Friday, August 24, 2007

Life as opera

In today's WSJ, Bjorn Lomborg writes about "Storm Surge ... If global warming will raise sea levels, why are we moving to the coast?" (excerpted below). The obvious give-away is that the alarmists know only one song, the apocalypse theme. The fact that all the doomsday forecasts that ever were have been wrong is of no consequence. Life as opera has its charms.
Presumably, our goal is to help humans and the planet. Cutting
carbon is a very poor way of doing that. If coastal populations kept increasing
but we managed to halt climate warming, then research shows that there would
still be a 500% increase in hurricane damage in 50 years' time. On the other
hand, if we let climate warming continue but stopped more people from moving
into harm's way, the increase in hurricane damage would be less than

So, which policy knob should we turn first: The climate knob
that does so very little, or the societal knob that would do 50 times more? It
is obviously unrealistic to believe that we could turn either knob all the way.
We cannot halt climate change entirely, just as we cannot hold back the wave of
people moving into beach houses.

If the United States and Australia were to sign up to the
Kyoto Protocol and its binding restrictions were to last all the way until 2050,
very little would be achieved: Hurricane damage would increase by half a percent
less than it would without Kyoto.

There are many more effective things we could do. Communities
at risk should have better education, evacuation plans and relief distribution.
These are "ambulance at the bottom of the cliff" measures, but there are also
plenty of proactive options, like regulating vulnerable land and avoiding
state-subsidized, low-cost insurance that encourages people to build
irresponsibly in high-risk areas.

Policy makers can improve and better enforce building codes to
ensure structures can withstand higher winds, and maintain and upgrade the
protective infrastructure of dikes and levies. More investment could be made in
improved forecasts and better warning systems. Reducing environmental
degradation and protecting wetlands would mean fewer landslides and stronger
natural barriers against hurricanes.

Conservative estimates suggest we could halve the increase in
damage through these incredibly cheap and simple social policy measures. This
was shown powerfully in a previous weather disaster, Hurricane Katrina, when one
insurance company found that 500 storm-hit locations that had implemented all
the hurricane-loss prevention methods experienced one-eighth the losses of those
that had not done so. By spending $2.5 million, these communities had avoided
$500 million in damage. Often, big benefits can come from cheap and simple
structural measures like bracing and securing roof trusses and walls using
straps, clips or adhesives.