Out of Control Policy Blog

Polar Bears or Pakistanis?

The world has more problems than resources needed to fight them all. What to do?

Russell Roberts points to this piece by John Baden, who recalls the Copenhagen Consensus Project , and then notes that the same sort of exercise was done again:

    The experiment with economists was recently replicated by John Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to the UN. Not one to shrink from controversy, he empanelled UN diplomats from seven emerging nations, including India and China, to prioritize the issues. After hearing from experts in the problem areas, they ranked global crises ranging from climate change to migration. The top four were again health care, water and sanitation, education, and child nutrition. Climate change was, of course, dead last. No honest policy analyst would be surprised by these rankings.

    While most agree that climate change is occurring, many proposed "solutions" are monumentally expensive, uncertain, and distant. They are, in sum, the sorriest of investments. Providing vitamin A, on the other hand, costs less than $1 per person per year, saves lives, and prevents childhood blindness. Encouraging breast feeding cheaply and effectively promotes infant health. These nutritional initiatives do not, however, offer a stage for pretense and drama. No matter how skilled the movie director, it's hard to make public health reform a sexy issue.

    One could argue that polar bears are more important than Pakistanis. The bears are indeed threatened by the melting of Arctic ice floes. Should we then invest to retard global warming, even if that investment could instead save millions of Pakistanis from easily preventable disease?

Related: Bjorn Lomborg on environmental priorities.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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