It seemed too sensational to be true. On Aug. 30, the Guardian reported that one of the world's most prominent "climate change skeptics," Bjorn Lomborg, had made an apparent about face, now calling for $100 billion to be devoted to stopping global warming. This is a man who, for years, writing books with provocative titles like The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It, had argued that climate change wasn't as pressing as other international problems, such as child malnutrition and poverty. Now, he seemed to be saying that stopping global warming was an urgent matter after all. Had the Danish political scientist changed his mind? Was he admitting he'd been wrong? What would this new $100 billion be used for?
In an exclusive interview with FP's Elizabeth Dickinson, Lomborg says his views haven't budged an inch. Rather, he argues that the cap-and-trade approach of Kyoto Protocol fame has clearly failed, and it's time to try a more creative approach -- one that doesn't involve wasting billions of dollars. "At some point," he says, "we have to ask ourselves, do we just want to keep up the circus of promising stuff but not actually doing it?" Excerpts:
Foreign Policy: You've been in the news quite a lot this last week thanks to your new book, Smart Solutions to Climate Change, which many are portraying as a change of heart on climate change. Is that accurate? Have you changed your mind about global warming?
Bjorn Lomborg: No. I always said that global warming's real, it's man-made, and that it is important. The economic models indicate that global warming is going to impact negatively GDP by the end of the century, by somewhere between 5 percent and 2 to 3 percent.
The fundamental point I try to make, though, is that the current set of solutions isn't working. Since 1992, we've been trying to cut carbon emissions by [holding] grand international get-togethers where everyone promises [to cut emissions]. But unfortunately nothing happens and nobody delivers. This book is about asking: Are there other and smarter ways? I helped organize something we call the Copenhagen Consensus on climate, where we brought together 28 of the world's top economists to look at all the different possible solutions to climate change and ask, "How much will it cost and how much climate damage will it avoid?" These top economists, including three Nobel laureates, ranked the smarter solutions. What they found was that the best long-term solution to climate change is dramatically increasing research and development on green-energy technology. [That means getting] green energy to be so cheap that everybody wants some. Don't try to make fossil fuels so expensive that nobody wants to use them. That's not going to work politically, and economically it also turns out to be a very poor way to help the world. Instead, make green energy so cheap that everybody wants to use it.
FP: Where does energy efficiency fit into that equation?
BL: That is one of the things that we should be investing more research and development in. [But] I would be somewhat cautious [about saying] that that's going to be a huge driver. The fundamental issue here is not to tinker at the margins. By all means, replace your light bulbs with energy-efficient ones and eventually LED lights. By all means, buy a Prius. But also recognize that this is not what's going to change the outcome. If we want to have a world that's eventually not emitting carbon dioxide, it requires a dramatic change in energy production. Instead of using a little less of the power that comes out from your coal-fired power plant, make solar panels so cheap that they replace coal-fired power plants.
FP: In The Skeptical Environmentalist, you write optimistically about the impact climate change will have on agricultural production. Are you now concerned about how global warming will affect farming?
BL: It's very clear that one of the things we will need to do is to develop new varieties of agricultural produce. They'll be better able to deal with warmer weather -- that's especially true in the Third World. We should also recognize that we already have a huge challenge ahead of us because we're going to be feeding about 50 percent more people toward the end of the century, or more. We'll need to feed them better because they're going to be richer.
[But] we need to be careful. The models also indicate that the impact of global warming in a well-functioning market system is fairly small. If you look at the models, the worst-case scenario is that global food production by 2085 will be 1.4 percent less than it otherwise would have been. The best-case scenario is that it will be 1.7 percent above. It is going to have a little impact but it's not going to be the major challenge in the 21st century. We're talking about food production reaching in 2086 what it would otherwise have reached in 2085 without global warming.