02 September 2010

The Smart Ideas Behind Lomborg's New Views

Bjorn Lomborg is in the news again.  This time the story is apparently that the once skeptical environmentalist has changed his tune.  Except of course that is not really true.  What is missed in the false, personality-driven narrative is that there are some serious ideas behind the policies that Lomborg has now decided to advocate for (the sources of which you probably won't hear much about from Bjorn).

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.)

Some, predictably, are trying to exploit that fact that Lomborg is unpopular in the environmental community to cast doubt on the proposals that he now espouses.  After all, it is far easier to judge ideas simply by who holds them rather than on their merits. As usual such an ad hominem approach to policy analysis is a bad idea.

Say what you will about Bjorn Lomborg, he knows a good idea when he sees it, and the policies for decarbonization that he now advocates offer the best alternative to the top-down approach of setting a high global carbon price through a comprehensive global treaty.  (His advocacy of geoengineering is another matter.)  Lomborg's support for such policies should be welcomed, not dismissed.

Lomborg offers the potential to bring along many of his supporters to a new view.  Climate activists must decide if they are engaged in an endless battle against those that they deem the bad guys (regardless of the policies those bad guys espouse), or if they are pragmatists looking for effective policies.  If the latter they should welcome Lomborg's new view with open arms.