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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Save the World: Dump Kyoto

Is implementing the Kyoto Protocol the best way to "save the world" from global warming? If you believe so, then you better read this article by Jonathan Kay, writing in Tuesday's National Post:

You rarely see anyone actually crunch the numbers and prove Kyoto's worth on a cost-benefit basis.

That's because, as world-renowned Danish thinker Bjorn Lomborg demonstrates in a new book, you can't.
Lomborg's book -- excerpted in a three-part series that appeared on these pages a month ago -- is built around the (surprisingly) rich body of peer-reviewed studies that measure the aggregate social cost of climate change on human societies -- including its impacts on agriculture, fisheries, fresh water supplies, hurricanes and land loss... For every dollar we spend on Kyoto, we get back 34¢.

And even this analysis is optimistic -- because it assumes the most efficient carbon-abatement policies available. In practice, many nations have opted instead for inefficient, but optically attractive, solutions such as windmills.

Schemes that are even more ambitious than Kyoto result in even greater economic inefficiencies.

That's because of the law of diminishing marginal returns. Our first carbon cuts are always going to be the easy ones -- dropping the house thermostat when we go away for the weekend, screwing in a few CFL light bulbs, buying a slightly smaller SUV, etc. But the deeper you cut carbon emissions, the more painful and difficult the cuts become.

But here's where Lomborg's analysis is especially trenchant. While his methods are ruthlessly utilitarian, he shares the same humanitarian goals ostensibly championed by climate change activists. Indeed, there's nothing he'd like more for the $180-billion a year demanded by Kyoto to be shovelled into other programs that address human misery more directly. If we did so, he shows, we'd save millions more lives.

h/t: Global Warming Hyperbole

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