Friday, February 18, 2005

Global Warming Postscript

Are you among the group with Laurie David and Robert Kennedy Jr. who believe that Global Warming (GW) is the “greatest security crisis in the world?” Do you agree with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R – Maine) that “climate change is the most important long-term issue that the planet faces?” Do you adhere to the UN conclusion that the economic costs of GW will be very large and that the social and human costs are likely to be even greater, including mass loss of life? If GW is not the greatest crisis or the most important issue, then where does it stand, second, third, fourth? Let’s try to reach a consensus on the 10 most important socio-economic issues facing the world. If you had an extra, say, $50 Billion to spend on helping mankind, which issues would you fund?

It turns out that just such an exercise was completed last May by a group of esteemed economists in Copenhagen. The conference was supported by the UN and by “The Economist” journal, and had the benefit of position papers prepared by top scientists in fields such as communicable disease, hunger and malnutrition, sanitation, trade, climate change, civil conflict and others.

Each proposal was rated on benefit vs. cost both expressed in economic terms. The top 4 proposals all had benefit/cost ratios well in excess of 10. The bottom 4 proposals, rated 14–17, had benefit/cost ratios less than 1.

May I have the envelopes please? The top four proposals were:

1. Controlling HIV/AIDS (spend $27B over 8 years, estimated to prevent 30M new cases)

2. Fighting malnutrition ($12B for food supplements to relieve iron-deficiency anaemia)

3. Trade reform (Zero dollars but $Trillions benefit by eliminating agricultural and other subsidies)

4. Controlling Malaria ($11B for insecticides and bed nets)

Several other proposals were rated high but not high enough to spend any of the $50 Billion. The other good proposals included three on sanitation and water purification, a proposal to reduce the cost of starting small businesses in poor countries, and other proposals on malnutrition and disease.

Then there were the 4 Bad proposals, with estimated costs that exceeded their benefits. Number 14 was a guest worker program for unskilled workers, poorly rated because such programs impede assimilation of immigrants. (Attention President Bush.)

At the foot of the list were 3 proposals to alleviate global warming, including the Kyoto Protocol. And the panel did not doubt that global warming is occurring. It is simply a bad investment.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with such stories, is that they continue to perpetuate the myth that it is all-or-nothing, and that all GW mitigations cost money.

Some don't cost us anything. Choosing a next-car that gets metter mileage costs me nothing (and perhaps even saves me money). Choosing a next-refrigerator or next-TV that uses less electricity costs me nothing, etc.

Unfortunately, the general public isn't encouraged along these lines by political types (of either extreme), because they are busy pushing their "trillions" or "no nothing" agendas.

So (very sadly), while those political battles are faught, consumer purchases continue to push us in the wrong direction.

7:24 AM  
Blogger Ralph said...

Except for the government mandated energy standards for appliances. cafe standards for automobiles, etc. None of which are set with any regard for the economics of these mandats. I. E. are the savings higher in value than the increased costs for the products with the mandate standards.

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are spotty attempts certainly, but when per capita electric and gasoline consumption continues to rise, I think it is fair to say "consumer purchases continue to push us in the wrong direction."

(As I understand it, we here in California have actually increased our aggregate fleet mileage, but as a nation we are down.)

6:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"Energy use per person generally declined from 1970 through the mid-1980s, and then tended to increase as energy prices declined. Per capita energy use is expected to increase slightly through 2020, as efficiency gains only partly offset higher demand for energy services."

6:50 AM  
Blogger Ralph said...

So what is wrong with increasing consumption if we get value from the increased usage which is higher than the cost of getting it?
Economics is real!

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And all together now, let's pretent polution isn't.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW. don't we also have to pretend there isn't a national security angle?

12:55 PM  
Blogger Ralph said...

Hybrids are neat technology especially for urban driving. Pollution is certainly a cost and we have paid mightily for it through increase costs for autombiles and appliances. There are real benefits. You can breath the air almost all the time in the LA basin - something not possible in the 70's.
The problem is in defining energy use as wrong and forcing reductions through heavy-handed means. Sure it would be great to stop sending so much money to bad folks like the Saudi's. AND if it is so great to do to, perhaps it would be worthwhile to drill some wells off the California coast and up in ANWR.

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well you see (same "anonymous" here), I'd like to see a higher cultural value placed on that kind of efficiency.

The great thing about the Prius, from that standpoint, is that it is both efficient and has become an acceptable purchase among status-conscious individuals. In American society that isn't a small accomplishment.

Aside from a few rich environmentalists in ECHOs (you gotta be tough to give up all status in your car), that is what it will take. The snob factor has to reverse from the Hummer direction.

(As far as ANWAR etc ... I think we'll need it more, later. I think of it more as a "when" question rather than "yes/no")

7:19 AM  
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1:41 PM  

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