(Pseudo)-Skeptical Environmental Bjorn Lomborg advises in the Wall Street Journal that spending money on anti-malarial campaigns makes more sense than, and by implication is morally superior to, spending money on cutting carbon emissions. But to make his case, he has to abandon all hope of ever being invited to join the Vulcan Science Academy.
It may be true that every dollar we spend combating the vectors of malaria and the treatments for it will save more lives than those who would be spared the disease if we spend it instead on avoiding catastrophic global warming. But Lomborg is abandons all logic when he writes:
Most estimates suggest that global warming will put 3% more of the Earth’s population at risk of catching malaria by 2100. If we invest in the most efficient, global carbon cuts–designed to keep temperature rises under two degrees Celsius–we would spend a massive $40 trillion a year by 2100. In the best case scenario, we would reduce the at-risk population by only 3%.
In comparison, research commissioned by the Copenhagen Consensus Center shows that spending $3 billion annually on mosquito nets, environmentally safe indoor DDT sprays, and subsidies for effective new combination therapies could halve the number of those infected with malaria within one decade. For the money it takes to save one life with carbon cuts, smarter policies could save 78,000 lives.
Where to start…? OK. How about: This argument assumes the money spent on carbon cuts does nothing else but avoid malarial deaths. It won’t prevent sea-level rise (and the resulting mass migration of refugees), or prevent the loss of millions of hectares of arable land (and the countless millions who might suffer malnutrition and/or die as the result of the consequent food shortages) or any of the other myriad consequences of climate change, but reduce malarial deaths.
Second, there’s the complete lack of supporting evidence that by 2100 the “costs” of mitigating climate change will actually turn out to be positive. Sure, in the short term, it’s probably going to cost a bit more, although nothing like the $40 trillion Lomborg cites without attribution. But the fact is Lomborg has no idea what the long-term net economic effects of reducing emissions will be. None. Nada. Zippo. It could very well be that whatever technologies we deploy to reduce carbon emissions will not only save lives, but generate enough money to pay for the $3 billion annually he wants to spend on conventional anti-malarial strategies.
Third, given the enormous disparity between the options Lomborg chooses to discuss, there is no reason to assume that we can’t afford to cut emissions and prevent malarial deaths.
All of which leaves us with the question: Why do editors of the WSJ publish such stuff?