by Bjørn Lomborg
professor of climate strategy at BI Norwegian School of Economics,
of the advocates of a kind of "climate dictatorship".
China as a model.
Technocracy is sinking its iron teeth into existing
political systems, seeking to transform the entire
world into a resource-based scientific dictatorship.
This view from Europe should be a wake-up call for
Americans! This is a must-read article.
Prominent environmentalist proposes a climate dictatorship because
democracy is just not willing to do his policies.
The gall of this argument is staggering. It is even more staggering
that the Swedish newspaper bringing this large interview today does
not clearly mark the viewpoint as extreme and unreasonable.
Instead, they seriously
have their political analyst muse about whether a climate
dictatorship is really necessary, and ending with a conclusion of
The claim comes from Jørgen Randers, professor of climate
strategy at BI Norwegian Business School.
His main claim to fame is
as co-author of the 1972 Limits to Growth book, which scared a
generation to believe we would run out of all resources and kill
humanity with suffocating air pollution.
Time magazine headlined
their 1972 story on the book, "The Worst Is Yet to Be?" and it
"The furnaces of
Pittsburgh are cold; the assembly lines of Detroit are still. In
Los Angeles, a few gaunt survivors of a plague desperately till
freeway center strips, backyards and outlying fields, hoping to
raise a subsistence crop.
London's offices are dark, its docks deserted. In the farm lands
of the Ukraine, abandoned tractors litter the fields: there is
no fuel for them. The waters of the Rhine, Nile and Yellow
rivers reek with pollutants.
Fantastic? No, only
grim inevitability if society continues its present dedication
to growth and 'progress'."
Of course, their scare
scenarios were almost entirely wrong. You can read more in my
Foreign Affairs article and my short summary in Project Syndicate
Now Professor Randers - correctly - tells us that democracy is
unwilling and unable to pay the exorbitant amounts that he and many
other environmentalists are asking us to pay.
Surveys of willingness to
pay for climate policies show most people in the US are willing to
pay $180 per household or $70 per person. In China, the average
willingness to pay is $30 per person per year. (They would all
rather use it on education, health, poverty alleviation etc.)
Yet, the current Paris promises will cost each American $500 per
year, each European $600 and each Chinese $170.
Of course, most Americans
and Europeans are unlikely to elect leaders that will actually incur
a much larger cost than most people are willing to pay.
Moreover, these promises will not "solve" global warming - indeed,
they will together achieve almost nothing:
By the UN's own
estimate, the Paris Treaty will reduce emissions by less than 1%
of what would be needed to keep temperature rises under 2°C and
yet cost $1-2 trillion per year by 2030, mostly in reduced GDP
So Paris will deliver far
less than what most people expect, yet will cost much more than most
people are willing to pay.
Of course, most smart people would be against paying lots for
achieving little or nothing. If anything, this suggests that
democracy works just fine.
But Randers instead takes this unwillingness to spend fortunes on
little benefits as an argument for ending democracy:
'if people don't want
my preferred solution, then people are stupid, shouldn't be
allowed to decide their fate, and we should install a climate
The argument literally
seems to be: If I can't have my way in a democracy, I want my way
with a dictatorship.
That is hardly a good argument. It is also phenomenally expensive:
Look at the costs to achieve the sort of climate policies that
Randers and many others are advocating.
If the EU fulfils its
promise of cutting emissions by 80% in 2050 (which is the most
ambitious climate policy in the world today), the average of the
best peer-reviewed models show that the cost would run to at least
$3 trillion per year, and more likely double that - meaning $6,000
for each EU citizen per year.
Of course, few will vote
Moreover, asking for a dictatorship neglects one of the main reasons
"how do you ensure
that the dictator does what is good for you?"
Throughout history, many
have asked for dictatorships, but when they got it, it turned out
that the dictator didn't do what they hoped - and then how do you
change your leader?
Look at China, which unfortunately is held up by many
environmentalists as a green ideal. It gets 86% of its total primary
energy demand from fossil fuels (International Energy Agency data,
latest from 2014, extrapolated to 2017).
How is that ultra-green?
It gets just 12% from
renewables (the last 2% from nuclear).
Even in 2040 with all its
Paris goals fulfilled, the IEA estimate that China will get 16% of
its total energy from renewables (and most of this will still be
hydro and biomass, with just 4.2% from wind and solar PV).
this seen as ultra-green?
Remember, China got a
higher share of its total energy from renewables (mostly because it
was incredibly poor) "every year of the last century" than it will
But the most depressing fact is that instead of focusing on these
incredibly ineffective policies that will cost a fortune but do
little to fix climate, there are many other ways that would do much
First, we should
increase spending on green R&D - if we can innovate the
price of future green and reliable energy down below fossil
fuels, everyone will switch.
Second, we should
focus on cheap and effective adaptation, which in the long
run will avoid most of the extra damages of climate impacts
at very low costs.
Third, we should
recognize that the main vulnerability for climate is
poverty: if you're poor, you will much harder hit by climate
change (and, of course, hit harder by pretty much every
other challenge, as well).
Thus, if we lift people
out of poverty, we will likely help them much more against future
damages from climate - and help them much, much more period.
It is not surprising,
that when the UN asked almost 10 million people around the world
what they wanted us to focus on, they asked for education, health,
And placed climate at the
very bottom of their list of priorities.
Increasing green R&D, adaptation and much more focus on poverty
alleviation is something that most people would vote for. It is
efficient, morally good and much, much cheaper.
And (although I can't believe I really have to point it out) we
could keep our 'democracy'...
advantage is that once decision is made, everything goes
quickly. There is no opposition fighting back",
representative of Jørgen Randers' argument, but actually
comes from the same article from Anders Wijkman, who's
spokesperson for the Club of Rome, of which Randers is
member of their executive committee.