The Copenhagen Consensus

On one of my post the other day, Anne asked in a comment, “What, other than cost, is the downside of reducing our carbon footprint [to prevent global warming]?”

There are steps that we can take to reduce a footprint, carbon or otherwise:

  • Move to a metropolitan area. Urban areas, due to their compactness, are more efficient.
  • Eat less meat.
  • Buy less packaged food. It’s healthier for you and needs less energy to produce.
  • Use mass transit.
  • Use less.
  • Ride a bike or walk.

Now, those are things that are “other than cost.” Should cost be a consideration? Only if there isn’t enough money or the resources to do everything. Since money is a consideration, we need to determine where to get the best return on our investment.

For about a decade, the world’s greatest economists have gathered to generate the Copenhagen Consensus (of which Bjørn Lomborg is a part) in order to prioritize where to put money. Research and Development in low-carbon energy technologies to combat anthropogenic global warming (AGW) wound up at 14th on the list of the world’s ills to invest capital in.

Here’s Copenhagen Consensus’s top ten list of the world’s ills where we will get the most for our money:

  1. Micronutrient supplements for children (vitamin A and zinc) (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  2. The DOHA development agenda (Challenge: Trade)
  3. Micronutrient fortification (iron and salt iodization) (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  4. Expanded immunization coverage for children (Challenge: Diseases)
  5. Biofortification (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  6. Deworming and other nutrition programs at school (Challenge: Malnutrition & Education)
  7. Lowering the price of schooling (Challenge: Education)
  8. Increase and improve girls’ schooling (Challenge: Women)
  9. Community-based nutrition promotion (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  10. Provide support for women’s reproductive role (Challenge: Women)

You can see that concentrating on malnutrition and hunger freer trade, diseases, education and women’s issues will yield  greater benefits dollar for dollar. Attempting to mitigate AGW today ranks 30th on the Consensus list.

Download the results of the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus here.

Update from a Bjorn Lomborg Op-Ed in the April 24, 2009 New York Times:

Economic estimates … show that every dollar invested in quickly making low-carbon energy cheaper can do $16 worth of good. If the Kyoto agreement were fully obeyed through 2099, it would cut temperatures by only 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Each dollar would do only about 30 cents worth of good.

Rather than pledging to cut emissions and failing, let’s put our capital into getting wind and solar online.

Read an interview with Bjorn Lomborg: here.


I think the main point of [The Skeptical Environmentalist book] was to challenge our notion that everything is going down the drain, and I don’t see any reason to revise that…I’m trying to recapture much of what the left stood for–when we believed in progress, when we believed that scientific understanding could lead us ahead and not just rely on tradition. … Unfortunately, I find that a fair amount of the left has turned towards a romanticized view of the world.

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