Quarterly Essay 44

Man-Made World: Choosing between progress and planet

Andrew Charlton

Release Date:
November 2011
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Winner, 2012 John Button Prize

Witnessing at first-hand the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Conference and wondering what went wrong, Andrew Charlton realised the truth of a colleague’s words: “The world is split between those who want to save the planet and those who want to save themselves.”

In this groundbreaking essay, Charlton discusses the rift that will shape our future: progress versus planet; rich versus poor. In recent times environmentalists have argued with mounting force that the growth of human activity on our planet is unsustainable. We are, they claim, on a collision course with destiny. But, the developing world counters, environmental threats, dire as they may be, are not the only challenges we face. Indeed, these can seem a distant danger compared to the daily tragedies of life in slums and villages.

Across the globe, economists and environmentalists vie over who has the right response to climate change, population growth and food scarcity. In Australia, this battle has plunged our politics into one of its most tumultuous periods. In Man-Made World Charlton evaluates some of the proposed solutions –renewable and nuclear energy, organic and genetically modified food – and argues that our descendants will only thank us if we find a way to preserve both the natural world and human progress.

“Progress has its price. Each step of human advancement has left a footprint on the planet. Today our two defining challenges are managing climate change and eliminating global poverty. In Copenhagen we learned that these challenges are inseparable.” —Andrew Charlton, Man-Made World

This edition of Quarterly Essay also includes a piece by one of Australia’s leading writers, Richard Flanagan, entitled The Australian Disease: On the decline of love and the rise of non-freedom.

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This issue also contains correspondence relating to the previous issue QE43 Bad News by Robert Manne. Correspondence relating to QE44 Man-Made World will appear in the next issue.

About the Author

Andrew Charlton was senior economic adviser to the prime minister from 2008 to 2010. During that time he served as Australia’s senior official to the G20 summits and the prime minister’s representative to the Copenhagen Climate Conference. He previously worked for the London School of Economics, the United Nations and the Boston Consulting Group and received his doctorate in economics from Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar. He is the author of Ozonomics (2007) and Fair Trade for All (2005), co-written with Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz.