Global warming and foreign aid

by Chris Bertram on December 12, 2004

Bjorn Lomborg has a column in today’s Sunday Telegraph arguing that it would be much better to spend money on helping the world’s poor than on Kyoto-style measures to cut carbon emissions. It is an interesting way of putting things, especially since, as he points out, the world’s poor are likely to be the principal victims of climate change. Thank goodness, then, that those governments most sceptical about Kyoto are also among the most generous with their foreign-aid budgets (scroll down for table). And shame on those Kyoto-enthusiasts who are, comparatively, so mean with their foreign-aid contributions (and who also tie what little aid they do give to compliance with their foreign-policy objectives).



jdsm 12.12.04 at 12:15 pm

I didn’t realise you were being sarcastic until I looked at the link.

Lomborg, I believe, has been unfairly maligned in the past. I think the arguments he makes he believes and if things were so simple they’re not obviously wrong. That is, if on a pure cost benefit analysis it would make more sense to deal with climate change rather than stop it, he might have an argument.

The part of that argument that makes me uneasy is the margin for error. If the worst predictions about climate change come true it’s not just more expensive, it’s a catastrophe. Add to that the fact that predictions about what will happen are so speculative. The world has never warmed so quickly, so we really can’t be sure what will occur.


John Quiggin 12.12.04 at 12:17 pm

Of course, the same couldn’t be said of Lomborg’s home country of Denmark, at least recently.

But the Rasmussen government, which appointed Lomborg as a full-time propagandist has also repeatedly cut foreign aid


joel turnipseed 12.12.04 at 12:33 pm

I’m with Lombard, mostly. W/r/t “what to do about climate change?” I’m surprised we haven’t long-since gotten off the Global Warming course of argument and tacked to “China’s gonna consume all our oil (and, in 2034, when they buy Russia lock, stock, and barrel & annex Vietnam, they’ll have most of what’s left in the ground).”

This is fanciful, of course, but my grandfather–an economist who has also been teaching and traveling in China for two decades–tells me it’s about right. Which is to say, scarcity of oil is going to be a bigger boost to green research than threat of global warming–isn’t it? And isn’t that a more immediate, broadly-shared economic problem?


Andrew Boucher 12.12.04 at 2:50 pm

Of course there’s the logical lacuna that foreign-aid budget = helping the poor. Apparently, if it’s not done by a direct hand-out, then it doesn’t exist !

The American consumer has perhaps done more to help the greatest number of the world’s poor in the last ten years by buying Chinese products than all the foreign-aid dollars combined. Mind you, at a certain cost to the Chinese (and American) environment.

Oh and just one tangential thing that really bugs me – the comparison of foreign-aid dollar absolutes in terms of GDP. Because the American worker works longer and harder, he’s supposed to give more than the French worker? How about comparing the number of absolute dollars in terms of population when you’re talking about the G7? It probably doesn’t affect America’s order, but it makes things a bit closer.


Giles 12.12.04 at 3:15 pm

A better comparison than aid as a fraction of GDP is aid as a percentage of government expenditure since that says how genorous the government is.

To measure a countires generortisty, private contributions would also need to be included and this would probably shove the US well up


Giles 12.12.04 at 3:16 pm

A better comparison than aid as a fraction of GDP is aid as a percentage of government expenditure since that says how genorous the government is.

To measure a countires generortisty, private contributions would also need to be included and this would probably shove the US well up the list


fantazia 12.12.04 at 3:19 pm

Yes, but the option being presented here is not foreign aid v.s. consumer spending, it’s foreign aid v.s. climate change policy.

Also, expressing foreign aid in dollars per head doesn’t make the order better, it makes it worse.


fantazia 12.12.04 at 3:26 pm

How about we just exclude all countries from the list whose names don’t start with the letter ‘U’? That would shove the United States up the list.


Andrew Boucher 12.12.04 at 3:35 pm

“Yes, but the option being presented here is not foreign aid v.s. consumer spending, it’s foreign aid v.s. climate change policy.”

No it’s not, it’s helping the poor vs. climate change policy.


Adam Kotsko 12.12.04 at 3:45 pm

It’s actually “helping the poor through foreign aid vs. climate change policy.” So you’re both right!


Reg 12.12.04 at 3:57 pm

Does the foreign aid budget table include the costs spent on military endeavors intended to remove corrupt dictators and improve the standard of living? Kuwait, Afgahnistan, Kosovo, and Bosnia all should be counted, time will tell if the money spent on Iraq was worthwhile.


junius ponds 12.12.04 at 5:36 pm

I believe Germany, Japan, and Saudi Arabia paid 80% of the cost for Gulf War I. It’d be interesting to see who’s paying for other international operations.


fantazia 12.12.04 at 6:17 pm

Good idea, Reg. The foreign aid budget table should also include the costs imposed by oil price spikes caused by wars in the Middle East.

Might turn some of these positive numbers into negative ones.


Thomas Palm 12.12.04 at 6:18 pm

Buy a smaller, more fuel efficient car. Send the money saved for the car and the gas to the third world. You’ve improved both the environment and helped the poor countries. Just an example to show that Lomborg’s thesis that we necessarily have to choose between helping the poor or saving the environment is far too simplified.

Another odd statment by L: “Even if everyone (including the United States) did Kyoto and stuck to it throughout the century”. The rest of the century? Kyoto doesn’t set any goals for the rest of the century, it sets goals for 2012, after that it is assumed there will be new treaties.


Walt Pohl 12.12.04 at 7:38 pm

Fantazia: That “U” comment was very funny.


ProfWombat 12.12.04 at 8:11 pm

Michael Crichton’s new novel portrays environmentalism as a non-scientific religious cult that’s cost 50 million dead via the banning of DDT alone. The novel’s premise seems to be that human activity can create ecological catastrophe. Odd, that…I love the smell of cognitive dissonance int he morning.


harry 12.12.04 at 8:34 pm

Does anyone have comparative figures on private giving to charities working in developing countries? I was shocked by the tiny percentage of US private scharitable giving that ends up in developing countries (less than 1% I think); but of course since contributions to NOW, the Christian Coalition, and the local Opera company presumably count as charitable giving (Hah!) the atcual percentage of GDP might be entirely respectable.


jet 12.13.04 at 3:00 am

Why does the first premise contradict the second?

As for DDT, the inconclusive studies of its harm hardly warrant the number of dead, stunted, and blind we have every year in Africa. I understand a tenant of environmentalism is that human suffering doesn’t count if migrating birds might suffer. I just didn’t actually believe there was such a thing as a “real environmentalist” when it came to the millions suffering in Africa. Obviously I’m wrong since the incredibly cheap pesticide, DDT, is still a major bogeyman of the Wacky Green Crowd.


ProfWombat 12.13.04 at 4:30 am

Crichton’s novel attacks the premise that human activity adversely impacts the environment by hypothesizing exactly that.
I’m convinced by the close to unanimous case for global warming in the scientific literature that, at the least, we’re running a dangerous experiment we ought to think about. I’m not in knee-jerk opposition to nuclear power. I don’t know enough about DDT, its effects and its alternatives to argue with that one, save that polemically linking environmental consciousness with genocidal maniacs seems a bit much to me. I think there’s more science than religion (and a bit of politics) to environmentalism, and that Lonborg’s and Crichton’s criticisms can be met.


dsquared 12.13.04 at 11:05 am

How would using DDT as a pesticide have any effect on malaria, since the malaria mosquito is not an agricultural pest (its food is blood, not crops)?

In fact, DDT is legal as an antimalarial almost everywhere except for those places too poor to buy more modern and effective insecticides. In those places, its effectiveness as an antimalarial gets less and less every year, because the irresponsible overuse of DDT as a pesticide is breeding generations of DDT-resistant mosquitoes.


simon 12.13.04 at 11:02 pm

Jet, is the ‘Wacky Green Crowd’ the run of the mill environmentalists or the environmental and earth sciences scientists?

Who do you get your ‘environmental’ info/science from, is it consensus views from qualified scientists in these fields, that tell us we are having an adverse effect on the global environment, or from extreme minority/fringe scientists in these fields, or with academic/science backgrounds outside these fields but feel qualified to contradict those who are, or those linked to industry lobby groups that have a vested interest in the matter?

For the record could you tell me like DDT that these are ‘Wacky Green Crowd’ myths:
Smoking causes cancer. (Are these also inconclusive studies?)
Dioxins are harmful
There is a human induced mass extinction taking place
Human induced ozone hole problem
World wide problems with fresh water overuse and associated pollution
Acid rain and forest decline
Over fishing in the worlds oceans
Pollution problems from agricultural pesticides
Flooding from deforestation
Dray land salinity in Australia and the loss of productive land through the clearing of native vegitation

I tend to find libertarians and other super skeptics lump them all together.

Profwombat is it cognitive dissonance or a healthy dose of confirmation bias and the file draw problem?


jet 12.14.04 at 3:04 pm

Simon, you have a long laundry list of questions, and I’ll do my best to answer to the best of my beliefs. I won’t even consult Google, just give you my personal takes so you can judge my relative knowledge based upon your somewhat biased perception of reality.

-Smoking causes cancer: Conclusively proven.

-Dioxins are harmful: Conclusively proven.

-There is a human induced mass extinction taking place: Worst case scenarios of global warming still wouldn’t cause a “mass extinction”. That seems a bit, ah, paranoid.

-Human induced ozone hole problem: This has been addressed and current evidence shows the problem has not only stabilized, but is returning to a more “normal” state.

-World wide problems with fresh water overuse and associated pollution: In the industrialized world, the only problem seems to be a lack of capacity to move water where it is needed. In the third world, the problem is a lack of capacity to create potable water. With the massive recovery of the great lakes as my prime example, I’d say the problem has been addressed.

-Acid rain and forest decline: The studies linking acid rain to forest decline have been challenged successfully in my book. You’ll only get me to agree that acid rain is a problem as city smog and for destroying that great statue of what’s-his-face in the courtyard. And acid rain is being dealt with via tightening car emissions controls and tighter regulations on power plants. You’ll notice an improving air quality trend if you examined a few years of recent data. Forests in industrialized nations are expanding.

-Over fishing in the worlds oceans: populations have stabilized well below optimal, but the end of the ocean danger is over. This issue does need to be addressed and is a real problem.

-Pollution problems from agricultural pesticides: certainly an issue, but fresh water pollution is monitored and addressed.

-Flooding from deforestation: certainly an issue in third world nations. I’m all for helping remove the need to deforest land through massive subsidies (as is Lomborg of course).

-Dray land salinity in Australia and the loss of productive land through the clearing of native vegetation: Sounds like a regional problem that should be addressed. Good luck with that.


jet 12.14.04 at 3:13 pm

dsquared, you said “because the irresponsible overuse of DDT as a pesticide is breeding generations of DDT-resistant mosquitoes.”

You do realize that at one point malaria was epidemic in N. America? What do you think removed malaria from N. America? I was under the impression it was the “irresponsible overuse of DDT”. This “overuse” included using DDT everywhere, including inside houses.

If anything irresponsible is going on in Africa, it is the underuse of DDT. Things done in half-measures seldom succeed.


simon 12.15.04 at 12:06 am

Hi Jet, thanks for the in-depth reply.

For me as a lay person the real issue is how should I believe a consensus position by scientists qualified in their fields, the dissenting minority in that field, those with academic or scientific backgrounds but outside these fields or lobby groups either green or industry.

While not qualified I do have a broad interest in scientific matters so I read mag’s like New Scientist, Scientific American and listen to quality science programming like our local ABC Science Show and Catalyst. Overall by doing this over many years I get a picture of what is the overall picture in a variety of fields. Now the consistent picture across the fields is that we are having a detrimental effect on the global environment. Occasional blips like acid rain and forests (not as bad but still a factor) do crop up but they are by far in the minority.

To me I’m prepared to base my opinion on the science come what may –I’m even open to the nuclear option if warranted-but when others take a position that is at odds with consensus scientific views all I can think is that they are likely to be under a strong confirmation bias or file draw problem. If like yourself they accepted there was some harm happening and accepted at least some of the hard science, their positions would be tenable, but many do not and link to groups that have an ideological agenda against restrictions on business like the Libertarians, or industry lobby groups.

I see many parallels with creation scientists and such debates. They claim to be thinking rationally and logically with individuals with science degrees and links to scientific looking papers and resources. Calling into question the work of mainstream scientists and their conclusions from evolution to plate tectonics. It is true that science has and does get it wrong Eugenics in the 20’s a good example, but I think that when you go against a consensus by the majority of scientists in a field, extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence.

You also seem to be an odd man out as many of the GW sceptics I come up against down play any negative effect on the environment by humans think that whole list and others are just myths.

-There is a human induced mass extinction taking place: Actually this is happening even without GW with many biologists calling it the next big extinction event on par with past asteroid hits.
-World wide problems with fresh water overuse and associated pollution: wish that was so, I keep hearing all about limited water resources not transportation, in Australian this will be particularly acute. Though I’ve not heard about the US situation.
-Acid rain and forest decline: could you provide a link to your work? I did hear about a recent Norwegian ? study that also called this into question. I also expect air quality to improve further when we switch to hydrogen but that doesn’t help people in Beijing at the moment.
-Over fishing in the worlds oceans: Not heard anything about stabilization I keep hearing about lost fisheries and species decline.


jet 12.15.04 at 3:52 am

Hello Simon,

“I believe a consensus position by scientists qualified in their fields” that is the crux of the problem in any rational debate about Global Warming. We know the Earth is warming, and we know that CO2 is a related. But there are still some other unknowns, from things as obscure as cosmic radiation’s effects on cloud type and cover, to particulate pollution relation to warming (NASA entertained for a short time this was the culprit). And different models predict different temperature ranges with differing degrees of accuracy. Is there a 90% assurance that the temperature growth over the next 100 years will be between 3 degrees Celsius and 6 degrees Celsius or will it be between 6C and 9C? Is 3C an assured net benefit to mankind? Is 6C a wash? Is 9C a horrible catastrophe? Is 3C more likely than 9C? So when you claim there is a consensus, I’m not sure what that means. And since I’m not a environmental scientist, I can only rely upon my meager statistical skills and people like Lomborg. And since the loudest of Lomborg’s detractors mainly attacked his motives, and the rest made sniping attacks against things he said that even if wrong don’t change his central thesis, I’m still not even close to convinced he isn’t the horse to be back..

As for the acid rain and deforestation question, I would point you to the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program. The Norwegian study is probably the same one that backed up the NAPAP’s studies.

A little tidbit of my technocratic leanings: Chinese farm grown shrimp are not only safer and cheaper, they do not cause nearly as much nor the same kind of environmental harm as shrimpers on the ocean. Technology has been curing environmental problems for the last 300 years, I see no reason why it will stop now. But trust me when I say I want those bickering scientist and their 3′s and 9′s making those decisions, not laymen like myself.

And on a funnier note, if you want to see a travesty of “educated” debate, look at the last Slashdot thread on nuclear waste disposal. I say that because you might also be the odd man out for entertaining the nuclear option.

Here’s to making the world a better place,


james 12.15.04 at 3:38 pm

The article makes no effort to include the direct aid from the US or any other government. For example the linked article implies the US only gave $9.581 Billion in 2000 in total. According to the United States agency for International Development (USAID), the US gave $1.7 Billion in food aid, $3.6 Billion in non-specific economic aid, $4.8 Billion in military aid, and $6.7 Billion through USAID for a total of $16.8 Billion. None of these numbers seem to imply the inclusion of the $9.5 Billion to the ODA.


jet 12.15.04 at 6:06 pm

Score 100 points for James.

If you look at 2002, it would appear only 34% of the US’s foreign aid went to ODA. I for one can see no reason why the US shouldn’t be bypassing the UN. At least this minimizes the number of US funded UN rape camps.

I wonder if those other Kyoto loving nations also only sent 34% of their aid to the ODA. Why am I guessing that their numbers are going to be a lot higher?


simon 12.15.04 at 10:57 pm

Jet I don’t know about the other detractors attacking Lomborg but have a search on google for the debate between the Lomborg and scientists in these fields through open letters in Scientific American.

Summed up by a scientist on the ABC the Science Show

Well, I think Bjorn Lomborg’s arguments have been pretty well demolished in a very general way. What he tends to do is to take some broad measures of environment that appear to be improving without looking at any of the greenie detail to show how things are actually falling apart. You know, he’ll say air quality is generally improving which it is, but you know underneath all kinds of other dreadful things are happening. So I would tend to the view that if you select your indices you can somehow prove the world’s getting better but if you look honestly at all the different things that are happening, the risk that will catastrophically fall apart is terrifyingly high.

If someone like Lomborg –academic but unqualified in that field- criticized the NAPAP’s studies how would you feel?

As a far as the temp range I would go with the IPCC since it is touted as a group of the worlds leading climatologists.
I do know that a 5C change is in line with differences between now and ice ages and 10C is figured to cause major extinction events.

AS far as nuclear I know Lovelock thinks the same way. I’ve no problem with safety from a well maintained plant, though I’m not so sure about the cost effectiveness when you factor in subsides, security, transportation, storage and decommissioning. If the same sort of money went to renewables I wonder who would come out ahead? BTW very few esp from business are looking into the cost savings from energy efficiency, just how they can get more plants built, coal or otherwise.

That’s the thing I’ll take the best advice from those qualified when there is with no obvious bias.

Comments on this entry are closed.