Bjorn Lomberg is best known for his controversial book The Skeptical Environmentalist in which he applied an economist’s perspective and econometrician’s toolbox to the question of how pressing global climate change really is and how effective many of the more radical proposed political solutions to the problem are.  Lomberg has also organized a semi-regular meeting of prominent economists called “The Copenhagen Consensus” in which members of the group discussed and debated the best way to allocate resources in order to address the biggest challenges facing humanity such as hunger, disease and climate change.  This perspective as an economist, with an emphasis on decision making under constraint, and econometrician, relying heavily on the actual data not interpretations of the worst case scenarios, makes Lomberg a well-respected scholar in some circles, but also the target of those who like to simplify policy debates along simple “left-right” continuums.

In this episode of EconTalk Russ Roberts and Lomberg address some of the key issues facing the world today.  Once again we can see Lomberg the pragmatist on display throughout the conversation.  He is not concerned with the growing frequency of extreme weather events because the data do not show such a pattern.  Instead he argues that increased media coverage and global interconnectedness are leading to more attention being given to these events even though there are fewer.  He calls it the “CNN Effect” on the climate.

Among the questions we might ask ourselves during this episode are:

  • Lomberg consistently argues that wealth creation is better for humanity than large redistribution programs that are unproven in lowering CO2 emissions. Is it true that making ourselves richer is the best way to protect ourselves against climate change?  Does the path to wealth always value environmental quality?  Or does the Kuznets curve make this conclusion more nuanced?
  • Is there something wrong with people giving charitably or making difficult political choices because they want to experience the “feel good factor” Lomberg describes?
  • How is the political arena, imperfect though it is, important in resolving policy debates as compared to using just markets?
  • In the wake of the worldwide reaction against free trade, what are we to make of Lomberg’s claim that simply finishing the final round of the Doha Trade Agreement would do more than increase human well being than any climate program?
  • Individually and collectively people regularly choose less wealth in various aspects of their lives. Should the question be where is the equilibrium where wealth creation can continue to alleviate poverty and limit the impact of climate change?  Put another way – how can we “feel good” and be rich at the same time?