The author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" and the forthcoming "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming", comments on Live Earth.
Thursday 5 July 2007
Let’s improve life in the present, and the future
By focusing exclusively on future warming, Live Earth does a disservice to development and disease prevention in the here and now.
The Live Earth concerts will hopefully be a lot of fun for those who get the chance to see them live or watch them on television. But I think the organisers are wrong when they say that climate change is the most pressing issue facing mankind.
If you ask the 15 million people who are going to die from easily curable infectious diseases next year, the idea that climate change is our top priority seems to be massively overblown. What’s even more important is that you ask: ‘Where can we actually do some good?’ The answer is overwhelmingly: we can do very little good if we focus on climate change policies, whereas we can do immense amounts of good if we focus on some of the many other problems in the world.
For example: deadly diseases such as HIV-AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis; malnutrition, especially lack of micronutrients but also lack of calories; and lack of market access. Those are some of the most obvious places where we can put in place very cheap and advantageous policy measures and help huge swathes of humanity. And we’ll be helping them in such a way that their societies become stronger, so that their descendents will get much better off and thereby become much less vulnerable to whatever the future holds - including climate change.
Climate change is a problem, and it definitely is one that we need to tackle over this century. But to say that this is the first and foremost thing that we need to tackle, as Tim Flannery said in a Financial Times interview a week ago, that this is the one thing we need to focus on in the next 10 years - that is simply ridiculous. We would be doing something that will help people very little - and only in a hundred years from now - at a very high cost. Meanwhile, we would be neglecting the fact that we could do massive amounts of good for less money for a lot of the people living right now - and in the process helping their descendents much more.
We know how to solve many of these problems, just as we know how to deal with climate change. If you want to stop HIV-AIDS, it’s about information, about providing condoms. If you want to stop global warming, it’s about cutting carbon emissions. My point is that cutting carbon emissions costs a lot and it provides only a small benefit 100 years from now; handing out condoms and information, however, is very cheap and it works for people suffering from HIV-AIDS right now.