A response to my last item about the philosophy of the economy causes me to reflect on the concern about the environment, which is now focused on “global warming.” I am constantly amazed at the hubris of many “environmentalists.” They really believe that mere mortals can do more damage to the world than cosmic forces. I suggest they see the latest “end of the world” film, “Knowing,” which has mankind destroyed on earth by a massive solar flare. Or perhaps they could reflect on the billions of years of earth’s history and the many times it was totally altered by cosmic forces.

Yes, we all want to live in a comfortable, safe, sound environment. I doubt anyone would say no here. The real question is economics, what are the costs and trade offs to achieve a particular environment.

The best book I have seen on the subject is the one done by a Danish economist named Bjorn Lomborg and titled, “Cool It.” Lomborg does not deny that the earth is getting warmer or that man’s activities have added to the warming trend. Instead he focuses on the results of the warming and the appropriate response to these.

A central point Lomborg raises is the concern about rising temperatures causing more deaths due to heat. He says yes, this will occur. But that has to be compared to the many more that will not die because of reduced cold. He notes that in Europe about 200,000 die because of excess heat each year while some 1.5 million die from excess cold. For Britain he shows that a 3.6 degree F increase in temperature will mean 2000 more heat deaths but 20,000 fewer cold deaths.

Lomborg’s main concern is that the funds and energy being demanded for stemming the rising temperatures could be better used for other major problems that cause more harm to mankind. In short, he views the situation as an economist, does the end justify the cost?

I go a bit further. I say global warming cannot come too soon. The earth is a cold place. The average temperature of the earth is 60 degrees F or 15 degrees C. At this temperature the unprotected human corpus expires in a matter of minutes or a few hours. Indeed, the largest use of fossil fuels goes to keeping the body warm - building shelter, heating those shelters, manufacturing clothes, producing food and so on. Therefore, upping the average temperature will actually reduce our need for fossil fuels.

My problem with many “environmentalists” is a lack of perspective. Yes, the earth is getting warmer, where’s the news, it has been doing this for the last 10,000 years. The issue is what changes will this bring and what is the best way to handle the changes. As Lomborg and I maintain, lowering the deaths from hypothermia is a change for the good and needs no response.

Leo Cecchini
April 2009