Choosing between progress and the planet

Dad posted me the latest Quarterly Essay this week and I had some time to sit down and read through it this afternoon. I don’t normally get a chance to read these, although enjoy it when I do. I like the dedicated nature of it, where one author gets to write a long essay on one particular topic. It’s a great concept. I should probably subscribe.


Anyway, I digress. This quarters essay is by Andrew Charlton, who was the Senior Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2010. His time in that role saw him take in the infamous Copenhagen Summit held in 2009. That sets the scene for the essay, as he discusses why the approach of many developed nations to that summit was wrong and how that lead to the relative disappointment that stemmed from the inaction seen from it.

The main contention of essay is that we’ve traditionally argued that we can either choose economic progress or preservation of the planet; but not both. Charlton walks through why this argument is basically flawed and also displays how many organisations; from right to left, continue to base their strategies and focus on winning this argument. Essentially, we will all lose if we continue thinking in this way.

One thing I’ve taken from the essay was the following graph. I had never really engaged with what the 5% carbon emission reduction target that Australia has, except to think that 5% is not much. However, reading through Charlton’s thoughts, it becomes pretty obvious that it’s a huge task, which actually represents a target of reducing our carbon emissions by about 31% in real terms. Our population and energy use will continue to rise in the next 10 years, and so to see a 5% net reduction come into effect, we’ll need to reduce our total reductions by about 31%. Interesting stuff.


If you’re interested in the whole environmental movement and what’s happening, I’d recommend reading the essay. It’s very well balanced and takes a pragmatic approach, which I really like. Stuart Brands Whole Earth Discipline is similar in it’s message. If you can’t get your hands on the essay itself, theres a video with Charlton on SlowTV where he discusses the essay.

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