The false dichotomy of population and consumerism in Laudato Si’

The lauding of Laudato Si’ in the development community reflects the sympathy that many beyond the Catholic fold feel for Pope Francis and his clear concern for social justice, poverty, and equitable development. It is also being lauded as evidence that science and religion can work together, and when they do, they agree on the importance of tackling climate change.

Much of Laudato Si’ sends a good message, but there is a gaping hole in it: the issue of population, and population growth. The silence on this is damaging and dangerous, and reflective of a broader failure of Catholic social teaching to tackle seriously issues that impinge on its historic doctrine. Continue reading

Risking development? Further thoughts on Cost Benefit Analysis for global development challenges


In this post, I look again at the use of Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) for ranking and prioritizing global development challenges. While it was written in the context of the ongoing debate over Bjorn Lomborg and his Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC), it is not written as a critique of that specific approach. Rather, I am seeking to engage with the general methodological issues around development priorities, and I do so in this post with a particular focus on the issue of risk. Nonetheless, given the context and the fact that I have been reading through the CCC output, it is my clear and explicit referent for the discussion. Continue reading

Consenting to inequality: The distributional consequences of Copenhagen Consensus approach


Bjorn Lomborg is, undoubtedly, seriously concerned with poverty and inequality. Both in the work of the Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) and in his popular writings, this is a common theme. In this context, he has championed some very progressive ideas, including eradicating barriers to international migration.[1] Unfortunately, he has also used rather distorted arguments about inequality to attack some of his favourite bugbears, such as subsidies for renewable energy.

The problem I want to address in this post is that the central methodology of Lomborg and the CCC is at best blind to inequality and, in its application, could tend towards policy prescriptions that increase inequality. Moreover, as we shall see, there are good arguments to suggest that if we take a broader view of inequality to include intergenerational equality, the CCC methodology is not even equality-blind; it is equality averse. Continue reading

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind: Lomborg on Renewable Energy Subsidies


This post was written, along with a previous post, in the context of the University of Western Australia’s decision to accept $4 million of federal funding for an Australian Consensus Centre built around the work of the controversial public intellectual Bjorn Lomborg. Since I completed the initial draft, UWA has decided to rescind the centre and return the funds, citing the widespread opposition to the centre among staff at the University.

Given this decision, I had initially thought not to publish this post. I have decided, however, to do so after all. My main reason for this is that in certain sections of the Australian media and the wider public debate, opposition to the Centre has been portrayed as the ideological hysteria of a closed club of humanities academics who ostracise and demonise anyone who fails to follows their left-wing orthodoxy. I hope that these posts go some way towards demonstrating that concern over Lomborg’s credentials is not mere ideology but the outcome of serious engagement with his output, on his own terms. Continue reading

Lomborg’s Electric Dreams

Context The University of Western Australia has recently accepted A$4 million to set up an ‘Australian Consensus Centre’ under the auspices of Bjorn Lomborg (Update: Since writing this post, UWA has cancelled the contract, citing widespread staff opposition). Lomborg is a public intellectual known for developing a cost-benefit approach to major global challenges and producing results that often downplay the relative importance of action on climate change. He is, undoubtedly, a bête noire for some climate activists. But in the interest of benefit of the doubt, I decided to try to take an impartial look at his work. I will blog later on the methodology of his ‘Consensus Center’ approach. This blog is the result of a careful reading and ‘fact checking’ of a recent op-ed Lomborg wrote USA Today on electric cars. Continue reading