The Corner

re: Lomborg & McCain

From his NRO interview last month:

Lopez: If you could advise Sen. McCain on these issues, knowing where he is now and knowing he’s not going to want to look like a flip-flopper, how would you suggest this “maverick” approach the issue? Are there three things he could do better that wouldn’t be wholly inconsistent with where he is now?

Lomborg: The best legacy McCain could leave future generations is a world in which carbon emissions are low but incomes are high. It’s a possibility that is within reach — but not if politicians panic today.

McCain could propose that the United States spends 0.05 percent of its GDP on real research and development into low-carbon energy. That would give him the moral authority to ask the rest of the world to do the same when the Kyoto successor is negotiated in Copenhagen in late 2009. The total cost would be small so the likelihood of political success would be large.

With this move, McCain could leave behind the political mess and hypocritical in-fighting that marks Kyoto-type negotiations. He could show the leadership on climate change that has been lacking from the White House.

McCain would tap into the creative spirit that the United States of America is known for, and there would be some extraordinary results.

Apart from the obvious good that would come from dealing with climate change, there would be many other creative inventions and spin-offs, a bit like the Apollo program — which didn’t just land us on the moon, but gave us micro-technology and CAT scanners.

By ignoring the hysteria and by thinking coolly about the issue — and by empowering Americans to unleash their creativity on this problem — McCain could put his nation on track to secure the world’s energy solutions through the 21st century. That would be a remarkable legacy.

Lopez: Is that how John McCain could “Cool It”? Does that come right from your book?

Lomborg: Cool It is about acknowledging that there is a lot of hysteria about climate change. We hear a lot from people who argue that we are heading for catastrophe. We also hear from those who maintain climate change is a hoax. Neither of these extremes is right. The Earth is warming, and we are causing it, but that is not the whole story. Predictions of impending disaster don’t stack up, and they push us into looking at the wrong answers to this challenge.

Cooling our dialogue means looking at the whole picture accurately: there won’t be a 20-foot wall of water as Al Gore has predicted. There will be more heat-related deaths, but many fewer cold-related deaths.

It’s about dropping our fixation on solving climate change through cuts in carbon emissions and looking at more effective solutions, like increased research and development into low-carbon energy.

Panic is not a good way to solve a longterm problem. Panic brought us the ethanol disaster which cost billions, ended up emitting more CO2 and at the same time has been a major reason behind the food shortages affecting hundreds of million people.

Lopez: What’s the most frequent mistake you see politicians make when talking about climate policy?

Lomborg: John McCain’s daughter recently told GQ magazine that her dad is “freaked out” by climate change.

I think freaking out is the worst thing that any of us can do. There’s a lot of hysteria about this problem, which means that we don’t look at the full picture.

For example, McCain mentions that global warming means that there’ll be more heat-waves which will claim lives. That is correct. But it’s also true that rising temperatures will reduce the number of cold spells. And cold is far deadlier than heat. According to the first complete peer-reviewed survey of climate change’s health effects, global warming will actually save lives. It’s estimated that by 2050, global warming will cause almost 400,000 more heat-related deaths each year. But at the same time, 1.8 million fewer people will die from cold.

When we get “freaked out,” we don’t see the big picture. We don’t have a sensible discussion about dealing with climate change the best way possible — instead, we just reach for answers like massive cuts in carbon emissions, which we know is a very inefficient way of responding.

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