Friday, January 21, 2011

Bjørn Lomborg speaks: but is he right?

People seemed lukewarm about the Ten O'Clock Show last night but I thought it was good. It might not have been as funny as the mythical Daily Show but it was certainly as strong as the actual Daily Show that's on daily, and their guests were far better than some of the odd choices Jon Stewart finds himself opposite of.

For example Bjørn Lomborg isn't someone you see much on the telly and it's always nice to see an enthusiast for their subject given free rein.

Mr Lomburg does have a little bit of a chequered history when it comes to green issues though and is brought to you by such controversies as opposing the Kyoto agreement but he recently recanted and we're all friends again.

So the interview he gave, with Jimmy Carr of all people, ranged from interesting to energetic to slightly bonkers, which is all to the good. However his solutions did leave a little to be desired in my view.

For example making clouds whiter and setting off (artificial) volcanos sounds brilliant in a sci-fi movie but there is a problem with thinking that the problems caused by pollution can be offset by loads more pollution.

I personally think that in the US painting roofs white is worth doing because it cools the buildings in hot countries and means the air conditioning does not have to work as hard cutting energy use - but whether there's a point in changing the planet's albedo (the colour of the surface of the globe), well, I'm yet to be convinced.

There's a real danger in Lomburg's position in that if all our efforts are devoted to finding technological devices to allow us to carry on doing what we're doing we don't question how we're contributing to the problem.

Now, in the interview Lomburg says we keep promising to cut emisions but we don't - so let's stop promising to cut emisions and get on with coping with the mess we're making. I can't help feeling he's under-estimating some of the problems climate chaos will and is causing and over-estimating the capacity of super-duper technologies to magically solve the laws of physics.

Not that I'm against useful technologies or substantial investment in renewable energies, as Lomborg also suggests. However, this cannot be a substitute for the real social change we need in order to stop causing the problem in the first place.


Cathryn said...

Thing is, Lomborg is right. We do keep promising to cut emissions, and never really carrying out that promise.

We've reduced our emissions since 1990 by exploiting gas, exporting manufacturing to China, and the recent recession hasn't done any harm either. I'd put money that all these insulation programmes just mean people have warmer homes.

Greens have being trying to convince people to reduce consumption in various forms since the 70s. It's not a message that's getting through.

If we don't get on with the tech fixes, we'll be bemoaning the lack of behaviour change in the hottest summer of century in 2050, following every previous hottest summer of the century. I don't think he's underestimating the problems, but I do think there's a lot of over-estimating the potential for politics to magically solve the laws of mass psychology. This isn't a situation I like, but I can't see that its wrong.

Jim Jepps said...

Lomburg is not wrong - but is he right?

The thing is I don't disagree with a lot of his facts, the problem lies in the solutions.

While Greens have been trying to persuade people to reduce consumption what we have not yet achieved is political change. Lomburg says this is impossible - so he replaces targets we wont meet with technologies we wont produce.

Unless we have political change (and I don't simply mean a Green Party government) neither his solutions nor ours will be implemented. I think this is the missing part of his argument.

If we don't have political and social change nothing else we dream up will happen anyway.

Anonymous said...

Clearly he has a very strong point. While the green middle classes lecture the rest of an already hectored-to-death population, you might have noticed that, er, nothing much has happened.

Too many Greens haven't themselves reduced their consumption, just look at YOUR OWN LIVES, are you really making much of a difference? I expect everyone reading this is responsible for more than a sustainable (personal) amount of emissions per year.

If we want to stop this, we need to get on with some very smart ideas, and very quickly. I am totally sure that there's more chance of success taking up some of his ideas now rather than waiting for a green government. To me it boils down to one simple point - are people to much into their 'politics' to be pragmatic and actually put the planet first?

Jim Jepps said...

I'm sorry anon, but while there are middle class liberals who do little things and then fly off skiing four times a year it hardly represents the Green movement. I think that's a bit lazy to be honest.

The more important point though is that his solutions require political change as well - and I am casting doubt on whether they can work without a serious social shift to stop contributing to the problem.

Some of the things he wants I want too. For example he believes we need massive investment in renewable energies to make them more efficient and cha=eaper to produce. I agree. But seeing as Lomburg doesn't control any industries or governments either we both end up trying to persuade people of the need for change.