In recent issues of The Economist, a strange habit has popped up: a reliance on a controversial climate skeptic for scientific climate consensus. Said scientist, Bjorn Lomborgh, known to many for pushing climate skepticism and presenting climate change mitigation and the fight against HIV/Aids as an “either-or scenario”, has somehow become the go-to source for climate change analysis in The Economist, an otherwise reasonable magazine.
In a recent climate special – coming on the heels of the successful climate conference held in Paris this past December – The Economist took a closer look at geoengineering as a potential option for avoiding climate catastrophe; the basic idea being that instead of preventing global greenhouse gases, could we instead reverse the effects?
While there are many open questions about this approach, including from an ethical point-of-view, the biggest problem with geoengineering is that it assumes we can foresee or accurately model the consequences of any global intervention; something we are really not good at doing.
None of this comes across when reading The Economist’s take on it, as one is instead told that, “…[a] report published in 2012 for the Copenhagen Consensus Centre estimated that marine-cloud brightening would prevent global warming even more effectively than a carbon tax.”
From this questionable finding you might infer that the Copenhagen Consensus Centre is a go-to source for reliable scientific research, yet it was shut down back in 2012 mired in controversy, and remains mired in said controversies as it tries to open an office in Australia.
The mischievously named Copenhagen Consensus Centre does not represent a consensus as much as an outlier of climate skepticism. Lomborgh states, “A lot of poor countries are going to get a lot richer by burning fossil fuels,” a long-held belief of climate skeptics, namely that taking action on climate change is equal to forcing developing nations to stay developing.
Instead, fighting climate change might actually help combat e.g. malaria, but dismissing climate change mitigation until malaria and other major issues are taken care of first is disingenuous. Further, it is a false premise at best, and a dangerous ignorance of systems effects at its worst.
Which brings us back to geoengineering. While it is too soon to dismiss geoengineering outright (and not because it is politically incorrect as Lomborgh and others might have you believe), its risks and uncertain rewards need to be weighed against existing solutions to solving climate change e.g. solar power and its plummeting costs.
For a levelheaded and peer-reviewed take on the complexities and lack of answers relating to geoengineering, The Economist may instead want to drop Lomborgh and his “Consensus” for others e.g. Bellamy et al 2012, Caldeira et al 2013 or Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.