Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming by Bjorn Lomborg (Knopf, $27, 253 pages)

Bjorn Lomborg is a professor at the Copenhagen Business School and initiator of the Copenhagen Consensus (a think tank that tackles world problems), but is probably best known as the skeptical environmentalist. In his most recent book,Cool It, he says that while global warming is a reality, “head-long spending on extravagant CO2 cutting programs,” including the Kyoto Protocol, are inefficiently expensive and not worth pursuing.

A fully implemented Kyoto (including the U.S.) would cost $5 trillion over the next century, but would only reduce the increase in temperature by 3/10ths of a degree Fahrenheit. The economic benefit is estimated to be $2 trillion –obviously a bad deal.

Lomborg also stresses that many scientists and politicians are skewing the science and other facts when outlining the danger of global warming. While he concedes that humans contribute to global warming, Lomborg reminds readers of numerous past changes in climate that have nothing to do with our consumption of fossil fuels. For example, glaciers have been advancing and receding for millennia and even today, glaciers in some parts of the planet are melting, while others (in the Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountains) are advancing because of a two-degree cooling in that part of the world. Also, melting sea ice cannot flood coastal areas, because it is displacing its own weight. Rather, water levels are rising because “when water gets warmer, like everything else, it expands” (this is high school science) and because of melting land-based glaciers. Antarctic ice is not melting, but even if it did, New York, Bangladesh and the Netherlands would survive.

The UN International Panel on Climate Change estimates global sea levels will increase a foot over the next century. That is significant, but manageable and a far cry from the 20 feet former U.S. vice-president Al Gore presents in his film An Inconvenient Truth. His hysteria borders on fraud.

Part of the reason that flooding and hurricanes cause more damage today than they did a century ago is not greater frequency or intensity, but because more people live in coastal areas. As more property is settled along oceans and rivers, the damage natural disasters in these areas cause increases.

And about those sainted polar bears, the cuddly unofficial mascots of the global warming movement, Lomborg notes that far from being endangered, their numbers are increasing, from 5,000 in the 1960s to more than 25,000 today. Interestingly, the two declining subspecies of polar bear inhabit regions that have gotten colder in recent years, whereas the subspecies that are increasing inhabit areas that are getting warmer.

While focusing on polar bears, the environmentalists fail to report that many species will do better with climate change. But it is neither the planet itself or animals that should be the concern of policy-makers. People should be.

Lomborg’s implicitly pro-life argument is that rather than paying exorbitantly for nominal benefits a century into the future, it is better to invest the money to ameliorate suffering today. Using cost-benefit analysis, he concludes that the money spent trying to slow global warming, would be better utilized to address the “many more pressing problems in the world, such as hunger, poverty and disease.” As Lomborg says, “Our ultimate goal is not to reduce greenhouse gases or global warming per se, but to improve the quality of life and the environment.” As such, governments and international agencies should put resources where they would do the most good.

Lomborg gathered economists from around the world to do a cost-benefit analysis of the solutions to a number of world problems, including AIDS, global warming, malaria, malnutrition and sanitation. On a dollar basis, when taking into account lost productivity and opportunity cost, combating climate change is the least efficient way to save lives. In fact, of 17 global issues, climate challenges rank as the bottom three.

If policy-makers would dedicate $12 billion to cut the malnutrition rate in half, they could save two million lives per year and reduce the damage to eyesight and intellectual development in tens of millions more people. For $13 billion, malaria rates could be halved, reducing to a billion the number of people affected by the disease and cutting developing world child mortality by nearly three-quarters. Unfortunately, among the ameliorative measures Lomborg and his economists support is condoms to combat AIDS, but that does not negate his larger point that present-day human suffering deserves our immediate attention.

Gore talks about battling global warming as a cause that will give this generation meaning. Fighting global warming, he says, is a “moral and spiritual challenge.” Lomborg counters with the question of whether we want to feel good or do good? The global warming moralizers have lost track of what is truly important, putting the planet before its people. Lomborg is a rare voice of sanity, with a proper reprioritization.

According to even the UN’s estimates, rather than the bogus and unfounded numbers Gore presents in An Inconvenient Truth, global warming will present challenges to future generations to deal with different weather patterns and increased temperatures, but it will hardly make the world uninhabitable. In the meantime, there are millions of lives to be saved with more modest measures that are every bit as much a moral and spiritual challenge as Gore presents global warming to be.