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Bjorn Lomborg

Get the facts straight

Forecasts: Hopes and Fears About Climate Change

2014-09-22

New York Times recently interviewed Lomborg (among two dozen scientists, authors, and world and national figures) about two questions: What is your greatest worry about climate change? What gives you hope?

Here's his answer:

Global warming is real and a problem, but we need better, more effective solutions. What troubles me most is that we keep focusing on making old-fashioned promises to cut CO2 [even though] these promises have failed to curb emissions rises for more than 20 years.

Why don’t they work? Because cheap power is the foundation for economic growth. There is an almost one-to-one connection between G.D.P. growth and CO2 growth, and few voters want to get poorer; in the developing world they want to get much richer.

Instead we pretend the solution is more heavily subsidized wind and solar. Right now, the world pays more than $60 billion a year in subsidies and gets less than 0.6 percent of energy from solar and wind. Even very optimistically, the International Energy Agency estimates we’ll get just 3.5 percent by 2035, and they will still need subsidies of about $100 billion a year.

The simple truth is, as long as renewables are much more expensive than fossil fuels, we will pay a couple of hundred billions to make ourselves feel virtuous, but we won’t make a real difference on the climate. And renewables aren’t “already competitive”: If they were, they wouldn’t need subsidies. Look at Spain: With lower but still substantial wind subsidies, Spain has put up just one wind turbine.

More and more countries are realizing we need a smarter approach. The solution is not pushing currently inefficient green technology, but to innovate down the price of future green energy. It makes me hopeful that Japan has now committed more than 20 percent of what is needed to effectively make a long-term difference on climate.