Global warming… boy are we hearing a lot about that these days. After dire predictions that last year would be the warmest on record as that was what was required to make the models work, 2007 turned out to be the coldest in over a decade. But Jupiter did have yet another record warm year, a trend that follows the Earth model in near-perfect unison. Is it cosmic or is it human-caused? I wonder… I guess I’m just always a skeptic, especially when geologic time is involved.
But that’s just the prologue to this post. An interesting confluence of thought has happened in Copenhagen over the past few months.
Even as the U.S. Senate debates a vast new tax and spend regime in the
name of fighting climate change, a more instructive argument was taking
place in Copenhagen, Denmark. Some of the world’s leading economists
met last week to decide how to do the most good in a world of finite
The question addressed by the Copenhagen Consensus Center is what
investments would do the most good for the most people. The center’s
blue-ribbon panel of economists, including five Nobel laureates,
weighed more than 40 proposals to improve the world by spending a total
of $75 billion over the next four years.
What would do the most good most economically? Supplements of vitamin A and zinc for malnourished children.
Number two? A successful outcome to the Doha Round of global free-trade talks. (Someone please tell Barack Obama.)
Global warming mitigation? It ranked 30th, or last,
right behind global warming mitigation research and development.
(Someone please tell John McCain.)
Providing vitamin A and zinc would help some 112 million children in
sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia for merely $60 million a year. The
minerals would help prevent blindness and stunted growth – increasing
lifetime productivity by an estimated $1 billion.
The fact the free trade was number two is important.
"It’s true that trade doesn’t immediately save lives,"
explains Bjorn Lomborg, the political scientist who heads the
Copenhagen Consensus Center. "But it’s proven that when people have
more money" – as tends to be the case when trade barriers fall – "they
improve their health, their education and so on." The resulting
prosperity reduces such problems as malnutrition and disease, while
improving education. All three of those ranked high on the priority
The benefits of freer trade were estimated in a paper
presented by Professors Kym Anderson and Alan Winters. They found that
a successful Doha Round could generate up to $113 trillion in new
wealth during the 21st century, at a cost of $420 billion or less from
inefficient industries going bust. If you like ratios, that’s a return
of $269 for every $1 of cost. A less conservative projection puts the
gains three times higher. More than 80% of this global windfall would
go to the world’s poorest countries.
Of course that doesn’t mean that global warming isn’t a problem.
Perhaps. And it definitely doesn’t mean we should ignore that fact
that humans pollute and regardless of whether that contributes to
global warming we should still work to minimize it. We should. But
let’s go about using our limited resources in the most effective way.