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Good Green Thinking from the Man Greens Love to Hate

Greens need to put away their counterproductive symbolic politics, and focus instead on developing realistic alternatives to fossil fuel. So argues Bjørn Lomborg in a recent piece on Project Syndicate. Lomborg is a Danish academic and renegade environmentalist who has been a thorn in the side of the green movement for a long time. His book The Skeptical Environmentalist raised the hackles of greens everywhere by arguing against many of their most dearly held shibboleths, like the threat of overpopulation.

We don’t vouch for everything Lomborg’s written, but his new piece contains some very smart green thinking. For one thing, he exposes the folly of the upcoming “Earth Hour” event in which a billion people will shut off their lights for one hour to fight global warming:

Hypothetically, switching off the lights for an hour would cut CO2 emissions from power plants around the world. But, even if everyone in the entire world cut all residential lighting, and this translated entirely into CO2 reduction, it would be the equivalent of China pausing its CO2 emissions for less than four minutes. In fact, Earth Hour will cause emissions to increase.

As the United Kingdom’s National Grid operators have found, a small decline in electricity consumption does not translate into less energy being pumped into the grid, and therefore will not reduce emissions. Moreover, during Earth Hour, any significant drop in electricity demand will entail a reduction in CO2 emissions during the hour, but it will be offset by the surge from firing up coal or gas stations to restore electricity supplies afterwards . . .

Tackling climate change by turning off the lights and eating dinner by candlelight smacks of the “let them eat cake” approach to the world’s problems that appeals only to well-electrified, comfortable elites.

Lomborg goes on to draw some general lessons from this gimmicky event about the misplaced priorities of the green movement. Instead of complaining about electricity and trying to boost technologies like solar and wind power through poorly imagined subsidies, greens should invest in R&D to make alternatives to fossil fuel economically viable. They might begin championing natural gas, which is a much cleaner alternative to coal. Or they might realize the great promise of lab-grown meat, which could reduce the need to raze rain forests for pastureland across the world. These are points we’ve made before, and we hope greens will listen—even if these ideas come from the mouths of Lomborg and others they love to hate.

[Image of Bjorn Lomborg from Wikipedia]

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