The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Climate control not best use of funds

Matt Gore | Tuesday, October 9, 2007

During energy week, climate change experts, activists and researchers will address many aspects of climate change and potential solutions. One aspect though that does not seem to be addressed this week is a comparison of the costs to the benefits of policies designed to avert climate change. This is a shame, because a realistic comparison of these costs would show that in reality climate change is among the least of humanity’s problems.

Among the most politically controversial of the solutions is the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which requires industrialized nations to cut their emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent to 7 percent of 1990 levels by 2012. A cut in emissions of this magnitude would be incredibly expensive. If the agreement’s cuts are extended to the year 2100, the total costs of the agreement would average about 150 billion dollars per year according to analysis by the Copenhagen Consensus. This investment would, in a best case scenario, postpone observed warming about six years in 2100, so that the business-as-usual warming that would have been observed in 2100 will not be observed until 2106.

This certainly would not be bad, but the 150 billion dollars could do much more good for the world. For example, spending 27 billion dollars per year over the next eight years on HIV prevention programs would prevent about 28 million new cases of HIV. Spending 13 billion dollars per year on malaria prevention over a slightly longer time scale would cut incidence of the disease by half, from about one billion global cases to 500 million. By any objective measure, investments in disease prevention in the third world would do far more good for the world than climate change investments in Kyoto.

Another factor that was not considered in the measurements is the uncertainty involved in climate science and projections. The UN’s 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates total warming over the next century between 1.3 and 5.8 degrees Celsius. This wide range displays that within the climatology community there is great uncertainty as to projections into the future.

The projections, moreover, are based upon the idea that human production of carbon dioxide equivalent is the primary cause of observed warming, which seems possible, but is not established as absolute fact. If in the future we learn that man’s effect on climate is smaller than most climatologists currently believe, then the investment in Kyoto would produce even worse returns than the already tiny returns currently expected.

All told, the interest in averting climate change represents a healthy desire to help humanity. However, if we truly desire to help our fellow man to the greatest extent possible, we must recognize that malaria nets will be far more helpful than carbon reductions.

Matt Gore


Stanford Hall

Oct. 8