Bjorn Lomborg is the president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank that “researches the smartest ways to do good.” In this episode, Robert talks to Lomborg about his new book– False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet – including his views on why climate policies are “often worse than ineffective,” why we need to spend more money on adapting to a changing climate, the prospects for a carbon tax, the need for innovation in nuclear, and yes, why he always wears a black T-shirt.
Robert Bryce 0:05
Hi, everyone, welcome to the power hungry podcast. I’m the host Robert Bryce. On the show this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I’m pleased to welcome my guest, Bjorn Lomborg, the president of the Copenhagen consensus center. Dr. Lomborg, welcome.
Bjorn Lomborg 0:23
Hey, Robert, it’s great to be here. Thank you.
Robert Bryce 0:26
Today, we’re going to talk about your new book false alarm, how climate change, panic costs us trillions, hurts the poor and fails to fix the planet. What I do on my podcast, as I like, you know, you have a long resume and a PhD and do lots of things have lots of credentials. I like to let our guests introduce themselves. So if you don’t mind, I’m putting you on the spot. If you’re just arrived somewhere, and you need to introduce yourself, you don’t know anyone at the party at the dinner table. If you don’t mind, who are you?
Bjorn Lomborg 0:55
Oh, God, I probably make it very quick. And then ask people to ask me questions. But given that, that you’re asking me for a slightly longer version, let me just give you sort of the two minute version. So I’m a political scientist, I used to believe that I was an academic, I thought I was just going to be doing really odd stuff, Game Theory of in social sciences, that kind of thing. And I was also, you know, vegetarian member of Greenpeace, not on the rubber boat or anything. But yeah, just the average, middle class worried about the environment and everything. And I read back in 1997, an interview with the American economist, Julian Simon, who said, You think everything is getting worse, but that’s actually not true. And I thought, Oh, yeah, right wing American propaganda. But he did say one thing that really bothered me, and that was what I was teaching my students and statistics what he said, Go check the data. And so I did that. And it turns out that a lot of what he said was right, not all of it. And, you know, there’s also some wishful thinking and stuff. But fundamentally, a lot of the stuff that you believe, you know, is not necessarily true. And that was why I wrote my first book called The in English called the skeptical environmentalist. And since then, I’ve continued for at least 10 years to believe that I was going to get back to actually doing my my research on Game Theory and, and social sciences. But I basically been stuck in this position, instead of talking about so long. We have lots and lots of myths and misunderstandings about how the world works. What is the actual correct information? And if we have that correct information, how can we best make decisions because there’s not enough money. So let’s make sure we actually spend the money where it helps the most, both when you want to do something about the environment, or if you want to do something about climate change, or indeed, if you just want to make good in the world. So that’s really what I do with the Copenhagen consensus, my Think Tank, and what I tried to talk to everyone about, and that’s why I’m excited that we’re going to be talking about that for a little hour here.
Robert Bryce 3:02
Sure. Great. So the book is is false alarm, it came out in July. And we’re told, I mean, you’re going at one of the the issues that now that is the most divisive, politically, and one that the the alarm about climate and climate change is repeated all the time. Joe Biden here in the United States on the campaign trail, said climate changes is an existential threat. In your book you wrote, people are terrified of climate change above all else, half the world’s surveyed population believes human extinction is likely. And that faced with possible annihilation, any expenditure is justified, you’re arguing against that mindset. So why are so many people convinced that we’re doomed?
Bjorn Lomborg 3:49
So I think, I think there’s partly a psychological fact to this, you know, if you look back in time, it’s not like this is the first time we thought we’re all going to be doomed. So you know, back in the 1970s, we thought we’re all going to run out of food and large portions of the world would not be able to survive and probably would be diminished dramatically, or we’d run out of resources to hold limit to grow thing and, and, you know, Time magazine was famously predicting that a few million people in California would be surviving and, and you know, growing their organic food in the in the median of the highways that were left over in Los Angeles, that kind of thing.
Robert Bryce 4:28
Yeah. Then before that, and before that, when I was a kid, it was it was nuclear annihilation, right?
Bjorn Lomborg 4:33
Yes. Although nuclear annihilation, in some ways was a little more. Yeah, that could actually happen. Because, yeah, it’s not like the world is trying to get rid of us. But nuclear weapons are actually by people who might actually want you to go extinct. So there’s, at least it’s a little more worrisome, but I think, I think the fundamental point is, we’ve always had this sense, you know, acid rain in the 1980s. It was very big in the US. It was included. credibly large in in Germany, and and the belief was literally a majority of Germans believed that all the forest were going to be gone by the year 2000. Yeah, needless to say, there were more forest in 2000 than they were in the 1980s when they worried about this, but the fundamental point here is, we always hear this, and we always worry. And it’s a great way to both get clicks or reads, and to get policy action. So you know, if you if you talk to your teacher, is, will they tell you that everything is fine, you don’t need to spend more money on schools, of course they want, they’ll tell you that, you know, pupils are not learning very much, and you need to spend much more in education likewise, in healthcare, likewise, in every other thing, there’s no problem with that happening. That’s what single issue organizations will tell you. The problem is, if we believe that they’re the only representatives of telling us the truth, if we believe that it’s the end of the world, then obviously we’re willing to spend quite a bit on fixing that problem. But the reality is, and that’s what I’m trying to say, that’s one of the two bits I really tried to do with my book, is if you actually look at what the UN Climate panel, so I think that’s the gold standard and what we know about climate change, they tell us global warming is real, it’s a problem. It’s a reasonable manageable problem, they tell us by the 2075, say 2017, it will be equivalent to each one of us losing income equivalent to 0.2 to 2%. So yeah, at worst, global warming in 2075, is going to be equal to you feeling 2% less well off. Remember, by then the UN estimate that will each be about 362%. as rich as what we are today, I have to use all those digits, because otherwise I can’t actually show the impact of the 2%. So what really means global warming means instead of us being 362%, as rich in 2075, we will only feel like we’re 356% as retro. Now that’s a problem. And it’s certainly a problem we should talk about. But it’s a very different mindset than the end is coming.
Robert Bryce 7:07
Well, I’m glad you brought up the IPCC quote there, because that was one of the things that jumped out. And it’s something that I had not seen before until I read your book, and I’m gonna quote it here you cite the IPCC and in 2014, said, quoting here, for most economic sectors, the impact of climate change will be small, relative to the impacts of other drivers changes in population age, income technology, relative prices, lifestyle, regulation, governance, and many other aspects of social socio economic development. So amidst all the claims of well, we have the science and the IPCC Why? Why is that line not known to the general public?
Bjorn Lomborg 7:46
I think it’s because there is also obviously, a lot of interest in playing up global warming. Now, first, if your medium is
Robert Bryce 7:54
and is that what economic interest? Because that’s one of the other things that who stands to profit by the cataclysm, right, or the threat of the prospect of Cataclysm?
Bjorn Lomborg 8:05
Yes. So I I’ll get a little bit into that. But I think, yeah, if you look at media, obviously, they sell bad news. You don’t hear Oh, there was no big problem yesterday. That’s just not a news, right? That’s not a new story, it is that there is a problem. You know, famously, over the last 25 years, we’ve lifted close to a billion people out of poverty. That’s an amazing achievement. So every, every day, for the last 25 years, we have lifted 130,000 people out of poverty every day, that could have been the headline in every paper around the world. Yesterday, we lifted 130,000 people out of poverty, yet it has literally never been the headline of any paper anywhere in the last 25 years. And one of the big problems, of course, is newspapers, not very good at delivering these long term messages, because it’s not something that happened yesterday, and something that happened over the last 25 years. So we don’t hear much of the good news. But we do hear all the bad news, because that’s what people click on. There’s this wonderful study. There’s many studies, but you give people a pile of good news and a pile of bad news and you ask them, which one would you prefer to read. And many people actually say they’d like to read the good news. But when you then actually give them the pile, they’ll read the bad news. Because Yeah, we’re human. And we like that. It’s much more fun. That’s what we click on. That’s what media will give us. Likewise, most politicians live off of being able to get you to vote for them, the strongest thing you could say is, you are going to die. everyone you love is going to die. But if you vote for me, I can make that go away. And we’ve had that for centuries that used to be wars and despair and all kinds of other stuff. Global warming is a wonderful opportunity to do just the same thing. It doesn’t mean that these people are evil or no up or trying to manipulate. It’s just an incredibly easy way to get people to vote for For you to say, here’s a terrible problem, I promise to solve it. And of course, both of these are very tenuous claims. No, it’s not the end of the world, it’s a problem. And quite honestly, almost nothing you can do will make much of a difference, certainly in your lifetime. Now, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything, we should certainly do smart stuff. But we need to get a sense, both of what’s the size of the problem? Yeah, 0.2 to 2%. more realistically, maybe 4%, by the end of the century, let’s say, and how much can we do? What we can do some things? And I’m sure we’ll get back to talking about those. But we can also spend an enormous amount of money on doing almost nothing. And that’s what I’m trying to get us to not do.
Robert Bryce 10:40
Right. Well, and I’ll come back to the first can convening, I guess. So the Copenhagen consensus, it was in 2004. Right? And and again, in 2008, what you force ranked all these different issues, all the different challenges that the world faces, which I thought was really clever and simple way to, to, to look at the challenges because there are a lot and but I think, you know, just to summarize what you just said about politicians, what’s that old line about? no politician ever got elected by saying everything’s gonna be just fine. Right? That we’re, we’re facing capitalism if the you elect the other guy, because he’s terrible. And I’m going to save you from. But But this idea, I’m going to go back to this idea of existential threat, because, particularly now, amid the pandemic. And I asked this question of Judith curry, who I had on the podcast a few weeks ago, we hear about existential threat and climate change. And now we’re living through a pandemic, which has caused a global recession, million over a million dead, we focused on the wrong threat.
Bjorn Lomborg 11:42
So So I think we are vastly exaggerating any kind of existential threat. So there’s actually, you know, some any
Robert Bryce 11:50
kind of research threat from climate change,
Bjorn Lomborg 11:53
but but also from other things, you know, meteorites and all these other things. So there are people who actually do this for a living based out of Oxford University. And they actually, they find that the, you know, the chances that we’re going to go extinct from global warming and nuclear war, and all these other things are very, very small. The only thing that they really worry about, I’ve no idea, this is a very imprecise science is Elon Musk’s AI, you know, the idea that we eventually get computers that decide, do we really need those humans? I don’t know whether that’s true. But But yeah, I can see a scenario where that might be true. But but the fundamental point is, even this, you know, this pandemic, and a much, much worse pandemic, remember, you know, COVID-19, is not terribly bad, you know, it could have been a lot worse. And it could have been, you know, killing literally, you know, hundreds of millions of people. But we still wouldn’t die out. So the existential threat bit is probably exaggerated. And and I also think there’s something terrible about this existential idea, because it makes you say, we should spend all of our resources in this particular area and forget everything else. northouse.
Robert Bryce 13:04
Right, and you’re to interrupt you, but that’s one of the points you make, and it’s been something you’ve been really been talking about for 20 years is what? We have a limited amount of money, right. And we can’t just print it forever. And that that I think, is the key of all the points in your book. I think that that’s the one that you’ve reinforced that you’ve been talking about this for a long time, I think making some of the same arguments, but but I think especially after COVID, with all the money that the government’s have been spending in order to avert recession, or further or greater recession, that coming out of this just exactly how much money is going to be available for these kind for the issue of climate change. And that’s the one that I think is a big one here in the United States in particular.
Bjorn Lomborg 13:44
Oh, god, yes. We just don’t have enough resources to fix all problems. And so we’ve always done this. We’ve said, Look, there are lots of problems. We have limited resources, let’s spend them smartly. And that means you never spend on anything. fixing it. Totally. Nordhaus, who we’re going to talk about later, he got the Nobel Prize. He’s the only guy who get the Nobel Prize in Economics.
Robert Bryce 14:08
Right. William Nordhaus, the William Nordhaus
Bjorn Lomborg 14:10
walk. He’s done a lot of other interesting research. And he’s also been involved in these compensation for a very long time. He’s a wonderful guy to read. He wants pointed out in a very long debate about these existential threats. He said, what we actually have a really, really good example because the late 1990s the US started realizing and NASA started realizing there’s these big chunks of rock whirling around and in the universe, and if one of them hits Earth, and it’s really big, that could be literally game over. So maybe we should start tracking those, which is a smart idea. We know no one hits every 100 million years. So it’s not very likely, but it’s not, you know, terribly tight, terribly unlikely. And do you really want to gamble on this anyway, so they came up with a But your proposal to find 90% of the space rocks. And then they also gave us an option to get fined 99% of them. But that obviously cost you a significant number of billion dollars more. Sure. And the US government said, You know what, we’ll find 90 but not 99. And that’s exactly how you deal with existential threat. You say, look, we’re going to be reasonably safe, but we’re not going to, you know, dot all the i’s and cross all the T’s. Because we can’t afford that if we were to do this everywhere, we wouldn’t have enough money to do everything. That’s why you need the same sort of approach to think about how do we tackle climate change in a smart way, but not in a way that means we end up spending so much money that we forget everything else, as I’m sure you’ve also seen, the World Health Organization, for at least five years or so have been very worried about global warming, which is, in health terms, a very small bit. I mean, it’s not a trivial bit, but it’s a fairly small bit compared to most other problems. And certainly, you could make the argument that the World Health Organization being very concerned about climate change, must all other things equal have taken some of their attention away from pandemics, which probably and reasonably would have been more sort of their core thing that they should have been worried about? Right?
Robert Bryce 16:21
You talk about your book is fundamentally a positive outlook, you say climate change will have an overall negative impact, but will pale in comparison to all the positive gains we have seen so far. And we’ll continue to see in the century ahead. And I’ve seen you speak before and you know, you’ve seen by nature, you know, a very positive and almost Well, I say bubbly, but I don’t want to diminish it. But but but you mean you that an optimistic outlook seems in some ways, and Matt Ridley, of course, wrote the rational optimist. But the going back to this idea of apocalyptic views and cataclysmic views and the preference for bad news, why? Why is optimism on environmental issues and climate change? so rare?
Bjorn Lomborg 17:06
Well, while again, because it’s much, much more fun to say, here is the end. They call it climate porn, when you know, you’ve read about this, this sort of the end of the world and all these different ways. Do you remember that the day after, I think it was called the movie where you see, you have the Statue of Liberty being flooded and frozen, and all kinds of stuff. It’s secretly thrilling. It’s, you know, tinkles, your, your, I don’t know what, but but it feels interesting, in a way that saying, you know, trends are just going to continue, we’re going to be better educated, we’re going to eradicate more diseases, you’re going to live longer, your kids are going to be better educated, they’ll have more opportunities, they’ll have much higher incomes, and crucially, most of the rest of the world, which doesn’t live like you and me and doesn’t have anywhere near the opportunities, they will actually have many of the same opportunities. And and again, the point is not this is something that this guy from Denmark, you know, randomly sit and say is happening. This is what the UN Climate panel is telling us. Why Why would they be even bothered about that? Well, because if you have to predict what the temperature is going to look like, over the next hundred years, you also need to look at all the other factors, because obviously how rich we are, how much stuff we’ll have, how long we’ll live, all that stuff will impact how much we met. So they’ve actually spent a lot of time making prognosis for what the world will look like. Now, obviously, that’s not going to be true, because we don’t, we don’t know what the world is going to look like for the next eight years. But they’ve done you know, five big scenarios, they all tell us that you’re going to live longer, you’re going to be better off, you’re going to have more income, you’re going to be in pretty much all respect, better off, the question is just how much better off. And I think that’s crucial. If you look at most Hollywood films, you know, they will tell you show you a very, very dismal outlook on the on the future, again, because that’s fun. It also sets you up for something that actually makes it you know, the battle interesting and all that stuff. But just think about it. If you done this in the in the beginning of, you know, say 1900, you would have made exactly the same thing, you know, oh, no, 2020 is going to be terrible. It’s going to be your dismissal, and you’ll have all these robots. So keep you down, or you will have all this garbage that you haven’t clean up. Well, actually, we fix that. And it’s true. Every time when you look at how people have forecast the world they’ve always seen all the problems, they haven’t seen the solutions and and you know, there’s a good reason for that. We can see all the problems, you can’t see the solutions because they’re in the future. But But of course, our tendency tells us that there’s a good reason why the future is going to be better, not worse.
Robert Bryce 19:49
Well, and those are great points. I’ve just come bring it back just briefly as there seems to be some religious overtones here as well. And I’m not the first one to point this out, right that we’ve sinned, right? We’re living to Well and the come up and is headed our way. We’re, you know, we’re gonna play, we’re gonna pay for this. And it’s even in michael moore’s film the Planet of the humans, it ends with this very dire very down downcast looking idea of the ideas about how, you know, we’re going to win, we’re going to pay, right, this is this is all going to come back to us. So you don’t write about them in your book? Not that I could see here anyway. But how culpable are the environmental the big environmental groups for this kind of alarmism? is this related to their ability to raise money? Or in that the this idea that their that their bare existence depends on alarmism? Is that fair?
Bjorn Lomborg 20:44
Well, so I mean, I know a lot of these guys, I used to be, you know, very, very pedestrian kind of member of one of them. And in Greenpeace, I think there’s certainly, you know, there’s some underlying factors, that means that you do better if you fundraise with scary stuff, you know, if you send out a newsletter, almost no problems giving me money anyway, just in case, you’re probably not going to raise as much money. But you know, most of these people are really, really well, meaning I’ve met a lot of them. I haven’t met anyone that I think are sort of cynically saying, Yeah, I’m just going to go ahead and lie, because it’ll make me more money. That’s not how they think, I think, and again, in my worldview, it’s fine that we have environmental organizations that sort of, you know, tell you the, the absolutely worst case outcome of all this, right there. That’s their job, you know, you want someone to be out there and say, it could go this bad. The point is, we shouldn’t believe that they’re the only arbiters of truth. I think that’s where we go wrong, that we somehow believe them. And also, of course, a lot of newspaper, environmental journalist have, and this has been a long conversation in the academic literature have, compared to pretty much all other reporters sort of become much more ingrained with the environmental movement, and they are sort of almost campaigners for them. Whereas, you know, if you’re a political reporter, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you will ask hard questions, or you at least try to ask hard questions, both of your opponents but also the people you tend to agree with. But unfortunately, many of the environmental reporters have have adopted much of the world view and then you know, are almost uncritically giving you the same sort of argument. And I think that’s where you really go wrong. It just to give you one good example, I write about that in the book. And I think it’s sort of very, it’s very, it sort of encapsulates this whole conversation, if you look at sea level rise, which is obviously one of the outcomes of climate change, as temperatures rise, sea water is going to get warmer, as as things get warmer, just like any other thing, it’ll expand. And that’s why you get sea level rise. So you will get higher sea level rise, you’ll probably get, you know, in the worst case outcome, about three feet by the end of the century. If you just map that over the world as it is today. That means 180 7 million people are going to get flooded by the end of the century, or realistically, they’ll have to move now. And you know, if you want to make really scary scenarios, you’ll tell 180 7 million people are going to drown by the end of the century. Of course, it’s not going to happen because it’s over 80 years. But the reality is that those models also tell you this is not going to happen. Because obviously, this assumes that nobody does anything for the next 80 years, you just sit there and watch the waves lap up over your your knees, and eventually yours hip, and eventually you have to move. That’s not how humans act, they actually, you know, a higher sea level dikes have and and therefore they can actually manage much of this. And the very same research that tells us 180 7 million people will be flooded, if you don’t do anything tells us with realistic assumptions, you will see about 15,000 people being flooded or having to move by the end of the century, 180 7 million people is a catastrophe. 15,000 is something entirely manageable. And that’s why we need to have this conversation, if you just say the hundred 87 million, which most environmental groups obviously will do, because it’s better for fundraising. You need some journalists to say I’m sorry, but doesn’t the actual period research? Tell us 15,000 behind it. And unfortunately, we’re lacking that. And that’s one of the things that my book tried to do. Because unless you have that sort of realism check, you’re not likely to be adequately worried.
Robert Bryce 24:31
So that’s, I want to talk about adaptation. Because I think that that’s one of the areas that the the the people who are the climate activists just simply don’t want to discuss, right. It’s not part of it. But you mentioned early, early on earlier, Julian Simon and I’ve talked about this with several of the guests on the podcast. To what extent are we still arguing over Malthus? I mean, that he’s been dead a long time now over 200 years, but that is how much of this fundamentally change back to that same limited view of ingenuity limited view of that, that Paul Ehrlich carried forward in his famous betyget. With with Julian Simon, how much of this traces back to Malthus
Bjorn Lomborg 25:12
was, so I think very little of it traces back to Malthus, but it is the same thing. It’s the same fight that we have over and over again, the reason why Malthus was obvious was he basically said, Look, lots of problems, what are you going to do, you know, that just accumulates, eventually, we’re going to die from all of this, all these problems. And then the sort of the, the opposition, the economists was that Well, actually, ingenuity fixes a lot of these problems. Julian Simon made a big deal out of the fact that Malthus himself changed over his life. And, you know, his fourth and fifth, public publication of the book actually was a lot more optimistic. He was still Yeah, he also had a lot of religious obviously, issues, which somewhat prevented him from from from taking the full outcome of that. But yeah, fundamentally, when you get into this, you start realizing, oh, people actually pretty damn smart, and they fix a lot of these problems. And so I think it’s much more and and Julian Simon actually wrote about this, if you’re, if you’re a natural science person, you’re not used to thinking about the fact that things adapt to what you’re doing, you know, temperatures rise, sea levels rise, things get flooded. But of course, for social science, people like me, and like Julian Simon, we’re used to realizing, oh, wait, people will actually make a big difference in that. So if you if you work with, you know, with rabbits, rabbits are just going to multiply until there’s nothing left. And you know, they’ll eat up the whole, the whole shebang. But we’re not rabbits. And that’s why I think there’s a big divide between Natural Science and Social Science, and you need both. Look, I’m not a climate scientist, I’m incredibly happy that there’s a lot of climate scientists out here, who do all the models and who tell us what, you know, with these impacts, do these inputs, these are the outcomes that we’ll have. But we also need to remember the social science bit. And I think that’s the real point is not about that we’re going to adapt, of course, we’re going to adapt. But the idea is that without adaptation built into the models, you’re going to get phenomenally misleading outcomes, you know, 180 7 million people are going to get flooded, instead of 15,001 is great for fundraising, great for scaring your kids. Very, very bad for predicting the future.
Robert Bryce 27:29
So you mentioned your you know, that that Julian Simon, thing that you read back in 97 is so was that the turning point for you? I mean, it was there that one moment where you said, No, this is what I’m going to focus on that then it really was this? No,
Bjorn Lomborg 27:45
I mean, first of all, I don’t think it’d be very, very weird if there was a turning point, because then you’ve sort of said, Alright, now I’ve decided I’m going to look at the world in a totally different way. No, it was more sort of a, it was an astounding experience of of up all the things I’ve heard I have. Afterwards, I got to be sort of a minor celebrity in Denmark. And and I’d written, you know, when I was still a student, I’d written a letter to the editor where I was demeaning. Somebody else who wasn’t too worried about global warming, saying we’re all going to drown kind of thing. And of course, you know, people love that. See. And yeah, that was what I’d heard. That was what I thought, you know, and I was surprised that the stuff that I’d heard was not actually reflected in the academic literature, when you actually looked at the data. And that was, of course, sort of my my whole trip towards realizing you can’t just rely on what you’ve read in the paper, you actually need to go to the academic literature to, you know, in the climate mode conversation to the IPCC. But this is true across a wide range of areas, where we tend to believe that we know what’s right and what’s wrong. You know, one of the things I’ve found, you know, we do a lot of work in third world countries. Most people will believe that HIV and malaria are the most important infectious diseases. They’re actually not, they’re the most hurt infectious diseases, because, you know, there’s lots of interest groups campaigning for HIV, especially, but also for malaria. Actually, TB is by far, tuberculosis, by far the biggest killer in the world. But you don’t hear about it because it’s, you know, there’s a lot of trauma and, and people don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to, you know, tell anyone that they had it, there’s there’s taboo around that kind of thing. So the actual factors that most people know very well that malaria and HIV are big problems, but they don’t know about TB, which is one of the reasons why we constantly find that some of the best deals for many developing countries are in TB, because we’ve forgotten to talk about it. And so there are very, very cheap things to be done, where you can help lots of people at very low cost. That’s the exact point. So I tried to constantly keep people, you know, give people a sense of how big of a problem is this? What can you do? What else could you spend your resources on?
Robert Bryce 30:11
Well, that’s a great lead into this. Next, I want to get back to this your 2004 you convene the group of top scientists to talk about the world’s most pressing problems that did that became the Copenhagen consensus. And that is described this way, the core idea is simple, with scarce resources to tackle the problems of the world prioritization is necessary, not being really willing to prioritize does not make the problem go away, it simply becomes less clear. We need to know what we should do first, and then you force rank them. And looking back you that you said the priorities and looking backward appear pretty prescient hunger, and second was health and disease. And that now we’re in the middle of the pandemic, and you mentioned the wh o this morning saying, well, climate change is a big priority, and perhaps taking the eye off the ball. But let me let me go then to 2008, you convened again, and reducing co2 emissions out of 30 challenges ranked 30th. I mean, it’s pretty remarkable. I mean, even after a tax on tobacco. So my question is, you’ve been coming to the same conclusions now for for quite a while. So the alarmism just continues to get top billing. Because, as you said, it sells even though you you keep coming to these same kinds of findings over and over.
Bjorn Lomborg 31:35
So just just to give you a sense, we work together with lots of economists, we actually did our last prioritization back in 2015, with the UN sustainable development goals, and we came out with pretty much the same conclusion. But But fundamentally, we asked economists in a wide range of areas to say, how could you spend $1? And spend it really smartly? And how much would that good? How much good would that do for humanity? Then we ask that question around the around all the different areas, and then basically say, Would you do more good spending $1 on cutting co2, or, you know, giving clean drinking water or tackling tuberculosis or tackling gender inequality and all these other things that you might want to talk about? And the simple point is, some of these things are incredibly cheap and simple to some of these things are incredibly expensive and won’t do very much good. It’s not about that they’re not all good. It’s simply that some of them happened to be a lot more effective. So let’s do those first. This is just not exciting, right? You would never get you you’re probably not going to put this on the top of your of your billing of of this podcast, because nobody would click on it. What people do click on it, but as I
Robert Bryce 32:45
could have been if I can interrupt you, I mean, it seems to me that continually in throughout the book, it was well, it’s either or we have a trade off here, right that this if we do this, we get that or if we spend it here, that yeah, that’s the recurring theme throughout the book is, well, this study says if we spend, you know this much here, we get this much benefit. But that, but it goes back to the same idea we talked about earlier, where if climate change is existential, then no price is too high. Well, no, that’s not the case. I mean, that’s your that’s your argument you’ve effectively been making now for 20 years. And which means my next question, and I mean, this no disrespect, you get tired of repeating yourself.
Bjorn Lomborg 33:27
Why haven’t I convinced people? Yeah. So So yeah, I think I think, yeah, I think I think fundamentally, the point here is, we we are genetically engineered to get things wrong in a specific way. Yeah, we’re the guys with survivors of the guy who were really worried about the saber tooth tiger, and, you know, all these other things. There’s probably a lot of good evolutionary reasons why we over worry about some things. And we, you know, we tend to get a perception that, Oh, my God, this is very, very important. And I couldn’t possibly be bothered about this. What we tried to do, and what I tried to do with his argument is exactly to try to get us to be a little more rational. So my goal is not We have a saying, because making consensus, this is not about getting it right. It’s about getting it slightly less wrong. Yeah, it’s a much more modest goal. I’m simply trying to push people a little bit to what don’t spend, don’t waste quite as much money on the things that look good, but don’t actually do very much. Try to spend slightly more on the really smart stuff. I would love, obviously, for all of us to be incredibly rational, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. And so in some sense, I think the point that I try to make is simply pushing us a little bit towards rationality. And that requires two things, as you rightly point out and climate change. One is to tackle the, it’s the end of the world. Because if it is the end of the world, we should spend everything on this problem. It’s not the end of the world, it’s a problem. The second thing is to get people to realize that most of the things that we’re actually spending money on Climate are fairly costly. That is, in terms of GDP, you know, we’re spending percent of GDP, it’s not going to bring us to the poorhouse. But it’s certainly you know, something that is measurable, that have real impacts on people’s lives. And yet, the impact when you run it through the climate models will be trivial. So you know, just to give you a sense of proportion, the the Paris Agreement, if we keep doing the Paris agreement, which, of course no nation is doing right now, the US is out of Paris, but we’ll see whether you’re back in, but no nation is actually are very, very few nations, and none of the important ones are living up to their their, their Paris promises. But if they all did that, and did it through the whole century, it would reduce temperatures by the end of the century by about 0.3 degree Fahrenheit. But it would cost in the order of, let’s say, 80, to 100, and $50 trillion, as a lot of money for almost no benefit. So every dollar would probably do about 11 cents of climate good. That is it would avoid climate damage is worth 11 cents, which is obviously a bad way to spend the dollar and translate it into 11 cents of good for humanity. But the fundamental point here is to get people to recognize that’s a bad idea. But you can only get that if you’ve stopped believing this is the end of the world.
Robert Bryce 36:25
So let me let’s fast forward then to your solutions, your your view on on what we should be doing. And you talk about a carbon tax. And of course, this is now being you know, coming around again in the United States has been talked about now for 30 years. And way back when in the 90s. I wrote a piece thinking over let’s do a carbon tax. I’ve since come to think, well, we can’t get an international agreement to ban landmines. How are we ever going to get an international agreement to to impose a tax on the most important commodity in the global economy? A little criticism or a little pushback on the idea of carbon tax? How do we get that international agreement? Because you say well, we should have this and we should fund r&d. But how do you convince Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the developing countries that oh, this is good for you? And then second to Nord house’s point because Nordhaus makes the same, same argument? How do you get this this international harmonization, right? The cross border tariffs? How do you solve that? Because you didn’t? You didn’t? You didn’t talk about that much in the book? How do you how do you get people to agree,
Bjorn Lomborg 37:28
I actually do argue that it’s very unlikely we will get this one global carbon tax, and that will much more likely muddle through, I also emphasize that while carbon tax is absolutely the intellectually academically most correct first order solution, it’s very likely that it won’t work. And it certainly won’t fix most of the problem. So I think it’s important to say, carbon tax is in principle, a good idea, there’s a real risk that we won’t do it, right, there’s a, there’s a potential that will actually screw it up really badly. And we can come back to that. But also, even if we get it right, it’s not going to fix all that much of the problem. And if it does, what it has done in the US. And I think the US in some ways is a little unique in that respect, but it ends up screwing up everything else about climate change. That is you get people so entrenched on, we either want this or we don’t want this that you can’t get anything else done, then maybe it was the wrong battle to try to win. So I’m simply going to defend as an intellectual proposition. Look, if you emit co2, that means you cost a little bit more discomfort down the line for the whole world. And we can, you know, sort of reasonably estimate that. And obviously, that’s fraught with all kinds of problems, but let’s just say it’s about 20 to $30 per per tonne of co2. That means, if we put a tax of 20 to $30, on that tonne of co2, you would reflect that in your decision. So if it was worth more than 20, or $30, for you, you’d still do it. Right. And that would be worthwhile because you would have produced something that was worth more than $30 for the world. And you would have crossed problems worth less than $30. That’s a socially good outcome. But you would also have refrained from doing so if it was you know, frivolous and really just worth $1 for you. But it would have cost $29 for for prosperity. That’s the basic point of it. If you do this, you will fix a little bit of the problem. But yes, you’re absolutely right, there’s very good reason to believe first, we’re not going to do it. Well, that means we’ll actually have higher cost. And I talk a lot about that in the book. And also if it breaks down your conversations about all the other smart things. This was not the hill that you should have died on. So let’s say yes, it is a good argument. And I also think the reason why I lead with the book is also it’s a good way to frame it inside your mind to think about what is the problem of a tonne of co2? Well, it’s about $30 it’s much much easier than just It’s the end of the world. No, it’s not. It’s $30. And we actually have a real reasonably good number.
Robert Bryce 40:07
So in talking about these ideas and solutions, issue, policy pathways, you really, I think more than any other talk about the need for adaptation. Why is that idea about and it’s something that in my experience, and just a quick station break here, I’m talking to Darren Lomborg, I should have introduced this a little bit. For a while ago, we’re talking about his new book false alarm, how climate change panic costs us trillions, hurts the poor and fails to fix the planet. You can find it on all the major bookselling outlets, and you can also visit Copenhagen consensus.org. Is that ROM com.com? Copenhagen copenhagen.com. So why don’t why doesn’t or why don’t more people want to talk about the need for adaptation? I find that that part of the discussion really doesn’t get I mean, there’s some and you see that you mentioned the efforts in New York City after the Superstorm Sandy, all of those things are going to have big, big benefits relative to their costs. Why is adaptation not a popular thing to talk about when it comes to climate?
Bjorn Lomborg 41:16
So I think it’s there’s two reasons partly, partly it feels pedestrian when you’re talking about especially if you’re sort of we’re all going to die, then you know, putting a plastic cover on the subways seem like it’s so pedestrian, it almost seems like that shouldn’t be possible to solve the problem of us all dying. Not so sexy, not sexy. And it’s it’s not sexy enough. And the second thing, of course, is a lot of people have felt. And I think with some justification that the more you talk about adaptation, you’re more you take away from the politically correct solution, which is cutting carbon emissions. You know, if you say, we can adapt to most of this, you don’t actually need to cut all that much co2. So the people who want to cut emissions, don’t want to talk about adaptation. Now, I think that’s just intellectually spurious and dishonest. You know, you you need to say, this is one of the ways that we’re going to fix climate change, you should also recognize that most of the things that you’re going to do with adaptation will happen on a private basis, because it makes private good sense, you’re going to decide, am I going to buy a beachfront property, if you know sea levels in 100 years are going to have risen up over the beachfront or at least eroded quite a bit of my beach, or whatever that is, you will make those decisions and you will make them on your own. Now, some of the investments that you’re going to have to do, for instance, on protecting sea sea shorelines, there’s going to have to be social. And in that way, we need to have that conversation, but much of the adaptation is actually going to be private, you know, so seed companies developing new seeds, they’ll better be able to better handle salient intrusion or whatever that that concern might be. And there will be a market for that.
Robert Bryce 43:03
So you also talk about using carbon taxation, you’re not the only one, Roger pilkey, Jr, who’s been on the podcast has talked about the same issue of Well, let’s have a modest carbon tax. Let’s put a lot of that money into r&d. You talk about nuclear, and I’m adamantly pro nuclear, in my view, if you’re anti nuclear and anti carbon dioxide, you’re pro blackout? Well, I’m anti blackout, right? We’re gonna, if we really are serious about reducing co2, we need a lot more nuclear energy. But nuclear, frankly, is stuck. I mean, it really is. And you mentioned the issue of cost as being one of the key obstacles, and particularly in western countries. Is there more than cost, though, in terms of thinking about nuclear longer term? What are the What do you see as the biggest hurdles to make the question? What do you see as the biggest hurdles into implementing nuclear at scale that can make a significant difference?
Bjorn Lomborg 43:53
So if you don’t mind, I’m actually going to just widen your question a little bit, because I think the the real issue here is to say, look, we’re gonna ask, we’re asking people to say, the stuff that has made you rich for the last 200 years, namely widely available and cheap energy, you have to switch away from these cheap things like coal, gas and oil. If you want people to do that, you’ve got to give them an alternative, that’s cheaper and nice and better. If you do that, everyone will switch. Nuclear power could be one of those, if nuclear power was incredibly cheap, and just simple to put up, you know, these these four generation things, you know, you have like this, this half container, kind of a little nuclear power plant, and it’ll, you know, it’ll immediately power your whole village and you know, give you all the stuff that you want, hey, we’d all just buy it, and we’d be done with climate change. And the simple point is, if we had any one of those innovations, we would be done with climate change, we just simply fix it. Nuclear power is One of those ways that you can solve it, we know that this works. But as you also point out, right now, nuclear power is incredibly expensive, very likely, because there’s been a lot of very expensive regulation. But again, I don’t see anyone being willing to and I don’t see anyone winning, say, let’s make nuclear a little less safe, that’s just not going to work out, what could work out is. And that’s what Bill Gates and many others are investing in is fourth generation nuclear, right now we have third generation, fairly expensive. We know it works. If you get fourth generation to be much cheaper, safer, and easy, then you would win. But that could also happen in so many other ways. So imagine, if you could have incredibly cheap solar and wind with lots and lots of storage, we can get into whether that’s realistic, but you know, at least as a principle, it certainly should be if you could print and do geothermal. And now we know for instance, that fracking technology could make it much more likely that we can actually get a little bit of the same thing that you could utilize the the heat of the earth, and you could get baseload power that way, that could be another solution. Craig Venter, the guy who cracked the human genome back in 2000, he talks about making this algae on the ocean surface that produces oil, so would you know, soak up sunlight and co2, create oil, we could have our whole fossil fuel economy, and it would be emitting the co2 that it had just taken up out in the ocean surface. So it would be too too neutral. Again, this doesn’t work at all at scale. And it’s not cost effective. But more research could make it. So my point is, and I think this is really what the climate economics tells us very clearly, that if we spend a lot of resources across all these different technological opportunities, were likely to fail. And most of them, that’s how research and development works. But we just really need one or more realistically, a few of these to come through. And those are the technologies they’ll power the rest of 21st century. So there’s really two ways to fix climate. One is to say, let’s convince everyone has to go down a route, that’s going to be very costly, that’s going to be very inconvenient, that’s going to leave us all worse off by promising to cut carbon emissions really difficult.
Unknown Speaker 47:15
Bjorn Lomborg 47:16
let’s do a technological solution, let’s find technologies that are going to be incredibly cheap that everyone will just want. Obviously, not surprisingly, when I’m putting out it’s an obvious solution, and you should pick the second one, you should pick technology. And and it goes back to what we also talked about earlier with Paul Ehrlich and the whole worry that the world was going to run out of food in the late 1960s. If you thought about, you know, oh my god, there’s not enough food in the world, how are we possibly going to feed everyone? One option would be to say, let’s tell every one of us to stop eating those, you know, damn cows and just become vegetarians, and send all the rest of the food down to India and all these countries that need it, and then maybe we can keep this going for a little longer. That would not only have been incredibly hard, it probably also failed. We could also have said, let’s make it such that each acre of land produces lots more food. Oh, and that was what we did. That was the Green Revolution. And that was essentially why India today, instead of being the basket case, that everybody thought it was not just me. And Paul early who thought that thought that back in the 1960s, that they were just going to die. That’s why they have actually got an enormous population, and they’re the world’s leading rice exporter, they have more food than they could ever possibly know what to do with. So you know, one of the beautiful things is, technology solves problems in a way that makes it possible that everyone, almost everyone wins. Whereas the solution that we picked so far, is let’s make as hard for everyone to accept these these solutions. You know, let’s all suffer with higher energy costs and less availability, more blackout risks, and try and see if we can convince the Chinese and the Indians and the Africans and the Latin Americans to do the same. And not surprisingly, we keep failing.
Robert Bryce 49:07
Well, as you say that there was something just popped in my head that there’s you’re talking about a technological approach versus a one that is more regulatory centric, I guess. And the part that as you said, it was something clicked where I thought, well, that regulatory centric model then is much more of a top down approach. Right, it is much more of a government hand heavier hand of the government saying this is what we’re going to do rather than a bottom up, more capitalist friendly kind of approach. Is that fair?
Bjorn Lomborg 49:39
Well, it’s somewhat fair, but but I know that you would like it to be more true than it probably is. Because the the innovation bit is a lot of people who say, Oh, yes, I love innovation. We should get companies to innovate more. What the problem by getting companies to innovate more is they also have a very, very short, you know, timeframe. They want to you know, get something that we’ll get to market and a couple of years. So they will basically take all the subsidy money for innovation put into the product that they were going to launch anyway in a couple years. And we’ll get almost no extra r&d out of it. The difficulty, and this is sort of the economic argument of the academic argument is, there’s a lot of investment in very immediate r&d, because you can market it next year. But there’s a severe under investment in r&d for the next 40 years. This is not just true in energy, but also, you know, in healthcare, we know this money better than
Robert Bryce 50:30
that’s, and that’s where we need the government part. Right? Yes, that government is gonna have to play that role in the r&d we wanted. And just to push that point further, it seems to me that that’s going to be particularly true when it comes to nuclear, because you’re going to need much more international cooperation like the IAEA, if you’re going to have a nuclear growing at scale in multiple countries around the world. Is that is that? Is that how you see it as well?
Bjorn Lomborg 50:56
I think it’s hard to predict exactly how you’re going to fix the nuclear problem, because a large part of the problem is that people are just incredibly worried, you know, and happened to have the same base word as nuclear weapons and made a lot of people very worried. And there’s a lot of emotion involved in this, I don’t think you’re going to be able to be successful in getting a IAA or any other international organization to tell the US or any, any nation Europe, exactly how they’re going to regulate their nuclear power, I think it’s going to be a lot easier. Once you see Oh, yeah, you can pay four to 10 cents per kilowatt hour for your power with the stuff that you already have. Or you can pay two cents for this new nuclear. Once that happens, most people are going to be like, how can we make this fit into our regulatory status and you know, it’ll work. Economics has a tendency of making, you know, once you can do something cheap, people will actually follow. But But I think the big thing that you need to get people to understand is, we’ve had this solution for the last many decades in healthcare, we rent realize the Pfeiffer pricer Sorry, I can’t say that word, right, or some of these other big pharmaceuticals are not actually going to make the research that in 40 years will lead to a major breakthrough, because by then their patent will have run out. And so they will get very little of that benefit, humanity will greatly benefit but they won’t get it so they won’t invest in. That’s why we have lots and lots of researchers in lots of universities, making Nobels interesting stuff that only, you know, 20 3040 years later becomes something that you can actually market and Pfizer can get rich off. And we need the same thing in energy. And one of the reasons why we don’t have this conversation, why we don’t spend very much in researching in energy is because we constantly have this sense of the world is ending tomorrow, we don’t have time to wake for 20 to 40 years. And and and my standard sort of comeback is to say, Well, first of all, that’s not true. But secondly, what you’re essentially suggesting is, let’s do more of the stuff, more of the policies that have failed for the last 30 years, let’s try to do more of that. That’s not likely to actually fix any of the problems that you really worry about. Whereas I’m saying let’s fix something that will actually fix the problem in the next 20 to 40 years. Yes, it’s not going to happen overnight. And I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do that can sort of magically make that happen. But we can do something that will fix a large part of it likely over the next 40 years.
Robert Bryce 53:27
So when you and that that makes sense. When when you going through that explanation. I thought well, then what I’m what what pops in my head is when it comes to nuclear, then when it comes to the international regulation, the innovation is going to have to come first and the regulation will follow that, then is that is that I think that that
Bjorn Lomborg 53:46
yes, that and i think that’s that’s what the gates Consortium, and many others have taken a lot of their nuclear research to China, because there’s easier regulation there. But I think fundamentally, you just need to come up with this technology and say, See, it’s incredibly safe. Yeah. And it’s incredibly cheap. And that’s how we’re going to you know, just like with these algae on the on the ocean surface, imagine if Craig Venter, you know, not only would he probably become the richest man in the world, but he could actually offer us all incredibly cheap oil. How cool would that be? Yeah, there’s there’s an enormous amount of these solutions. And it’s one of those that will likely fix climate change, not because we care deeply deeply about climate change, but because we cared really much about getting very cheap energy and or very cheap energy. Oh, and fixed climate would be sort of the the bonus package,
Robert Bryce 54:40
right? So if you look at the look at the hydrocarbon business and have for some time, if you look at coal, oil and natural gas, if you look at those three, is there one that you see gaining more traction than any other?
Bjorn Lomborg 54:55
Well, it’s very clear that that you know, fracking has dramatically shifted from Coal to gas. And that has been good for climate, it’s probably also been very good for for normal pollution, which is actually a big problem still in the US. And that’s wonderful. Yeah, the US is clocking the largest reduction of any nation in the world in 2010, because of fracking. So you definitely want to move people from coal to gas, simply because gas emits about half the amount of co2. And it’s also much cleaner and other parameters. And you want to do the same thing in China. Those are the kinds of easy solutions. And remember, again, the US didn’t switch from coal to gas, because they were incredibly worried about global warming, they switch because gas suddenly became much cheaper. And in that way, it’s a great example of saying, you know, if you come with a new thing and say, Hey, this is cheaper, people will switch. And it’s not rocket science. And the trick that we have to make sure is that that new thing is not only cheaper, but also greener. If we can do both of those, we’ll just simply have solved a large part of the problem. So fracking itself, part of the problem. And again, I and I also emphasize in that book, fracking is not without problems, you know, the latest study shows that fracking probably on an annual basis, incur costs to the US about $25 billion, that’s a lot of money. Most of this is actually air pollution, not water pollution is what most people think, yeah, a lot of trucking, and a lot of emissions close to the, the the fracking sites. But the benefits are in the order of 100 and $60 billion. So benefits vastly outweigh the costs. But again, that doesn’t mean that somebody is actually suffering those costs. And you need to make sure that those people are also well off. Now in North Dakota, they are because they own the land. So they are typically willing to say sure, I’ll have a new Chevy, and you know, I’m fine with a little more air pollution. But you need to make sure that that happens, generally, that’s a conversation we need to have. But once you have that, you have general benefits, people are going to love it. And that’s of course, how we need to do this with innovation on green energy as well.
Robert Bryce 57:03
So the other key point that you make in in the book is that we need to get richer, that that the solution to a lot of this and I write about in my new book on my new film, I talked about the issue of poverty and electricity and how electricity is essential. But if you look at the headlines, your argument that we should not be impeding the development of the of poor countries is losing. He said last year, the European Investment Bank, world’s largest Development Bank, announced it would quit financing fossil fuel projects. BlackRock has said it will quit funding coal plants and screen its funds for hydrocarbon projects. So it It appears despite the obvious fact that energy is key to raising people’s standards of living, that the the big money outlets are saying, well, we’re not going to I’m going to I’m going to sound make it sound meaner and more diabolical that it is. They’re essentially saying to the developing world, and in some of the environmental groups are saying no, you can’t use hydrocarbons. Only renewables for you, is there’s there’s a financial issue here. But it seems is there also a moral issue at stake?
Bjorn Lomborg 58:11
Well, of course, there. And that’s one of the reasons why I say that this also hurts the poor, that we’re essentially telling both the poor and the rich world in the US. You know, for instance, fracking has meant that the gas became cheaper. Also in the US, for people who keep warm in the winter, that actually meant about 11,000 fewer deaths, because they can now afford to keep their homes better heated and so they don’t die as much from from from coal related deaths. If you raise the tax on fuels, because you want to fix climate change, that means some of those 11,000, or maybe all of them are going to go back to dying every year, that has real consequences. But obviously, it’s much, much bigger for people in Bangladesh and elsewhere, where you actually need much, much more energy to have access. And there is there’s sort of a rich world tendency here where you say, Well, you know, if this is the end of the world, I’m sorry, the poor will just have to wait a little bit to become less poor. I’ve heard people and you know, I’m not going to quote names, but you know, important people basically saying, look, we only have, what, 10 years to fix climate change, they’ll still be poor in 2030, then we’ll fix that problem then. And I can see in the framework of this is the end of the world this is a meteor hurtling towards the ending the earth, we got to do something right now, that makes sense. And that’s of course, why actually realizing No, it’s not immediate, or it’s not the end of the world. It’s a problem. That not only means that we’re likely to make better climate policies, but it also means we’re likely to make less really ugly and immoral choices like saying, I’m sorry, this is so important that the developing world just can’t be be well off. And and of course, the second thing is also To remember just started very briefly, they’re not gonna let us do that. Yeah, the China is not going to say are okay, then we’ll be poor. There are some impacts on on this, but very clearly, we’re just gonna lose a lot of impact in that. And that’s, of course why the Chinese World Bank is actually becoming more and more important in much developing countries because they will still fund a coal fired power plant.
Robert Bryce 1:00:23
Well, and I think the and the Chinese are that you mentioned the Chinese and the Japanese as well as and and other other lenders, Malaysia, South Korea, etc. So we’ve been talking for about an hour My guest is Bjorn Lomborg, the president of the Copenhagen Copenhagen consensus center, and also the author of his new book false alarm, how climate change, panic costs us trillions, hurts the poor and fails to fix the planet. So as I said, we’ve been talking about an hour I don’t want to keep you too much longer, but I have to ask you this because this is something that people talk about and, and I’ll just cut right so why the black shirt.
Unknown Speaker 1:01:00
So there’s, there’s not
Robert Bryce 1:01:02
I’m gonna I’m gonna I’m gonna preface it by saying Sergio Marconi was the the head of Fiat Chrysler for years he had an outfit right? he wear a black, a black, a black sweater, the former head of Ford Motor Company wore the same day his name escapes me at the moment. We’re the same outfit, Johnny Cash wear the same outfit. Your one of your signature things is the black t shirt on television. Today? Why the black t shirt?
Bjorn Lomborg 1:01:26
Yeah, so I mean, there’s not an enormous sort of thought out. point behind it. I used to just wear t shirts when I was teaching at the university. And, and when I needed to sort of dress up, I wear a black t shirt. So actually, this is sort of my formal t shirt. And and when I this is, this is my text. Yeah. And and when I occasionally do really, really important things, I earn it. And then the first time is when I started getting into this whole conversation, you know, people were, I was at this one TV studio, and they were really insistent on me putting on a jacket, they got someone else’s jacket, and don’t you want to put this on? And I was like, that doesn’t feel like me. And and and so I said no, I, you know, I just want to go on like I am, this is who I am. And so honestly, I think just sort of became a signature afterwards. But it was not something I intended. So actually, early on, I had like a light green t shirt. I just picked the next one. Yeah, this is Corona, I’m just sitting at home working. Nobody cares. So I put this black t shirt on for you. This is my, this is my job. I’m going to the gala dinner with you.
Robert Bryce 1:02:45
So does it mean, I asked you that sincerely. But it’s also become one of your signature things. So I’m assuming you’re not going to change it. This is what you’re going to stick with?
Bjorn Lomborg 1:02:54
No, I think there’s one more. One other thing, obviously, is the fact that that when you when you hear me when when I first started this conversation, I remember I got I got sort of drawn by some people who were saying, you know, he’s just a stooge of right wing Americans kind of thing. And they drew me with a suit and tie and you know, sort of like the spokesperson of of the right wing in the US. And I think there’s something slightly disarming about Oh, what? Yeah, he’s sort of more dressing like a Greenpeace guy. And and again, I’m not saying that that’s what I’m trying to achieve are more sort of saying, I’m not the guy you think I am. And you know, if that sort of, if that T shirt makes you so to say, Okay, I’m not quite sure what I’m going to hear from that guy. So I’m going to keep my, my mind a little open. I hope that works. But you know, honestly, it’s just because of how I dress every day.
Robert Bryce 1:03:48
Fair enough. And one. So one last thing about that, because I’ve heard from someone else, it’s actually in some of your speaking contracts that you’re not, you’re not going to show is that is that true?
Bjorn Lomborg 1:03:57
Oh, sure. But that’s more because we’ve been at some places where I had to get smuggled in, you know, where I was giving a speech in this very old fashioned kind of place where you have to wear a jacket, and I don’t want to wear a jacket. And they would, you know, it’d be weird if I had to sort of put on a job. So I had to go in by the waiters entrance and stuff like that. So we just make sure that it’s not going to be a problem. It’s not because I don’t want to, you know, that it’s it’s sort of a marketing, it’s more sort of to avoid this becoming really awkward at a very late stage. Very late stage.
Robert Bryce 1:04:31
Gotcha. So just along those same lines, because you mentioned that this divide, why is that issue and you mentioned that well, they take on this right wing stage right. And this is what the common effort of deep platforming and you know when I say some of the same things myself in my career, oh, well, you’re just talking for those people. You know, you no matter where that how many books I’ve written, or how long I’ve been setting this, oh, well, you just work for them. Why is this issue of climate though so divisive? On the left, right? I’m not gonna say conservative versus liberal or democrat versus Republican, but it’s so much of a left right issue. What? How do you see that? Why is it become such a partisan issue in terms of the political spectrum?
Bjorn Lomborg 1:05:13
I think it may very well be part of what we also talked about earlier, the, the carbon tax, that there’s a lot of people, you know, on the left who think, General, you know, more taxes are good, and that can fund a bigger government that we’re going to do all these wonderful things with, and on the right, you know, don’t give government more money, because they can just going to use badly and it’s just going to be, you know, this thing that you’ll just keep on turning. And I think both are both arguments have validity. You know, I think carbon tax is a good way you want to tax bad things, rather than good things, you know, if you can move away from personal taxation, towards taxation of your pollution, co2, that that makes for a smart move, that kind of thing. But But I think that’s part of the reason why you’ve, you’ve gotten this, this divide, I think there’s also a sense in which there’s an overlap between the the correct conversation on climate change, and then a wide range of other things, you know, the whole sentiment that we have it too good that we’re, you know, people are wastefully using too many, too much stuff. Yeah, I meet quite a number of people who, you know, honestly believe that we should D grow in the rich world. They’re, they’re invariably rich people, you know, well based and you know, when you then start asking, so would you be okay, with not living with that? Would you be okay, with giving up that that’s not what they mean, clearly, you know, they don’t actually want to give up any of their own stuff. But you know, in general, people should give up all the frivolous stuff, you know, the stuff others have raw, and, you know, it’s very easy to have that sort of sentiment. And I think those kinds of things, the idea that we generally need to, you know, have more government to control, you know, General stuff, because we’re not doing this well, I think sent vibes very well with the left wing. And likewise, the the right wing have sort of an innate skepticism than any, any government can do any good. As you can probably hear, now, I’m sort of a slight lefty in a European sense. So you know, probably pretty damn lefty and in a European as in a US context. So but I also come from, you know, governments that are that are good. Yeah, fundamentally, the Scandinavian governments are good at delivering services, you actually get a lot of value for your money. If you can get government to be good. You can actually make a do a lot of smart stuff. That doesn’t mean you should let it do all stuff. I think we’ve very, very clearly experienced there lots of stuff, you shouldn’t have governments.
Robert Bryce 1:07:52
So it comes it comes down to more of the the issue of government control over over basic Liberty issues. Right, that there’s the fear on the right, that overweening government will then say no, you can’t use that gasoline. I mean, we see it, yes. written about it. In fact, in California, these bans on natural gas and in homes, I mean, and who’s fighting it? Well, the some of the litigation is by the California Restaurant Association. I mean, the restaurants are saying, we cook with gas, and you’re going to tell us we can’t use it. I mean, it. But it does seem to be that that that that regulatory issue is maybe the one that that is the key device dividing factor. But let me let me move on here. And just a couple of last quick thing. So who are your personal heroes? You write a lot you have a bookshelves groaning there behind you with lots of books on him. whose work do you admire?
Bjorn Lomborg 1:08:40
So I saw I love a lot of the economists that I that I read, so you know, Richard tall, William Nordhaus, some of those guys have done amazing stuff. I actually love Jared Diamond, you know, his, although we dramatically disagree on some of the stuff that he that he writes, you know, Guns, Germs, and Steel is one of the is probably the book I would most love to have written. So I think there’s a lot of smart people out there, and I love your good arguments, sort of way that you know, the stuff that sort of make your brain move a little bit and then click. That’s the kind of thing that I really like. It’s not like I think there’s any, you know, sort of amazing, outstanding people. It’s more sort of I love the fact that I can spend a large portion of my day reading smart people what they’ve done and try to synthesize some of them.
Robert Bryce 1:09:36
That’s great. I met Richard toll once and at a meeting in California with the breakthrough Institute, in fact, and I asked him, I said, Well, what would you do on the climate? He said, carbon tax was one of the things that he would implement, but he’s been pilloried as well. I mean, by The Guardian by me I’m really attacked viciously for taking what it seems like a pretty I mean, not extremely But not extremist positions. But I guess is that just something that just comes with a neighborhood you come you get into the fight, you’re gonna get those kinds of attacks?
Bjorn Lomborg 1:10:07
I think, you know, if if we could just move it to William Nordhaus, because it’s so obvious. And he, he’s the only guy to get the Nobel Prize in climate economics. He’s an incredibly smart guy, very, very bright, I think very intellectually stimulating. He’s basically founded and helped shape this whole climate economics last 30 years, and people are regularly pillaging him. For that one reason that he comes out with a wrong result, he tells us, we should do something, but not too much in climate change. Now, the very simple point is, yeah, you shouldn’t do nothing, because it’s a problem. And the first tonne of co2 that you could cut would cost you almost nothing, it’s very likely, you know, it’s the outdoor heater that’s on when you’re not there. But just thought that it costs you nothing, and you’ve just saved a little bit of climate change, you probably shouldn’t get the last tonne of co2 either, because that’s the one that keeps your baby surviving kind of thing. So it’s somewhere in between, you know, where the costs get higher, and the benefits get lower. That’s where you should. That’s the balancing point. That’s what he spent his career on. That’s what Richard Hall and many others have spent their careers on. They all universally fine, you should cut some but not too much co2. We’re not cutting enough. We’re cutting it probably also the wrong places. We’re cutting too much in the rich world too little in the developing world, that kind of thing. But fundamentally, that’s the equilibrium argument. And because he makes that very simple argument, which I think is absolutely impossible to fundamentally disagree with. He’s getting pilloried because it’s obviously not convenient for a lot of people who’ve said two degrees or 1.5 degrees, which is very clearly incredibly ineffective. It’s basically saying, yes, let’s cut all the way to the last tonne of co2 almost last tonne of co2, which you know, no sane economist would say is a smart solution.
Robert Bryce 1:12:07
Sure. Just one quick thing about Nordhaus one of the studies that I thought was most interesting, it wasn’t the one he won the Nobel for, but it was comparing nighttime luminosity with with income levels, right, just measuring the light coming from the earth and the brighter the city the higher the income which you know, when you think well, of course, but no they did. They took satellite data and actually matched it with with with with income data. So I’ve asked you
Bjorn Lomborg 1:12:33
Sorry, I’ve also got my other favorite from Nordhaus, which is also not about climate was his study on? How much do we get the inflation correction wrong? Because obviously, you know, it’s very, very hard to adjust for inflation, because most things also become qualitatively better. And how do you adjust for that? So if you just look at the same level of output, but don’t adjust the quality, you actually underestimate the amount of progress we’ve done over the world, because you inflate inflation adjust too much. So what he did was, he said, let’s take a look at lighting. Since back from Babylonian time. Yeah, yeah. And and and because lighting has this wonderful quality. Yeah, it’s fundamentally one thing you want, you want more light. And we can measure that. And you can then look at what’s the price? And how much light do you get? And what he found was all the way from Babylonian lamps to LED lamps today was that we’ve vastly underestimated the benefit. And the social progress that we’ve gotten, you know, if you measured in terms of how much time do you have to work in order to get one cabling
Robert Bryce 1:13:42
equivalent labor, the amount of labor per lumen? I guess it was? Yes,
Bjorn Lomborg 1:13:46
it turns out that you have much, much more. And so one of his arguments was we probably over inflation adjusting, or we’re under appreciating how much better the world is than what it used to be. So, you know, we’ve gotten about 20,000 times more light over the last 200 years or so. And it’s just outstanding, you know, most people 200 years ago, had a little bit of candlelight for a very brief time. So you know, sort of 15 minutes or thereabouts. Today, you have like everywhere all the time you want, how much of a difference has that made? Well, it means we can live for the whole 24 hours and we can just go to sleep for eight hours, except back back then we you know, you sleep most of the night and you’d be up but in total darkness, technically.
Robert Bryce 1:14:36
And so much like that. There. We have a problem with light pollution, right for astronomy, and the rest of
Bjorn Lomborg 1:14:42
it. There’s always something to be worried about.
Robert Bryce 1:14:44
Okay, so last thing, and my guest, Bjorn Lomborg, the president of the Copenhagen consensus, Copenhagen consensus, calm, his new book is a false alarm. So what gives you hope? Your book I think, ultimately is one that’s very pro human which is one The reasons I like it, because I think the humanism angle is is lost amidst a lot of this policy, right. And ultimately, this is about people, what gives you hope?
Bjorn Lomborg 1:15:11
Well, fundamentally, that the world is going to be a much better place in 2100, whether I get, you know, I my arguments win, or they lose terribly, simply because that’s the trajectory of human opportunity, we’re simply going to innovate a lot of these things that will make our lives easier, that will feed our kids better, they’ll make us not dying from a lot of infectious diseases, all these things will happen, we will probably also be have solved climate change by the end of the century, we might have solved the incredibly expensive and bad way, we might have solved the really smart way with innovation. But either way, we’ll probably have solved most of that as well, because we’ll be so rich that we can afford even the dumb way. So the fundamental point, my art, what I’m trying is not to try to get us to pick a path where we all become, the world becomes great. But if we don’t listen to me, the world will be terrible. My point is really, do we want the really wonderful world or this slightly less wonderful world? And that’s a pretty good outcome to worry about. Right? So so that’s why, you know, I have great hope that most of the things that we worry about today, we will not be worrying about in 100 years, simply because we will have been, you know, we’ll fix most of those problems, think back 100 years, what we worried about what were the things that were concerns, it doesn’t mean the world is going to be without trouble. And it doesn’t mean that there’s not, you know, some really big concerns like, you know, bioterrorism, for instance, those kinds of things, I think there are some things that, you know, we could be genuinely worried about hours. So we talked about AI, if I’m not well enough, read up on this, to really know whether we should worry about it. But yeah, smart people that I have my tell us that we should probably be concerned about, there are some things that we should be definitely concerned about, we should certainly also be concerned about global warming. Yeah, like one of the many things that we should be, be be concerned about. But fundamentally, I think we’re gonna find it really hard to screw it up.
Unknown Speaker 1:17:14
I like that
Robert Bryce 1:17:15
I like it’s a great way to end right there. Anything that I’ve missed Bjorn, that we should we should cover here before we sign off.
Bjorn Lomborg 1:17:22
So we’re just very briefly what we do with the Copenhagen consensus is really just look at across all the different areas of human endeavor, and say, Where can you spend $1 and do the most good. And what we find is typically, all this stuff that nobody really cares about, because it’s mostly in developing countries is mostly about getting nutrition to small kids. That’s not it turns out, that’s not only an incredibly morally good thing, yeah, kids shouldn’t be starving. But it also means if you get food to small kids, their brains develop more. So when they go to school, even if it’s a crappy School, which it probably is, they will learn more, and they will become much more productive, and hence, increase their growth rate of their countries when they become adults. And, you know, likewise, free trade of contraception deal with infectious diseases. So, you know, ensure that that kids get get inoculated that you tackle, Tuberculosis, Malaria, also HIV, that you get better education initiatives, that’s very much about streamlining the schools. So instead of having all the six year olds and all the 12 year olds in the same grade, have all the ones with the same abilities in the same grade, because that teaches kids a lot more very, very simple things that are very little, that would just make the world a lot better. Now, this is what we mostly do. So we do this for Ghana, and other governments in Africa and Asia. But of course, nobody in the rich world care about that we care about, you know, global warming, or plastic pollution, or all these other things that are fashionable. And in one way, it’s a really good outcome, because it means we’re rich, you know, we don’t worry about the fact that our kids are going to die from easily curable infectious diseases, because we fix that. So so what we what I spend most of my time on, it’s actually nothing of the stuff that we’ve talked about. It’s an all these other very, very simple things that we really should be focused a lot more on. One of the reasons why we’re not is because we’re so over worried about some other things that we hear so much about. And one of them is probably global warming where people think, the end of the world. No, that’s a problem. It’s one problem among many. We’re only going to fix this and all the other problems, if we think about them in the right scale.
Robert Bryce 1:19:41
That’s a good summary. I appreciate that. Thank you. My guest Bjorn Lomborg. his new book is false alarm. It’s available pretty much everywhere. Climate change, panic cost us trillions, hurts the poor and fails to fix the planet. Dr. Lomborg Many thanks to you for being on the power hungry podcast. For all all of you out there in podcast land you can rate this if you listen to us give us a good rating on your your favorite platform. And please tune in for the next episode of the power hungry podcast. Thanks again
Unknown Speaker 1:20:12
thanks a lot.