Friday, April 23, 2010

Less Pollution Than Advertised: Five Second Lomborg

One of the difficulties in aid and advocacy is that you just can't go sharing good news. Cheerful advocates don't get big money. (Maybe that's why dismal scientists do so much developmental work.) For Earth Day, Lomborg came out with some positively beaming environmental news to help keep the man-made gloom in perspective:
In virtually every developed country, the air is more breathable and the water is more drinkable than it was in 1970. In most of the First World, deforestation has turned to reforestation. Moreover, the percentage of malnutrition has been reduced, and ever-more people have access to clean water and sanitation. ...

One of the "core issues" that the organizers of this year's Earth Day say we should be worrying about is the use of fertilizers and pesticides. It may be unfashionable to point this out, but without the  high-yield agricultural practices developed over the past 60 years, virtually all the forests of the world would have to have been cleared to make way for food production. And starvation would be much, much more prevalent. ...

What about indoor air pollution, which happens to be the world's No. 1 environmental killer? In poor countries, 2.5 billion people rely on "biomass" — wood, waste and dung — to cook and keep themselves warm. This year, the resulting pollution will kill about 1.3 million of them, mainly women and children. Switching from biomass to fossil fuels would dramatically improve the lives of more than a third of the world's population. ...

I'm not saying we can blithely ignore global warming. Man-made climate change is real, and we do need to do something about it.... we should focus on the many more immediate problems faced by the developing world today — problems such as malnutrition, education, disease and clean drinking water. At the same time, we should take meaningful steps to ensure that the future of the developing world will be powered by green energy. As long as the electricity from sustainable sources such as solar panels costs us 10 times as much as electricity generated by coal-fired generators, no one but rich nations will go green (and then only if there are government subsidies). What we need to do is to promote the kind of technological breakthroughs necessary to make solar panels cheaper than fossil fuels. Once we have done that, no one will have to be ordered to give up coal and oil.
Theme and variation: Discussion about the maternal mortality rate brouhaha last week from Easterly and a response indicating there was more sound and fury that significance.In short - Lancet published some numbers that said fewer mothers were dying in child rate AND that some advocacy groups had asked them not to publish that number until they could get some funding. The second half got a lot of press, but ... we're having difficulty finding the advocacy groups and there are important data concerns about the first part.

No comments:

Post a Comment