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The way ahead

The way ahead: Five thinkers' views
Click below for a view on the future of the planet
 Intro Ernst Weizsacker Ernst Weizsaecker Vandana Shiva Vandana Shiva
Bjorn Lomborg Bjorn Lomborg Julian Morris Julian Morris Satish Kumar Satish Kumar

Bjorn Lomborg

Bjorn Lomborg
"We are already sustainable"

Bjorn Lomborg, author of the controversial book The Skeptical Environmentalist, is an associate professor of statistics at the University of Aarhus, Denmark.

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Preferred mode of transport:
Bicycle. Iíve never owned a car.

Greatest environmental vice:
I really behave fairly reasonably.

Most recent major consumer purchase:
A new bicycle.

What is most important about sustainable development?
Making sure our descendants get an even better life. Even the most pessimistic UN scenarios for 2100 expect the average person in the developing world to be as well off as people in the developed world are today. This doesnít mean we canít do even better, but it does mean we should be careful to worry about and fix the right things.

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Is there a conflict between reducing poverty and protecting the planet?
In the short term there is a trade-off between helping the poor and helping the environment. Simply put, you can choose to have 2% growth of the economy and 1% better environment, or 3% growth and 0% better environment. Choosing the 2% is still growth but it does mean that people are less well off than they could have been.

This doesnít mean that we shouldnít help the environment, only that we should realise it comes at a price. In the long run, there is no trade-off, since environmental concern is a luxury good only rich people can afford to care about - when you donít know where your next meal comes from, you donít care about the environment 100 years down the line.

Consumption: how much is too much?
When you get sufficiently rich, you pollute less. Air pollution has been declining dramatically in the developed world, but is increasing in much of the developing world. Thus, as we get richer, consumption increases but we also get ever better at handling pollution. Therefore it doesnít seem that our consumption in the long run will go beyond what our planet can sustain.

Technology: threat or saviour?
It is good for us Ė this is what enables us to be richer and cleaner.

Inequality: an inevitable evil?
Inequality (measured by what an American can buy in America, and an Ethiopian in Ethiopia - so-called purchasing power parity) increased from 1820 to 1960 but has been decreasing slightly since then. By the UNís scenarios it is poised to decline dramatically until 2100. So while it is definitely an evil, it is actually declining.

What should we do?

  • Despite the percentage of people starving having dropped dramatically, we still need to get it down further.
  • Despite the percentage of poor people having dropped since 1950, we still need to get that down further.
  • For just $75bn a year, the UN estimates that we could solve all major problems in the Third World, giving clean drinking water, sanitation, basic health care and education to everyone in developing world. This is less than half the projected annual cost of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change from 2010 onwards.
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