Planet Gore

The Arguments of Gang Green

Bjørn Lomborg in The Australian today tries out a pair of new similes to illustrate just how bogus it is to compare the cost of [ineffective] climate action with the [exaggerated] cost of inaction.

For example, say that the EU decides to put up a diamond-studded wind turbine at the Berlaymont headquarters, which will save 1 tonne of CO2 each year. The cost will be $1 billion, but the EU says that this is incredibly cheap when compared to the cost of inaction on climate change, which will run into the trillions. It should be obvious that the $1 billion windmill doesn’t negate the trillions of dollars of damage from climate change that we still have to pay by the end of the century.

The EU’s argument is similar to advising a man with a gangrenous leg that paying $50,000 for an aspirin is a good deal because the cost compares favourably to the cost of inaction, which is losing the leg. Of course, the aspirin doesn’t prevent that outcome.
The inaction argument is really terribly negligent, because it causes us to recommend aspirin and lose sight of smarter actions that may actually save the leg.
Likewise, it is negligent to focus on inefficiently cutting CO2 now because of costs in the distant future that in reality will not be avoided. It stops us from focusing on long-term strategies like investment in energy research and development that would actually solve climate change and at a much lower cost.
If Barroso were alone, perhaps we could let his statement go, but the same argument is used again and again by influential politicians. Germany’s Angela Merkel says it “makes economic sense” to cut CO2, because the “the economic consequences of inaction will be dramatic for us all”. Australia’s Kevin Rudd agrees that “the cost of inaction will be far greater than the cost of action”. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has gone on record with the exact same words. In the US, both John McCain and Barack Obama use the cost of inaction as a pivotal reason to support carbon cuts. . . .
The inaction argument makes us spend vast resources on policies that will do virtually nothing to deal with climate change, thereby diverting those resources from policies that could actually make animpact.
We would never accept medical practitioners advising ultra-expensive and ineffective aspirins for gangrene because the cost of aspirin outweighs the cost of losing the leg. Why, then, should we tolerate such fallacious arguments when debating the costliest public policy decision in the history of mankind?

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