Cool It:The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming

Date Reviewed
January 12th 2010

‘Cool it’ by Bjorn Lomborg is another in the long line of global warming and related books. I had been led to believe by his detractors that he was a “denier”. I did not find that to be the case. He says that global warming is occurring and it is mainly caused by CO2 produced by human activities. He is even suggesting a 4.5 F temperature increase this century.

However, he argues that that will be both good and bad and that the bad can be countered by incremental direct response to each problem. As such he doesn’t favour large efforts to curtail CO2 production and hence curtailing activities most responsible for it.

Where ardent environmentalists say the major course of action should be massive efforts at curtailing CO2, possibly using carbon tax deterrent in the $100 to $200 per tonne range. Lomborg calls for much more modest action against CO2 with taxes in the range of $2 to $14 per tonne.

A political scientist by training, Lomborg’s main tack in this book is economic cost benefit analysis. Essentially we will get more bang for the buck if we put resources to dealing with the symptoms as they arise, than the underlying cause.

He cites a huge bibliography and copious footnotes I find a bit hard to follow. Others may not.

As I stated earlier I was predisposed to disagree with him and the first couple of chapters are difficult. In the words of Chief Dan George in the movie ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales”, I endeavoured to persevere.

Early on he makes the claim that far more people die of cold than of heat, so global warming will spare more people. He never really explained the large number of deaths from cold. I understand freezing, but not many people die that way. Maybe he was referring to communicable diseases, but it is never explained. I understand the mechanism of heat deaths. But too much heat may suppress the growth of food and hunger be blamed for the death, not global warming.

He does have a chapter on the Polar bear, conceding that their habitat may well disappear and they revert to the land-based brown bear from whence they evolved.

Another premise that he uses which I regard as involving a great leap of faith is indefinitely growing wealth. He says that people in the developed world will be six times more wealthy at the end of the century and those in developing countries 12 times more wealthy.

And it is this wealth that will allow humans to respond aggressively to the symptoms of global warming. For example there will be lots of money to protect land from rising seas. Further money can be put to use shoring up structures in hurricane zones.

Malaria, if it moves north with warmer temperatures, will be controlled by better housing and screens insulating people from mosquitoes.

He says without a huge influx of cold water into the North Atlantic, such as was the case at the end of the last ice age, any interference with the Caribbean to North Atlantic current is unlikely.

More money will lead to better water control and usage in the face of a drier climate in many areas.

Essentially he says that global warming will bring costs, but so will adjustments to prevent global warming and the choice is to find the most cost effective way through.

His approach is entirely related to how global warming will directly affect humans and how they can respond.

His solutions will involve considerable co-operation and generosity so that the pain is spread somewhat evenly. His critics have suggested that his solutions would be at least as politically unpalatable as a head on approach to controlling CO2 emissions seems to be.

I think the most important void in his solutions is that they do not take into account other species and ecosystems that humans don’t directly rely on or live in.

The key concern, he doesn’t address, is how fast other life forms can adapt to rapid change. Humans are the most adaptable and bring a wide array of potential responses, including the trite answer to excessive heat, more “air conditioning”.

Our gravest concerns with respect to the environment should not be the iconic symbols such as the polar bear, but worms, microbes, insects, algae etc. that are much further down the food chain.