Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lomborg Preaching to the Converted, Again

As we (Ribbon of Hope) go about, visiting our various clients in and around Nakuru, we see the many and fast changing problems that people here face. Some people get through these problems well enough, others don't. It's always hard to figure out if some make it through because they are better off than others or if they are better off because they are good at getting through problems or if there is a mixture of factors.

The rains have come in some areas. This means that it is time to plant crops. If the right preparations have been made, the crops should grow and if the rains continue, there will be a good harvest. But now the rains are here, are people preparing to harvest rainwater in order to ensure they get through the next drought? Sadly, not many people harvest rainwater. This doesn't appear to be a government priority either. The government even talked about distributing cheap or free seeds and fertilizer but now, there appears to be a shortage of both seeds and fertilizer because, well, er, the government has bought up so much of them. They must have just forgotten to distribute them.

In other areas, the rains have brought too much, too quickly, and have washed away fields, crops, roads, bridges, houses and anything else in their path. Were provisions made for flooding? It appears not. Roads that have been swept away in Coast Province were not flood proof. Floods occur with amazing regularity but flood proofing is an optional extra.

There have been power cuts again recently, despite promises that these would become a thing of the past. The government, it has been claimed, have now got the extra oil they need to make up for the shortfalls in power. Perhaps they will sort it out before the next fuel shortage. But fuel shortages, like floods, droughts, famines and other disasters keep occurring and will continue to occur. They need to be planned for. Last year, politicians were talking knowingly about planning for such disasters but there is little evidence that they have achieved anything yet.

The antics of the 'environmentalist' Bjorn Lomborg are well known to those who are interested in environmental issues but Nairobi appears to have the dubious pleasure of hosting a conference organised by Lomborg's 'think tank', the Copenhagen Consensus Centre.

Strangely enough, Lomborg appears to make a valid point about the need to concentrate on some very cheap, efficient and vital development programmes, such as micro-nutrient deficiencies and intestinal parasite infestations, which affect billions of people. However, there is a need to ensure that these billions of people have access to a balanced diet. The cheapest and most sustainable solution to these problems is not to enhance foods with various supplements and to produce things like vitamin A enriched chewing gum and other headline grabbing stories. There are already plenty of foods rich in vitamin A and other micro-nutrients. It's just that many people are too poor to afford them.

Lomborg also uses the opportunity given by this smokescreen to plug his tired old argument that climate change is not caused by human activities and that we need to adapt to it rather than trying to fight it. If the money and effort spent on denying that climate change is caused by human activities were to be spent on worthwhile causes, such as the ones Lomborg mentions, a lot of good work could have been achieved by now.

Kenya can't afford to risk accepting Lomborg's puny argument. Whether climate change is caused by human activities or not, the government has to put money into sustainable sources of energy for two reasons: first, these sources of energy will still be available for the foreseeable future, unlike fossil fuels; second, the country is not able to afford these expensive and unsustainable sources of energy and they are not able to afford the costs that go with high usage of unsustainable energy sources.

On the other hand, Kenya can afford to invest in wind power (as long as they produce their own generators, rather than buying the ridiculously expensive British ones that the UK government seems hell bent on selling them); they can afford hydrothermal power, solar power, biogas and probably all sorts of other ways of reducing the country's energy bill and the bill for the pollution and environmental damage that has taken place and that continues to take place.

But what is the government doing? Boasting about the possibility of finding oil in the Eastern Province. Billions have been sunk in drilling for oil in Kenya but the point is not that they have diddly squat to show for it. The point is that they don't need to spend all this money on fossil fuels when there are so many alternatives available here.

And the politicians will continue talking about flood proofing now the rains have come and they will surely talk about rainwater harvesting when the rains have gone away. If oil is discovered, they will rake in the money and when the oil has gone they will talk about how long term thinking is required. But I guess you can't blame Lomborg for talking the Kenyan government into stupid energy policies and development agenda. Because people who listen to such arguments seem to want to believe them.

And the bit that Lomborg gets right, that we could achieve a lot by working on micro-nutrient deficiencies and intestinal parasites, has long been recognised. But these are issues that the Kenyan government has little to say about.



Anonymous said...

You write: "Lomborg also uses the opportunity given by this smokescreen to plug his tired old argument that climate change is not caused by human activities and that we need to adapt to it rather than trying to fight it."

Since his first book in 1998, and in the Skeptical Environmentalist in 2001 and ever since then, Lomborg has argued that climate change is real, man-made, and needs to be dealt with.

He argues that 'smarter' policy options need to be used to respond to global warming effectively, because global agreement on carbon cuts isn't working. He recommends a large increase in public spending on R&D into green energy.

You can differ with him on the soundness of the policies, but there's a big difference between his position on climate change - he endorses the findings of the IPCC - and the one that you attribute to him.

Claire said...

I thought his stance in the Skeptical Environmentalist was that climate change is inevitable and we had to adapt to it, rather than prevent it.

Simon said...

Anonymous, you put an interesting gloss on Lomborg but he sidelines the issue of climate change and draws attention to issues that are, however important, consequences of climate change. He may have changed the melody but the song is pretty much the same.

Thanks for your comment, Claire, that is what I understand his view to be. But in an effort to get away from an unpopular position I think he has made some cosmetic changes over the years.