‘Skeptical Environmentalist’ Urges Country to Prioritize

November 7, 2008

MANAGUA – Danish author and environmentalist skeptic Bjorn Lomborg doesn’t deny the world is heating up, but says Nicaragua should seriously consider whether its money would be better spent fighting climate change or investing in education, health and infrastructure.

Lomborg, who visited Nicaragua last month as part of a regional tour to promote his “Copenhagen Consensus,” an ambitious project to set priorities to improve global welfare, says Nicaragua and other countries should be wary of prioritizing climate change policies that seek only to cut carbon emissions.

“Very often, climate change strategies are a way of saying: how can we cut carbon emissions? That’s a very poor option for rich countries and an incredibly inefficient way to face problems in Nicaragua,” Lomborg told The Nica Times in an exclusive phone interview.

Author, academic and environmentalist, Lomborg is perhaps best known for his controversial book “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” which argues that a number of global environmental issues such as global warming are unsupported by data analysis

He has since received a slew of recognition, including being named among the world’s 75 most influential people of the 21st century by Esquire Magazine.

He said impoverished countries like Nicaragua need to set clear priorities as they head into the climate change debate, because it’s often more effective for these countries to focus on meeting basic needs rather than set lofty environmental goals for 100 years down the road.

Though last year’s Category 5 Hurricane Felix, which leveled much of Nicaragua’s northern Caribbean coast, has prompted calls here for action on climate change, Lomborg said Nicaragua should instead focus policy on improving natural disaster preparedness and infrastructure and reducing poverty.

He used the examples of Haiti and the Dominican Republic to illustrate his point.

The two countries share the same island but Haiti has hurricane death rates 100 times higher than its neighbor due to poor infrastructure and preparation.

He also questions the link between increasingly destructive natural disasters and global warming.

“There is no empirical evidence that hurricane strength is increasing. Right now the vast increase we are seeing is probably due to natural variations,” he said.

Lomborg said supporting reforestation and seeking carbon certification would likely benefit Nicaragua, as proposed in the climate change strategy of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resource (MARENA).

But Nicaragua shouldn’t overlook the potential benefits of clearing forest for farming.

“Brazil is cutting down rain forest and putting in soy beans because it’s a very good source of income,” he said, “one of the reasons Europe got rich is that we cut down our forest.”

Agriculture creates wealth, which gives residents means to prepare for natural disasters. Plus, farmers tend to be more adaptable than government programs.

“Farmers are much better at dealing with whatever the future will throw at them instead of investing in carbon-emission reductions,” he said.

Lomborg met with Nicaraguan leaders last month to form a preliminary Copenhagen Consensus to encourage leaders to form consensus on public initiatives.

He may return next year to help Nicaragua publish a Copenhagen Consensus.

–Blake Schmidt

 

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