don’t see how the indisputable economic consequences we’d suffer today from the most sweeping climate-change proposals can be anything but bad — especially considering there would be only a theoretical, hoped-for benefit tomorrow.
And while I’m glad there are people who worry about the environment, I’m frankly suspicious of the political implications of their proposals. The green movement is all about social control and rationing and limits. Basic human freedom never seems to register as a priority.
Put all that together, and it makes me glad for the Copenhagen Consensus. It’s where science and reality are forced to acknowledge each another.