Christian Long

Bjorn Lomborg: Sets Global Priorities

In TED Talks on April 12, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Reflection by BRENDON O-L.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Bjorn Lomborg:  Sets Global Priorities

Our world is full of problems: global warming, world poverty, disease, et cetera.

The question is which one do we solve first and how do we make that decision?

Lomborg proposes prioritizing world problems not by the severity of problems themselves, but rather by the effective solutions we have to that problem. Why? The answer is simple. You can’t solve a problem unless you have the solution, thus we have to focus on the problems that we can solve.

We also have to prioritize world problem by the cost of the solution. Lomborg uses the example of a restaurant. You go in to buy a pizza, but you don’t know the size or the price of the pizza. How can you decide what to get? The pizza could cost $1,000 or it could be a small individual sized pizza trying to feed a family of five. If you don’t know the price or the size of the pizza, how can you make a decision on what to get? You have to know the cost.

Finally, you must also prioritize problems by the amount of good that the solution can do in relation with the associated cost of the solution. What if you spend a billion dollars trying to solve the problem, but the solution does relatively no good? That’s a waste of a billion dollars.

Using this methodology, he and a group of 30 economists prioritized the world’s greatest challenges based on the impact we could make, while getting the most bang-for-the-buck.

They concluded that we should solve HIV/AIDS first. They said if we invested 27 billion dollars over the next eight years, we could avoid 28 million new cases of HIV/AIDS. That is a significant impact, but I personally have to disagree that HIV/AIDS should be solved first.

I believe the methodology that they used to create their list is flawed.

They based their list on benefit to cost ratios, which I think are impractical. This formula fails to take into account the severity of the problem in relation with the time we have before that problem becomes uncontrollable. An example of this is global warming/climate change.

Global warming ranked last on their list of projects because we currently don’t have an effective solution. They concluded that if we spent 150 billion dollars a year on climate change, it would postpone global warming for about six years. So the guy in Bangladesh who gets a flood in 2100 can wait until 2106.

The time we have to solve global warming before severe consequences occur is dwindling, but what if there is never a quick and cost effective solution to global warming? Global warming is just one example; this can apply to any problem. If there is never a cost effective solution, do we just ignore the problem forever?

These are questions that Lomborg does not answer, but I think we have to try fixing the problem with the solutions we have.

If we don’t try, we will fail.

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