Bjorn Lomborg, not exactly known for being good at science, has a new study out making the same boring old argument he’s always made: the only thing we should do about climate change is invest in research and development so that someday in the future clean energy will be cheap, and until then we should all just enjoy getting rich off of fossil fuels.
Lomborg packs an impressive amount of his trademark misinformation into the abstract, dramatically downplaying the costs of climate change, rehashing his “no basis in fact” overstatement of the cost of climate policy, and referring to a fossil-fuel driven future scenario with a carbon tax that limits warming to 3.75C as the “optimal realistic climate policy.” Limiting warming to 2C, according to Lomborg’s calculations, “would leave the world more than $250 trillion worse off.”
By focusing solely on GDP as the only measure of humanity’s wellbeing, Lomborg disregards the reality of what 3.75C of warming would mean. Regardless of whether he thinks it’s “realistic,” it’s only “optimal” when money matters more than human life.
Warming of 3.75C would be genocidal: it would not only lead to millions of deaths across the planet, but would also directly cause the destruction of many island nations and their cultures.
First, there’s the difference between just 1.5C and 2C of warming. That half a degree means millions more people exposed to lethal heat waves, millions more people exposed to severe drought, the complete global death of coral reefs, and up to 80 million people threatened by flooding from sea level rise.
But 3C of warming would mean something like 18 feet (around 6 meters) of sea level rise, which would force some 275 million people out of their homes around the world, from a flooded out Cocabana in Brazil to an underwater Alexandria in Egypt to 17.5 million people’s homes swallowed by the sea in Shanghai. It means Miami will be gone, along with most of south Florida. Indeed, the coastal portion of basically every city on the eastern seaboard and along the Gulf of Mexico will be claimed by rising seas.
And as sad as it would be to lose New Orleans, Miami, Savannah, Myrtle Beach, and the Outer Banks, this would mean that small island nations like Kiribati, the Maldives, and the Marshall Islands, all only a few feet above sea level, would be entirely wiped off the map. Cultures that have thrived for thousands of years on these islands are already being forced to relocate from the sea level rise at hand now, which is why it is so important to keep warming under 2C. Anything more than that means sea levels rise higher than many small island nations.
Lomborg’s economically “optimal” approach -- erasing the lands and cultures of millions of people -- is cultural genocide, turning greenhouse gas pollution into a tool of geographic ethnic cleansing. Focusing on GDP is easy, but it’s a lot harder to tell the Marshall Islands (a nation that the US tested 67 atomic bombs around) and other nations that we’re just going to let the ocean rise up and submerge their entire island homeland. Can you imagine that conversation?
It shouldn’t be too hard, at the moment, to think about your home. Not just the building where you may currently feel trapped, but think about your neighborhood. Take a moment to recall the pleasant sights and sounds and smells of the coffee shops or bars you’re eager to get back to, and the local teams and bands you can’t wait to cheer for again. Can you remember the taste of your home town’s local specialty, that nowhere else makes quite as delicious, or your family’s famous secret recipe, always made from fresh ingredients in the back garden? And wouldn’t you like to share those tastes and that place with your children, and their children?
Now think about how hard it is to stay inside, away from all those people and places you love. Then think about Lomborg’s 3.75C of warming, and how much worse it would be if you could never see those people in those places again, at least not without scuba gear or growing gills. All those places that are part of who you are as a person, a family, a culture and a people would be submerged under almost 20 feet of ocean water.
Does that sound like “optimal” climate policy?
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