You Have $75 Billion To Save the World. How Would You Spend It?

The 10 most effective ideas for improving the world.
May 14 2012 2:33 PM

You Have $75 Billion To Save the World

How would you spend it?

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Likewise, just $300 million would prevent 300,000 child deaths if it were used to strengthen the Global Fund’s malaria-financing mechanism, which makes combination therapies cheaper for poor countries. Put in economic terms, the benefits are 35 times higher than the costs—even without taking into account that it safeguards our most effective malaria drug from future drug resistance. Later this year, donors will decide whether to renew this facility. The panel’s findings should help to persuade them to do so.

For a similar amount, 300 million children could be dewormed in schools. By not sharing their food with intestinal parasites, they, too, would become more alert, stay longer in school, and grow up to be more productive adults—another cause that needs much more public attention.

Expanding tuberculosis treatment and childhood immunization coverage are two other health investments that the expert panel endorses. Likewise, a $100 million annual increase in spending to develop a vaccine against HIV/AIDS would generate substantial benefits in the future.

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As people in the developing world live longer, they are increasingly experiencing chronic disease; indeed, half of all deaths this year will be from chronic diseases in Third World countries. Here, the panel finds that spending just $122 million could achieve complete Hepatitis B vaccine coverage and avert about 150,000 annual deaths from the disease. Getting low-cost drugs for acute heart attacks to developing countries would cost just $200 million and prevent 300,000 deaths.

The expert panel’s findings point to a compelling need to invest roughly $2 billion annually in research and development to increase agricultural output. Not only would this reduce hunger by increasing food production and lowering food prices; it would also protect biodiversity, because higher crop productivity would mean less deforestation. That, in turn, would help in the fight against climate change as well, because forests store carbon.

When it comes to climate change, the experts recommend spending a small amount—roughly $1 billion—to investigate the feasibility of cooling the planet through geoengineering options. This would allow us to understand better the technology’s risks, costs, and benefits. Moreover, the research could potentially give us low-cost, effective insurance against global warming.

Another priority for investment is the establishment of effective early-warning systems for natural disasters in developing countries. For less than $1 billion a year, this would alleviate both direct and long-term economic damage, possibly securing some $35 billion in benefits.

The $75 billion budget chosen for the Copenhagen Consensus project is large enough to make a real difference, but small enough that we must choose—as in the real world—the projects that can achieve the most good. The expert panel’s list shows us that there are many smart solutions waiting to be implemented.

A version of this article was originally published by Project Syndicate. For more from Project Syndicate, visit their new Web site, and follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

Bjørn Lomborg is an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School and directs the Copenhagen Consensus Center. He is the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, Cool It, and most recently How Much Have Global Problems Cost the World?