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July 1, 2022

Can Humans Adapt to Climate Change?

The dangers of climate change are “no longer over the horizon.” Humanity may soon pass the “point of no return.” These are the phrases U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres used to describe what he called an “utterly inadequate” global response to rising temperatures. In fact, world leaders and environmental advocates have long demanded structural overhauls to the way we consume and produce. Standing in the way, Guterres noted, is a sheer lack of will. But if we were to decisively act, and restructure our global economy with the climate in mind, who would shoulder the burden? Is it actually feasible? Assuming finite resources, where does climate change rank in the pecking order of global problems? Or should our collective focus orient more toward humans’ capacity for adaptation? In this timely debate, Intelligence Squared and the Richmond Forum convene four leading global thinkers on climate science, geopolitics, and international economics to take on this question: Can humans adapt to climate change?

 

This debate took place in front of a live audience in partnership with the Richmond Forum on April 30, 2022.

Main Points

For The Motion
  • Climate change adaptation is unavoidable. If we are not past the point of no return regarding climate change, then we soon will be, and we must adapt. Efforts to mitigate climate change, rather than to learn to live in the new world, are often not cost-effective or effectual.
  • This, in addition to the fact that many efforts and the dialogue around them are born out of an alarmism that is not warranted by the reality of the situation. Such anxiety leads to hast decision-making that is often not in the best interest of improving life outcomes for humans.
  • We would do better to prioritize adaptation efforts over emissions-cutting efforts, for example, as many mitigation efforts are plagued by the free rider problem to begin with.
Against The Motion
  • Climate change is unavoidable. The effects are going to drastically change the way our world and lives operate. Loss in habitable land to rising sea levels, extreme weather events, supply chain disruptions, and the disappearance of entire biomes are going to disrupt our way of life.
  • Most notably, these changes will more greatly impact the global poor, which in turn will put severe strains on the entire global financial and governance system.
  • These extreme changes are the kind of global disaster that warrant alarm. Unfortunately, such a slow-moving disaster, when people see signs but ignore them, is likely to occur plenty of harm that humans will find it difficult to adapt to. When mitigation is still an option, why would we not act to ensure less severe negative effects.

  • 00:00:01

    [music playing]

    John Donvan:
    The dangers of climate change are no longer over the horizon. Humanity may soon pass the point of no return. These are the phrases U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres used to describe what he called an "utterly inadequate response to rising temperatures." But if we were to decisively restructure our global economy with the climate in mind, who would shoulder the burden? And where does climate change rank in the order of global problems? Should we accept a new reality and focus on working within it?

    So, we ask: can humans adapt to climate change?

    [applause]

    John Donvan:
    In regard to the topic of climate change, a short parable on the words "adapt and mitigate," with apologies to the author of the "Three Little Pigs" -- whoever that might be -- because in that story, when the Big Bad Wolf came for the smart pig, the smart pig was able to retreat to his house, which, of course, he had made of bricks.

  • 00:01:03

    And he survives. He knew that the wolf was coming. And by going with bricks, he had adapted to the impact of what was at his door, which was a wolf huffing and puffing. So, he survived by adapting.

    But what if the smart pig instead had focused more on the cause of the threat, and he had just gone outside and shot the damn wolf?

    [laughter]

    Well, then he would have been mitigating the threat by directly addressing the cause. That would be mitigation. Both are important, clearly, and that is the choice that we're going to be tonight in this debate, whether we should be putting more of our effort into adapting to what's coming or more of our effort into mitigating the effects of what's coming. It's not all one or all the other, but where should we be putting more of the effort? What makes the most sense? What will be the trade-offs?

    So, here's our question.

  • 00:02:00

    Yes or no: Can humans adapt to climate change?

    [music playing]

    John Donvan:
    So, before we get started, I want to ask you to cast your first vote. As I described, our vote is going to go in two rounds. The first round happens now. We ask you to vote on the question, whether humans can adapt to climate change, and then we will have you vote again after you've heard what all of the debaters have had to say. And what we want to see is how many of you changed your minds, and in which directions you changed your minds. To cast your pre-debate vote, go to IQ2.US.org. And there, you will get three prompts on the vote. You can vote "Yes," "No," or "Undecided," and we will keep that vote open for several more days, letting us learn which side has changed the most minds during this debate.

  • 00:03:07

    Can humans adapt to climate change? Let's meet the people who are going to debate that question. On the team arguing that the answer is "No," we start with Kaveh Madani, head of the research program at United Nations University and former deputy head of Iran's Department of Environment.

    [applause]

    He is appearing here -- I want to say -- in his personal capacity as a scientist and a university professor, not on behalf of the U.N. or any government.

    His partner, also arguing "No," Michele Wucker, economic policy expert and founder, Gray Rhino & Company.

    [applause]

    Again, the question is can humans adapt to climate change? Let's meet the team that says yes. First up, Matthew Kahn, provost professor of economics and spatial sciences as the University of Southern California?

    [applause]

    And his partner, Bjorn Lomborg, President of Copenhagen Consensus Center and author of "False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet."

  • 00:04:04

    Ladies and gentlemen, here they are, our four debaters, ready to get started.

    [applause]

    So, we are going to go in three rounds. And obviously, we begin with Round 1. And Round 1 is comprised of opening statements by each debater in turn. Those statements will be four minutes each.

    Here up first, to argue "Yes" to the question -- that humans can adapt to climate change -- is Matthew Kahn. Ladies and gentlemen, Matthew Kahn.

    [applause]

    Matthew Kahn:
    Folks, good evening. It's great to be here. Climate change is a real concern. So, why am I so optimistic about our future, despite the challenges we face? Climate scientists are making great progress right now, providing pinpoint predictions of the new risks we face, about the timing and the geography of extreme heat, fire risk, sea level rise, flooding, natural disaster risk.

  • 00:05:05

    As an economist, I celebrate this Paul Revere effect. Paul Revere lived a long time ago. The climate scientists are the new Paul Revere, giving us this heads up about these new challenges we face.

    Folks, how do we respond to these new challenges we face? A fundamental idea from economics is that we're not passive victims, right? I hope there's some economists in the room tonight. I'm looking around. Oh, well, a few! A few! I'm married to an economist. My son is training in economics. And I want to convey just a couple of ideas from economics, which is the root source of my optimism and why I ask you to vote in favor of the recommendation tonight.

    Economists reject the view that we are passive victims. We argue that we have strong incentives to adapt to the very real challenges we face.

  • 00:06:00

    I've written two books, and I've worked on the subject of the microeconomics of adapting to climate change. I'm looking around. Did anyone read "Climatopolis"? Ooh, tough room.

    [laughter]

    Did anyone read my 2021 Yale University Press "Adapting to Climate Change" book? Tough room. Well, all right.

    Well, folks, here is the Cliffs Notes version of my book -- my work, three ideas I want you to take away. First, our collective imagination and ingenuity creates a thrust of entrepreneurship to help us to create the solutions are going to need to adapt to this challenge. I believe that the world's entrepreneurs -- and there's 7.5 billion of us on this planet -- as we seek solutions, this demand creates supply, the sharp entrepreneurial push.

    Point number two. Economic growth is essential for adaptation. We don't worry about Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, of how they'll adapt.

  • 00:07:01

    We've seen Jeff Bezos take his rocket into outer space. He has rejected me as a passenger for reasons you now understand. For people in Bangladesh, for people in India, for poor people in the United States, we need them to grow richer so that they can protect themselves from the real threats we now face.

    A third reason I'm optimistic about our ability to adapt is government. Government plays an essential role, especially government which has economic growth behind it. We've learned from the Holland experience, of how the Dutch have protected themselves from sea level rise, with infrastructure which protected all of their people against these risks.

    So, folks, why am I an optimist? I'm staring at the clock ticking down. I want to tell you about some of my graduate students at the University of South California. They are studying adaptation in rural Bangladesh and rural India, some of the poorest parts of the world.

  • 00:08:01

    These individuals are not passive victims facing these challenges. These rice-growing farmers have several strategies to adapt. They can move to cities. They can switch from rice farming to shrimp farming. They can switch from rice to seeds that are more resilient. My students are studying the adaptation challenge as cautious optimists and are teaching me in their work.

    The future are young people working on these problems, and I'm betting on the young to help us to make the progress we need to make. So, please vote "Yes" on the initiative.

    [applause]

    John Donvan:
    Thank you, Matthew Kahn. Our next debater will be arguing "No" in answer to the question: Can humans adapt to climate change? That is Michele Wucker. Ladies and gentlemen, Michele Wucker.

    [applause]

    Michele Wucker:
    Good evening. So, everybody on this stage agrees on a lot of things: on the importance of ingenuity and creativity.

  • 00:09:00

    I think deep down we are all optimists; otherwise, we wouldn't be working on this. We agree that climate change is real. It's caused by humans. And sadly, we also agree that efforts to mitigate it, to reduce greenhouse gases over the years have been mothers' rule.

    So, why are we even arguing? It really, as we said, comes down to mitigation, if you excuse the wonk speak. Basically, reducing greenhouse gases to prevent more need for adaptation, which, as you hear, is protecting ourselves from the effects of climate change. My work focuses on big, obvious, high-impact crises like climate change. They're the sorts of things that are right in front of us that we're talking about, that we know are happening. Picture a giant gray rhino charging right at you and giving you a choice of what to do.

  • 00:10:00

    So my work has shown me, first of all, that humans are way worse than we'd like to think at both recognizing and acting on these great rhinos. We've got cognitive biases and perverse incentives that are really messing us up. But I've also realized that we are not condemned to ignore these things like climate change. However, there are really two extremes of people, and some in the middle. On the one end are the people who recognize it, who do what they can, who don't need to know exactly the details, but they know that something is urgent and they deal with it. The other ones say, "Well, it's not that serious. Oh yeah, we can deal with it. Oh, it's somebody else's responsibility." And what I'd like you to consider tonight is sort of where you are on that spectrum. And of course, climate change is quite daunting. And I could cite studies until I'm blue in the face and you are all asleep.

  • 00:11:00

    I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to say that some of the world's leading scholars and scientists have concluded that it's quite possible for us to come to a safe point, too, to reduce global warming to a point where we can feel confident we can survive with as little as 1 percent of GDP each year. By comparison, the U.S. alone spent 27 percent of GDP and counting on COVID. Every year we spend 7 percent of GDP to subsidize fossil fuels, the very things that are causing the problem. So taxpayers are paying for the subsidies and then they're paying to clean them up. So that's the -- not quite okay. But if we were just to switch those subsidies, those funds and some of the financing, that's right now going to dirty fuels, to clean fuels, we could prompt one of the biggest economic and social transformations since the Internet, since electricity, since the steam engine.

  • 00:12:05

    Our colleagues and us both agree that we need to invest in research and development. We also need to invest in installation of clean tech to bring the rest of the world who doesn't have enough electricity onto the grid but through cleaner ways. This will reduce poverty. It will help us to be healthier and cleaner and safer. Adaptation is just basically spending money to stay in place. So what I want you to go away with tonight is to think about can we afford to risk that climate change won't be as bad as expected? Can we afford to count on humans adapting as much as we need it? I think you know the answer for me is no. And I'm hoping that you all will vote no to come to the same conclusion. Thank you very much.

    [applause]

  • 00:13:01

    John Donvan:
    Thank you. Michele Wucker. So we are halfway through the opening round of this Intelligence Squared U.S. debate. I'm John Donvan. We have four debaters, two teams of two fighting it out over this question. Can humans adapt to climate change? You've heard the first two opening statements and now onto the third. Here to argue yes, in answer to that question, here is Bjorn Lomborg. Ladies and gentlemen. Bjorn Lomborg.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    So climate change is a real challenge. It is something that we should be concerned about. Neither Matt nor I are saying that we shouldn't also be cutting carbon emissions. But that's not the question in front of you. The question in front of you is, can humans adapt to climate change? And the overwhelming answer is yes, because we've done so in many different ways before. We're a very adaptive species. We live pretty much everywhere on the planet. We live in frigid Greenland and in hot, humid Singapore. We live where hurricanes hit or where floods strike.

  • 00:14:00

    We live in the driest of deserts or in Seattle. We live it everywhere. We live on ranges that are much grander than anything climate can throw at us. And that's because we already adapt. The history shows very clearly that we can adapt. Look, over the last 150 years, sea levels rose about a foot. Did anyone notice? If you ask a very old person who lived through most of the 20th century -- likely to be a woman -- and ask her what were the important things that happened in the 20th century, she'll talk about the world wars, maybe antibiotics, maybe even the IT revolution. But she will not be saying, oh, and sea levels rose. Why? Because we fixed it. This is the stuff that we're really good at. We know this across a wide range of areas. So we have good studies that show that we adapt to all of the negative impacts from climate change. So both for heatwaves, for droughts, for storms and for floods. We've become better and better at handling these problems.

  • 00:15:02

    That means that the damage costs, both in terms of debt and in terms of impact, have gone down, both for rich and for poor countries. Why? Because we adapt. But of course, my esteemed opponents are going to say, sure, maybe we could adapt, but it's going to get much worse in the future. No, that's not what the models show us. So take, for instance, hurricanes. We know hurricanes are going to be more ferocious because of global warming. That's absolutely true. But because we're also more resilient, because we're also richer, because we know how to deal with that much better, the models show that we will actually see less damage: 10 percent of GDP by the end of the century because of hurricanes, actually about half. And we know this across a wide range of areas is actually true. So take, for instance, the U.N. estimate that by the end of the century, we will be much better off as a civilization. If you take the middle scenario, the middle of the road scenario, as they call it. The average person in the world will be 450 percent as rich as he or she is today.

  • 00:16:07

    That's a fantastic achievement, but that's without climate change. So what will climate change do? Well, we know because there's lots of people who spend a lot of time looking at this. And what they found was, if you take a look at the models that underpin Biden's climate administration's arguments, or if you take the only climate economist who's ever won the Nobel Prize in climate economics, they show us that, yes, climate change will mean we will be less well-off. So instead of being 450 percent as rich by the end of the century, we will only be 434 percent less rich. That's a problem, but it's not the end of the world. Actually, it's still a much, much better world. And this underlines the fundamental problem and the point that we need to tackle here today. Yes, global warming is a problem. Yes, we should also deal with it through mitigation and smart cutting of carbon.

  • 00:17:03

    But the question in front of you is, can we adapt? Can humans adapt to climate change? And the simple answer is, not only have we done so, the models show us we will do so. And so the answer is yes, we will. Thank you.

    [applause]

    John Donvan:
    Thank you, Bjorn Lomborg. And our final debater will be answering no to the question "can humans adapt to climate change?" Here is Kaveh Madani. Ladies and gentlemen, Kaveh Madani.

    [applause]

    Kaveh Madani:
    So I'm probably one of the very few people in the opposite camp of typical discussions that Bjorn gets into who agrees with a lot of points, he says. And that's costly for me and my community. But the reason for that is because I come from the developing world with a lot of different perspectives based on experience. But when it comes to conclusions, my conclusion is different because my field of study is different.

  • 00:18:03

    I model complex systems. I use math to model the systems that involve humans and nature to advise policy, tell the decisionmakers what to do, how to deal with tradeoffs, how to avoid unintended consequences. The first thing I learn in complexity is that we don't know a lot of things. The uncertainty is huge. Not only we don't know a lot of things, but also we don't know that we don't know a lot of things. Now, how do you manage something that you don't know much about? We hear that people have been able to adapt. For a person coming from an area which is a little -- maybe a few thousand years older than the United States or Europe. I tell you that there are civilizations that have gone away. We don't know about them. Historians and archeologists find them one after another and including some in Iran.

  • 00:19:03

    There are the people who didn't adapt, who couldn't tolerate, who didn't -- were not able to adapt to a long drought. And they went out, you know, their civilization was washed away. They're gone. You don't hear about those who didn't survive. This game when you -- we can in this game talk about the narratives that we like. The reason that we don't have a common narrative today is complexity. In a complex system, no one knows exactly what is going on. So now I can pick and choose the narratives I like, and 180 degrees are different from what we hear from our opponents or say the things they say. The reason that both sides might be correct is because we don't know what's happening. Within complex systems, what we need to do is to manage and navigate through complexity.

  • 00:19:59

    Tonight is the night of managing uncertainty while valuing ethics. This is a -- is a decision which is related to ethics. This is a decision related to your social system and value system. Go two years back. We can argue that if all those people who contracted COVID had died, not much could have happened to our GDP. Still, we could make improvements, right? And quality of life is better right now. Social distancing, masks, staying at home, they were all mitigation measures that could have not been needed. We would have eventually adopted, we would have eventually discovered the vaccine, and the life is better today than what it was before. But if you go back in time, would you make a decision of no mitigation and all going all for adaptation? That's a question of ethics.

  • 00:21:01

    So people die. Yes. Old people would have died from COVID. They have lived a happy life. So it doesn't matter much. What you don't hear is how this statistic is different across nations. Who would suffer the most from the decisions that we are making here as the rich? I come from a place where people don't even have the bandwidth to talk and think about a lot of things that we are talking about today. So if you're responsible, you should say mitigation is also needed and the answer is no.

    [applause]

    John Donvan:
    Thank you, Kaveh Madani. And that concludes round one of this intelligence squared U.S. debate, where the question being debated is can humans adapt to climate change? And I'm going to ask you to keep in mind how you voted at the top of the evening. As you listen closely, we'll be asking you once again, I'll say this to vote at the conclusion. And it's the difference between the first and the second vote that tells us which side changed the most minds.

  • 00:21:58

    Now we move on to round two, and in round two, the debaters will be taking questions from me and from you, and they can address one another directly. It's more of a conversation and they can challenge one another as well. But I just want to summarize a little bit of what we've heard. The team arguing for the motion: Bjorn Lomborg and Matthew Kahn are -- they make the argument that adaptation makes sense because it's got a proven track record, that humans are good at it, that entrepreneurs will rise to it, that they're not arguing against mitigation. No team on this stage is all or nothing on either side, but we're looking at it on balance. Where should most of the effort, where should the policy, where should be the funding primarily be challenged? And so that's what we're hearing from the team arguing, yes, we can adapt. The team arguing that we can't adapt, they're arguing that we're not very good at reading the future, that the risks are enormously high, that there's a possibility of great catastrophe potentially, but we just don't know because systems are so very, very complex.

  • 00:23:07

    I want to go to the side arguing first in support of the motion and go to you, Matthew Kahn, when you said we are not passive and you believe that humans are capable of being active and smart about adaptation and doing that well, why is that not also just as true of mitigation?

    Matthew Kahn:
    So the difference between adaptation and mitigation is a free rider issue. The United States right now has not passed a carbon tax. I don't know if it would pass in the room. So a distinction needs to be made. To mitigate carbon, the world --

    John Donvan:
    Can you -- just for people who are not familiar with the concept of carbon tax, take 15 seconds on that?

    Matthew Kahn:
    Higher gas taxes, how many folks vote in favor of that?

    [applause]

    So I can't -- look -- so mitigation would be for the whole world to agree to raise the price of gasoline by two bucks a gallon.

  • 00:24:05

    That would be a carbon tax. That would accelerate the electric vehicle push. Folks, the world has not enacted Greta Thunberg's agenda. I have worked for 25 years now on climate change adaptation because I'm so worried that the world has not solved the free rider issue that everyone hopes that everyone else will mitigate. In contrast with adaptation, to protect our families, to protect our loved ones, we have incentives to be proactive in seeking solutions to heat fire risk, flood risk, for any of the plagues that can be named by climate scientists. We have strong incentives to seek solutions, and that creates a market incentive. The invisible hand focused on adaptation.

    John Donvan:
    Michele Wucker, so what I think I'm hearing is different interpretations of human nature, where your opponent, Matthew, is saying that mitigation is just not something people want to buy into, would be good at, would participate in.

  • 00:25:04

    And your argument goes very much in the other direction about what human nature is about. So why don't you take that on?

    Michele Wucker:
    Yeah, well as far as adaptation, we know that sea levels are rising, that the places like Miami are in danger. We know that there are more wildfires. California in danger. What if we had more and more and more people moving to coastal areas and to areas that are vulnerable to wildfires. That to me doesn't sound like really proactive adaptation, but maybe I got that wrong. And, you know, as far as the carbon tax or not well, you know, taxpayers are paying for fossil fuels right now, not once, but twice. We're paying with the subsidies: 7 percent of GDP a year, according to the International Monetary Fund, when it would cost 1 to 2 percent of GDP a year to mitigate greenhouse gases. So, you know, are we talking about a couple cents at the gas station or are we talking about billions and billions of dollars every year that taxpayers are spending?

  • 00:26:03

    So fossil fuels aren't cheap. We only think they're cheap because we don't see how we're paying for them.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    Can I just very briefly say the --

    [applause]

    -- the IMF study that you're suggesting, just so everyone knows, there's some real studies on what the subsidies for fossil fuel are, and that's about $5 billion. And that's the International Energy Agency that looks at what's actually being paid. The IMF, very few people respect that estimate. It basically, for the U.S. says, you don't pay a VAT or anything like that, a sales tax on gasoline; you should and that's a subsidy that you don't. They say that you should be paying a huge carbon tax and you don't. And that's a subsidy because you don't. That's just changing words to a political agenda. It has no truth to it. You're not paying for this. I'm not saying that we shouldn't have a carbon tax, but I'm simply saying that's a discredited study that nobody ought to be using.

  • 00:27:03

    [applause]

    Michele Wucker:
    The International Monetary Fund [inaudible] totally discredited study. Okay.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    Yes, it's a working paper at International Monetary Fund.

    Michele Wucker:
    And, you know, you can cherry pick studies from now till next Tuesday. But I think that all sorts of studies show that we are paying a lot of money. Right now, we are subsidizing R&D and we should be subsidizing a lot more into clean energy or even just getting rid of the money that we've been paying to fossil fuels or look at the money that we've paid over years and years and years and years to make sure that fossil fuels are as cheap as they are right now.

    John Donvan:
    Kaveh, jump in. We haven't heard from you.

    Kaveh Madani:
    Yeah, one thing here, because, you know, when we signed up for this, it wasn't whether we were saying it's more mitigation and less adaptation. We're saying both are needed, and if this is the agreement, let's vote no and talk about what we can do better. So, no, because it means that we got to do more mitigation. Even investing in adaptation policies and thinking about adaptation is a mitigation measure, by the way.

  • 00:28:05

    So what we --

    John Donvan:
    That's going to really confuse things.

    Kaveh Madani:
    It is, though, the truth. But the point here is that there are lots of scientists who say different things. It's because the uncertainty is huge. The gentleman sitting next to Bjorn has done his study published in 2021. I was asked to review an earlier version of it by one of your coauthors. Tell us how much is the loss of GDP by the end of the century without mitigation and with mitigation.

    Matthew Kahn:
    So Kaveh is right that we -- I don't love predicting out to the year 2100, but we -- our estimates are in line with what Bjorn presented, that we predict that at the end of the century, world GNP would be 6 percent lower than it would have been. And so think of yourself, if you weighed less are you feeling thin?

  • 00:29:02

    And so I'm grateful that you read the paper, but I viewed it as a -- rare -- I view this as in line with what Bjorn presented a couple of minutes ago.

    John Donvan:
    Matthew, you are so grateful for every word of yours ever read by anybody. It's very charming actually.

    Kaveh Madani:
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but if their mitigation policies are implemented, then what is the loss?

    Matthew Kahn:
    So your -- so I like your point, but there would be costs incurred for achieving that benefit and so we have to do a cross benefit analysis.

    Kaveh Madani:
    So what was the number you said in the paper? On percent. So if mitigate -- if you stand by the Paris Agreement -- and Matt is the first author of that paper. It's one percent. Matt, if you add variability within nations, the cost, the GDP loss would be 13 percent. Read that paper, please. So 13 percent are lost. That's not my point, that if you're right or Nordhaus is right, it's we are all wrong because models are wrong.

  • 00:30:03

    Model depends on our assumptions. What we don't tell you is our assumptions. And we make all these assumptions. Go you two years back. Tell me one model in the world that has projected the future of COVID-19 crisis correctly. Just one model. All of those models were wrong, but they were useful because they created a sense of urgency to convince the political leaders to take action. People were dying in China, Italy, and Iran. Still, we were dismissing it in the United States, saying that this is like a flu, this is a third world problem. This is a mismanagement problem. When it hit us, when people started dying here, then we took action. Now you want to gamble with the future. You can't do it.

    John Donvan:
    Let me let Bjorn get into the conversation here. And Bjorn, I'm not sure if you want to take this directly from where Kaveh left it, but I'm interested in the point he made in his opening, which I think he was just now actually fundamentally referring back to that systems are so complex that your optimism about adaptability, it reflects a naivete about just how bad things could get because we just don't know.

  • 00:31:14

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    Yeah. And I'm also a little surprised about that. We want to use our ability to do good policy in COVID as a way to showcase how we should be doing it. And so I think we all agree that I think most governments came out really badly in pretty much all of this. I don't think modeling came out particularly good, but -- and this is very important -- what really mattered in both covered and in what we're going to do with climate is how resilient we are as societies. So what we found, for instance, for COVID was that it really mattered that we trust each other, that we have good information systems, that we have good understanding of what are the health parameters that we need and that we can get that implemented.

  • 00:32:00

    What that really tells us is, it's again about adaptation and that goes to your question and really Kaveh's point in general. He tries to tell you, look, the world is so complex, we don't really know things could go really well, but they could also go really terrible. So you better just give me all your money

    [laughter]

    Kaveh Madani:
    That's what I said.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    And that makes good sense. I mean, a lot of politicians will tell you this, but the trick to remember is climate change is not the only thing we don't quite know. Do we know what we're going to be doing about Russia and Ukraine? Do we know what we're going to do about North Korea? Do we know what we're going to do about China? Do we know what we are going to do about the next pandemic? Do we -- I'm sorry. We could go on until Tuesday talking about all the other things and the very same argument carries, namely that because we don't know, you need to spend all the money there. You need to spend all the money on North Korea.

  • 00:33:00

    John Donvan:
    Are you -- are you making such an argument?

    Kaveh Madani:
    I think the audience is smart enough to know not that that was not my argument.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    But it's the implication of your argument.

    Kaveh Madani:
    No, no.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    I just --

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    The fact is that --

    John Donvan:
    Wait, I just want to say I'd love Michele to get into the conversation here. If you want this opening, Michele, to jump in or you can yield to Kaveh.

    Michele Wucker:
    Absolutely. Well, this this really is about decision making and action under uncertainty. I mean, if you if you see smoke coming out of a house, you don't know if it's going to burn down the whole building or the temperature or all these other little details. But you know that you shouldn't run into the house unless you're a fireman with a fire hose. And there's so many situations where we've got enough of a warning that we know we need to act. And as humans, we tend to either be overconfident about our ability to handle something or if it's so big and overwhelming, we just say, okay, well, someone else can deal with it. Let's just think about something else.

  • 00:33:58

    It's -- these are biases that everyday get in the way of dealing with things. And no, we don't know what's going to happen. But what I'm pretty sure of is that if we want adaptation to work, we need to be doing a heck of a lot more mitigation right now because if we're not doing more mitigation, the odds that we're going to be able to adapt to those much higher temperature swings and extreme weather is going to be much, much lower.

    John Donvan:
    Does the example that Bjorn cited of the Dutch -- of the Netherlands, having figured out how to keep the sea back as a community, does that not blow you away as an example of adaptation? That's an amazing scale against a very, very serious challenge and helps make his point that we can be really, really, really good at it when necessary.

    Michele Wucker:
    Well, you know, I've used that example quite a bit in talking about Gray Rhino threats from, you know, from weather. But I've also read recently that some of those systems that were built are now being revisited because they're not sure that the something that was built for a 1,000 year storm is actually going to be every thousand year storm.

  • 00:35:09

    Storms are getting stronger and stronger and stronger. So, yes, we need to be doing some of that adaptation. But if the temperatures rise as much as the world's leading scientists think they are, then Netherlands is going to have to, you know, go back and redo its system.

    Matthew Kahn:
    John, can I jump in?

    John Donvan:
    Yeah, please do, Matthew.

    Matthew Kahn:
    So no piece of capital, including this building, lasts forever. We're always rebuilding housing, roads. Our knowledge increases every day. There are so many educated people in the world, the world's more and more people are becoming educated in the developing world. If we have sufficient imagination about the challenges we face, including what Michele just outlined, there's going to be innovation and experimentation. If we know that we don't know the resilience of these dams, we have incentives to engage in stress testing of these.

  • 00:36:01

    People who own real estate, protected by that, have strong incentives to ask for this testing, to learn about the threats they face to protect their families and their real estate. We are not passive victims here. The -- our opponents are trying to shift the debate to what's the optimal carbon tax.

    Michele Wucker:
    What? Did we say that? You're putting words in our mouth. We did not say that at all. You can't do that. That's cheating.

    [laughter]

    Matthew Kahn:
    So Kaveh in discussing my paper talked about what is the tradeoff of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, of what are the benefits and costs and said that it passes a cost benefit test. To an economist that's an equivalent of put of what is the right carbon tax.

    Kaveh Wucker:
    No, I tried to say that your narrative scientific paper is in contrast is --

    Matthew Kahn:
    No, that's false. It's exactly aligned with Bjorn's.

  • 00:37:00

    Kaveh Wucker:
    What were your number you said Bjorn GDP loss by the end of this form --

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    4 percent.

    Kaveh Wucker:
    -- you have said in your paper 13. That's a big number to me that, you know --

    [talking simultaneously]

    Matthew Kahn:
    That's not an existential loss.

    Kaveh Wucker:
    Did I use that word?

    Matthew Kahn:
    You've emphasized that it is what I'm debating tonight is can we adapt to climate change by choice and whether GNP -- Bjorn, what are the numbers at the end of the century?

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    450 percent and 434 percent.

    Matthew Kahn:
    So my point here was that we have all narratives because we run different models.

    Kaveh Madani:
    You are a professor of the University of Southern California, right. And you cited another professor who was my, you know, I was a colleague of at Yale. But my point is that because of the complexity in the system and a lot of assumptions we are making, our narratives are not -- have different values.

    [talking simultaneously]

    John Donvan:
    Before you move on to that point, you've just made a really important point. I just want to know how it landed with your opponents.

  • 00:37:57

    Is Kaveh right that you can pick your model and -- well, I'm not saying that it's motivated by looking for an outcome, but the different models can have dramatically different outcomes. And you got to go back to the model, you got to look at the assumptions. Is that -- should that be something that the audience built into their understanding of how all of this research is done and how these conclusions are reached?

    Matthew Kahn:
    Bjorn, can I go first? So in writing that paper, which Kaveh kindly cited, I actually disagreed with my coauthors of taking our historical findings from 1960 to the present and extrapolating out 80 years. I actually asked my coauthors that we not include that in the paper because --

    John Donvan:
    So he is right the assumptions --

    Kaveh Madani:
    Matt you are the first author of that paper.

    Matthew Kahn:
    No, economics is alphabetical but John, our study what our study --

    [laughter]

    [talking simultaneously]

    Matthew Kahn:
    What our study was up to is asking when it's been hotter in the recent past, what has happened to economic growth? And Kaveh's right, the economic growth is slower, but it's not negative.

  • 00:39:00

    It's at the margins that Bjorn sketched. I was uncomfortable extrapolating out 82 years. FDR was our president roughly 82 years ago. Would he imagine the Tesla zoom or night to night? And so the world changes because of innovation? And so I was very uncomfortable with that extrapolation out to the year 2100.

    Kaveh Madani:
    And I was too when I read your the first draft of your paper. And by the way, you have a coauthored name with name H like Hoshino Pizarro [spelled phonetically] and so isn't an H before K? Your last name --

    Matthew Kahn:
    It's on last names.

    [talking simultaneously]

    Kaveh Madani:
    Yeah, but anyway, let's not get into that discussion. My point is not about -- it's about these methodological differences. The problem is that none of us knows how to extrapolate and talk about something that the world when we were on it hasn't experienced.

  • 00:39:59

    The human species have not experienced this. Now, another thing we don't talk about is how people suffer differently. You were saying back in Bangladesh, people adapt. I manage water in Iran. There are people who lose jobs and get unemployed and migrate to cities and they don't have anything to do. Tell me who the Middle Eastern terrorists are, the farmers who lost jobs, lots of them.

    John Donvan:
    You're saying owing to climate change?

    Kaveh Madani:
    No, no, no. I'm not saying so. I'm saying loss of jobs and unemployment can lead to this. It could a simple drought that you're not prepared for --

    John Donvan:
    All right. So Bjorn, your side did make an argument that people can move, people can change crops, can contain seeds. And that migration is an option. And I think your opponents are really questioning the whole migration is an option. I mean, it's an exceedingly disruptive option, I think they're saying.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    And I'm not arguing that that this is about migration. I haven't even talked about migration. I'd be happy to do that.

  • 00:41:00

    But I think I just want to come back to the point that I was making here, because you're being told a story. First of all, there's a lot of different conversation going on here. You're being told that climate change is bad, so you need to vote no to that we should do adaptation. What?

    Michele Wucker:
    No, no, no, that's not what we said.

    [talking simultaneously]

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    Okay, tell me what they're saying. I'm not sure.

    Michele Wucker:
    Well, I actually just wanted to go back to the Tesla.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    No, no, no. Please tell me what it is that you're saying.

    Matthew Kahn:
    What is the motion?

    Michele Wucker:
    The motion is can we adapt --

    Matthew Kahn:
    Without --

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    No, there's no without. I'm sorry.

    Michele Wucker:
    Just a minute. I just want to get very important point. You mentioned Tesla. So you talk about all these costs of mitigation. Well, Tesla is an example of mitigation. And I -- leave out the last couple of weeks of what's happened in the market with Tesla. But at Tesla, all of these other innovations are things that are actually creating jobs, creating value.

  • 00:42:00

    They're going to in the future, they're going to reduce the maintenance of cars, they're going to reduce energy costs and things like that. And so when you're calculating the cost benefit of mitigation or adaptation, you need to look at mitigation as investment is something that's going to keep paying off into the future. And adaptation, you know, you put a bunch of rip rap along the shores or whatever it is that you do. You know, there certainly is resilient infrastructure that I think is really fantastic, but a lot of adaptation is basically just scrambling to stay in place. And so the Tesla reference, I think is really, really relevant to what we're talking about here.

    John Donvan:
    Bjorn.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    Alright. I didn't hear what you were actually saying, but no Tesla's if you haven't noticed, we have to pay people about $10,000 across the world to buy these electric cars. Norway is leading the world because they're actually giving you so much money -- they have money because they have oil -- that they are paying -- so there's a choice between buying a gasoline power car that costs what it would cost here in the U.S. or an electric car that basically is free.

  • 00:43:00

    Not surprisingly, most people choose the free car, but most people free.

    Matthew Kahn:
    $150,000 is free --

    [talking simultaneously]

    Matthew Kahn:
    -- $150,000 to buy Teslas?

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    No, no, it's for electric cars. Most of the cars in Norway are not Teslas. Some of them are. And they still pay. Yes, but the average cost is --

    John Donvan:
    All right.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    Can I just come back -- because I think I was actually trying to make a point --

    John Donvan:
    Make that point and then I want to go to audience questions.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    So, the argument was that we live in a very uncertain world where we don't know what's up and down. Things could be really bad, so we better do something about mitigation. And my point was, well, that happens to be true for all different investments also in China and Russia and Ukraine and North Korea and all the other challenges that we're facing. But there's one thing that we know would actually work for all of these. That's adaptation and that's why and sorry, I'm just a stickler for words. I thought the question that we were talking about tonight was, can humans adapt to climate change?

  • 00:44:00

    And the simple answer is not only can we, but that is the way that we're going to save our -- safeguard ourselves when our opponents are telling you that it could get really bad. There is no point in saying that, that doesn't mean we should make sure we adapt even more. That is the way that we make sure our kids and grandkids are safe. That's the way that we can make sure --

    John Donvan:
    And I think I think they're saying that we may be in a situation where the situation becomes beyond adaptation. Am I correct? All right. So the point would come where adaptation might not ever be enough.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    And --

    John Donvan:
    That you're living in the house made of straw and the wolf does blow it down.

    Kaveh Madani:
    So the argument is, is that if you only count on our smartness and don't plan ahead minute, you know, investing in the power to adapt, investing in education, innovation and all of these are a mitigation measure. If you don't do these things, you cannot adapt. So in the future -- so counting on this is -- so can the humans adapt to climate change if there is no action today?

  • 00:45:02

    That's the answer no. And that's what we are defending. Otherwise, I mean, why would I come here and say, as a climate change person who is pushing for climate change adaptation and saying that we have to take action, we say we cannot adapt so -- we all have -- our efforts are useless.

    John Donvan:
    Alright, we're going to get audience questions now right over here and then I'll come over here. So down in the front, front, front, row down the steps. Now I want to say again, I need you to really ask a question. I need it to be terse. I need it to be on point. I need it not to repeat material we've already covered. You're going to be great, right? And can you tell us your first name or last name?

    Ed Cooke:
    My name is Ed Cooke [spelled phonetically]. I'm a professor at the University of Richmond. I teach decision making under uncertainty. And you've talked about that. My question is, given that it's all very uncertain, how do we go about making a decision whether or not we're going to spend $1 trillion, 100 trillion or a million trillion on this problem?

  • 00:46:00

    John Donvan:
    That was such a well-formed question. That's the model. [applause] Who would like to take it first. Either side.

    Michele Wucker:
    I'm happy to.

    John Donvan:
    Go for it.

    Michele Wucker:
    Well, I think the biggest thing is, is, you know, what are you getting on your return for that investment? And I think you're going to get a lot bigger return on your investment in mitigation right now, because if it's something that's clean tech, it's going to clean the air, it's going to make energy transport much less expensive, that it's going to address some health problems from the reduction and particulate matter in the air. And that's going to go on into the future. And that's going to make it more possible for people who want to adapt. Adaptation often just stops with what you do. And then the next time the sea levels rise further than that doesn't work anymore. So I would look at the total return on your investment and mitigation, is it.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    And Michele is exactly right. Unfortunately, she is exactly wrong on the numbers. I mean, we know these numbers. Most of the stuff that you spend on mitigation will have very little impact far into the future.

  • 00:47:04

    So you're fundamentally saying, all right, let's spend an enormous amount of money. So, for instance, the Bank of America estimates that going net zero will cost us about $5 trillion a year. That's a lot of money. Of course, nobody's actually going to come up with that money. But $5 trillion a year. And yet the net benefits will only start towards the second part of the century. However, if you invest in adaptation, you can help people now, and especially, of course, when you worry about poor people, the question is, do you worry about helping poor people now, or do you worry about helping them ineffectively in 100 years when they're much richer? And the overwhelming estimate is that you should help them now with the things that they actually need, much of which is adaptation, but also many, many other things like not dying from tuberculosis and malaria and all these other things.

  • 00:47:56

    So again, there is very good evidence and I totally agree that we should look at what's the cost and the benefits, but it gives you a very different answer.

    John Donvan:
    I want to remind you that we are in the question and answer section of this Intelligence Squared U.S. debate. I'm John Donvan, your moderator. We have four debaters, two teams of two debating this question, can humans adapt to climate change?

    Beth Silverman:
    I'm Beth Silverman [spelled phonetically]. And my question is, how do you define success in this question of adaptation? You know, I think that's important for each person to answer because I've heard so many different perspectives.

    John Donvan:
    I'll go, I'll take rather than four because it'll shoot up time, I'll let each side go to it. But again, great question.

    Matthew Kahn:
    A paper that I really like written by some economists, not by me, studied on when it's extremely hot in summer, back in the 1930s, many more people died, they didn't have air conditioning then in each subsequent decade. And this has been shown in the United States and now in India with the penetration of air conditioning, with more and more people having air conditioning, there's no longer a relationship between summer heat and deaths in those states experiencing this heat.

  • 00:49:06

    Of course, there continues to be the tragedy of deaths when it's hot, but this sharp correlation that used to exist before the air conditioner has converged to zero. That's my benchmark. As Mother Nature punches us, are we suffering less? And in the case of deaths from heat waves, this correlation, if I can be a boring social scientist, has fallen sharply.

    John Donvan:
    Other side?

    [applause]

    Kaveh Madani:
    So this is a brilliant question and a very timely question from a person who thinks twice about what success means. Economists have told us that GDP is the definition of success. So they narrow down things and reduce things down to GDP and how much your country is earning per capita.

  • 00:49:57

    The world is now discussing if this is whether this is a right model of setting development goals or not. Would that -- would the better GDP determine the better quality of life, for sure or not? It's -- what are the health considerations? What are the other measures for success, especially this after the COVID 19, when the discussions of green recovery came up? This came back into the discussion. How should we define the success of nations? Can we ask the existing institutions that try to maximize product GDP? And created all these problems to solve the problem using their existing thinking and their models are not. So that is that is something to think about. A lot of people think that you cannot ask the markets which created this problem to solve the problems using the existing systems that they have been using forever.

    John Donvan:
    We have a question that came in on Slido from Jeremy. I'm not sure where you are out there, but I want to take your question.

  • 00:50:58

    Do you support increased use of nuclear power in addition to renewables? If not, why not? In the light of dangers of climate change -- I feel like -- I feel that that's a question more to your side.

    Kaveh Madani:
    Just because I'm Iranian?

    John Donvan:
    No!

    [laughter]

    Kaveh Madani:
    Don't profile me [laughs]. I get that question at the border every time. [laughter] Well, but listen this is --

    John Donvan:
    Michele enjoyed this question as well.

    Kaveh Madani:
    I told you that I have a lot in common with Bjorn when it comes to thinking. We have a lot of effective policies; we have a lot of biases. We reject a lot of things that we don't like or have a bad memory of, or we rush into making some big decisions. Now, when it comes to nuclear, at least our studies show that when you consider their different footprints, water footprint, carbon footprint, land footprint and cost, by the way, carbon is -- should not be the only driver of making decisions.

  • 00:52:01

    There are also other footprints to think about. Nuclear can be a promising source of energy. Now, this is a scary thing to say because of the history of nuclear and what we have seen so far in different parts of the world. So what we have seen so far is that nuclear energy can be abused in certain ways. You know, I think -- if you --

    John Donvan:
    Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    Kaveh Madani:
    You know, and then the issue of waste and ethical responsibilities and so on, the new generation of -- so when it comes to innovation and new technology and so on, there are -- there is a new generation of nuclear energy that at the microscale that is being promising. Still, we don't know.

    John Donvan:
    Okay. Let me just take that to the other side.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    Okay. So fundamentally, a nuclear is not dangerous, but it is very costly. And so in most, most places, new third generation nuclear is not particularly a good idea. We see that in the UK and Finland, many other places it become incredibly expensive.

  • 00:53:03

    But don't, don't, don't shut down existing nuclear power plants. You've just paid for them. You've already commissioned -- you already committed yourself to paying the decommissioning cost. When they're running, they're incredibly cheap. So it's very, very stupid to shut down like the U.S. and Germany has been doing. Please don't do that.

    John Donvan:
    Another question from the audience, please? Sir. Blue shirt. If you could stand up so that they can find you and somebody is coming down from your right hand side with a mic. And again, if you could tell us your name, first name will surface, but we appreciate both of you want to.

    Michael Keegan:
    Hi, this is Michael Keegan [spelled phonetically]. My question is for Bjorn. What mitigation or adaptions are you expecting that going that are going to help people in fires in Colorado or California, Oregon, wherever survive? And what mitigations are you expecting for people in India, Pakistan, etc., who are living in over 110 degree heat many days this week?

  • 00:54:04

    John Donvan:
    Wow, this is a great group on questions. That was really well done. Thank you.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    So, can you just repeat -- sorry, I had a hard time hearing wat.

    John Donvan:
    What mitigations and adaptations are you expecting to help California, Colorado, places with wildfires? And then the same question was applied to Southeast Asia, to communities with more challenges.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    Yes. So for California, and Michele actually pointed to that, there's something fundamentally wrong about the fact that we don't have good -- what it's called -- zoning, that we've allowed so many people to move into places to burn. That's a really bad idea. Obviously, people shouldn't have been living in paradise. Sorry, that sounds wrong. But in this city that was called paradise. And we should definitely make sure. So you've seen a dramatic upshoot of people moving into the urban fire interface, and that's a really bad idea.

  • 00:55:02

    You should also have much better building codes. You should have better spacing of both buildings and the kind of growths that you grow there. We know that many of these things could have a huge impact, but mostly we should just simply not allow people to build there, just like we shouldn't allow people to build where hurricanes hit, or at least we shouldn't be subsidizing their insurance. If we do that, basically we will get rid of much of the problem. Now, if you want to help people in India and Pakistan, our intuition is to say, oh, we got to help them with climate change. But of course, if you actually ask them, they would like our help with tuberculosis, with bad food, sorry, no food or bad food and bad education and all these other things. But if you want to help them with but with climate impacts, like for instance, as you say, there's huge amounts of heat wave possibilities.

  • 00:56:00

    Just remember that many more people, according to an academic study of India, many more people die from cold in India. Even in India, across the world, about nine times more people die from cold than heat. And one of the very important ways is to make sure that these people actually have access to heating. But for heat, which I'm assuming is your main issue, we should certainly make sure that they become richer so that, as Matt just pointed out, that they will eventually be able to also afford air conditioning.

    John Donvan:
    Michele, would you like to weigh in on that question or respond to what you heard? You're good with it. Okay, sir, you're alone in that section and the mic's coming down from behind you in the aisle. If you could stand up, they'll see you.

    Sam McCormack:
    Hey, guys. Sam McCormack [spelled phonetically], I have a question for the adapt team. So Dr. Madani alluded a little earlier to the conflict in Syria, which a lot of people think is one of the first caused by climate change, drought in this case. How worried are you guys, given the potentially unstable actors like Russia and North Korea who possess nuclear weapons, that more frequent conflicts could lead to potentially catastrophic consequences for us as a species?

  • 00:57:10

    John Donvan:
    I'm not sure that that's on -- do you feel, Bjorn, that that's on topic right now? I think it's not. So I'm going to go to one more question. Anybody else have anything? Okay, I have one that I'd like to get to from Lauren [spelled phonetically], who might be in the higher levels.

    Kaveh Madani:
    May I say just a few words to make sure that the narrative is right? I disagree with the studies that have been highlighted by the news, by the media, which say climate change is the cause of the Syrian conflict or the cause of a lot of conflicts, you would say, seeing in that part of the world. But climate change can act as a catalyst. The House is already on fire and we're at -- climate change is adding fuel to it.

    Female Speaker:
    So I've heard you refer several times to making poor people richer.

  • 00:57:59

    So can you explain to us how you're supposed to do that when we're not doing it now?

    [applause]

    John Donvan:
    Thank you, ma'am.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    Yes. For instance, free trade, the opportunity of actually getting a good education, that's dependent on both your parents not dying from communicable diseases, from you getting good food when you're a little child, that brings up your brain development, having a good school or at least having a school that uses better teaching materials like structure, teacher plans or learning at the right level. We know that there's a lot of things wrong with all of these institutions, but we also know that we have very low cost can achieve much of that. And then, of course, the access to enormous amounts of energy, which is what, for instance, lift people out of poverty in Bangladesh and many other places, because you can now have industry, you can have water pumps and agriculture that can actually make you not just above poverty level, but actually make you richer and start moving towards a lower middle income.

  • 00:59:06

    So fundamentally, it's all these other things that will make the difference. And remember, if we think back 40 years ago, 40 percent of the world's population were extremely poor. That is, they lived on what we typically call a dollar a day, right. Now, less than 10 percent are.

    John Donvan:
    Did you want to do a follow up here? I see you're raising your hand again. That mic need to come back to you.

    Female Speaker:
    So that kind of goes back to what they were referring to earlier. You said we are intelligent and we know these things, but we're not doing anything about it. And I mean, I can point to some things like right here in Richmond that we know that there's a problem with the school system, we receive a lot of money, but we still have poor school systems. So we're intelligent, but we're not doing anything about it. So that's not going to make poor people richer.

  • 01:00:04

    That means either we're -- we don't care, we don't want to change things, but we haven't been able to do it yet. So that's the point that I'm trying to make. Thanks.

    [applause]

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    And I -- if I can just answer very quick, I sense that there's something about Richmond that I don't know. But clearly there's another conversation going on here at the same time. But given what we're talking about up here, which is really what should we be doing? I think it's incredibly important to recognize that we really have two basic opportunities. We can focus on the things that we know work, that will work right now and that are fairly cheap and effective -- namely, adaptation. We could also try and say, "Hey, let's cut carbon emissions." You know, you saying to Mark, "I'm not going to take my car to work tomorrow. I'm actually going to bike." This will help nobody in Bangladesh for the next 50 years. Now, it will help them a tiny bit in 100 years.

  • 01:01:01

    But again, if we actually want to help them, there are much, much better ways that we can help them right now. And that goes to the heart of this conversation. Do we want to be the guys who just did what felt good for us but had very little impact and actually was fairly costly? Or do we want to be the guys who did the smart stuff that worked right now and that was cheap? And --

    John Donvan:
    And we are we are hitting time. I just want to let Michele have one more word. Go for it.

    Michele Wucker:
    Yeah. Thanks for the question. And it really speaks to a lot of the inequality inherent in this whole debate. A lot of the poorer countries in the world have contributed far, far less by being -- by exponential amounts to climate change than the rich countries that got rich by making it dirty. I think we've talked about access to energy for developing countries being a great way to, you know, to add wealth. Well, why don't the richer countries take some of the innovation that they're frankly the ones who are profiting from and help some of those countries to leapfrog this, you know, really messy economic growth that we did and help to make sure that the energy access that they have is much cleaner than what we've done.

  • 01:02:09

    That's only barely scratching the surface of it. And the other part is that the developing countries don't have the adaptation resources that we do here. So it's just sort of like a double burden on them. So thank you so much for your question, because I think it's really important to look at the equity aspects of this debate, and you haven't had time to --

    John Donvan:
    And that concludes round two of this Intelligence Squared U.S. debate where our resolution is: can humans adapt to climate change? And that's the question we're asking. And here's where we are. We are about to hear brief closing statements from each debater. Those statements will be 2 minutes each. So we're in the homestretch. This is their last chance to try to change your minds. And right after the fourth speaker, we will ask you to vote again. And so, that's going to be in just a few minutes from now. So we move on to round three. Again, the debaters will come and stand here to make their two minute closing statements. And first up, to argue the yes position, once again, Matthew Kahn.

  • 01:03:04

    [applause]

    Matthew Kahn:
    Folks. Thank you. I have had a great time and I've learned -- my father always asked me, what have you learned? Folks in chapter one of my book, Climatetopolis, that you didn't read --.

    [laughter]

    Chapter two. It was titled, "Too Much Gas." I pivoted -- tough room. I pivoted to working on adaptation because of my concern that greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise throughout the world because of energy demand in the developing world. In India today, a nation that needs to consume a lot more energy, 75 percent of the power comes from coal power. I do not see -- I hope that there's technology transfer to developing countries. But with the huge number of people in the developing world, with income growth there, and given current technologies, greenhouse gas emissions will rise. And thus we have to pivot our attention to adaptation.

  • 01:04:06

    And I think that we've made a strong case tonight to our strong ability to make progress. We have empirical benchmarks of our progress in adapting to the challenge. I don't predict out to the year 2100. My coauthors wanted to, but I refuse to. I am very optimistic that we will make great progress relative to what we've achieved in the past.

    Two final ideas. How will California adapt to climate change? We will pinpoint where is the areas without fire risk and flood risk. We will up zone there. We will use insurance pricing to nudge people to higher ground where they will be safer. How will India adapt to climate change? Folks, urbanization and moving to cities such as Richmond, such as New Delhi is a way to adapt because urbanization and education go hand in hand. Farmers face a challenge in adapting relative to urbanites.

  • 01:05:02

    And so in thinking of your children's future, I am optimistic about my son's future because of human ingenuity. And so I ask you to support the proposal tonight. Thank you.

    John Donvan:
    Thank you, Matthew Kahn.

    [applause]

    And here to argue for the last time on the no side, Michele Wucker.

    [applause]

    Michele Wucker:
    So do we notice climate change right now? I live in Chicago. I have a view of Lake Michigan from my office window. The lake actually laps up against my building. And at one point in the last several years, the lake was up 40 feet over the previous record. And I noticed this because when I moved there eight years ago, I had an idiot puppy who would run around barking her fool head off on the dog beach, which is now under 20 something odd feet of water. This is what you might call a first world problem. And it really is.

  • 01:06:02

    And that's actually my point, is that, as we were talking about, developing countries are most at risk from climate change. They are the ones who will benefit most from mitigation measures. And the mitigation measures in those countries, as they grow and need more energy, will yield a huge, huge benefit. The questions we're asking tonight are related to that. Are we okay with living in such a way that the rich countries can do what they need to adapt, but everyone else in the world can't? That doesn't seem like a great answer to me.

    And it's also about what we're willing to risk. The choices that we make about risks -- about the big, scary, dangerous things coming at us -- tell the entire world who we are. Are we the people who saw climate change coming at us who had cost -- who had in front of us solutions that made sense in terms of cost benefit, that reap benefits over the years, and help us into the future?

  • 01:07:13

    Do we see that coming and ignore those solutions? If you think that the ethical and practical answer to those questions is no, then I urge you to invite -- to vote no on the resolution tonight. Thank you.

    [applause]

    John Donvan:
    Thank you, Michele Wucker. And one more word from the yes side, Bjorn Lomborg, ladies and gentlemen. Bjorn Lomborg.

    [applause]

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    Thank you. It's been a weird conversation because fundamentally I thought we were asking: can humans adapt to climate change? And that's what I prepared. And the simple answer is yes. So if you want to answer the question that we've been asked, the answer is yes. But apparently -- because it's kind of obvious that we will have to adapt and we can adapt and humans can adapt in a lot of different ways, as we've talked about here tonight, and as I tried to outline.

  • 01:08:09

    So we will adapt. We can adapt and we should adapt and we should make sure we do that.

    There's a presumption, however, that we should be spending much more money on cutting carbon emissions because it's the good thing to do. Well, no, it's actually the very ineffective way to do it. It's not what we were really debating. But I feel like our opponents here are trying to sort of switch the conversation to say, "Do you want to be good people or do you want to vote yes?" Right? Do -- they're basically trying to shame you into saying, "No. You should vote no because we shouldn't adapt. We should spend lots and lots of money on cutting carbon emissions.".

    Let's just think about that for a second. How successful have we been so far? Well, in a surprisingly underreported report from the U.N. just before COVID hit, the U.N. Environment Program estimated that the net impact of all climate policy since 2005 has been zero.

  • 01:09:07

    They said they could not tell the difference between the world that we actually live in and the world that would not have cared about climate change since 2005.

    So my honored opponents are basically suggesting to you that you should skip what the question said and just vote no because it doesn't feel like we're doing the right thing. I would suggest to you, humbly, that you should answer the question and that we should do the smart stuff, and that we should actually do the stuff that will not only help rich people, but that is also what poor people both can afford and will help them a lot more as they are poor. Thank you.

    [applause]

    John Donvan:
    Thank you. Bjorn Lomborg.

    [applause]

    And our final statement will be arguing the no answer to the question. Here is Kaveh Madani.

    [applause]

    Kaveh Madani:
    So this has been a very joyful discussion.

  • 01:10:06

    And as we say, we have a lot in common. We both think that mitigation and adaptation is necessary, and that is why we need to vote no. [laughs] You -- I encourage you to vote no. Otherwise, I mean, it would have been a waste of time of all of you -- to invite you and ask, "Do you think humans can survive in the future?" Or all these climate activists around the world who are saying, let's add up, you know, invest in adaptation measures and mitigation measures. If they think that adaptation is not possible, they're wasting their time.

    So I think the two of us are here to say that mitigation is needed in addition to adaptation. And you cannot count on our smartness because we might get everything wrong. Now, if we are thinking that we don't know a lot, we become less arrogant, and we try to understand what is going on -- and as Bjorn is saying correctly, we have to come up with better ways of implementing policies and designing them.

  • 01:11:03

    Current policies are -- a lot of them are defective. They might even have the unintended consequences that make things worse. But that doesn't mean that we should give up on mitigation, because in the future we get smart and we will find the solution.

    And let me say this loudly, that climate change is only one of the byproducts of unsustainable development, only one of them. There are lots of other things that we need to address.

    [applause]

    And if we -- and investing in poverty alleviation -- and as a person coming from the developing world and I understand this is very much needed, you know, investing in fixing this issue, improving health, and so many other things. All of these are indeed mitigation measures to increase the capacity of those societies to adapt. So if you want to stick to ethics and think about the justice and think about the all of the world, not we as people in this room, but as all the humans in this planet -- on this planet, please vote no.

  • 01:12:06

    [applause]

    John Donvan:
    All right, that concludes round three. And that also concludes the argumentation section of this debate, of this event, of this program. And in a moment, I'm going to ask you to vote for the second time. But first, I want to say to the four debaters how much I appreciated the way you did this tonight with respect and civility and intelligence and charm and information and enlightenment. Thank you very, very much. It's what we stand for.

    [applause]

    It's fantastic. And now it's time to learn which side has changed the most minds. We're going to ask you to vote for the second time by going to iq2us.org to cast your second vote. And there you will find the instructions and the prompts to vote yes, no, or undecided.

  • 01:13:01

    But I promise to kind of get to a question that was asked earlier if we could do this really, really briefly. I'm just wanted to take on that question of whether you heard anything from your opponents tonight that you found persuasive that might get you to rethink your position? Anybody? And if -- and no is an okay answer because here you were to debate. But I'm just wondering.

    Kaveh Madani:
    I think I there are lots of things that Bjorn says that are correct. I know I'm missing in the climate change discussions, because the climate change discussions are run by the white and the rich. And I think the voice of the developing world, science is missing. And that is a big problem. When it comes to narratives, the media is running the narratives, so they climatize a lot of events that are not necessarily, you know, driven by climate change. So I think, you know, that's the -- I have a lot of respect for what his arguments are. While I disagree with the conclusion in some aspects.

    John Donvan:
    And anybody on this side?

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    I think we had we had a great conversation.

  • 01:14:02

    I think, honestly, I may have misunderstood the question that was being asked because I thought we were -- because had we debated this other thing. So what's the weight should be? 60/40, 40/60? That kind of thing. That would have been a wonderful, very different debate from my point of view. And I think you have some great arguments.

    [applause]

    John Donvan:
    All right.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    I also think, though, that we should just recognize that right now the world spends like 90 percent on mitigation and about 10 percent on adaptation. So if anything, it would suggest that we should have spent a lot more over on this table.

    John Donvan:
    Okay.

    Bjorn Lomborg:
    So if you could leave your money when you leave.

    [laughter]

    John Donvan:
    All right, so it's all in. I've been sent the results on my iPad. And again, what we do is we've had you vote before you've heard the arguments; we've had you vote right after you've heard the arguments, and we just -- we're curious to see which side pulled over the -- more people to their side -- changed more minds.

    So on the first vote, 61 percent of you said yes to the question: Can humans adapt to climate change? 23 percent said no.

  • 01:15:07

    Sixteen percent were undecided. On the second vote, the team that said -- that was arguing yes, their first vote was 61 percent. Their second vote was 50 percent, which I think tells you where this is going to go. The team on the other side arguing no, their first vote was 23 percent. Their second vote was 42 percent. So they pulled over 19 percentage points.

    So I want to say this, however. Both sides always pull over people to their side and the -- really our whole point in doing this is not saying who's right and who's not. We just want to hear the conversation and the argument and we want to see how you all reacted to it. And we've heard you react to it and we appreciate that. But more than that, we appreciate that the debaters got here and presented the best arguments that they could. It's clear this argument is not done. We're going to be hearing from it -- about it a lot more into the future and, maybe, we hope to do some of that on this stage.

    To all four of you, thank you.

  • 01:16:00

    To the Richmond Forum and to this audience, thank you. I'm John Donvan for Intelligence Squared U.S. We'll see you next time.

    [applause]

    [music playing]

    [end of transcript]

Pre-Debate

Against the Motion
23 %
Undecided
17 %
For the Motion
60 %

Post-Debate

BIGGEST SHIFT

Against the Motion
42 %
Undecided
9 %
For the Motion
50 %

Breakdown

Against the Motion
18% - Remained on the Against Side
14% - Swung from the For Side
8% - Swung from Undecided
Undecided
2% - Swung from the Against Side
3% - Remained Undecided
4% - Swung from the For Side
For the Motion
4% - Swung from the Against Side
41% - Remained on the For Side
5% - Swung from Undecided
ABOUT THE DEBATERS
For The Motion
Bjorn Lomborg
Bjorn Lomborg - Author of the Bestsellers Cool It and The Skeptical Environmentalist

Bjorn was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2004, one... Read bio

Matthew Kahn
Matthew Kahn - Provost Professor of Economics and Spatial Sciences, University of Southern California
Mathew Kahn is a leading researcher and educator in the field of environmental economics, examining ... Read bio
Against The Motion
Michele Wucker
Michele Wucker - Economic Policy Expert & Founder, Gray Rhino & Company 
Michele Wucker is a strategist and policy expert who coined the term “gray rhino” as a call to t... Read bio
Kaveh Madani
Kaveh Madani - Environmental Scientist, & Former Vice President of the United Nations Environment Assembly Bureau, & Former Deputy Head of Iran’s Department of Environment 
Kaveh Madani is an environmental scientist, educator, and activist working on complex human-natural ... Read bio

Main Points

For The Motion
  • Climate change adaptation is unavoidable. If we are not past the point of no return regarding climate change, then we soon will be, and we must adapt. Efforts to mitigate climate change, rather than to learn to live in the new world, are often not cost-effective or effectual.
  • This, in addition to the fact that many efforts and the dialogue around them are born out of an alarmism that is not warranted by the reality of the situation. Such anxiety leads to hast decision-making that is often not in the best interest of improving life outcomes for humans.
  • We would do better to prioritize adaptation efforts over emissions-cutting efforts, for example, as many mitigation efforts are plagued by the free rider problem to begin with.
Against The Motion
  • Climate change is unavoidable. The effects are going to drastically change the way our world and lives operate. Loss in habitable land to rising sea levels, extreme weather events, supply chain disruptions, and the disappearance of entire biomes are going to disrupt our way of life.
  • Most notably, these changes will more greatly impact the global poor, which in turn will put severe strains on the entire global financial and governance system.
  • These extreme changes are the kind of global disaster that warrant alarm. Unfortunately, such a slow-moving disaster, when people see signs but ignore them, is likely to occur plenty of harm that humans will find it difficult to adapt to. When mitigation is still an option, why would we not act to ensure less severe negative effects.