November 1, 2001
Professor chokes on green group emissions.
Some call it the most dangerous weapon in the arsenal of those attempting to combat the "sky is falling" claims of environmentalists around the world. The device, a 515-page, 2,930-footnoted book entitled and authored by a Danish professor of statistics, arrived in American bookstores in early October, just in time to serve as a shield for the Bush administration against critics still upset about its rejection of the Kyoto climate control agreement.
At first glimpse, the author of the book, 36-year-old Bjorn Lomborg, appears miscast in the role as patron saint of the petrochemical establishment. He's a former member of Greenpeace, a vegetarian, and a self-described lefty on many political issues. For those trying to debunk the claims of environmentalists, though, Lomborg may have the perfect bona fides to confront the green establishment. Groups such as Friends of the Earth and the WorldWatch Institute may find themselves stymied in convincing the public that Lomborg's a tool of industry. Had a research associate at the Cato Institute or the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) authored such an attack on conventional environmental wisdom, enviros may have had an easier job dismissing the heretical notions, given the historical relationship between these think tanks and industry officials who worry that climate change regulations would cause catastrophic economic damage.
Others may interpret Lomborg's claims of left-wing political leanings as a marketing tool for his new book and not an accurate portrait of his thinking. In stark contrast to the beliefs of many on the left, Lomborg embraces a true-believer stance-similar in emotion to the beliefs espoused by environmentalists-that international trade agreements, such as the efforts of the World Trade Organization, automatically help developing nations' economies. During a recent speech in Washington sponsored by CEI, Lomborg said: "There are much more important issues than global warming. There is a much more important issue of ensuring that the WTO talks go through, that we actually ensure liberalization, that we actually ensure the Third World gets access to our markets and sell their agricultural products, their textiles, the other stuff that they are good at, actually ensure that they get to be rich and they get to be well-fed. That is one of the important issues."
As Andrew Simms recently wrote in The Financial Times, "intentionally or not, Lomborg has written the 'business-as-usual' bible." Lomborg's worries of the great harm environmental controls would pose to the world economy are the same concerns energy industry officials have expressed since the Kyoto Protocol of December 1997. For instance, Red Caveney, president and chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute, the Washington lobbyist for the oil industry, calls the Kyoto protocol "highly proscriptive," saying it would cripple the oil and gas industry.
In a 1998 study, the U.S. Energy Information Administration offered some stark analysis of the effects of implementing the Kyoto Protocol in the United States. Electricity prices would increase as much as 86 percent during the next 15 years as generators would largely replace coal with natural gas and renewable sources as the United States tries to reduce its carbon emissions, EIA says.
The WorldWatch Institute, one of the groups that Lomborg targets for using the doom and gloom message to expand its influence, concedes greenhouse gas restrictions would have dramatic effects on the world economy. Writing in the September/October 2001 issue of WorldWatch magazine, Robert Ayres, a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie-Mellon University, says the intuitions of the Kyoto skeptics are correct. "Economic growth over the next few years is still very much dependent on continued increases in energy consumption accompanied by declining prices," Ayres says.
In the long term, though, Ayres says there is "abundant evidence that government interventions don't always reduce economic growth-and that in some cases they are needed to kick-start it."
WorldWatch and Lomborg do share common ground. Both Ayres and Lomborg see renewable energy entering the equation as a solution to reducing greenhouse gases. Ayres believes investments in renewables must be made sooner than later in order to achieve a sustainable relationship with the environment. Lomborg, on the other hand, believes the market will gradually embrace renewable energy technologies as their costs continue to come down, thereby phasing out fossil energy by the end of this century.
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