2011-01-23 04:02:07Does Helping the Planet Hurt the Poor?
John Hartz
John Hartz

Sorry to spoil your weekend...

"Does Helping the Planet Hurt the Poor? Yes, if We Listen to Green Extremists" by By Bjørn Lomborg is the Saturday Essay published in today's (Jan 22) issue of the Wall Street Journal.


Is there a SkS-type website that rebutes the climate economics preached by Lomborg and his gang?

2011-01-23 04:45:23

I don't know if there is a dedicated anti-Lomborg site, but there have been a lot of debunkings by experts in the various fields on which he has opined.
2011-01-23 05:14:05Peter Singer's Rebuttal
John Hartz
John Hartz

I just discovered that Lomborg's essay is one-half of a debate between him and Peter Singer.

To access Singer's essay, which includes a rebuttal of Lomborg's, go to:


Both essays were poste today, Jan 22, 2011.  

2011-01-23 05:14:32
Ari Jokimäki

I got Lomborg's "Cool it" for christmas present, and now I sort of have to read it (and I'm already reading it). It's frustrating to read something that you know is saturated with lies. That man sure seems to have something against Al Gore.
2011-01-23 07:39:12SkS-type website that rebuts Lomborg
John Cook

The SkS-type website that rebuts Lomborg should be SkS. We're doing solution myths now so there's no reason not to debunk his myths.
2011-01-23 08:34:46agreed
Dana Nuccitelli
I didn't mention Lomborg specifically in the last Monckton Myth, but the cost-benefit analysis applies to his arguments.  His main argument basically seems to be "we'd be better off spending money on alleviating global poverty and reducing GHG emissions".  The best way to refute that is with cost-benefit analyses, and by pointing out that global warming will hit the poor in third world countries particularly hard.
2011-01-23 10:34:37Lomborg's cussed benefit analyses


I think there are three fundamental problems (and lots of less fundamental problems) with Lomborg's analysis:

1) He argues about the magnitude of the discount rate: But the whole concept of applying a discount rate is a little crazy when you're talking about losing your planet. ANY problem, however large, can be discounted away to zero significance (the financial term is "net present value") by suitable choice of discount rate and time-frame. That includes the total destruction of the capability to sustain human life, say in a time-frame of 1000 years: If I choose a discount rate of 3% per year, the factor is 10^(-14). Hardly worth noticing - unless it's your generation that is around in that year.

2) The other reason why applying discount rate is stupid: The idea of applying a discount rate is that you could, instead of paying for an immediate fix to a problem, just save the money and put it in the bank and collect interest on it. Then, at the end of the term, you take all the money you've saved and fix it then. If the discount rate is sufficiently high, you actually make money on deferring the problem, because it costs less to pay it all off later.

For example, suppose you have a small leak in your roof. It would cost $1000 to fix it. You could spend it now; or you could just bank the money, and absorb (say) $10 of damage every year. After 30 years, you would have accumulated $300 of damages, but you would have gained 3% interest every year, so the $1000 is now worth $2427. So even if it costs a little more to fix the roof because of waiting (say $1500), you come out ahead: You gained $2427 - $1000 = $1427; you paid an extra ($1500 - $1000) + $300 = $800. So you're ahead by $627. 

This is why he's arguing that it would be better to wait out the global warming. But this approach assumes that you can fix the problem with money: In the example, at the end of the 30-year period, you can pay somebody to fix the house. But in the interesting case, we can't: Where do we go to buy a new planet? However much money we make, where do we spend it?

3) Yet another reason why applying discount rates are stupid: A further assumption I believe he makes is that, somehow, technology will improve and it will get cheaper to fix the problems 100 or 300 years down the road. I'm skeptical: The old saying is that "NECESSITY is the mother of invention", not PROCRASTINATION. If there is no cost imposed for CO2 emissions, why would any sane industrialist spend money working on technology to fix what has been decided is a non-problem? There's no incentive.

4) The less fundamental problem with Lomborg's analysis is that he's pretty much wrong with all of his estimations about the damages. He ranges over a wide variety of aspects of harm, and his cavalier evaluations have had experts in these fields up in arms. His approach seems to have been, "If I don't understand it, it must be easy to fix."



2011-01-23 13:50:45Martin Weitzman
Andy S


Martin Weitzman of Harvard University has written some good stuff on the economics of climate chenge and long term discount rates. I have read a couple of his papers (I can't remember which) but here are some links to some free stuff, which I haven't yet read.


 Some Basic Economics of Extreme Climate Change

 How should the distant future be discounted when discount rates are uncertain?

Additive Damages, Fat-Tailed Climate Dynamics, and Uncertain Discounting (click icon for a pdf)


Added, this one I did read: GHG Targets as Insurance Against Catastrophic Climate Damages 

2011-01-24 04:15:57
Paul D


Actually more often than not, poor people are the ones living sustainably because they don't have access to large amounts of fossil fuel/energy. Does it mean they are 'poor'?
Rain forests are chopped down at a fast rate due to investment in machinery by developed nations and because there is a market for the resource in wealthy nations. The product being land use or the timber. It's often more about exploitation than 'helping the poor'.
Often the view that poor people would be affected is due to a western cultural perspective.

So really the argument is 'climate change mitigation will stop the process of our development, but to make it sound better we'll use emotional language to make it sound like someone else will be harmed'

2011-01-24 06:37:50discount rates
Dana Nuccitelli

To be fair, there are valid economic reasons to use discount rates, and everybody does.  The real question is how high the discount rate should be.  The Stern Review got heavy criticism for using a low rate (1.4%).  The EPA uses 2%, the DOE uses 3-5%, and so on.

But neal, you make some good points.  For example, with species extinctions - if we allow them to happen, maybe we have more money, but we can't replace that loss of biodiversity at any price.  Same thing with human deaths.  If millions die of famine in Africa as a result of climate inaction, the world as a whole may be richer as a result, but again we can't replace those deaths at any cost.

This is a good point which I'll add to the discount rate section of Monckton Myth #24 before it's published.