Posted tagged ‘The Future’

Global warming is not our most urgent priority, by James Delingpole

24 June 2008

At the risk of being sued for breach of copyright by my Beloved (the venerable but ultra-cool British Spectator magazine) and by the less venerable but highly talented and permanently impoverished writer James Delingpole (please send him a donation to allow him to maintain the lifestyle that he deserves), I would like to share with you this important (IMHO) article which transcends our solipsistic blog world.
(From: Bjørn Lomborg, the controversial Danish economist, tells James Delingpole that it is better to spend our limited funds on saving lives than on saving the planet.

Gosh, I do hope Bjørn Lomborg doesn’t think I was trying to pick him up. I’ve only just learned from his Wikipedia entry that he’s ‘openly gay’ which, with hindsight, probably made my dogged insistence that we conduct our interview in his cramped hotel bedroom look like a cheap come-on. Not to mention the way I sat there throughout, mesmerised and sometimes lost for words under the gaze of the handsome, trim 43-year-old blond’s intensely sincere Danish blue eyes which never leave yours for one second.

But it’s OK, Bjørn. You were safe all along, I promise. The reason for my awe is quite simply that I believe you are one of the heroes of our age. You’ve been called the antichrist, been vilified ad hominem in numerous scientific journals, even had custard pies thrown in your face (at Borders bookshop, Oxford, by an eco-activist), but still you’ve stuck to your guns and continued bravely to reiterate what for a time seemed almost unsayable.

Lomborg’s basic argument — as laid out in his bestsellers, The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It! — is that the world isn’t in nearly as bad a mess as the eco-doomsayers claim it is. And before we do anything too drastic to try to make things better, we ought first to ascertain what its most pressing problems are, rather than throw good money after hopeless causes.

Lomborg’s latest venture is a body he has founded called the Copenhagen Consensus. Funded mainly by the Danish government, this research panel comprises 50 leading economists, including five Nobel Laureates, and has spent two years applying cost benefit analysis methods to a list of global challenges — disease, pollution, conflict, terrorism, climate change, water and so on.

Its conclusions are hardly likely to win Lomborg new fans in the eco movement, for global warming comes so far down the list of urgent priorities that it doesn’t make the top ten. Far better to spend our limited pool of development aid money, say the economists, on schemes like micronutrient supplements (vitamin A and zinc) for malnourished children. For an annual outlay of only $60 million this would result in yearly benefits (through improved health, fewer deaths, increased earnings) worth more than $1 billion.

Also high on the list are unglamorous things like expanded immunisation coverage for children; deworming programmes in Third World schools; and community-based nutrition promotion. Number two on the recommended list is the — highly unlikely given resistance from the US and the EU — implementation of the Doha development agenda. Ending the trade tariffs, in other words, which are immeasurably to the developing world’s disadvantage.

‘It’s true that in the battle between exciting problems and boring problems we are defenders of the boring problems,’ agrees Lomborg, when I suggest that polar bears on melting ice caps tug the heartstrings far more effectively than flyblown African urchins. ‘Our uphill task is to try to show that problems involving the greatest pictures and the cutest animals are not necessarily the most pressing issues.’

This is the sort of dull pragmatism that so often gets Lomborg into trouble. People will read him saying that the threat to polar bears has been somewhat exaggerated, given that their global population has increased fivefold since the 1960s, and they’ll think: ‘Heartless, evil Bush shill, probably in the pay of Big Oil.’ Whereas all Lomborg is actually saying in his remorselessly logical, Danish statistics professor’s way, is: ‘Let’s take emotion and hysteria and fluffy white fur out of the argument and try to seek the objective truth.’

Ah, but what do economists know anyway? Aren’t decisions regarding the environment, nutrition and so on better left to experts in those fields? ‘But if you ask a malaria expert where the money is best spent, you shouldn’t be too surprised if the answer is malaria,’ says Lomborg. ‘What economists can do which natural scientists cannot is, in effect, to put the prices on the menu. They are not saying, “You should pick this meal or that meal.” What they are saying is, “If you pick the lobster, you’ll have less to spend on everything else.”’

The principal question Lomborg encounters is, ‘Why should we have to pick and choose? Why shouldn’t we be able to do it all?’ He even heard this line from a US congressman, who said, ‘I can understand why a small country like Denmark has to focus on priorities, but America is so big.’ ‘I had to remind him that even though the US is indeed a lot bigger, it still seemed to me that in the last 50 years it hadn’t yet fixed all the problems in the world.’

What non-economists tend to have difficulty understanding, says Lomborg, is the concept of marginal benefit. ‘We tend to think in terms of absolute magnitude, so people will say, “Global warming is overall a bigger problem than micronutrition so we should deal with that first.” But what economists say is, “No. If you can spend a billion dollars and save 600,000 kids from dying and save about two billion people from being malnourished, that’s a lot better than spending the same amount to postpone global warming by about two minutes at the end of the century.”’

In the early days of his campaigning, when he first transformed himself from left-leaning Greenpeace-supporting tree-hugger to environmental ‘skeptic’, Lomborg used to get a lot more stick than he does now. His unlikely ally, he says, has been the ongoing biofuels disaster, whereby a scheme introduced to help save the environment has helped bring about riots, rising food prices and the destruction of rainforest. ‘People have suddenly started to realise: “Ew! Not every drastic measure we take in panic is smart!”’ he says. (The American-accented ‘Ew’ bit, by the way, is the only moment where he sounds remotely camp.)

Unlike proper climate change sceptics (who are the equivalent, George Monbiot has famously claimed, of Holocaust deniers), Lomborg says his views on global warming are broadly in sympathy with those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Where he thinks the green movement has got things badly wrong is in attempting to shut down any form of critical opposition.

‘You cannot have a conversation about the biggest policy argument of the day, and then say that one side isn’t allowed to debate,’ says Lomborg. He thinks the greens have also done their cause a great disservice by talking up the climate change threat. ‘You can overplay your cards and screech so loudly that you end up losing the argument.’

The battle for common sense, though, is far from over. His worry is that the next Kyoto update — the Copenhagen summit in 2009 — will prove yet another wasted opportunity where politicians set themselves ever higher pie-in-the-sky targets on carbon emissions. ‘The danger is not that we’re not going to meet these targets, because I take that as granted — of course we’re not going to meet them, just as we didn’t after Kyoto in 1997. What’s far worse, is that yet again, it will stop us focusing on all the incredible things we actually could do with that money. So we end up wasting another ten or 20 years.’

New Hope for Disempowered Women

4 April 2008

New Hope for Disempowered Women under Authoritarian Régimes: The Spanish Experience (1960-2000)

Brian Steel

Copyright © 2007 Brian Steel


Detecting a glimmer of potentially valid extrapolations from a forty-year old essay has prompted me to re-issue it with this Introduction. The essay reproduced below was written in 1967 as a background paper for a number of women’s Extramural Discussion Groups in rural New South Wales. It describes the disempowered status of Spanish women during the major part of the Franco dictatorship which followed the 1936-1939 Civil War. Also mentioned are a few emerging signs of small changes to a status quo supported and enforced by the dominant political and religious powers. What is not mentioned and could not be predicted by those who lived through that period of recent Spanish history (including journalists and social commentators) was the speed and scope of the political, social and economic transformations which would follow the death of General Franco in 1975.

The changes in the status and role of Spanish women over the past thirty to forty years are so profound that much of what is described in this 1967 survey is no longer true. Moreover, the present generation of Spaniards (of both sexes) will find some of the facts astonishing or exaggerated – which is why revisiting this subject at this difficult moment in history may prove to be a salutory and enlightening experience.

The Spain of 2007 is an affluent, vibrant European country which attracts many millions of world tourists every year and is the subject of intense media attention and fascination, especially for its special cultural phenomena. Like other developed countries it has its share of internationally known celebrities (notably in sports, cinema, music and fashion). Spain also has a simpatico and down to earth Royal Family.

Like their Western sisters, Spanish women enjoy varying degrees of freedom and equality with men, as can be glimpsed in the internationally popular films of Pedro Almodóvar, the acclaimed director and one-time enfant terrible. Spanish women of today are to be found in positions of high responsibility and authority in national and local politics, in the Public Service, the professions, management, commerce, health, medicine, law (including the police), education and the armed forces. These advances put them on a par with women in countries of similar contemporary status, where, forty years ago, the status of women was somewhat more advanced, as reformers and social commentators have recorded in their chronicles of the Feminist Movement of the 1960s.

The surprise of today’s grown up grandchildren on learning of the conditions of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s from their grandmothers, from books or sociology courses is much greater in Spain than elsewhere precisely because the path has been longer and more tortuous, due to a series of historical and cultural factors. In this aspect as in many others, today’s Spain is a different planet and its younger inhabitants are almost a different species.

What encouraged me to re-examine and re-offer these personal memories to a much wider public was precisely that perceptuion of such an unthinkable change in the space of 50 years (1950-2000). In today’s uneasy atmosphere of suspicion between ethnic groups and the fear of future clashes between populations predicted and so heavily promoted by the media and politicians, the reality of the socio-cultural abyss which separates Spanish women of 1940-1960 from their twenty first century descendants, and which was not forecast or even imagined by the media forty years ago, may encourage people to be slightly more optimistic about the development of human and international relations in the next forty years. In particular, long term media predictions about the continuing plight of Muslim women, which tend to present overwhelmingly negative scenarios, may well turn out to be based on false premises and expectations, for example, the central assumption that the power of authoritarian régimes and religions are immutable. This is surely an auspicious possibility for women in some of the countries where their current situation is as bad as or worse than that of their Spanish sisters of the mid-twentieth century.

The Status and Role of Women in Spain circa 1960

At the end of the Second World War, there was a wide gulf between the political, economic and social systems of English-speaking countries and those of post-Civil War Spain. Firstly, there was a much sharper contrast between conditions in urban and rural communities. Rural areas in Spain were more backward than towns and cities and preserve even today customs and att­itudes which have disappeared from the urban areas. In subsequent references to Spanish women, I shall be referring mainly to those in urban areas, although many of the observations are also applicable to rural Spain.


The full 4,000 word article is available HERE:
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