Climate Change Oosterscheldedam_storm_Rens_Jacobs

Published on December 14th, 2010 | by Jeremy Bloom

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Climate Skeptic Lomborg Proves We SHOULD Act On Global Warming

Stormy weather batters Holland's Deltworks

In a picture perfect example of how to make somebody else’s argument for them, author (“The Skeptical Environmentalist”) and documentary subject (“Cool It”) Bjorn Lomborg says we don’t need to act on global warming – but his examples actually prove the opposite.

Lomborg writes that sea level rise is no big deal:

Since 1930, excessive groundwater withdrawal has caused Tokyo to subside by as much as 15 feet. Similar subsidence has occurred over the past century in numerous cities… And in each case, the city has managed to protect itself from such large relative sea-level rises without much difficulty.

The process is called adaptation, and it’s something we humans are very good at. That isn’t surprising, since we’ve been doing it for millennia.

But there’s a problem if you actually look at, you know, the facts of his example.

  • Tokyo didn’t ALL subside. Just a portion of it. So it wasn’t the same as an across-the-board sea level rise.
  • The Japanese didn’t deal with it by building dikes around the entire city (which is what you’d have to do in a global sea level rise). They dealt with it by stopping the thing they were doing that was causing the problem.
  • Specifically, the subsistence was caused by pumping too much groundwater out of a river floodplain. So they stopped. And the subsistence stopped.
  • So from that example, we shouldn’t build dikes – we should stop the thing we’re doing that is causing the problem. And cut back on fossil fuels. And invest in a green-energy economy.

Living under the gun

And then Lomborg points to Holland, as if it would be just fine for the entirety of humanity to live the way the Dutch do: spending a full tenth of a percent of their GDP every year on massive engineering works that keep them from drowning.

An entire country living under constant threat, and living under the constant knowledge that the defenses are only just barely good enough, and the next storm could be the 10,000-year outlier that sweeps away their dikes and and drowns their children in their beds.

Lomborg invites all of humanity to live that way. Nice guy.

The Dutch have a very interesting take on this (PDF). They no longer consider floods as “natural disasters”. How can they? Natural disasters are things that “just happen”. But the consequences are too severe for their country. There is NO acceptable level of risk:

More than half the Netherlands will be flooded if all defences along the coast, large lakes and rivers fail.

There are 9 million people living in these areas, and 65% of the gross national income is earned there. In the surrounding countries flooding will only occur in a small percentage of the surface area, while in the Netherlands this can occur in 70% of the country.This explains the reason for high safety standards in the Netherlands and why these are legally binding.

…In 1953 a storm tide caused more than 1800 casualties and wreaked enough havoc to send a shock right across Europe. A disaster like that, or worse, must never happen again.

They have changed the way they look at natural disasters from “something that can happen” to “something that must not happen again”

The 50-year plan they put in place after the 1953 flood was finally completed this year. But in anticipation of climate change and sea level rise the Dutch have already begun planning to strengthen the system.

The price of adapting vs the price of prevention

The price tag economists have tossed around for preventing global warming is $1 trillion dollars over the next 90 years. That’s the number so many people say is unacceptably high.

The Dutch plan calls for spending $144 billion over the next 90 years, based on a rise in the North Sea of just 1.3 meters. If the sea level rises at a faster rate, it’s going to cost a lot more.

Just for Holland. Just for dealing with sea level rise. $144 billion. If that’s how much it will cost for one small country to adapt, how much will it cost the entire world? And that’s not even getting into other issues, like farming problems, loss of species, shifts in rainfall and melting glaciers, and of course, all the unexpected things that we haven’t even imagined yet, but will still cost money to deal with.

Wouldn’t it be a hell of a lot cheaper to spend the money on preventing the problem – and have a green economy, cleaner and cheaper energy, and better living conditions for everyone?

Lomborg says no.

Nice guy.

(Photo of Dutch Deltaworks sea defenses from Wikipedia Commons)

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About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He just moved to Los Angeles, and continues trying to change the world in positive ways.



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  • http://Web Guybrush Threepwood

    Fortunately it’s a moot point;

    In 2007, IPCC notes “Global average sea level rose at an average rate of 1.8 [1.3 to 2.3] mm per year over 1961 to 2003
    (IPCC) concluded that “No significant acceleration in the rate of sea level rise during the 20th century has been detected.

    1.8 mm is serious if you’re an ant standing still at the edge of the ocean for a year! You’d be clear up to your knees by now!

    Any other scary global warming fantasies or was that the best one?

    • Jeremy Bloom

      Ah, another climate zombie. This particular talking point was actually debunked in 2007, but you guys just won’t let it die, will you?
      At the time the IPCC issued its report there hadn’t been good modeling done on ice melting, and since science DOESN’T work by rampant speculation (unlike deniers) the scientists who wrote the report only included what was certain, sound science at the time: the known rate of sea-level rise caused by thermal expansion of the heating oceans.

      “Bjorn’s claim that the IPCC report says that global sea levels are not likely to rise more than about 20 inches by 2100 is incorrect. You have to remember that the sea level projections in the 2007 IPCC report had a big asterisk by them. The report was very clear that the 20 inch projection was probably too low because it did not account for the kinds of dynamic changes in the glaciers and ice sheets that we see today. In fact, the IPCC report was careful to say that they could not place any upper bound on the amount of sea level rise that is likely over the next century.”

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