To watch the video, click here.
Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. This is another special plague time edition of Uncommon Knowledge, which means I'm seated at home. Bjorn Lomborg is president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center. A think tank dedicated to applying economic analysis, including cost benefit analysis, to the great issues of the day. Bjorn is the author of a number of books, including his 2001 bestseller, "The Skeptical Environmentalist." Bjorn Lomborg's newest book, just out "False Alarm, how climate change panic costs us trillions, hurts the poor and fails to fix the planet." Bjorn welcome. And you're in, you're in Sweden?
Bjorn Lomborg: Thank you. I'm in Southern Sweden right now, yes.
Peter Robinson: All right, welcome. From Northern California to Southern Sweden. Bjorn two quotations. This is you in your new book, "False Alarm." Quote. "In almost every way we can measure, almost every way we can measure, life on earth is better now than at any time in history. We need to take a collective deep breath and understand what climate change is and isn't. It is not like a huge asteroid hurtling toward earth. It is instead a long-term chronic condition that needs attention and focus, but one that we can live with." Close quote. That's the first quotation. Here's the second, Swedish school girl, Greta Thunberg, speaking last September to the UN climate action summit committee. Get a load of this.
[Greta Thunberg]: This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet, I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction.
Peter Robinson: Bjorn if you're right, and it's a condition that needs attention but that we can live with, why would the United Nations permit itself to be harangued by a 17 year old school girl such as Greta Thunberg? What is going on?
Bjorn Lomborg: Well, I think there's a couple of answers. Let me just first talk about the factual issue of this. So global warming is a real problem, it's manmade and it's something that we should fix. But we also need to get a sense of proportion. The sense that this is the end of the world, and I think, Thunberg displays that very well. You know that people really, really frightened. You can sense that she's really frightened. Washington posted a survey of all US school kids. 57 percent of them are alarmed of climate change. There was another study across the world of 28 nations that showed that almost half the world's population now believes that global warming is likely to lead to the extinction of the human race. So we're one side--
Peter Robinson: Wait, repeat that.
Bjorn Lomborg: Half the world's population, of the adults in the world, so 48 percent, believe that it is likely global warming will lead to the extinction of the human race. So clearly we're telling people, this is the end of the world. And that's also what we see on media, and that certainly what Greta Thunberg had picked up. But I think most people have gotten the memo, this is pretty much the end of the world. On the other hand, we have the UN climate panel, and that's what I'm saying, we should actually look at the facts. We should look at both the economics and the science about climate change and say, "How bad is this?" Well, they actually tell us that in about 50 years, so by the 2070's, the impact of global warming is gonna be negative, that's why it's a problem. But it will be equivalent to losing on average, somewhere between 0.2 and 2 percent of your income. So just to give you a sense, the UN also expects we'll be much richer by 2070.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bjorn Lomborg: They expect that by 2075, the average person on the planet will be 2.63 times richer than he or she is today. So what climate change will mean, is instead of being 2.63 times richer, we will only be 2.56 times richer. That's a problem, it is not the end of the world. And you then asked me, "why is this happening?" Well, I think there's a confluence of different things here. First of all, media loves terrible stories. They've always done that.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bjorn Lomborg: But climate change just gives you such a large array of terrible stories. And I think we'll probably get back to them. I'd love to share at least a few of them and try to debunk them. But fundamentally, there's lots and lots of opportunities to say, we're all gonna die! And you know, generates lots of clicks. At the same time, we also have politicians, and that was your question about the UN. A lot of politicians want to do good in the world. And I think they're generally good people, but they also need to get reelected. They need to stay relevant. And one of the ways they do that, is by telling you, and this is probably the most powerful phrase they can have, "The world is going to end, but I can save you. Vote for me."
Peter Robinson: "Vote for me."
Bjorn Lomborg: And that's what they get to say. And they even get to say, "And the cost will first come in the election cycle after next."
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bjorn Lomborg: So you know, it's the perfect opportunity for politicians and for media to tell you this is the end of the world. However, the problem is of course, if we end up believing them, we will throw everything at climate change problems, and forget the many other problems that we should be focusing on.
Peter Robinson: Right Bjorn, I wanted to address what you said and go on to a couple of examples of stories that you write about, that demonstrate the way the press portrays the issue. However, something you just said. How can it be the case, I'm not challenging you, I'm just asking. How can it be the case, that 50 years from now as a result of climate change, we end up 2.5 times richer instead of 2.7 times richer when climate change... How is it that it makes us poorer, but only a little bit poorer? When climate change feels like, you go out into the California sun on an especially hot day in July, and the sun is glaring and it's uncomfortably hot, and you say to yourself, "Oh my goodness, 50 years from now, it'll be like this year round or only worse." How is it that climate change is only a kind of minor problem, something that retards economic growth, instead of causing massive systematic damage and poverty?
Bjorn Lomborg: Yeah. And again, let me just, before I try to give you an explanation for that, let me just point out. This is what the UN climate panel tells us. This is what the world's only climate economist who got the Nobel prize, Nordhaus, many other economists have, and done for, you know, 30 years. So there's a simple reason, but it's one that's hard to grasp.
Peter Robinson: Alright.
Bjorn Lomborg: It's the idea, that will actually adapt to much of this. So, you know, if you look for instance, and let me tell you one story of these the world is gonna end. Last year, a big story on cover of Washington post, lots of papers around the US and around the world, was "New study shows, because of global warming, we're gonna see higher sea levels," which is absolutely right, "which will mean 187 million people will have to move."
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bjorn Lomborg: Not surprisingly, some other media went further and said 187 million people are gonna drown. But of course, if you have 80 years, one you're probably not gonna drown from this. But the main fact is, the paper that actually estimated this showed that that is totally, totally unlikely. Because it assumes that all of these people who are now gonna get flooded will sit there, watch the waves lap up over their knees, and then eventually their hips, and eventually they'll drown, over 80 years and do nothing. But if they actually do something and this very study says, it is unreasonable to assume that you will do nothing. However, if you do reasonable stuff and actually fairly cheap stuff, and most of this will simply be to protect yourself better. And the obvious thing is a dyke, but there are many other ways that you could do that.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bjorn Lomborg: If you do these very simple, fairly cheap things, instead of 187 million people getting flooded by the end of the century, it will be 305,000 people. So 600 times less. And and remember, just to give a sense of proportion every year, twice that number move out of the state of California. So clearly we can handle 300,000 people moving away around the globe over the next 80 years. And this is the difference between saying it's the end of the world, 187 million people drowned, obviously isn't a huge issue.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bjorn Lomborg: 305,000 people who have to move by the end of the century at very low cost is at best a minor inconvenience. And this is the reason why, when you add up all these costs, yes, if you go out into the California sun, actually, you know, I come from Scandinavia. I would probably actually be like, "Yay!" But if it's really warm and unpleasant, it is like an average day, what? Three, 400 miles down south.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bjorn Lomborg: And it's not like they don't live well. They have made their homes. They have made their setup and their infrastructure such that it is less cumbersome for them to have it warmer. That's why people live well, both in Atlanta and in Massachusetts. You live well in both of these cities because you have your infrastructure, adjusted to the temperature that you have. The reason why there's a cost is because we've adjusted to what used to be our temperature, and it will now deviate. That will have a cost. But the reason why it's fairly small is because it'll happen over 80 years and we know technologically that we're very well able to handle this. So just to give you a sense of proportion, for all of the sea level to rise around the world, it is gonna cost us much less for almost all countries, except maybe very small, tiny Island nations. It's gonna cost much less than 0.1 percent of GDP to fix it. So that's why you get this situation. It is a problem, not the end of the world.
Peter Robinson: Bjorn in "False Alarm", you write about the work of the American journalist, David Wallace-Wells. And in some ways this book, I take it in any event, in some ways I take your book as an answer to his 2017 book, "The Uninhabitable Earth". And we'll talk, I know you and David Wallace-Wells have been in touch and we'll come to that. I'd like to come to that. But can I just go through two or three of, well, this is continuing the theme. David Wallace-Wells, in his 2017 book, sketches out a world that I find easy to imagine. You can picture this topic world. I'd like you to reset my imagination. It's one thing to talk about the facts, and of course that's vital. How should we picture? That's it, how do we picture the future? Alright, so here's David Wallace-Wells. Unbreathable air, for example. Quote, "The fraction of carbon dioxide is growing. High-end estimates suggests it will hit a thousand parts per million by 2100." Which I will not live to see, but it's not that far off. "At that concentration, human cognitive ability declines by 21 percent." Close quote. How can we get richer if we're all going to be a fifth stupider?
Bjorn Lomborg: Yeah. And look, again the point here is this is first of all, the thousand requires an almost an unimaginable increase in especially coal power. Which I think nobody, not even David Wallace-Wells would really believe in. But the second part is to remember, that we routinely fix problems like this. So most people, don't live outside. So you know, a lot of these problems, I haven't actually looked very much at the productivity impacts. I know that there are some of these studies. I've looked at productivity impacts for instance, on agriculture and many other things. But most people live outside when they're poor. But when you get rich, you move inside. You move most of your production, most of your office work, most of the things that you do inside. And that's where you have air condition, so you handle the temperature. And of course, if this really turns into a big problem with a high PP, so a high level of CO2 concentration,
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bjorn Lomborg: We will fix that by filtrating the air. But again, the point here is to recognize that there is none of these problems that are unimaginable to handle. It is one of those that are very easy to you know, sort of envision. I think it's a good point that you make. When you look at most movies, they are very good at telling you this story about the end of the world.
Peter Robinson: Yes.
Bjorn Lomborg: We're almost used to seeing these dystopian futures. But it's funny if you'd actually think about what it would've looked like for someone to watch a movie of our world a hundred years ago. It would be unimaginably amazing.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bjorn Lomborg: Almost everything.
Peter Robinson: Better in every regard.
Bjorn Lomborg: It'd be a much more peaceful world, we'd be living much much longer. We'd have conquered a lot of the diseases that were ravishing the world 100 years ago. We'd much more food, much better education, all these things. So those kinds of movies are very likely phenomenally wrong. So actually, when you look at what are the consensus, both of economists, but also what the UN climate panel estimate, we will likely be in the order of five or 10 times richer by the end of the world. And importantly, not just the rich--
Peter Robinson: By the end of the century?
Bjorn Lomborg: By the end of the century. But the world's poor.
Peter Robinson: Let me just give you two more of David Wallace- Wells here. Starvation, I'm quoting him again. "The basic rule for staple cereal crops is that every degree of warming yields a decline of 10 percent. Which means that if the planet is five degrees warmer at the end of the century, we may have as much as 50 percent more people to feed and 50 percent less grain to give them." Close quote. And Bjorn says, "Oh for goodness sake. The green revolution, we know how to grow." You just say, "Don't even worry about it." Right or not?
Bjorn Lomborg: Well I mean, I think we should worry about global warming. And I think we should think smartly about this.
Peter Robinson: But I mean starvation.
Bjorn Lomborg: But we need to get... Yes. We're definitely not gonna see, pretty much anyone starve. Because we will not have, unless we do really badly, but has, nothing to do with climate change and everything to do with how we set our system. Unless we do really badly, we'll have nobody poor. Remember we've gone from a world where in 1800, about 90, 95 percent of all people were extremely poor, what we define it as extremely poor. Today, that number is less than 10 percent. By 2100, it will be zero. It will be effectively zero. But that's not the only thing. You also gotta remember, that David Wallace-Wells and many others, like to make the arguments, what happens if you keep planting the same stuff, no matter what happens? So you know, I used to grow wheat. I'm gonna grow wheat, I'm gonna plant the same day, even though it's gotten hotter and hotter over the last 80 years. Surprisingly, my wheat fails. Most farmers aren't that dumb. They're actually smart people. They will start planting either sooner, or they'll start planting different stuff. They'll start moving, you know. So we actually have... When you take that into account, the model show very different outcome, much, much lower reductions. However, you also need to remember CO2 is a fertilizer. We know that you know, gardeners routinely put in lots of CO2 into tomato greenhouses to make them more plump. If you add on the CO2, you again, get much lower reduction sometimes even increases. And then the final point is agriculture is a very, very tiny fraction of human output. It used to be, and in many very, very poor countries, it's still the vast majority of your economic input. If you're rich, it's one to three percent. In 2100, it'll be half a percent. And so the reality is, even if we have to put in more effort into growing food, and of course by 2100 we'll be doing it in big factories with lots of LED lights and all that stuff. Yes, it'll be more expensive even in this worst case scenario. But it will mean instead of costing 0.5 percent, it'll now cost 0.75 percent. And actually, I'm not just picking those numbers out of the air. Because the biggest study, that's also the summation of the biggest round up study of what will be the impact of global warming on agriculture. At worst it'll cost us 0.26 percent of global GDP. Because we'll have to put in more effort. Yes, again, it's a problem. No, it's not the end of the world. And telling us that it is when it's not, is not only, you know, it sells more books. It actually makes us scared about the wrong things.
Peter Robinson: Bjorn, "False Alarm", back to you, enough of David Wallace-Wells. Back to you. The book again is "False Alarm." You distinguished between mitigation policies. That is policies that are intended to slow or eliminate the introduction of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Mitigation on one hand and adaptation on the other hand. And that's just what you've been talking about right now. Joe Biden, the backers of the green new deal, the entire climate lobby in this country. I shouldn't denigrate them by calling them a lobby, but people concerned about climate. They're all on the side of mitigation. "False Alarm," I'm quoting you. "Such climate policies often make life worse. Mitigation policies often make life worse, especially for the poor." Close quote. Explain that.
Bjorn Lomborg: Well, so fundamentally, if you're gonna, and look I didn't invent the distinction between mitigation and adaptation. It's a sort of standard way of thinking about it. If you do mitigation, so basically cutting carbon emissions, it means essentially making energy more costly. If it didn't, if it actually meant, you know, some people will tell you, "Oh, we'll actually get rich doing it." Well, then let's get going. But then you don't really need any help. You don't need any subsidies. You don't need anything else. Well just do it.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bjorn Lomborg: Because it's cheaper. The reason why it's hard is because it's more expensive. Look, that does not necessarily mean we shouldn't do it. Because everything you like costs money. Better school, cost more money. Better healthcare, costs more money. It's fine to spend money, but we just need to recognize that we're actually spending money. We're spending resources that we could have spent on other things. So getting people less effective, more expensive, less reliable energy for instance, has real costs. Just to give you one example, we know that one of the things that especially hurt the poor is the fact that they spent a very large amount of their money on energy. So if you make energy more expensive, it simply means that they'll be able to, for instance, warm their houses in the winter, less well. That has real consequences because that actually makes more people die from cold. Remember cold kills many, many more people than heat, surprisingly to some. But this is, you know, very very well established. And we have a study that showed what happened for instance, with fracking, back in around 2010. It was sort of a natural experiment. The price of gas dropped dramatically. One of the impact was that people who heat their homes with gas could suddenly afford to heat their homes better, especially the poorest of Americans. What happened was that saved according to one estimate, 11,000 people from dying every year. If you ramp up the cost of gas, because you are concerned about climate change, that means some of those lives are again now gonna start being lost. There are real consequences to making energy more costly. We might want to spend that, but we should be honest about saying it has real costs.
Peter Robinson: Bjorn Lomborg in "False Alarm". "It is perverse." You've been very calm and reasonable so far in this discussion Bjorn. There are moments in "False Alarm" when you're angry. "It is perverse to hear rich people piously claim that we Should help the world's poor by cutting carbon dioxide to make their future slightly less worse, when we have huge opportunities to make their lives much better, much more quickly and much more effectively." Close quote. Explain that argument.
Bjorn Lomborg: Well, if you look at the world's poor in the poor countries, I was just talking about the poor in the rich countries like the US. But if you look at the vast number of billions who have incredibly simple problems like, their kids are dying from easily curable infectious diseases, they don't have access to enough food, or they don't have good education. There's something perverse about the idea of a rich well-meaning guy coming down and saying to, you know, a mom whose baby might die from malaria tonight saying, "You know what? I feel your pain. I'm really gonna help you. You know what? I'm gonna bike to work tomorrow." What? "I'm gonna cut a ton of CO2 from the atmosphere, which will help your kids, to sentence if the kid actually survives, in a hundred years a tiny bit." It's not that it doesn't do anything, but it's just that it seems disproportionate to the actual problems, and what that person could have done by for instance, giving her malaria medication. There are some things that are very, very simple, and we have, I think a moral responsibility to do first. And unfortunately, as we're getting increasingly worried just about climate, we're forgetting almost all these other concerns. Where we could help much better, much more efficiently, and actually help today's people who are really poor instead of help people 100 years who are gonna be much better off.
Peter Robinson: How to make things better, innovation. Again, I'm gonna quote you in "False Alarm". "The best way to combat climate change is to invest in green innovation. We should explore fusion, fission, water splitting, and more." Close quote. Alright, now you have to defend yourself against the charge that now you've gone crazy. Now you're talking about, what? Nuclear energy, cold fusion. What on earth are you talking about? Be serious Bjorn.
Bjorn Lomborg: So I am serious, but I'll tell you why. So fundamentally, if you look at most ways we fix problems, it is through technology. But unfortunately most ways that environmentalist want us to fix problems, is through sack and cloth, I think is the word, you know, you do with less. So you know, we'll typically tell people, "No, don't drive so much. Don't eat so much meat. Don't do this, don't do that, don't do the other." It first of all, has very little effect. We've seen that for instance, with the Corona virus. We've just shut down almost the entire world. And yet the impact by the end of the century, calculated by one climate economist, sorry, climate climate scientists, is going to be one, 500th of a degrees Fahrenheit, lower temperatures by the end of the century. So despite we've almost shut down the world, it has almost no impact. It gives you a sense of how large the problem is that we're trying to fix. But, what should you then do? Well, take a look at Los Angeles back in the 1950s, 60s, terrible pollution. It's the standard sort of environmentalist argument. Well you gotta, you know, don't drive, stop all those cars.
Peter Robinson: Right. Shut down the freeways.
Bjorn Lomborg: And yes, that would have been one way to solve the air pollution problem. Unfortunately, it would probably have been incredibly impossible to do. And it would certainly have been fantastically expensive. What happened was, somebody innovated the catalytic converter in 1974. We've installed catalytic converters that all cars. Yes, it was not cost free, but the basic point is now you have much, much cleaner... There's still lots of problems, I'm not defending that you know, there's not other things to be done. But fundamentally as simple technological change can make a huge difference. And it's much, much easier to convince everyone to do. So on climate change, most climate campaigners are basically saying, "Look, I know the world got so much better because you have all this access to, you know, electricity and you can go all places and you can have fossil fertilizer that actually can feed you and all that stuff. That's all nice and good, but I'm sorry. Could you, you know, turn down the lights, stop driving, stop doing all that fun stuff and be less content?" And of course that's easy to say to really, really rich people, but to all the world's poor, it's essentially telling them, "I'm sorry, you just gotta stay in poverty." Those are very, very hard arguments to make. And I think fundamentally immoral. How about we instead said, "Let's dramatically ramp out our investment in green energy research and development." If we could innovate some sort of green energy down below fossil fuels the price of fossil fuels, we would have solved global warming. And now you just quoted a few of the solutions, but obviously we should look into battery storage for solar and wind, and we should also look at solar and wind. But also, you know, Craig Venter the guy who cracked the human genome back in 2000.
Peter Robinson: Yes.
Bjorn Lomborg: He has this idea, make these algae out on the ocean surface that basically take up sunlight and CO2. Produce oil, then we'll harvest them, put them in our gasoline, driving cars, and just use it like we normally do. But the trick is they've just taken up the CO2. So it will be CO2 neutral. The point here is there are tons of these different ideas. We are not saying that we should do all of them. Most of them are gonna fail. But invest in all of them, and we just need one of them. Then they will be cheaper than fossil fuels and not just rich well-meaning Americans will do it, but the Chinese, the Indians, the Africans, everybody else will switch.
Peter Robinson: So Bjorn from where you sit, and I know you sit different places. You're seated in Southern Sweden right now, but the last time you and I spoke to each other, you were right here in Palo Alto. You get here to Silicon Valley quite often. What's your sense of venture investments in green technology? I have read, I know nothing about this by comparison with what you know, but I have read for example, that there are new designs of much smaller, much, much safer, much, much cleaner nuclear, that are at least in principle possible, nuclear energy is a possibility. For example, you just mentioned Craig Venter and his notion of developing algae, which produced oil. I remember reading not too long ago about the idea of taking huge wind turbines, really huge ones like North sea oil platforms and towing them out to the middle of the ocean where in the first place, they don't spoil the landscape.
Bjorn Lomborg: They don't.
Peter Robinson: But also where you can make use of the currents down below, you can make use of much more violent winds up above. So, I guess what I'm getting at is, it's very easy to talk about all of these things. And on the one hand, whereas people concerned about climate tend toward the dystopian view of the future, you and I could talk each other into a really giddy sense of, of joy about this. We could talk ourselves into the other kind of high tech future, which is just beyond our grasp. What's actually happening, if these technologies are plausible, somebody should be investing in them, right?
Bjorn Lomborg: Yes. So there's two things to that. One is the private venture capital that goes into actual research and development is fairly small. So it's estimated about 6 billion dollars per year. And then--
Peter Robinson: In energy R&D?
Bjorn Lomborg: Yes, in energy R&D.
Peter Robinson: Okay. Yes. In green energy R&D. And for governments, it's about 15 billion dollars. We are proposing, and this is the Copenhagen Consensus. So 27 world's top climate economists, three Nobel laureates, to spend about 100 billion dollars. So dramatic ramp up. So we're not talking about just a little adjustment, it's a lot more money. But at the same time, much, much cheaper than what we're just spending in subsidies to solar and wind right now. The problem with the existing sort of venture capital argument, is that most of these will only invest if they can see a payoff in the next five years.
Bjorn Lomborg: But it's much more likely,
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bjorn Lomborg: We're talking about an investment future of say 40 years. In economics, there's a good argument that there's this perpetual underinvestment in almost all research and development. Because most really groundbreaking research and development, if you come up with a great idea, it's really only gonna be marketable in 40 years when of course your partners has run out. So in some sense, there's very little incentive to invest in these longterm, really visionary ideas. That's what we need to do. However, the world is not doing that because we're so focused on spending on green energy that you can see on TV. So you know, the wind turbine parks and the solar parks that look good like we're doing something. Let's just remind ourselves right now, the world gets just over 1 percent of its energy from solar and wind, despite all the spending that we've done. And even by 2040, it will probably just be less than 5 percent that comes from solar and wind. So we're still talking about very small bit. We need this innovation and we need to spend a lot more to actually get these longterm benefits. And that's of course why, you know, when you're a scared environmentalist, you will say, "But we don't have time, we got to do something next year." But we've been doing this for 30 years and gotten almost nobody, nowhere. We're not actually going to solve this by just simply saying, "Let's go crazy for the next year."
Peter Robinson: So Bjorn now, here's where, the interviewer sitting in Northern California, the seat of capitalism, begins to suspect his interview subject, who is seated in Southern Sweden, a socialist state for a lot of these many decades now. So who gets to... First of all, how do you gather this 100 billion dollars that you want to invest? And who makes the investment decisions? You see what I'm getting at here.
Bjorn Lomborg: Yup.
Peter Robinson: The inclination, or at least to an American reader, you'd get it, if Bjorn is saying, "Leave this to the free markets, the markets are very good at raising capital, allocating capital, assessing risk and so forth." But that's not what you're saying. You're saying, "No, the market isn't big enough. It's not gonna raise enough capital. We need to do more." And my question is, how? How do you raise it? And how do you deploy it?
Bjorn Lomborg: Yes, so very briefly you are not going to solve global warming by just having this incremental tinkering. So you know, venture capitalists are gonna make a little better wind turbine next year. But what we really need is, you know, two, 300 percent better. I'm not sure that's the right way, but a lot better.
Peter Robinson: A lot better. You need a quantum breakthrough, is what you're after, okay.
Bjorn Lomborg: Yeah, you really need quantum breakthroughs. And that is about having government invest in these technologies way before they're ready. And I get the idea of saying, "But surely governments are not very good at this." Well, actually they're good at making general research progress. We know that from national science... sorry, oh, what is it called?
Peter Robinson: NSF, the National Science Foundation. Is that what you're--
Bjorn Lomborg: Yes.
Peter Robinson: In this country, right.
Bjorn Lomborg: Those people, yes. So the ways that we actually give to individual researchers, come up with great new ideas that eventually will be turned over to venture capitalists and companies to be made into marketable products. One good example of that, is actually the fracking revolution. Which didn't happen because we had lots and lots of capitalists who said, "Yay, let's go after this." Because for a very long time, most people said, "Can't be done." So this was mostly for at least 10 years. You know, when Mitchell was trying to do this back down in Texas, this was done with money from the DOE, from you know, subsidies, from small studies, from a lot of different breakthrough institutes, you know, assembled this whole sort of story of how that went. And it was only once you could start saying, "Oh, this is a really good idea." Then all of the venture capitalist comes in, and that's great. So we want to spend a little money in a lot of different places, with pretty much it's individual researchers and people who have, you know, almost crazy ideas because it's fine. We're gonna look at a lot of different ones, just like what you talked about. Yep, go ahead.
Peter Robinson: So, I can... Here's the way the world works. Angela Merkel would be willing to listen to you, because that's the way Europe works. You all know each other over there, you're all very comfortable with large government action. Doesn't work that way over here, quite in anything like the same way, really. And yet you can't solve... The United States is still overwhelmingly the center of the kind of technological development that you seek. And if you haven't thought it through quite this far, that's fair. You're making a wonderful and important case in "False Alarm" but I'm just wondering, have you thought through, what kind of mechanism... If we could make Bjorn Lomborg, dictator of the United States for 24 hours, what mechanism would you set up to get the kind of basic R&D in green technology done that you believe needs to be done? How would you do it Bjorn?
Bjorn Lomborg: Well, it would be spending through the National Science Foundation's say let's set up blue ribbon panels that would identify what are the things that we would like to see breakthroughs on. You know, cost efficiency on solar panels, better safety for nuclear power, the fourth generation nuclear power plants, and a lot of other things. I'm not a technician in any one of these areas.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bjorn Lomborg: I'm sure they would come out with, you know, say a hundred things in each one of these different areas. And they'd probably also look at a lot of things that would probably be possible or ideal, or you know, this would be great to look into. Then you'd simply ask individual researchers not to come up with can you spend, you know, solyndra like money, can you spend half a billion dollars? Because we don't want to go down that route. but can you spend say one million dollars or half a million dollars on advancing our knowledge in this area or the other? Now and just to, you know, be frank. So Biden is actually, you know, in his two trillion dollar climate plan, he's actually proposing that the US should be spending a hundred billion dollars on research and development every year. My plan, if you do proportionally to the US it's only talking about 30 billion dollars. So right now--
Peter Robinson: 30 billion a year.
Bjorn Lomborg: Yes. So you right now pend about seven billion dollars in the US you'd ramp that up to 30. This is not, unimaginable.
Peter Robinson: I think I finally understand now. Essentially what you would do is use the same, government university complex that came into being during the cold war after the second world war. During the cold war, and in the beginning, it was for sure for defense purposes. But now we have very well established, huge transfers. You can have some doubts about whether we should be transferring quite so much money from ordinary American taxpayers to our universities. But that's essentially the network, it already exists. The kind of thing you're talking about already exists. The government raises the money panels of, one hopes, dispassionate scientists, rank order the kinds of projects they'd like to see pursued. There is some democratic oversight of this because it reports in one way or another to the executive branch of the government. And the money goes to universities and researchers get to work. Is that right? In other words, you're not talking about inventing an entirely new structure. We already know in some basic way how to do this.
Bjorn Lomborg: Yes.
Peter Robinson: Okay.
Bjorn Lomborg: And the other point is to recognize if we don't do this, if we just rely on sort of incremental improvement, we might get lucky and somebody is gonna come up with this process anyhow. But we're simply talking about spending a very small amount of money compared to all the other money that we're talking about spending on climate, and dramatically increasing our chance to actually fix climate change. Just remember, the US is spending about 50 billion or more per year on subsidizing solar and wind, which we know generates almost nothing. So you know, the easy deal would be to say, "Stop doing that, but start investing a lot more in research and development. You'd save money, and you'd make a much better chance of actually fixing climate change."
Peter Robinson: Bjorn, you're either a magician or exactly right. Because you have now got me thinking, "He makes sense." Tens of billions of dollars, sounds like a lot, but actually it's very modest in this world of huge subsidies and huge... All right. Last few questions Bjorn. Two quotations, both from David Wallace-Wells. Wallace Wells in 2017, "No matter how well informed you are about climate change, you are surely not alarmed enough." Close quote. Wallace-Wells last year. "For once the climate news might be better than you thought. It's certainly better than I thought." Davis Wallace- Wells is cheering up, what's going on?
Bjorn Lomborg: Well, I think he's cheering up because he was incredibly worried. So now he's only very worried or more like that. So the main point was, there's a scenario out there that's called the RCP 8.5, which is also what we talked briefly about at the very beginning. So you know, the idea that you're just gonna have incredible amounts of use of coal throughout the century, and everybody's gonna, you know--
Peter Robinson: And we already know that, that's simply not true, right?
Bjorn Lomborg: That seems very, very unlikely, in pretty much all accounts. If what we're now seeing is more and more people are getting to terms with, "Oh, wait, that was not a correct scenario." Remember all the scare stories that you also hear about the 187 million people we talked about at first, comes from that scenario. So what it basically means is we've just downgraded, the number of, you know, the scenarios are not quite as bad and actually the development seems like it's gonna be more like the RCP six, which has less bad than the RCP 8.5. But what has not happened with David Wallace-Wells is that he's basically saying, all right, "8.5 was terrible. This is only moderately terrible." But what he forgets is the real big things that make a difference is for instance, taking into account adaptation, taking into account that we have a fertilization from CO2 and many of these other things that will dramatically reduce the impact. And that's why I don't think we're well served by saying, "I've read a lot of news from Washington post or other news outlets, looks really scary. This must be bad." I think we'd be better served by actually looking at what do the best economists estimate is the total impact, when you add up all these different things from for instance, hurricane damage. Again, we talk a lot about it. Hurricane damage right now costs 0.04 percent of global GDP. By 2100, we estimate the total cost despite hurricanes getting worse, will be 0.02 percent.
Peter Robinson: Wait a minute, hurricanes are going to get worse? I thought...
Bjorn Lomborg: So very briefly, hurricanes haven't gotten worse yet, but models seem to indicate that hurricanes will get fewer but stronger.
Peter Robinson: I see, alright.
Bjorn Lomborg: And stronger, out-compete fewer, because stronger actually goes to the cube. So you will get much more damage. But even then damages will go from 0.04 percent to 0.02, because we will be much better able to deal with it. And this is what Wallace-Wells forgets. And of course also in all this hyperventilating reporting, we forget 0.04 or 0.02 is not the end of the world by any means. It's obviously terrible for the people who it's happening to and absolutely we should be caring for them, but we should stop believing this is the end of the world.
Peter Robinson: Alright, Bjorn, we have a campaign coming up here in this country. We have a choice, we have an election.
Bjorn Lomborg: Oh yeah I've heard about that yes.
Peter Robinson: And I am very sorry that it's going to be sloppy when it comes to questions of climate change, but we're gonna have to make a choice here. Let me for the purposes of the next few moments, make you an honorary American, and ask you to tell me what you think. Here's president Trump in 2017.
[Donald Trump]: No responsible leader, can put the workers and the people of their country at this debilitating and tremendous disadvantage. The fact that the Paris deal hamstrings the United States while empowering, some of the world's top polluting countries should dispel any doubt as to the real reason, why foreign lobbyists wish to keep our magnificent country, tied up and bound down by this agreement. It's to give their country an economic edge over the United States. That's not gonna happen while I'm president, I'm sorry.
Peter Robinson: So Bjorn, he's not going... Trump's fundamental point here is, "If you make me choose between dubious climate treaties and agreements and protocols and the American economy, I'm gonna choose economic growth every single time." And he's right about that, is he not? On your own argument? That what we need is economic... No, he's not saying what you're saying. He's not taking the next step and saying, "We need to invest in innovation." But the fundamental point that we need modern growing economies is correct, is it not?
Bjorn Lomborg: So there's two parts to that point. First of all, remember that there are many other problems--
Peter Robinson: I'm trying very hard to get a man in Sweden, to endorse Donald Trump. I just wanna see what happens.
Bjorn Lomborg: Yes. Yes, alright. Let's, let's see that experiment unfold. So partly you need to see growing economies and we will see that. And that's especially true in the poor part of the world. Again, when we talk about this woman with a baby, that's possibly gonna die from malaria, clearly what she needs is to be lifted out of poverty. And being able to have economic growth will not only give her better healthcare and better access to food and better education and all of these things. It will also make her more resilient towards climate change. So growth and especially for the world's poor is absolutely essential. Prosperity is one of the ways that you fix climate change. This does not mean, that we should not have a conversation about saying, "Look, we are willing to waste or forego a little bit of our growth, to have a better environment." And one way that you should do that is to recognize global warming is a real problem by spending some resources on actually fixing climate change, we will end up better off overall. And that's where I think, Trump is not facing up to this conversation.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Bjorn Lomborg: Yeah, he's absolutely right for a lot of people because, famously Washington post last year, surveyed people. You know, a vast majority of Americans, even Republicans would say, global warming is either a serious threat or an existential threat. But more than half of them, weren't willing to spend 24 dollars a year on global warming. Which sort of indicates the difference between saying "Yes, in one frame of mind I envisioned all these terrible, dystopian futures. On the other hand, I envisioned I actually have to pay my energy bill and I don't wanna do that." So I think there's a real challenge here. And that again, underscores, when you try to spend thousands of dollars per person per year to fix climate change, you're gonna fail. That's why we need to find a really cheap way.
Peter Robinson: Bjorn, Joe Biden. During the, primary campaign, he had a plan that called for spending 1.7 trillion dollars on the climate over 10 years. And now he's ramped it up. Just last week as you and I speak here in late July, just last week, he announced that he would spend two trillion dollars over four years. And this is the work of a task force that was chaired by representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. So two trillion dollars, that's 500 billion dollars a year in additional federal spending. Much of it, as far as I can tell, and I put this to you. Much of it just looks like, political pork spending jobs programs, paying off this interest group, the other interest group. However, there are some teeth in this as well. He would outlaw, outlaw! The use of coal and natural gas to generate electricity within 15 years. And then there would be investment. So what do you make of the Biden plan? You've got, huge amounts of traditional political pork. You've got actual legal teeth beginning to be set into motion, and then you do have some of sought Bjorn's, sort after yearned for investment. What do you make of this?
Bjorn Lomborg: Well, that's exactly right. I actually did a tweet on that. First of all, it's really, really hard to get a cost estimate of what are all the different things he wants to spend money on. Remember he wants to spend,
Peter Robinson: Because they have no idea,
Bjorn Lomborg: a very large--
Peter Robinson: nobody knows, right?
Bjorn Lomborg: And it's not just because, you know, he's that one politician, that's true for pretty much all politicians. But a lot of it seemingly will go to rebuild the interstate highway system, which is probably not going to be helpful for the environment, but could be good for other reasons. So lemme just... He clearly says--
Peter Robinson: Good for contractors, but, alright.
Bjorn Lomborg: Well, I mean I think, you know, when you're driving-- Fewer potholes, but anyway. Some of the things that he's proposing we know are bad deals, for instance, weatherization or efficiency in houses. The biggest study from Minnesota shows, of about 40,000 homes shows, that you vastly exaggerate how much you're actually gonna save. So what it turns out is that typically the investment only pays back about half of that in savings. So it's just a bad deal. Don't do that. But it's the kind of thing that sounds good. But he's also proposing on the other side to spend more on research and development. If he does that well, that could be a real boom. But then there's a lot of stuff in between that I think is probably just not going to work. When you talk about, carbon neutral in the electricity sector in 2035. Yeah, good luck with that. That's not what any of the models predict. Certainly there are many other countries who also said that they want to do this. But it's not gonna happen because we don't know how to. And if you look at the, sort of bigger proposal, 2050, the US will go net carbon zero. We only have one country that has promised to do this that have actually asked an independent assessment of how much is this gonna cost us, that's New Zealand. The center-left government New Zealand, asked their own preeminent economic institution to find out how much would that cost them. The answer is, it would cost--
Peter Robinson: To go net carbon zero?
Bjorn Lomborg: To go net carbon zero, by 2050. It'll cost them 16 percent of their GDP. So translated to US terms that will cost five trillion a year, by 2050. That's more than the entire federal budget right now in today's dollars. So just to get a sense of proportion, this is not going to happen unless we have much, much better technology. So I applaud Biden for wanting to think about this. I worry that he's gonna spend a lot of money badly. I don't like the fact that Trump is only focused on saying, We want the economy--
Peter Robinson: So Bjorn here's what should happen. Donald Trump should give a full address, environmental speech, climate change speech, environment, speech. And he should say, simply "We know how to address this problem. It isn't 500 billion dollars a year. It's going to be 30 billion dollars a year, or even 50 billion dollars a year, one 10th what Joe Biden intends to spend. And it's going to be on research and development, and we're gonna use American... we will use America's distinctive strengths in the world, our ability to innovate, and we will make real progress on the problem." And Trump will please conservatives, such as your friend by saying, "I'm gonna spend one 10th what Biden will spend." And he will please my friend Bjorn by saying, "We're going to be serious about this problem at last." And that's what he should do. Have we not just established one plank in his campaign? You'd be happy with that, right?
Bjorn Lomborg: I'd love to see that. But look again, and I know you want to sort of force me to choose between one or the other.
Peter Robinson: I keep pushing.
Bjorn Lomborg: And I'm so happy I'm not American. So I can actually opt out of that. But I would love either of the candidates to pick up that particular plank. This is really about saying, Let's spend a lot less money, but let's spend much smarter and actually do smart stuff. Actually tackle climate change instead of just, you know, running around scared and being--
Peter Robinson: Bjorn, last question. I know you're very far North you're in Sweden, but even there is getting to be evening. The sun is beginning to dip in the sky, even in the summer in Sweden. So here's the last question. Listen to this quotation from a recent article by journalist John O'Sullivan. Quote, "A vast international machinery of governments and UN agencies now exists, to promote the strategy of climate mitigation," the word you used earlier, mitigation. "Which they have successfully transformed into the world's largest secular religion." The largest secular religion. Now, here's what strikes me about that. Your book, "False Alarm," like all your work, and you have been at it for a couple of decades now, is relentlessly rational. It's also other things it's cheerful, it's wonderful to read, it's engaging, but it is rational. If people are willing to listen to the 17 year old Greta Thunberg, bring tears to her eyes and scream and harangue about a state of affairs that just doesn't exist, it's because they're being irrational. And that somehow or other this climate change addresses something within people that is not rational that is for want of a better term, I don't think it's quite the right term, but it may be. But John O'Sullivan says it's a religious impulse. Some sense of sin and redemption and the planet is coming after us after we've done to the planet. Whatever it is, it is not surely rational. And Bjorn will never be able to address climate change in the whole, in democracies, the overall democratic impulse, unless Bjorn himself can somehow or other find a way to address this, this sheer impulse. What do you make of that?
Bjorn Lomborg: Well, I think there's a lot of right to this. So fundamentally, you know, if you get to do something with your life that is about saving the planet, that's a lot more fun than getting to say, "I made sure that the, you know, we ended up spending 30 billion dollars per year on research and development that we still can't see the outcome of instead of 15." I get that. And this is why it will always be an uphill battle to be more rational. But somehow the fact that everybody, or very large number of people are relatively irrational in this whole space, doesn't seem to me to be a good argument for saying, "All right, then let's just throw, caution to the wind, and just join the party." Or maybe join the party and the opposite way, and, you know, sort of screaming the opposite sort of things, "Oh, this is going to end our economy. We're all gonna go poor and we need to you know, stop all this UN socialism." Or whatever it is that you want to, you know, make up of stories. I think that most people, most of the time, are concerned about very, very different things. Which is also why we have the 24 dollars from the Washington post study. You know, most people actually, you know, have to get their kids to school, or right now just have to handle them back at home. You need to get your job done, you need to find out when is my favorite show on? There's lots and lots of other, very, very sort of domestic things you need to take care of. And so most people want to hear, how do I handle climate change in five minutes? It is an easy way in to tell you, "If you don't do something, we're all going to be dead, but you know, you can do these five easy things and we're all gonna survive." And that makes you feel wonderful. And honestly, you know, if people are just willing to settle for that, I don't think I have anything else to come with. But I think a lot of people are a little sort of, "Really? Really?" And to them, if you can get more people and, you know, Greta Thunberg is a smart girl. If she had had the opportunity, at her library to also read my book, maybe the world would have looked very different. So I think fundamentally this is about making sure that people get the information in a readily available way. What the UN climate panel actually tells us, yes, it is a problem. It's not the end of the world. Let's be smart about it. And if we get not 50 percent, because we're not gonna be successful enough to get that. But if we get a you know, substantial number, so let's say five or 10 percent, that keeps sort of challenging the end of the world story and say, "Actually, that's not the full story, is it?" We will be better at this. So we have a saying the Copenhagen Consensus, we work with a lot of governments around the world, especially in the developing countries. And you know, our saying is, we're all about economic rationality, but we don't say we wanna get it right. We're about making it slightly less wrong. If we can make this slightly less wrong, I will be very, very pleased.
Peter Robinson: Bjorn Lomborg, author of "False Alarm, how climate change panic costs us trillions, hurts the poor and fails to fix the planet." Greta that's "False Alarm" by Bjorn Lomborg, go buy a copy. Bjorn, thank you.
Bjorn Lomborg: Thank you.
Peter Robinson: For Uncommon Knowledge, the Hoover Institution and Fox Nation, I'm Peter Robinson.