If history tells us anything it is that we actually solve more problems than we create, says Bjorn Lomborg, initiator of the Copenhagen Consensus Process. One of the most influential global leaders (according to Time Magazine) has become famous as “Sceptical Environmentalist”. Climate change is one of the big issues, but there are more important ones, but they are not as sexy as the climate, argues Lomborg.
Bjorn, you want to make us think about the true priorities for making the world a better place. What are in your respect the biggest challenges for the world of 2026?
Ah, this of course gives away part of the talk! But first we have to understand that we should not be thinking about the biggest challenges but the best opportunities. Arguably the biggest problem is that we all die, but we don’t have a good technology to avoid it – instead we should focus on the places where we can do the most good.
Where do you think today’s priorities are misled? Don’t you fear the global collapse of the ecosystem? (You became famous as the “sceptical environmentalist”)
We easily get lured by scary and captivating images. But we have to ask where we end up doing the most good. Look at the climate movie “The Day After Tomorrow” – wonderful pictures making us very focused on climate change, but don’t expect the director to make his next movie about Brad Pitt digging latrines in Tanzania. It may be an equally important issue, but it is just not as sexy.
I think there are many problem – the ecosystem being one of them. But I think if history tells us anything it is that we actually solve more problems than we create – in the developed world, the air is cleaner now than for a long time, we’re reforesting etc.
Let’s imagine you could be the good dictator. You get 50 Bio. $. What could you achieve with that amount of money in doing good?
I would invest it in solutions that would do a lot of good before spending it on things that would only do minimal good. We asked 4 Nobel economists this exact question, and they came up with a very specific priority list for the world.
You will be keynote speaker at the 2nd European Futurists Conference Lucerne. What will we learn from you?
Two things. First, thinking about priorities is more important than ever – and the so-called Copenhagen Consensus process makes it possible to set priorities for the world, regions, nations and topic areas. I’ll talk about both the process, the outcome and the impact.
Second, I’ll talk about the necessity for futurists to provide the input to thinking about priorities, and here is a great challenge. Right now, climate change has an almost exclusive hold on the 100-year perspective (we routinely talk about the consequences of sea level rises or increases in storminess), but clearly policy making in all other areas also have great consequences a hundred years down the line. We need more thinking and scenarios about the consequences of different health policies on the centenary level (how many dead from HIV/AIDS in 2100 if we make drastic efforts vs. business-as-usual), the consequences of different nutrition policies, water policies, approaches to conflicts etc. I hope that this conference can help put us on the path where this knowledge becomes equally essential in global priority setting.
Bjorn Lomborg is adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, and author of the best-selling "The Skeptical Environmentalist", where he challenges our understanding of the environment, and points out how we need to focus our attention on the most important problems first. His book has been published in the major languages around the world and he is a frequent participant in the current debate, with commentaries in such places as New York Times, Wall St. Journal, Globe & Mail, The Guardian, The Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Times, The Australian, the Economist. He has also appeared on TV, such places as Politically Incorrect, ABC 60 minutes, CNN, BBC, CNBC, and PBS. In May 2004 he organised the "Copenhagen Consensus" which brought together some of the world's top economists. Here they prioritised the best opportunities to the world's big challenges, essentially answering the question: If we want to do good, where should we start?
Bjorn Lomborg was named one of the 100 globally most influential people by Time magazine in April 2004. Foreign Policy and Prospect Magazine had him listed as the world's 14th most influential intellectual in October 2005.
His keynote at the 2nd European Futurists Conference, Nov. 24, 2006:
The Copenhagen Consensus Priorities