Day By Day

Monday, October 08, 2007

Lonborg Talks Sense

Bjorn Lonborg has a nice, rational piece on global warming in today's WaPo.

A few things that the media stories don't mention.

All eyes are on Greenland's melting glaciers as alarm about global warming spreads. This year, delegations of U.S. and European politicians have made pilgrimages to the fastest-moving glacier at Ilulissat, where they declare that they see climate change unfolding before their eyes.

Curiously, something that's rarely mentioned is that temperatures in Greenland were higher in 1941 than they are today. Or that melt rates around Ilulissat were faster in the early part of the past century, according to a new study. And while the delegations first fly into Kangerlussuaq, about 100 miles to the south, they all change planes to go straight to Ilulissat -- perhaps because the Kangerlussuaq glacier is inconveniently growing.

[Emphasis mine]

What is more, global warming might even save lives.
The IPCC tells us two things: If we focus on economic development and ignore global warming, we're likely to see a 13-inch rise in sea levels by 2100. If we focus instead on environmental concerns and, for instance, adopt the hefty cuts in carbon emissions many environmental groups promote, this could reduce the rise by about five inches. But cutting emissions comes at a cost: Everybody would be poorer in 2100. With less money around to protect land from the sea, cutting carbon emissions would mean that more dry land would be lost, especially in vulnerable regions such as Micronesia, Tuvalu, Vietnam, Bangladesh and the Maldives.

As sea levels rise, so will temperatures. It seems logical to expect more heat waves and therefore more deaths. But though this fact gets much less billing, rising temperatures will also reduce the number of cold spells. This is important because research shows that the cold is a much bigger killer than the 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.

But..., but..., but what about Kyoto?

with its drastic emissions cuts, [the Kyoto Protocol] is not a sensible way to stop people from dying in future heat waves. At a much lower cost, urban designers and politicians could lower temperatures more effectively by planting trees, adding water features and reducing the amount of asphalt in at-risk cities. Estimates show that this could reduce the peak temperatures in cities by more than 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Instead of the current hyperbolic confrontation between catastrophists and deniers Lonborg urges:
We have to rediscover the middle ground, where we can have a sensible conversation. We shouldn't ignore climate change or the policies that could attack it. But we should be honest about the shortcomings and costs of those policies, as well as the benefits.
Horray! Good advice, but will it be heeded? Not likely.

Read Lonborg's entire piece here.