Lomborg on Cutting CO2 Emissions

Bjorn Lomborg once again makes a powerful argument questioning our assumptions regarding action on Global Warming and points out that the cost reward ratios for the proposed solutions simply fail to work, while other protocols have better outcomes altogether while appearing counter intuitive.

Been a champion on the implementation of biochar carbon sequestration done in such a way as to fully engage agriculture even at the subsistence level, I obviously do not care much how much carbon is burned so long as an equal amount is sequestered while improving the life way of billions of subsistence farmers.

I am also too well aware that directly tackling CO2 without recruiting the sun is certain to expend as much energy as perhaps originally generated. This is the end of the entropy food chain.

Lombord has published many critical results pertaining to the economics of various strategies and is a recognized authority that is not likely to get things wrong. This is in sharp contrast to the likes of Al Gore who cannot leave an expedient stretched fact alone.

The one take home here is how much the developing world relies on burning carbon. We can waltz into the sunset on nuclear, and geothermal and even solar and happily displace the coal burners. China and India do not have that luxury. They want power now. Later perhaps.

This is going to be just as true for Africa and South America. And there, they are stripping forests to produce charcoal and need coal technology right now.

The really good news is that these countries are passing through the industrial revolution in literally a man’s short lifetime. A child today been fed with food cooked over a charcoal burner, will grow up to mine coal and retire to a home heated with nuclear power.

Op-Ed Contributor

Don’t Waste Time Cutting Emissions

Published: April 24, 2009

WE are often told that tackling global warming should be the defining task of our age — that we must cut emissions immediately and drastically. But people are not buying the idea that, unless we act, the planet is doomed. Several recent polls have revealed Americans’ growing skepticism. Solving global warming has become their lowest policy priority, according to a new Pew survey.

Moreover, strategies to reduce carbon have failed. Meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, politicians from wealthy countries promised to cut emissions by 2000, but did no such thing. In Kyoto in 1997, leaders promised even stricter reductions by 2010, yet emissions have kept increasing unabated. Still, the leaders plan to meet in Copenhagen this December to agree to even more of the same — drastic reductions in emissions that no one will live up to. Another decade will be wasted.

Fortunately, there is a better option: to make low-carbon alternatives like solar and wind energy competitive with old carbon sources. This requires much more spending on research and development of low-carbon energy technology. We might have assumed that investment in this research would have increased when the Kyoto Protocol made fossil fuel use more expensive, but it has not.

Economic estimates that assign value to the long-term benefits that would come from reducing warming — things like fewer deaths from heat and less flooding — show that every dollar invested in quickly making low-carbon energy cheaper can do $16 worth of good. If the Kyoto agreement were fully obeyed through 2099, it would cut temperatures by only 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Each dollar would do only about 30 cents worth of good.

The Copenhagen agreement should instead call for every country to spend one-twentieth of a percent of its gross domestic product on low-carbon energy research and development. That would increase the amount of such spending 15-fold to $30 billion, yet the total cost would be only a sixth of the estimated $180 billion worth of lost growth that would result from the Kyoto restrictions.

Kyoto-style emissions cuts can only ever be an expensive distraction from the real business of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels. The fact is, carbon remains the only way for developing countries to work their way out of poverty. Coal burning provides half of the world’s electricity, and fully 80 percent of it in China and India, where laborers now enjoy a quality of life that their parents could barely imagine.

No green energy source is inexpensive enough to replace coal now. Given substantially more research, however, green energy could be cheaper than fossil fuels by mid-century.

Sadly, the old-style agreement planned for Copenhagen this December will have a negligible effect on temperatures. This renders meaningless any declarations of “success” that might be made after the conference. We must challenge the orthodoxy of Kyoto and create a smarter, more realistic strategy.

Bjorn Lomborg is the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center at Copenhagen Business School and the author of “Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming.”

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