Bjørn Lomborg on the Dangers of ‘Policy by Panic’

Bjørn Lomborg has a Project Syndicate column on how “pitching beyond the facts” risks convincing the broader public that scientists and campaigners concerned about climate change and other ecological challenges can’t be trusted:

When well-meaning campaigners want us to pay attention to global warming, they often end up pitching beyond the facts. And, while this may seem justified by a noble goal, such “policy by panic” tactics rarely work, and often backfire.

Remember how, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Al Gore (and many others) claimed that we were in store for ever more devastating hurricanes? Since then, hurricane incidence has dropped off the charts; indeed, by one measure, global accumulated cyclone energy has decreased to its lowest levels since the late 1970’s. Exaggerated claims merely fuel public distrust and disengagement.

That is unfortunate, because global warming is a real problem, and we do need to address it.

Lomborg’s “policy by panic” principle can be applied to many other controversies as well, e.g., exaggerating the short-term impact of increases in marginal tax rates might leader people to be skeptical of the notion that these increases have deleterious long-term effects on work incentives. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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