bjorn lomborg

LI is going to interrupt our tomato laden series of posts to point our readers to the latest effusion from Bjorn Lomborg. It is rather like his last effusion, and the one before that – Lomborg is an endlessly content to produce the same thing: an article that will, one, deny some scientific truth about environmental degradation by happily cherrypicking among instances, and two, offer up some vague, charitable counter-program – the idea being to either wean the liberal from his environmentalist idols by shaking a little guilt making reference to the poor in front of him, or at least to point to the hypocrisy of the liberal, convicted of shamefully ignoring the poor by worrying about them broiling to death.

To pay this guy a lot of attention is, perhaps, a mistake. But we are still attracted to Lomborg’s bait.

His latest trick has been to wave around a sum – 75 billion dollars – which Lomborg has extracted from some UN report: “According to UN estimates, for $75 billion a year - half the cost of implementing the Kyoto Protocol - we could provide clean drinking water, sanitation, basic health care, and education to every single human being on Earth. Shouldn't that be a higher priority?”

Anybody who believes 75 billion a year would come close to providing clean drinking water for ever person on earth, let alone the rest of his list, is truly out of his mind. There are of course no specs on a project like this. Yet it is, in a way, a perfect conservative project, in the tradition hatched by Grandpa Reagan. Reagan faced a huge puzzle as a president – while popular as a slogan, nobody really wants small government. But he did want to cut back any government leftovers for those he was hostile to – the poor, blacks, environmentalists, etc. The solution, which came to him in a vision (with Edward Teller playing the part of the Virgin), was to create programs that would uniquely benefit his base. Thus was born Star wars, the prototype of conservative big government ever since. It is an almost perfect program: it has a vague or non-existent goal, there are no criteria to measure its success, and even as the need for it collapses, the rhetoric for it gets ever more heated. A trillion dollars later, it is still chugging along, producing endless streams of revenue to war industries and putting dinner on the table for thousands of engineers, economists and managers across the country. Who, reliably, are strong national security voters.

75 billion a year for drinking water means, of course … endless futile water projects. And he who says water projects says Scandinavian engineering firms. The very idea makes such as Lomborg all dreamy.

There isn’t a chance in hell that that sum would be enough to guarantee drinking water to the Indian subcontinent, let alone the whole world. Nor is the 120 billion dollar cost Lomborg quotes as derivative from the Kyoto protocols exactly honest. A regulatory regime that tilted the field to the greener company has always, in the past, resulted in more efficiency, greener technologies, and disturbances of big monopolies – in fact, it results in new companies, the breaking of old monopolies, and new sources of wealth. If the theory of free trade is correct, the kind of low tech manufacturing that naturally devolves to cheaper sites does so in order to give way to higher quality manufacturing – and green technology certainly qualifies as that. The Kyoto protocols are actually part and parcel of the kind of third way neo-liberalism so embraced by the Economist in the nineties. That, for LI, is a definite problem, but – saving our objections for another time – it is a sign of how quickly the neo-liberal credo has degenerated into the cannibalism that was always under the surface that it no longer recognizes its children. But perhaps the truth is, that credo could only go as far as a certain sector in the economy – the petro-war industry sector – allowed it to go.