Bjørn Lomborg: Want to Save the Planet? It’s a Gas.


Bjørn Lomborg: the Skeptical Environmentalist.

When it comes to assessing the costs, risks and benefits of environmental policy Bjørn Lomborg has always tried to provide balanced, detailed analysis supported by facts and evidence. The economic choices we make – about allocating scarce resources to unlimited wants – should – as Lomborg consistently points out – be made taking into account all of the costs weighed against properly measured benefits (see our post here).

Bjørn Lomborg has become one of the most high profile critics of insanely expensive and utterly pointless renewable energy policies across the globe (see our posts here and here).

Bjørn’s back –  in this piece extracted from The Australian.

Gas is greenest in the short term (truncated)
The Australian
Bjørn Lomborg
12-13 July 2014

… We often hear how the EU has managed to cut its emissions by 16 per cent since 1990. But this is true only if we ignore the implicit emissions from the increasing imports from China and elsewhere. The EU has simply shifted part of its emissions abroad, so the total emissions have been slightly increasing. The EU is committed to cutting carbon emissions by 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. This will, according to an averaging of all the available energy-economic models, cost $US280bn a year. By the end of the century (after a total cost of more than $US20 trillion), this will reduce the projected temperature increase by a mere 0.05C.

Although renewables such as solar and wind are sold almost universally as the panacea to global warming, the world has been trying to get away from renewables for the past 200 years. In 1971, 40 per cent of China’s energy came from renewables. Since then, explosive economic growth has brought solar and wind to a trifling 0.23 per cent of its energy production. By contrast, Africa gets 50 per cent of its energy from renewables and remains poor.

The overwhelming part of biomass — essentially wood and dung — has remained constant since 1971. It is the cause of up to 4.3 million global deaths from indoor air pollution. Hydro has stayed constant at about 2 per cent and geothermal at 0.5 per cent. The only real change has been the dramatic introduction of CO2-free nuclear energy in the early 70s, going from powering less than 0.5 per cent to almost 7 per cent. It has fallen somewhat out of favour, reducing its proportion to just 5 per cent.

Despite the other 81 per cent composed of fossil fuels, almost the only thing anyone talks about is the smallest sliver: the increase in solar photo­voltaic, thermal, wind, tidal, wave and ocean power, which today makes up just less than 0.5 per cent.

The price for these renewables is significant. The annual investment is estimated at $US359bn, mostly for solar and wind, which the IEA estimates are subsidised for about $US60bn more than they’re worth. The net effect of one year of subsidised solar and wind is to postpone global warming by little more than one day by the end of the century.

Renewables are likely much more expensive than their direct subsidies for two reasons. First, solar and wind need back-up power for when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. This means building almost an entire parallel, but only partially used, fossil-fuel infrastructure to handle peak energy demands. These costs are presently not attributed to renewables. Second, higher energy costs mean lower economic growth. That is why the EU’s 20 per cent renewable target will have a cost almost 10 times higher than the direct subsidies.

This is why Brookings Institute recently found that to cut CO2, it is by far the cheapest to replace coal with gas, as gas is cheap and emits less than half the CO2 per kilowatt hour. Wind and especially solar leave us worse off, even with a very high carbon tax.

And that is why it is terrible when well-intentioned people suggest powering the Third World with renewables. A new paper from the Centre for Global Development puts it clearly. If we want to help electrify the world for $US10bn, we can use it on gas and lift 90 million people out of poverty. If we use the $US10bn on renewables, we will help only 20 million people, leaving the rest in darkness and poverty.

It is not surprising that Brookings suggests we should replace coal with gas in the rich world and the Centre for Global Development that we should get gas to the poor world. Because the US is showing what gas can do.

Look at the dramatic reduction in US emissions since 2008. This shows that there is one other solution to CO2 apart from wars and recessions: fracking, a new technology to get gas out of the ground cheaper and more plentifully.

In the past six years, about 20 per cent of US coal electricity has been replaced by cheaper gas, leading to a substantial CO2 reduction. Of course, not all the US reduction is due to cheaper gas, as there was also a recession and more wind power.

The most detailed study to date indicates that gas has cut about 300Mt of the annual US CO2 emissions. Compare this to the fact all the wind turbines and solar panels in the world reduce CO2 emissions at a maximum by 275 Mt. In other words, the US shale gas revolution, by itself, has reduced global emissions more than all the well-intentioned solar and wind in the world.

To compare it with President Barack Obama’s recent plan to reduce coal-fired power plants, in the past six years fracking has achieved about two-thirds of the total reduction Obama’s plan is contemplating the next 16 years.

Moreover, fracking is not costing money but saving the US consumer $US125bn annually in cheaper energy prices. Since cheaper energy also increases economic growth, the total economic benefits are estimated at $US283bn annually, creating 2.1 million new jobs.

Fracking has local environmental issues, but these can all be addressed with good regulation. Unlike the ever costlier renewable subsidies that sooner or later will hit the iron law, fracking works because it not only cuts CO2 but makes gas cheaper, improves the economy and create unsubsidised jobs. The long-term solution to climate change is to invest much more in green energy innovation. As long as green energy is much more expensive than fossil fuels, it will always remain a niche, subsidised by rich countries to feel good. If innovation can make future green energy sources cheaper than fossil fuels everyone will switch. Economic models show that green energy R&D is by far the best long-term climate policy.

The Australian


Pssst! Want to save the planet? It’s a gas

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.


  1. mid north frost pocket says:

    South Australian Environment Minister Ian Hunter released the following statement yesterday slamming Flinders Uni allowing Bjorn Lomborg to set up his Australian Consensus Centre here in Adelaide.

    Click to access lomborg.pdf

    Makes interesting reading eg.“This funding tactic is similar to those used by the tobacco lobby when they were trying to obfuscate the science around the health impacts of smoking.”

    HHmmmm sounds familiar.

    We wouldn’t want any one to do a cost benefit analysis on whether wind energy is saving the planet and whether wind energy would be the best bang for our buck would we?

    Maybe we can create a centre for all the Danish Academics who have been chucked out of their jobs in Denmark because they question wind energy!

  2. Jackie Rovenksy says:

    Mr Lomborg’s opening statement is covered by Principle 14 below, it’s remiss of any country who has signed up to these principles and Australia has done so, to forget or ignore they are sourcing components and or having turbines and other things for the ‘renewable’ energy industry manufactured in places such as China and India. These countries are not reducing emissions they are increasing them. So until those who source their requirements outside of their own borders accept this and include it as being part of the total of their own damaging emissions we are getting nowhere.

    Personally I don’t support fracking, as it’s being undertaken, like the use of industrial wind turbines, before adequate research has been undertaken; it’s also being undertaken in areas where subterranean water is present which is vital for sustainable land use and living environments.

    Until it can categorically be stated fracking is safe after extensive research at each and every site, then it should not be undertaken and should not be considered at any location where it could affect water supplies, land, lives or environmental uses. Much the same as with IWT’s

    Australia has sufficient gas supplies from other sources to ensure its energy supplies well into the future, and we have true renewable sources of energy we can utilise which will not have the adverse Impact of Wind Energy production on lives and the environment.

    Relevant Principles from:

    Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.

    To achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies.

    States should effectively co-operate to discourage or prevent the relocation and transfer to other States of any activities and substances that cause severe environmental degradation or are found to be harmful to human health.

    In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

  3. Terry Conn says:

    Clive Palmer hates the ‘Australian’ and refuses to read it like millions of other Australians who only read the left wing press and/or listen to tha ABC ( a ‘publicly funded’ propaganda machine whose prime aim is to destroy the lives of the tax payers who fund it !). Bjorn Lomborg has done his homework and is trying to get the ‘truth’ out there. He needs all of us to help see that his message gets heard and that someone introduces Clive Palmer to his work so that he realises what destruction follows from supporting the RET and other crazy tax payer funded schemes supposedly saving the planet.

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