Wednesday, December 05, 2007
On a completely different note, I just finished reading a very interesting little book called Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg (perhaps you've seen him on the Colbert Report). It's a book about global warming, but unlike, say, An Inconvenient Truth, it doesn't have lots of pictures of icebergs collapsing or graphs predicting that Boulder, Colorado, will be underwater by the end of the century. Rather, operating from the premise that global warming is a real phenomenon that could - could - have future negative repercussions, Lomborg then outlines both what the consequences and most effective solutions are. Based on the latest and most credible data, including that from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he concludes that the effects of global warming have been vastly exaggerated and that the best way of tackling the effects is not a hugely expensive and marginally successful carbon reduction program, but multiple specific initiatives that would ultimately be much cheaper and help many more people. One example is his analysis of the claim that global warming will cause an increase in malaria because a larger portion of the earth's surface will heat to the conditions that allow malaria-carrying mosquitoes to flourish. He first notes that the vast majority of the world's population is already considered "at risk" for contracting malaria, yet the percentage of people who actually contract not nearly that high. Also, malaria strikes much harder in developing than developed countries. Why is this? Is it because all our carbon emissions blow to Africa and then hover there, allowing more mosquitoes to breed and infect people? No. It's because developed countries are richer and have the resources to do things like drain land where mosquitoes could breed, develop spraying techonology to kill the bugs, and create appropriate vaccines for those who do become infected. The problem in Africa, then, is not an overabundance of CO2 but an underabundance of DDT, mosquito nets, vaccines, and good government to distribute them all. And the most effective way to reduce any future increases in malarial infection global warming might bring is to provide these countries with those material assets that can fight the disease (good government, they'll have to sort out). By crunching some numbers, Lomborg calculated that a strict enforcement of the Kyoto protocol on this issue could cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year with 29 million fewer people infected by the end of the century. Conversely, for $5 billion of material assistance a year - vaccines, spraying, mosquito nets - not only would the effects be much more immediate, but we could achieve 229 billion fewer infections over the same long-term time frame. The results are the same for virtually every issue global warming is supposed to cause. If global warming isn't the most exciting thing in your life, you probably won't read this book; but if you're concerned, or don't know that much about it (as in my case) and want a reasoned explanation, I think this is a great place to start. It's short, plainly written, and doesn't try to equate raw numbers with facts or smart policy. It's just an explanation of why the global obsession with carbon emission reduction is about the worst way to confront climate change, if we sincerely care about confronting it. And besides, the author was on the Colbert Report. That's all I need to know.