Global warming: hype or fact

термометр глобальное потепление погода климат
Bjørn Lomborg, a guru of climate change research, shares his take on global warming and what stands behind it
By: Yekaterina Kudashkina, Please, tell me, do you think that there really is a connection between the growing number of natural disasters and the global warming process as such? Well, first of all global warming is real, it is men-made and it is an important problem. But the way it is often being portrayed as the cause of the vast majority of extreme weather incidents is simply unfounded. If we look at a lot of the catastrophes that we’ve seen over the last years and that have been very well published, they are by far mostly driven by social factors. If you look for instance at hurricanes – the reason why we have ever more damage from hurricanes is because many more people live on coastlines and typically with more and more wealth. If you actually correct that, and we have the best data for the US, you’ll see no change in incidents whatsoever. And there is purely radical reason to believe that by the end of the century we will probably see slightly stronger hurricanes, probably also slightly fewer, but this is really not what we are seeing right now. What we are seeing right is that we have increasing social vulnerability because of more people and more stuff. Sir, when I was looking at various figures, I’ve noticed that some scientists are saying that for the past 14 or 15 years the temperatures have not gone up, while others are saying that this is perhaps just a brief period. Well, both of these effective people are right. The temperatures haven’t risen for the last 16 years. But if you look at the overall picture it is likely that we will continue to see temperatures increase because of global warming. But of course the important part of this is not as it is often portrayed in the sort of skeptic argument – oh, maybe there is nothing about global warming. But it does tell us is that it is unlikely that the worst outcomes of global warming that have been forecasted are going to happen because clearly there are natural variations that are counteracting global warming and probably indicating that global warming overall is less strong, not more strong. Sir, I’ve got another question. If we look at the whole history of climate conference, climate change discussions and whatever – it looks like the general public is a little bit distrustful of all those things which are being published about global warming, about cutting down CO2 emissions. My hunch is that as soon as money steps in people tend to become suspicious, or perhaps there could be some other reason. Why wouldn’t people buy what we are saying? Why wouldn’t they see it as a real threat? I think there are a number of different answers to that question. One is that it is very clear that a lot of people become suspicious about the global warming hype because we always, when there is a UN meeting, hear about how things are terrible and how we really need to amend our ways. That perhaps is not entirely how fine it works, that is more how press releases and media campaigns work. And we also have debates which indicate that people are getting more skeptical about this argument. But I think it is important to say that just because there is bad media hype around global warming doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fix it, it doesn’t mean it is not a problem. It is a problem, we should fix it, but we should probably start looking for different answers. As you rightly mentioned – we’ve been meeting for twenty years now trying to cut carbon emissions and the net effect has been almost zero. If you look at the entire twenty years the emissions have risen about 50%. And we have a good reason to believe that if we had no amount of agreement, nothing whatsoever, the emission would probably have risen about half a percentage point more. So, fundamentally, what we’ve managed over twenty years of talks and huge amounts of time and lots of people involved is that instead of rising 50,5% it only risen 50%. But obviously, that indicates that we are not getting at the root problem. That’s why I think we need to have a different kind of conversation and start talking about what would actually work. I think that in one of your recent articles you’ve described a very interesting experience of the US, which by the way has been much criticized for not signing up to the Kyoto Protocol and for being in fact the largest polluter. It is an interesting story which is about the fracking of natural gas. The US is emitting a lot more CO2 per person in the world and hence it’s been criticized a lot because it used to be the biggest emitter. But what the story of the US also shows is that how technology can make a huge difference. The US has basically managed to frack natural gas, which means you can get a lot more natural gas, and it meant that the price of natural gas on the US market has dropped precipitously, probably somewhat between 60-90% over the last five years. So, it became much cheaper. That means that a lot of producers of electricity have switched from coal to gas because gas is now cheaper. That matters because gas emits about 45% less CO2 per energy unit produced than coal does. So, the US has actually dramatically dropped its carbon emissions over the last couple of years. We are estimating that they have probably dropped the annual emission because of the shale gas about 400-500 megatons. To put that in context, the entire effect of cutting carbon emissions in the Kyoto Protocol and everything the EU has done is about 250 megatons. So, the US has managed to cut twice as much from what rest of the world plus twenty years with all the conventions and the Kyoto Protocol has managed to do. And instead of paying for it, the EU is paying between 20 to 30 billion euros a year, the Americans are making money out of it. They are actually saving about a hundred billion dollars a year. This is the way forward – to get carbon cuts while you actually make your nation richer with obviously a much more easier way to sell carbon cuts, than trying to sell almost meaningless carbon cuts at very high cost. And finally, Mr. Lomborg, I though you also used to come up with your own solutions to the problem. Could you brief our listeners a little bit on that? Well, if we are talking about climate catastrophes, if we care about the people, and especially developing country persons, who are going to be hit with hurricanes, with large downpours and all the other problems that come from a variable weather – we should not predominantly focus on the climate solution. Because even if we did the climate solution – it would only help them very little a hundred years from now. We should actually focus on cheap and effective adaptation right now. If you look at hurricane Sandy, which obviously got a lot of attention because it hit right before the US presidential elections, if you focus on what you should have done to avoid the hurricane Sandy and what should you do to avoid future hurricanes Sandy, it is very clear – it is not about cutting carbon emissions which would do virtually nothing, it is about making simple adaptations, it is about making coverings for subway stations so that your subways don’t get flooded. It is about making sure that people don’t have easy access to subsidize the insurance and so they build irresponsibly on the first bare island. It is about very simple, very cheap proposals that will actually have a huge impact. So, again, we are back to the situation, when we talked about global warming, - do we want to do stuff that just makes us feel good – that is make proposals to cut carbon emissions that virtually makes no difference in a hundred years – or, do we want to do stuff that actually does good. Let’s focus on the policies that actually help poor people around the world with adaptation and then make sure we use technology, like fracking, to cut carbon emissions. Source: Voice of Russia

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