Bjørn Lomborg Terminates Arnie’s Diatribe


Most of your 19,000 daily deaths are from renewables.

Dear Arnold.

You’re simply wrong about 19,000 people dying each day from fossil fuels. Most die from renewables. 11,000 of your 19,000 die from burning renewables (wood, dung etc.) inside their house. The number of people dying from fossil fuels are about 3,900 or 20%.

Yes, global warming is a problem, but we need to get our numbers right. The facts of the matter, as established by the World Health Organization are that of the 7 million annual air pollution deaths the majority come from indoor air pollution[i], and about 85% of these deaths are caused by renewables/biomass burning.[ii] This translates to 3.2 million of the 7 million deaths caused by indoor biomass burning.[iii] Moreover, a large part of the outdoor air pollution stems from non-fossil fuels. The most recent Global Burden of Disease estimates[iv] that 12% of all outdoor air pollution comes from indoor air pollution, causing an extra 373,000 premature deaths. The newest study from Nature[v] actually estimates that just the indoor air pollution from households in China and India spilling into outdoor air pollution cause 760,000 outdoor air pollution deaths. The Nature study shows that 600,000 outdoor air pollution deaths are caused by natural sources (mostly airborne desert dust). Another 660,000 deaths are caused by agriculture, mostly from release of ammonia, forming ammonium sulphate and nitrate. Finally, almost 200,000 additional deaths come from large biomass burning (forest burning like what we recently saw in Indonesia).

Power generation, traffic and industry – which is mostly fossil fuel driven and likely what you were thinking about – in total cause 854,000 air pollution deaths. Added to the 560,000 deaths from indoor air pollution caused by coal, this constitute only 20% of total air pollution deaths or about 3,900 deaths each day.
This matters for two reasons. First, it is disingenuous to link the world’s biggest environmental problem of air pollution to climate. It is a question of poverty (most indoor air pollution) and lack of technology (scrubbing pollution from smokestacks and catalytic converters) – not about global warming and CO₂. Second, costs and benefits matter.[vi] Tackling indoor air pollution turns out to be very cheap and effective, whereas tackling outdoor air pollution is more expensive and less effective. Your favorite policy of cutting CO₂ is of course even more costly and has a tiny effect even in a hundred years.

You consider two rooms, one with a gasoline car and one with an electric one. This is such a first-world concern. For 2.8 billion people the real challenge in their world is they don’t have access to modern energy (which for most of them will be fossil fuels for the foreseeable future). So, the more relevant question for most of the world is: do you want to go into a completely sealed kitchen behind door number 1 or 2? Behind door number 1 is a modern kitchen, powered by modern fuels, typically electricity, mostly from fossil fuels. It is clean and dependable.

Or do you want to go into room number2, where the cooking and heating uses renewables like wood and dung, filled with a thick smoke that according to the WHO is typically ten times the pollution of outdoor Bangkok, the equivalent of which is smoking two packs of cigarettes a day?[vii] This is what kills 4+ million people per year or 11,000 per day.

This is why the biggest UN survey of the world with almost 10 million responses show that people want simple things like their kids not dying from infectious diseases, getting food and a good education. As the very last priority, number 16 of 16, they put “action taken on climate change.”[viii]

Yes, we need to transition to clean and green energy, but misrepresenting the data doesn’t help anyone.



[iii] 3.7m + 4.3m=8m, so adjust for 7/8ths, 4.3*7/8*.85=

[iv] 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-032013-182356

[v] doi:10.1038/nature15371





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