Publisher: Cambridge University Press Date of Publication: 2004
Price: £ 19.99 ISBN: 0 521 60614 4
Pages: xxii + 648 Format: Paperback

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Introduction; 1 - Climate change; 2 - Communicable diseases; 3 - Conflicts; 4 - Access to education; 5 - Financial instability; 6 - Governance and corruption; 7 - Malnutrition and hunger; 8 - Migration; 9 - Sanitation and access to clean water; 10 - Subsidies and trade barriers; Ranking the opportunities.



Lomborg's first text caused somewhat of a controversy and so the next publication was always going to attract attention. The real point is if such attention is merited. Although the basic theme of this text is also economics there is a totally different slant on it.

For a start, the text is the culmination of a considerable amount of research by a group of leading economists. The idea (subsequently called the Copenhagen Consensus) was for a group of researchers to consider a range of problems with the idea of finding the most beneficial way to spend limited resources. The problems were not just a random selection; the entire process moved through a series of debates and selections so that the chosen 10 were seen to offer the most cost-effective solution for global action. This last part is quite important for those in ecological and environmental education. We are used to seeing choices made but these are generally between a range of eco-options and not the wider gamut of human requirements. Thus any concern about the environment had to compete for limited resources with other, more anthropocentric, ideas.

The text opens with an explanation of the process taken and the theory/practice behind it. One is struck immediately with the rigour of the work where a considerable range of issues and problems besetting such a project have been (at least) examined. From this point, the 10 issues are paraded before us. There appears to be no set order for these because this first part (the 10 chapters and the substantive part of the book) is an attempt to lay before the reader the key arguments and the data surrounding them. The opening chapter deals with a key issue - global warming. Even from this first entry the reader is aware of a different approach to that normally seen in climate texts. The aim is to produce a clear overview of the issue and some of the background material for it. This is followed by a detailed analysis of a range of models each one aiming to produce an overall picture. Immediately after this there are two, smaller, papers dealing with alternative perspectives on the problem. This acts as a kind of public mini-review session where the authors are free to comment on the work presented.In this chapter alone, the original author also gets a right of reply. The second chapter looks at disease and the problems it causes: special concern is paid to one of the main case studies: malaria. Chapter three looks at conflict but suggests, early on, that the most useful focus is on civil war. The central point is not only that war is hell but that it's expensive and that conflict reduction would be a major step forward. Given also that many of the main conflicts are in areas of high biodiversity one can see how problems seen here could spread. Chapter four looks at the costs and benefits of education. This is a huge area not always with the largest literature. One is given special insight here to see how a project can be made from the ground up. Chapter five examines the problems of financial stability. Here is a key issue because if the cash dries up then it is almost certain that the environment will come bottom of the list Next we move to financial systems. Poverty and wealth distribution have long been linked to degradation and so it comes as no surprise that this is one of the larger discussions. If there is to be good environmental analysis and control it follows that we need to see where the money is going to and this is where chapter six with its focus on governance and corruption comes in. Poverty elimination is a fine objective and it does help reduce environmental losses but it does need strong government. Chapter seven moves to simpler, but no less rigorous topics - it examines malnutrition and hunger. Again, this is a fair choice because of the degradation that searching for food can bring. Chapter eight brings in yet another global issue - migration. Although seen as a human issue there is obviously the impact this can have on ecosystems. Chapter 9 deals with freshwater and sanitation. This is a major human issue but pollution also has an ecological dimension as well. The last-mentioned case is the issue of subsidies and trade barriers. as one might expect here, the notion is that reduction of either will help globally. Once the cases have been made it the next stage is to rank the issues in terms of merit. Each of the judging panel is a leading economist and each has a small space within which to put their rankings and opinions. This is then collated and an overall "winner" is found which, in this case, is communicable diseases such as HIV. Global warming fares poorly being at the bottom of the list with the expert economists. A final few pages are devoted to the parallel youth conference held during the meetings to discuss the key papers. Their solution was malnutrition followed by communicable diseases.

Overall this is a fascinating text that will cause as much stir as the original one. Unusually, each chapter is linked to another two, shorter, ones providing what is called a different perspective but in reality is too often just a paean of praise. The ten areas discussed are subject to rigorous analysis and there is much useful data that could be collected. However, the perspectives shown are unashamedly economics-oriented and there is little of the ecological side in comparison. The choice of cases to analyse and their final ranking might surprise many but then the original aim of the book was to get some debate starting and the text has certainly fulfilled this part. Although the central idea is quite simple, the logistics of the situation are such that it requires some quite specific knowledge to be able to provide a fuller critique of the situation. In some ways this is a pity because it reduces the level of debate. This aside, Lomborg and his team should be justifiably proud of their achievement.


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