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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
The Sceptical Environmentalist
The Sceptical Environmentalist

Lomborg
A quarter of the world's mammal species wiped out, half the world's human population faced with water shortages. The forecast from the United Nations was apocalyptic.

It is intended to prepare the ground for the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held this September in Johannesburg.

Global warming has become more-or-less received wisdom. But at least one environmentalist begs to differ. Nothing more than a voice in the wilderness?

Jeremy Paxman interviewed Bjorn Lomborg.


JEREMY PAXMAN:
This is a report based on 30 years of evidence, the work of 1,000 scientist. You are one bloke. Are you saying the report is wrong?

BJORN LOMBORG:
(Author, 'The Skeptical Environmentalist')
No. Basically, what they say is they list a lot of problems, but they don't actually go in and say: "What should we do?" The real problem in the world is poverty. Basically the pollution problem comes from poverty.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
That is another problem.

BJORN LOMBORG:
Well, you know, you look around the world and ask where is the most pollution? Most people think it's in the rich world, right. It's not. It's in the poor world where you don't have money enough to worry even where you're going to get your next meal from. You don't worry about the environment.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
You are comparing apples with oranges. Let's stick with global warming. You accept this is a real phenomenon?

BJORN LOMBORG:
Yes. Definitely.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Do you accept there are human agencies involved?

BJORN LOMBORG:
Yes.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Right, why do you dispute the measures to control some of that human behaviour?

BJORN LOMBORG:
We should not solve the problem if the cost of solving that would be greater than the problem itself. We are basically doing this to help the Third World down the end of the line in 2100. But if we could do better in spending that money - it would be costly to do very little - we should try to do that instead.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
That is an expression of staggering political naivety isn't it? You are saying that America, which produces 25% of the world's pollution, that the American President would be as likely to decree that the vast amounts of money necessary to alleviate global poverty be found by the American taxpayer, as he is in self-interest, to protect his own country from global warming?

BJORN LOMBORG:
First of all, he is not even signing up to the Kyoto Treaty.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Exactly.

BJORN LOMBORG:
It's a moral argument. It's an argument saying, "if we are willing to spend 150-350 billion dollars a year on helping the Third World, let's do it well. Let's do something that works.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
You have accepted that the world is warming up and it's partly the consequence of human behaviour?

BJORN LOMBORG:
Yes. The point is we can do very little at a very high cost.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
You don't know that.

BJORN LOMBORG:
That is something on the other hand we do know. Kyoto will do very little good.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Kyoto is the first step...

BJORN LOMBORG:
Yes. If you do even further, it's going to be tremendously expensive. This is not the result of one or a few models.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
The future of the planet is kind of important and the expense is therefore slightly peripheral, isn't it?

BJORN LOMBORG:
The point is, we are not talking about the end of the world. If we were, then we should go ahead, then no cost would be no bar.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
The big difficulty here is, supposing you are wrong. Supposing you are wrong?

BJORN LOMBORG:
I'm not saying that this is a question of me saying, "oh, it's going to be a little problem", I'm saying all of the models have looked at, what will be the costs and benefits. We should do something else. We can actually do a lot more good elsewhere.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Bjorn Lomborg, thank you.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

See also:

22 May 02 | Science/Nature
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