False Alarm – Bjorn Lomborg

The one sentence summary: Climate change panic costs us trillions, hurts the poor, and fails to fix the planet.

This was a difficult read – as it challenges many of my heartfelt thoughts and convictions around climate change and sustainability. But I also understand how important it is not to spend all your time in an echo chamber.

One major point from the book that I do thoroughly agree with is around global poverty and inequality. Climate change is not the only global challenge, and if we invest more in development we will make everyone more climate resilient.

Here’s a summary of his main points:

  • Instead of thinking just about the single issue of climate change, we need to look at how well humanity is doing right on all of the biggest challenges confronting us.
  • The media has created a climate of fear in which 50% of everyone surveyed are petrified of climate change.
  • Endless jeremiads have warped our understanding of the issues. We need to end the sensationalism and get a grip on the real size of the problem.
  • There are 5 ways to fix climate change:
    1. Carbon tax: the market-based solution is to evaluate climate policy in the same way that we do every other policy – in terms of costs and benefits.
    2. Innovation: we should be innovating tomorrow’s technologies rather than putting up today’s inefficient wind turbines and solar panels.
    3. Adaptation: simple but effective ways to adapt to changes – something we have been doing for centuries (eg. sea defence infrastructure).
    4. Geoengineering: we should research it properly as a back-up plan but not implement it yet. If a volcano eruption can lower temperatures worldwide for a year, simulating such a phenomenon is worth looking at.
    5. Prosperity: climate change is not the only global challenge. If we invest more in development we will make everyone more climate resilient.
  • Nearly 10 million people around the world ranked their priorities out of 16 and climate change came last, behind education, health, jobs, no corruption, nutrition, no violence, clean water and many others.
  • The author says that the narrative suggesting that there are more extreme events caused by climate change is wrong. There are simply more people succumbing to the expanding bull’s-eye effect, in which more and more people live in inappropriate places subject to heatwaves, floods, hurricanes and so on.
  • One of the iconic images of the coming climate apocalypse is the starving polar bear sitting mournfully atop a melting ice floe. In fact, their numbers have increased from around 10,000 in 1960 to 26,500 today.
  • Climate change is linked to two variables – temperature and Gross Domestic Product. Both are imperfect tools, but they are the best we have. Rising GDP typically means more greenhouse gas emissions, which will speed up rises in temperature, so we need to get a grip on what these two variables mean and how much control we have over each.
  • The Paris Agreement is failing. The cost is astronomical ($1 trillion to $2 trillion a year), but it would only take $100 billion a year to lift everyone on the planet out of poverty.
  • The global approach to cutting carbon dioxide has mostly failed for three decades. Economic models show 5 paths that world GDP may follow:
    1. Regional rivalry – the lowest growth, with little interest in a shared response to global warming.
    2. Inequality – a road divided, where the world splits into a rich/poor divide.
    3. Middle of the road – similar to today, with slow progress in health and education, and technology advancing without major breakthroughs.
    4. Sustainable development or Green Road pathway – an eco-scenario with more global harmony and cooperation. Environmental impact is reduced and economic growth creates a smaller impact.
    5. Fossil-fuelled (conventional) development – average GDP per person increases tenfold, and the money is used to counter issues such as health, education and pollution.
  • Innovation could come from energy storage, nuclear power and air capture. Stratospheric aerosol injection involves spraying tiny particles such as sulphur dioxide into clouds to brighten them.
  • The Schelling conjecture (after economist Thomas Schelling) asks: are poor people best helped through cutting CO2 and adaptation, or could we achieve more if we focused on making them more prosperous?