The180

Opinion: Climate change is bad, but it comes with benefits too

There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to climate change: it is bad, or it doesn't exist. But Bjorn Lomborg wants that to change. He says it's important to recognize that there are some benefits to climate change, and doing so will help us tackle the negatives more effectively.
Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist," says it's important to recognize the positive effects of climate change, even if they're outweighed by the bad. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)
Listen9:22

There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to climate change: it is bad, or it doesn't exist. But Bjorn Lomborg wants that to change. He says it's important to recognize that there are some benefits to climate change, and to come up with more innovative ways to tackle the negatives. 

He points out that the UN Climate Panel found that climate change is not a negative right now, but will be in the future: "and that means we can ease up a little bit, we can stop trying to do stuff right now, rather focusing on how do we make sure that future generations are much better able to tackle global warming."

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length.

What do you see as the positive consequences of global warming? 

My point is really just to say we don't have a good sense of the policy issues that we need to discuss if we don't understand that, just like every other issue, there's both positives and negatives to global warming. Overall, and in the long run, the negatives will outweigh the positives, but there is a lot of positives to global warming right now. A few weeks ago, a study showed that half the world's area has greened because of global warming. So we're basically seeing a gigantic greening, it's likely that we're going to see about 40 percent more biomass on the planet by the end of the century. This is totally uncontroversial. 

Another issue: most people die from cold deaths, not heat deaths. And so when temperatures increase, we're going to see about 400,000 more heat deaths because of global warming by mid-century, you hear a lot about those, but you're probably going to see 1.8 million fewer cold deaths. 

We're going to see about 400,000 more heat deaths because of global warming by mid-century, you hear a lot about those, but you're probably going to see 1.8 million fewer cold deaths.- Bjorn Lomborg

But if, as you say, ultimately the negatives are going to overwhelm the positives, why is it so important that this discussion be more balanced? 

Because right now, we approach global warming, and there's a lot of really well-meaning people who are doing this in order to get us to do something, that this is Armageddon right around the corner, we need to throw everything in the kitchen sink at this issue. 

The point, though, is if this is a long term problem that we need to fix over the next half to full century, we need to ask if the policies that we are doing right now are actually very expensive ways of helping very little, and hence we actually end up doing a lot less good than we could do if we were a lot more rational about it. 

Could you give me an example of something we're attempting to do that's going to be extremely expensive and probably not productive? 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embraces U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon after signing the Paris Agreement on April 22, 2016.

The obvious example is the Paris Agreement, where if everyone does everything they promised, we're going to cut about 56 gigatonnes of CO2. The cost of that is going to be, around 2030, in the order of one to two trillion dollars per year. That's an awful lot of money, that's one to two percent or more of the global GDP. Yet the total impact at the end of the century is going to be incredibly trivial. The Paris Agreement will cut about one percent of what everybody was talking about we need to cut. Basically nothing, for a lot of money. That's probably not a good deal. 

And this is where this is really troubling. Everybody believes that if we do Paris we kind of fix the problem. But the truth is, we've left 99 percent of the challenge until after 2030. 

Click the "play" button above to hear the full interview.

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