Should we focus on clean air and water instead of Global Warming?

Was reading this article on CNN today and wondered what 'dopers think of it. Basically, Bjorn Lomborg feels that the focus should be on clean air and water, especially in the 3rd world, instead of Global Warming.

Anyway, you can read the whole article (it’s not very long) in the link above. For debate, do you think we should focus more of our efforts (i.e. money) on clean air and water, especially in the 3rd world, or continue what seems to be an irregularly successful campaign against global warming and climate change? Or do you feel we should do neither…or attempt both? Or do something else?


It sounds like the fallacy of the false dilemma to me. Global warming and pollution may both be bad but those aren’t the only issues that affect the world either especially in the 3rd world. Pollution is only one of many problems that the 3rd world faces. She is concerned with pollution while others are concerned about malaria, AIDS, and droughts. All of them are cause for concern. Global warming is different in that it has the potential to affect the entire world and the impact isn’t limited to humans. It also won’t go away quickly even if most humans died off .

There are plenty of problems to go around and people to work on them. Until I see an actual proposal about which resources should be taken away from one problem to focus on another and exactly why, I am not impressed with convoluted ways of saying that their are many problems in the world. I think we all already know that.

Give me two problems, and one you want me to like, and I will create for you a standard which will unequivocally show that one to be more important.

So, what you both seem to be saying is that we have plenty of resources to be addressing both (plus a few more) issues, and the guy in the linked article is just crying wolf?


No, I think what they’re saying is that there are plenty of problems to go around, and there’s no sense ignoring any of them.

Not crying wolf, I think clean air and especially clean water are very important, too. He may even be right, that they’re more important. They’re definitely more immediate. If an asteroid were going to hit tomorrow, what would the author divert funds from to do something about it? What would he divert funds from in order to pay for programs that would tell us whether asteroids were going to hit us tomorrow? Next week? Ten years from now? He says, “Why are we not talking about the important issues in the third world? Why are we talking about somewhat more esoteric issues that clearly concern first-world people? There is perhaps 0.06% of all deaths in the developing world caused by global warming. There’s 13% of all deaths caused by air and water pollution. Let’s get our priorities right.” I submit that this is not damning evidence that our priorities are actually wrong. If we spend a bunch of money to clean their water, and then a severe drought from climate change destroys farming in the region, what will he have to say about that?

There are no shortage of problems in the world and while “how many people die from X versus Y right now” is certainly a useable metric, I don’t know offhand that anyone really thinks this is actually a good metric. So maybe I’d like to hear thoughts from the gallery on that.

Speaking as a global citizen who cares about the environment, we should be focusing on everything.

But speaking as a person who enforces environmental regulations at the state level? We can’t even get people on board with controlling pollution running off their front yards. When we can crack that nut, then we can start thinking about controlling CO2 emissions.

I just finished writing a response to a letter sent to my agency from an environmental non-profit. It wants the state to call its coastal waters impaired for acidification stemming from increased atmospheric CO2. Normally I have to consult my manager for the party line, but I didn’t have to in this case. Very well-intentioned folks, no doubt, but what they want us to do is crazy-bananas. The state can crack down on all of its permitted facilities–which is all we can do, by law–and it wouldn’t fix global warming one little bit. It would piss people off and invite lawsuits up the wazoo, though. More importantly, though, we already have an uphill battle controlling nutrient and sediment pollution–which is really what is killing our waters. Piling global warming on top of the “to-do” list is not going to speed this up. It will actually make stakeholders (read, business and agriculture) more hesitant to cooperate with us. We tell them to install $30 million worth of improvements to their facility to control pollution and they begrudgingly sign on. But then next week we tell them that’s not good enough and they’ve got to do that and something else to meet CO2 emission standards? How will we even be able to gauge progress? Pollution is easy to track. Global warming? Do we measure that here or in Honolulu? How do we assure them we aren’t going to be knocking on their door next year with another requirement if we can’t gauge progress?

So it’s a mess and I don’t know what’s going to happen.