Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why some people can't Cool It...

It does seem that the discussion of the Copenhagen Consensus and Bjorn Lomborg's positions canlead to some pretty heated reactions. I came across an interesting post discussing such reactions and arguing that it all boils down to the concept of "opportunity costs". It does  look as though the world is going hysteric over global warming when it would be quite crucial to keep cool and make perhaps vital decisions rationally, especially since our resources as so scarce.

Sadly, despite a very "user friendly" / pedagogical way of presenting his points Lomborg is not always well understood. I believe that is because quite a lot of his developments run counter generally accepted ideas and even "common sense" in a way. It's a bit like the resistance to change one faces when trying to help a disorganized and overloaded executive to start prioritizing actions because it takes some nerve and a healthy dose of indifference to accept the idea that there are quite a few things out there on which you will not focus if you are to achieve anything meaningful on those subjects you've decided to tackle first with your limited resources.

Maybe more than an issue with the understanding of the concept of "opportunity cost" discussed in the post, I feel there are phenomena that provide explanations on that count:

  1. a reluctance of many people to use money and utility curves to make decisions about "noble causes" as though that would put dirt on those noble causes (perhaps owing to a tradition in many cultures to consider money as "bad" or "dirty")

  2. the degree of anxiety created by the sort of media coverage we're getting about global warming and I must say Cool It came as a refreshing perspective as far as I am concerned

  3. reluctance to accept the consequences that cannot be avoided and which stem from our past (current?) consumption behaviors... something which is creating a collective schizophrenia of sorts with part of ourselves concerned with success within the existing economic and social context and part of ourselves leaning in the direction of a radical change of behavior in favor of more ecology

  4. lack of skill in prioritizing and planning at a collective level especially where the protection of the commons is concerned, more particularly since we were conditioned into believing the theory that competition and the free markets would solve all of our problems without government intervention

  5. poor collective sense of proportion and assessment of quantitative facts, especially as regards the quality of projections of likely consequences from warming

  6. desire to keep things as they were or are (something that is very characteristic of our modern civilization with its unprecedented recording capabilities), when the world is a place in constant evolution

  7. excessive confidence in the effectiveness of public action with ambitious goals, fueled by the lack of assessment of past initiatives led by governments only with long term time horizons (economic development of less-developed countries, agricultural programs in Africa, funding of projects by the World Bank, free trade agreements invariably leading to a violation of the position of developing nations...) Overall we have confidence in a failed model of world governance and perhaps the first challenge to tackle is to reform that so as to be at least confident in the vehicle we are going to use to tackle whichever problems we can rationally consider to be the real top priorities

On the other hand there are also a few intelligent replies like this one that are a real contribution to the discussion from my perspective and which IMHO should not prevent us from using valuable contributions from the Copenhagen Consensus (I certainly consider their analytical and cooperative approach to be a very positive contribution that should bring us closer to a more factual discussion on this important matter).

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