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“Passionate but confused”


Last week I wrote about an essay by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger that criticized the environmental community’s strategy for addressing climate change and proposed instead increased government funding for “breakthrough technologies.” At the time, I was too lazy to pick apart the essay’s muddle of proposals. The nice thing about the blogosphere is that if you wait a few days, someone will do your job for you.

David Hawkins from the National Resources Defense Council hits the key point that we don’t need new technology to fight climate change. We need to deploy the technologies we have now. And we need to do so at a scale far beyond the scope of any government-funded spending program. As Hawkins notes, $17 trillion will be spent worldwide on energy services and infrastructure by 2030, most of it by the private sector.

The trick is to steer as much of that spending as possible toward low-carbon energy sources. N&S are oddly disparaging toward carbon caps and carbon taxes, but only economy-wide solutions such as these can achieve the sort of transformative changes so desperately needed.

To be sure, increased R&D is a necessary and useful part of any program to address climate change. But it isn’t the only or even the major part.

Update: Ted Norhaus responds to David Hawkins here. His defense is thin (and surprisingly shrill, with a completely gratuitous attack on “the true priorities of the environmental movement”). Basically, Nordhaus argues that he is in reality in favor of carbon regulation and swift deployment of clean tech, no matter what he may have strongly implied elsewhere. OK, fine. Please say what you mean then.

Update 2: David Roberts has a response to S&N here, in which he says a bunch of stuff that I agree with. And I mix it up some more with Shellenberger here.

Photo available under Creative Commons license by Flickr user Dano.

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