18 October 2010

A Positive Path for Meeting The Global Climate Challenge

I have a new piece up over at Yale e360.  Here is how it starts:
This past year, the Indian government took two actions that help to illustrate which steps to decarbonize the global economy might work and which are unlikely to succeed.
Have a look, and feel free to let me know what you think there or here.  It is a condensed discussion of the "iron law" of climate policy that I discuss in Chapters 2, 3 and 4 of The Climate Fix.


  1. Reading, I do think that the article demonstrates an iron law of climate policy, but I'm not at all sure that it exhibits the one you think it does. The iron law I'd get out of it is, "taxation at a high enough level to be effective in cutting carbon emissions will never pass public scrutiny". Or maybe "Very visible price increases will never pass public scrutiny, whereas relatively hidden ones will".

    The article didn't mention what India was going to spend the money on, and I was curious so I went looking. "Green energy technologies" in general I translate to be "graft to politically favored constituencies", but it turns out that this isn't what India's planning on using the money for. Putting several different sources together, it's to provide a small fraction of the funding for massive amounts of solar power generation arrays - they have a plan to install 20 million square meters of collectors, at an estimated cost of $100b, by 2022.

    And part of that plan really is a good idea - building small, say 30-40 meters on a side, collector arrays and some infrastructure to bring limited power to villages far from the grid, providing them their first ever power. But the rest of it? Government boondoggle. In places where the arrays are intended to supplement the grid they'd be better off just building the latest generation clean coal-fired plants and extending their existing grid at a fraction of the cost. Because we know some other "iron laws" - $100b won't get it done, and it won't be done in 2022, because government projects never come in on time or budget.

  2. I generally agree that some version of your iron law will prevent action, particularly in rapidly developing countries. Some hope that if deniers in this country didn't prevent the US from taking action, and the US led the charge, that China and India would then follow. Possible but unlikely in my opinion. It's kind of like hoping that settlers in the US would not mine for gold in places that violated the rights of the people already there.

    But I'm also not optimistic about a technology-focused solution. Look at all the improvements in the IC engine in recent decades. But they weren't used to increase MPG, they were used to increase power. I see the Breakthrough method as more of a recipe for exacerbating the problem.

    Without a significant increase in carbon cost, technology improvements will not go in that direction nearly enough. And people will not voluntarily choose to allow this in most places.

    So for better or for worse, adaptation it will be. But the record for adaptation for human societies is not so rosy as some claim. Adaptation can be brutal. Many human cultures have declined and disappeared from challenges less than this one. But too many have their heads in the sand. Deep down.

  3. Roger

    India and Germany are reacting to the global Co2 political situation concerning CO2 reduction, based on carbon trading. Otherwise, there would be no decarbonisation on this scale. Decarbonisation is not their policy, per se.

    I assume the Rockefeller family wouldn't bankroll The Breakthrough Institute unless they thought it would further the cause of carbon trading. As long as the connection between CO2 and doom is being made, they are happy to promote the organisation. Despite the fact you have a totally different solution which excludes cap and trade.

    Perhaps they don't even know. Big organisation make mistakes.

  4. Sure you've seen this, but check out this article at the Times: