Aiming Low on Global Warming

By ,

Japanese car manufacturers are the best. This is for a variety or reasons, but a major factor is the Kaizen approach, which is roughly structured as follows. First, target your biggest error (cost), once that is resolved, find your next biggest, once that is resolved, find your next, repeat until no errors remain in the production process. This recursive process of continuous improvement creates exponential benefits by saving money over and over again, but primarily it says: “Eat the low hanging fruit first”.

What if we applied this to global warming? Under Kyoto, the question is posed as follows, “How do we reduce carbon emissions?” I propose we change the question to, “How do we most effectively solve specific problems caused by global warming?” The answer, my friends, is rarely cutting carbon emissions.

In 2008, world economists and researches wrote the Copenhagen Consensus which outlined how to to most effectively tackle the worlds problems, in other words where is the biggest bang for the buck in helping the planet. The results in order of priority,

  1. Micronutrients
  2. Free Trade
  3. Immunization
  4. Agricultural R & D

and in 30th (last) place: Cut CO2 emissions.

A good example are polar bears, who have become an icon of the greenhouse gas struggle. In 1950, there were about 5 000 polar bears, today there are nearly 22 000. Despite these positive figures, polar bear populations are indeed threatened by reduced ice coverage. Yet, the likely benefits if ALL countries attained Kyoto protocol emissions (which is impossible) would be to save about 1 polar bear per year.

The icing on the cake is that at least 300 polar bears are shot by humans every year. So, to put it clearly, we could try to co-ordinate all the world’s nations to achieve Kyoto protocol at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars; or, we could stop shooting polar bears. Low hanging fruit anyone?

More resources:

A recent article in the IHTclearly outlines the high-cost and limited benefit of the EU Carbon Emissions Program.

Great TED talk by Bjorn Lormberg outlining these points:

And a longer talk on the same topic: