We, the species Homo sapiens, have known for at least 40 years that climate change is underway. Despite massive efforts to deny and obfuscate the knowledge that such change is the result of human pollution, one measure of which is the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, most Americans want assurance that we are doing something about this worrisome issue.
Speaking of voting on karma, Gristz David Roberts cautions: “There’s enough carbon stocked in the atmosphere to keep the temperature going up for decades even if we stop polluting entirely, which isn’t going to happen… As presidential science advisor John Holdren is fond of saying, we’ll end up with some mix of mitigation, adaptation, and suffering. What’s left to us is the ratio.”
The Pollutocratic focus, of course, is pleasantly adapting. They predicate such pleasantness upon their obscene, tax-free profits that mean greater suffering for those not in the one percent.
What to do? Well, David Roberts has a beard and some ideas.
For the mid to long-term, DR Gristz prescriptions align with the wishes of the Pollutocracy. Technology is O.K; it’s the science that they meet with fiercest denial.
For the short to mid-term. his prescriptions, while commendable in terms of the potential for mitigation also seem ludicrous, especially in light of his recent article about the distinct and widening separation between American politics and policy.
1. For the short-term: To drive the cheapest, fastest pollution reductions, put a steadily rising price on carbon. Start it low if you need to. Preferably it would be a transparent, economy-wide price on carbon with the revenue split between reducing the payroll tax and funding other efficiency and clean energy programs. And preferably, my horse would be a unicorn. But just about any price, no matter how compromised or opaque (see: EPA regs), is better than the absurd status quo of no price at all. We mock Europe’s Emission Trading System, but it’s been getting progressively better, and WTF are we doing anyway?
We shouldn’t think of a price on carbon as a panacea. Without being prohibitively high and punitive, it’s won’t be sufficient in itself. But we shouldn’t underestimate it either. After all, it’s recommended by four out of five economists, and when are they ever wrong?
2. For the short- to mid-term: Encourage massive deployment of existing clean energy and efficiency technology. Lots of folks, including many economists, are leery about this — “choosing winners”! — but I think it’s essential. For one thing, it’s the most effective form of R&D. Learning by doing, economies of scale, and market discipline drive costs down more reliably than any lab research, particularly in the proximate future. For another thing, we just don’t have time to wait.
There are lots of ways to encourage deployment. In the U.S., we’re trying on-again off-again tax credits, unambitious CAFE standards, and a patchwork of state rules and mandates … against a backdrop of massive fossil fuel subsidies. That turns out to be a pretty terrible strategy. I much prefer policies like Japan’s Top Runner program [PDF], Germany’s feed-in tariffs, feebates, output-based standards, and energy-efficiency resource standards. But again, you take what you can get.
3. For the mid- to long-term: Massively ramp up the U.S. innovation machine. Above all that means raising the U.S. energy R&D budget from its abysmally, shamefully low-level. The stimulus package pumped some money in, but the situation hasn’t fundamentally changed from 2006, when Greg Nemet and Dan Kammen said, “a five to ten-fold increase in energy R&D investment is both warranted and feasible.” Late last year, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommended tripling the U.S. energy research budget.
It will mean spending lots of money — no way around it — but there are all manner of prizes, programs, and partnerships that can draw in private capital as well. This is where the Breakthrough Institute has done some great work: I recommend their “Where Good Technologies Come From” and Fred Block’s book State of Innovation: The U.S. Government’s Role in Technology Development.
4. For the mid- to long-term: Invest in infrastructure. As anyone who’s been to, say, Hong Kong will tell you, America is crumbling. On the latest infrastructure report card, the U.S. earned an ignominious overall grade of D. We’ve been under-investing in infrastructure for decades and to catch up we will need to spend around $2.2 trillion over the next five years.
If we are to reach anything approaching our sustainability goals, we’ll need tons of new electricity generation, transmission, distribution, and control tech. We’ll need high-speed trains and regional trains and public transit and electric-car charging stations. We’ll need bulked up freight rail and broadband and sea walls to keep out rising oceans. We’ll need a national retrofit program. Luckily, investing in that stuff creates millions of jobs (handy in a time of high unemployment and low demand) and pays off richly in new economic activity. For more on this, see the World Economic Forum’s “Green Investing 2011” reports.
Editor’s note: The Big Buddha is here to remind you that Life is Suffering.
BTW The Pollutocrats focus upon behavioral adaptation, not adaptation in the evolutionary sense, perhaps since if you embrace the latter, then you might begin to think in terms of the Sixth Major Extinction Event.
- Climate Central veers off course on adaptation (climateprogress.org)