He's back and generating as many headlines as ever. After years as the world's leading climate change critic, "sceptical environmentalist" Bjørn Lomborg is now saying that we need to put it at the top of our priority list.
What's that, he has a new book out? Indeed, and in Smart Solutions to Climate Change, Lomborg, an adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, goes so far as to say we should spend $100 billion a year to sort it out.
The Guardian calls it a major U-turn, one "that will give a huge boost to the embattled environmental lobby".
Lomborg's proposed solutions to the problem haven't changed all that much, however.
The new book comes out of work by Lomborg's think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC). The CCC tries to set out priority lists for the world, by ranking humanity's problems in terms of how much good we could do by spending money on them.
When the CCC first reported in 2004, Lomborg wrote an article for New Scientist summing up the findings:
The top priority is to prevent HIV infection. A comprehensive programme would cost $27 billion. Yet, the social benefits would be immense: such a programme would avoid more than 28 million new cases of HIV infection by 2010. This makes it the best investment the world could possibly make, reaping benefits that outweigh the costs by 40 to 1... The experts rated responses to climate change extremely low on the "to do" list. In fact, the panel called these ventures - including the Kyoto protocol - "bad projects" simply because they cost more than the good they would do.
The problem was that the CCC's analysis only looked at the costs and benefits of tackling climate change using something akin to the Kyoto protocol for emissions cuts. Kyoto is absolutely beset with problems.
So in 2008 the CCC revisited its analysis, including a wider range of strategies for tackling climate change. This time, mitigating climate change ranked much higher.
In other words, this is not a debate about the reality of climate change but rather about how big a problem it is and thus how (if at all) we should deal with it. The Guardian acknowledges this:
From the beginning, [Lomborg] has said global warming is happening and is largely caused by humans. However, he has been consistently critical of what he sees as exaggeration of how much this matters, and of policies to tackle the problem. These would achieve too little and cost too much, he argues, meaning the money would be better spent on, say, reducing malaria and HIV/AIDS, or extending clean water and sanitation.
Lomborg may now think that tackling climate change is more worthwhile than he used to, but his solutions have not changed much. In a 2007 New Scientist interview, he said:
Solar panels could turn out to be the real solution to climate change. But they are expensive now. I say let's spend our money developing cheap panels that hundreds of millions of people can afford to install...I'd like to see a treaty that makes countries invest maybe 0.05 per cent of their gross domestic product in non-carbon energy technologies. It would cost seven times less than the [Kyoto] protocol, yet would generate 10 times the R&D... It is not [emissions] targets that we need, but a global carbon tax.
Other than a new enthusiasm for geoengineering our way out of trouble, he is saying the same thing today.
The Huffington Post notes that his apparent volte-face has attracted some serious supporters:
Lomborg has even attracted the endorsement of UN climate chief Rajendra Pachauri - who once compared Lomborg to Hitler. Dr Pachauri supplied an unlikely endorsement of Lomborg's forthcoming book... "This book provides not only a reservoir of information on the reality of human-induced climate change, but raises vital questions and examines viable options on what can be done," Pachauri wrote.
grist's Jonathan Hiskes sums the whole thing up:
Grant him this: Dude knows how to play the media. Who else could get such attention for adopting a position already held by millions of sensible people? I for one am not giving him and his book any more undeserved publicity. Oh wait.