Lomborg's Technology-Led Policy

by | Sep 2, 2010

Roger Pielke Jr has a post about Bjorn Lomborg’s apparent turnaround on the climate issue.

Specifically, his proposal for a low (starting and rising) carbon tax to fund innovation comes directly from the work of Isabel Galiana and Chris Green (in the video above) of McGill University, written up for Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus exercise on climate change last year, and available here in PDF.  (I have collaborated with both, most recently on The Hartwell Paper, and I also was a participant in Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus.)

Innovation and ways to fund it are worthy topics of discussion. The idea of a minimal carbon-tax to raise funds for low-carbon R&D seem like a good idea, costing little in terms of opportunity and $, and far more straightforward than carbon trading or offsetting, for tangible results.  The video of  Isabel Galiana and Chris Green (watch it at Roger’s blog) makes some good points about technology led policy versus policy-led innovation — i.e. top-down vs bottom up, that Roger has made elsewhere. I interviewed Roger about his criticism of the UK’s target-driven policy and its prospects last year.

However, I think this idea is a mistake, for two reasons.

First, I don’t think that the policy comes after an understanding of what has driven the search for ‘climate-friendly’ energy policies. It comes after accepting the premises of climate-alarmism, and environmentalism.

Second, innovation of energy technology should be a worthwhile end in itself. It does not need climate change to justify it. If we can’t see the value of cheaper, and more abundant energy to increasing the possibilities for development, or any form of human progress, then we’ve already lost the moral argument. Why should we make it a condition that any form of energy production in the future must be ‘clean’?

This isn’t to say that climate change is not a problem, but to say that it is possible that the fact of people living without sufficient access to energy might be a bigger problem. Indeed, it’s far easier to quantify than the problems of climate change — which is what Lomborg was quite good at. Indeed, we could even say that a lack of access to energy makes climate change —  if it is a problem — a bigger problem than it might be, were energy more abundant.


  1. Ben Pile

    Bob Ward — the Grantham Institute’s PR man — has turned up to comment at Roger Pielke’s blog post (link above). It doesn’t seem to be going well for Ward, who is plainly the intellectual junior of the three.

    Ward seems to be blog-trolling rather than doing his day job at the Grantham… It must be pretty dull there, after all.

  2. Timberati

    I think that Lomborg’s position remains pretty much the same: global warming is a problem, and the Copenhagen Consensus put its priority much lower on the list compared to implementing DOHA and micronutrients for children. But, if you really want to put money into it (after all of these other things we think are more bang for the buck) then some R&D won’t be as dumb as shutting down the global economy.


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