There's no shortage of potential Nobel Peace Prize winners who might have more closely reflected Alfred Nobel's intent than Al Gore. What of the student protesters in Iran who dare to challenge the repressive theocracy led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? What of the Buddhist monks recently slaughtered by the repressive government of Myanmar? What of the Lebanese political leaders seeking to end Syrian domination of their country? Other nominees this year included a former Finnish president who worked for peace in a region of Indonesia and a Vietnamese monk who leads pro-democracy efforts.Okay, on to a more constructive note.
I've seen two very interesting things this past week about climate change. The first was Bjorn Lomborg's op-ed in the Washington Post last Sunday. As Lomborg stresses, regardless of your views about each element of the climate change debate, there ought to be some consistency in your proposals about reform. To an economist, the consistency comes from being explicit about the problem to be addressed, the costs and benefits involved for each possible solution to that problem, and committing to the possible solutions that have the highest projected benefits relative to costs. Here's a good example from the op-ed:
The Kyoto Protocol, with its drastic emissions cuts, is not a sensible way to stop people from dying in future heat waves. At a much lower cost, urban designers and politicians could lower temperatures more effectively by planting trees, adding water features and reducing the amount of asphalt in at-risk cities. Estimates show that this could reduce the peak temperatures in cities by more than 20 degrees Fahrenheit.I'm not enough of an expert to know if the magnitudes check out, but this reasoning should be welcome in the debate over reform, as long as there remains a commitment to by all parties to getting the best reforms done. (It echoes other sensible voices here and here, though coming to different conclusions in some cases. I've made analogous points about reforms to Social Security here.)
Global warming will claim lives in another way: by increasing the number of people at risk of catching malaria by about 3 percent over this century. According to scientific models, implementing the Kyoto Protocol for the rest of this century would reduce the malaria risk by just 0.2 percent.
On the other hand, we could spend $3 billion annually -- 2 percent of the protocol's cost -- on mosquito nets and medication and cut malaria incidence almost in half within a decade. Malaria death rates are rising in sub-Saharan Africa, but this has nothing to do with climate change and everything to do with poverty: Poor and corrupt governments find it hard to implement and fund the spraying and the provision of mosquito nets that would help eradicate the disease. Yet for every dollar we spend saving one person through policies like the Kyoto Protocol, we could save 36,000 through direct intervention.
The second thing was a presentation by Dan Reicher, a member of the Rockefeller Center's Board of Visitors, and now the Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives at Google.org. It's "RechargeIt.org" initiative is one of the coolest approaches to reshaping energy use and distribution that I've ever seen. Listen to Dan's podcast here.