Climate of Fear XXIV.

            At the Little Big Horn in June 1876, one of the Sioux war-leaders was named “Rain-in-the-Face.”  Bjorn Lomborg might be called “Rain-on-the-Parade.”  He’s a “climate skeptic” of a particular type.  He doesn’t doubt the reality of climate change and global warming.  He’s just pretty sure that governments in a panic will do all the wrong things.[1]  This conforms to the general attitude of the Wall Street Journal, so they have published a bunch of his op-eds.[2] 

Broadly, Lomborg believes in the immense value of long-term research on effective and cost-effective responses to real problems.[3]  He believes that the current solutions, exemplified by the climate provisions of the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), are a waste of good money.  Most of the $369 billion are devoted to subsidizing the price of “green” solutions that can’t compete on a level playing field with the established forms of energy.  He also doubts that the spending will be sustained over the long term. 

For Lomborg, all types of “green” energy generation must be seriously explored and considered: “from solar, wind and batteries to fourth-generation nuclear and carbon capture.”  He isn’t soft-headed about the result.  He predicts that many leads will not work out.  However, only a few have to work out for the world to solve its energy problems. 

Moreover, the West isn’t at the heart of our current crisis.  From 2011 to 2030, China is projected to emit twice as much greenhouse gases as does the United States, and three times as much as the European Union.  Throw in India and a host of developing nations and you arrive at the real danger.  The key factor is that the countries are trying to raise their people from poverty to prosperity in a hurry and with thin resources.  They can’t throw hundreds of billions of dollars into subsidies.  There has to be a cheap and reliable alternative to carbon to check the massive emitting of these countries as well as the emitting by other already-developed economies.  Only research can provide that solution. 

In the meantime, the IRA isn’t going to make much of a difference.  Carbon dioxide emitted in the United States has already fallen by about 21 percent from the 2005 level.  That, right there, is just over half of the 40 percent decrease that the climate component of the IRA claims to target.  The decline is attributed largely to the “fracking revolution’s” substitution of burning natural gas for burning coal.[4]  There is no reason to think that this trend will not continue regardless of the IRA.  One left-leaning think-tank has forecast that U.S. emissions will fall by almost 30 percent from the 2005 by 2030 in any event.  The climate component of the IRA will reduce them by a further 8 percent for a total reduction of a scosh over 37 percent. 

In short, we would get more bang for the buck from tens of billions spent on research. 

[1] On Lomborg, see: Bjørn Lomborg – Wikipedia 

[2] Bjorn Lomborg, “The Inflation Reduction Act Does Little to Reduce Climate Change,” WSJ, 24 August 2022.  Getting published in the WSJ doesn’t make someone right.  Doesn’t make them wrong either. 

[3] Think of it this way: How long did it take to produce the atomic bomb?  The standard answer would begin with the letter sent by Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt in 1939 and end with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  A more correct answer would begin with birth of modern physics in the last years of the 19th Century.  Forty years of scientific research on many fronts were necessary.  Why would the same thing not be true of global warming, especially given the need to divert so much time and energy to persuading democratic electorates of the reality of the problem? 

[4] See the charts in Greenhouse gas emissions by the United States – Wikipedia Natural gas burns slightly cleaner than does coal, but it produces much more energy for the equivalent quantity burned.  So you can get the same energy from burning much less fuel.  It’s a useful stop-gap. 


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