Lomborg On Feel-Good Environmentalism

Is the goal to do the most good for the most people? Or something else?

Dr. Boudreaux comments.

Bjorn Lomborg: Feel-Good Environmentalism at the U.N. – WSJ.com: The United Nations environment summit in Rio this week is a great example of how good intentions can thwart real progress on global problems. What’s the world’s biggest environmental challenge? Ask the global elites at U.N. conferences, and they’re likely to answer: “global warming.” Global warming is indeed a concern, and we need smart solutions. But let’s put things in perspective. According to statistics from the emergency disasters database, deaths caused by flooding, droughts, heat waves and storms—including the effects of global warming—now account for about one-twentieth of one percent of all deaths in the developing world.

By contrast, lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitation kills almost three million annually. Almost two million people, meanwhile, die each year inhaling smoke from inefficient and dirty fuels such as dried animal dung, crop residues and wood. Another one million die from the effects of outdoor air pollution.

All told, more than 13% of Third World deaths—about six million in total—stem from air and water pollution. This means that for every global warming-related death, at least 210 people die each year from old-fashioned air and water pollution.

Why then, do U.N. elites focus all their efforts on a feeble attempt to assist one person before successfully preventing 210 deaths? Because global warming feels more important—more hip.

Why would we choose inefficient, intermittent and costly technologies to solve a simple problem? Simply put: Because it makes us feel good.

It’s the height of arrogance to think that Third World countries should use weak and expensive technologies just to make some in the West feel good. In essence, the global elite is telling coughing Third World people sitting in their dark hovels: “Get a solar panel.” That’s akin to telling people suffering from water pollution to drink Perrier.