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Stopping climate change 2.0

climateotwers.JPG

I've spent the past few weeks gathering string on a column about the best strategies for addressing climate change without a carbon price. Unfortunately for me, David Leonhardt wrote that exact column today. Fortunately for you, he did a better job with it than I would've.

The basic story here is that for years, climate-policy wonks advocated a market-based solution to climate change: We'll slap a price on carbon that reflects its cost to society, and as high-carbon activities and products become more expensive, people will move toward low-carbon alternatives, and research money will flood toward clean-energy technologies. The market, in other words, will work its magic.

But the U.S. Senate wasn't much interested in that solution. So a new approach is emerging: applying industrial policy to global warming.

randdenergy.jpgThe basic insight here is that the whole game is technological breakthroughs. Either we come up with some way of generating clean energy that's cheap and plentiful enough to replace fossil fuels in both the developed and the developing world, or we're cooked. The idea behind cap-and-trade is that we would get those innovations by making dirty energy more expensive. The idea behind an industrial policy approach is that we'll do it by making clean energy cheaper: We'll subsidize it, pay for more research into it, and signal that the government is going to make sure there are profits into it. A new, bipartisan report from the Breakthrough Institute is calling for about $25 billion a year.

The politics of that are much better. It's not a new tax (unless, of course, you fund it through a new tax). It focuses the conversation on cool new technologies and making sure America dominates a new industry rather than on making it more expensive for people to drive cars or get electricity from a coal-powered plant. It doesn't blame people, or make certain regions of the country terrifically uncomfortable.

As for the policy, market types will tell you that the government isn't great at picking winners. That's true. Technologists will tell you that the government is the only player willing to fund the basic, risky research that can get a new industry off the ground. That might also be true. The best of all worlds would've been a price on carbon married to a big investment in clean-energy research. But this is not the best of all worlds. This is our world. And this -- plus carbon regulation through the Environmental Protection Agency -- might be our last, best chance to protect it.

Photo credit: Joel Boh/Reuters. Graph credit: American Energy Innovation Council.

By Ezra Klein  | October 13, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Comments

"The basic story here is that for years, climate-policy wonks advocated a market-based solution to climate change: We'll slap a price on carbon that reflects its cost to society,"

And, WHAT does this have to do with solving the problem of the sun's increasing energy output of the last 150 years?

Boy in short pants fails again.

Posted by: illogicbuster | October 13, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

It's all very well to encourage industrial advancements through subsidies, but time is of the essence, and in order to avert disaster, if that is still possible, we also have to immediately reduce greenhouse gas emmisions to 350ppm. We don't need to tax fossil fuels, we just need to remove the ridiculous subsidies that currently artificially make those fuels cheap. We could then transfer the subsidies to clean fuels and simultaneously reduce carbon emmissions. Too bad the political will doesn't match the will of the people on this one. http://killingmother.blogspot.com/2010/10/10-10-10-greatest-global-movement-to.html

Posted by: killingMother | October 13, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the post Ezra. I would be interested in better understanding what the value of R&D compared to the life-cycle of the product. While those industries are tech-dependent, all but the energy industry rely on a very fast product turn around that's measured in fewer than a decade. OK, perhaps the Aerospace/Defense industry has a product replacement cycle that's a little longer than a decade, but not by much.

When the energy industry builds a power plant, they're expecting it to run for 40-50 years before replacement, and you typically don't run several power plants concurrently in the same area. I like the idea, but don't know if the graph tells the story.

Posted by: Jaycal | October 13, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, you're just trading one form of magic for another. Switching from the magical "free market will solve it" to the magical "technology will solve it" is all that is happening here.

We know how to reduce carbon emissions - we just don't want to do it.

Posted by: freetoken1 | October 13, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

--*[W]onks advocated a market-based solution to climate change: We'll slap a price on carbon [...]*--

Calling government mandates "market based" is either ignorant or deceitful. Period.

No one should pay attention to a person who so regularly and cavalierly tortures meanings and concepts. Period.

Posted by: msoja | October 13, 2010 10:03 PM | Report abuse

Stupid idea.
Climate change and global warming is caused by an increase in the number of energy photons that enter the Earth & interact with the excess GHGs to cause more GHE among other things. Most of the energy comes form the force of gravity and gravitational potential energy caused by planetary eccentricity. (see www.scribd.com " Gravity causes Climate Change")
Unless you invent anti-gravity you don't stand any chance of modifying climate change.
What a waste of resources.

Posted by: JDoddsGW | October 13, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Just to add another thought. There is a Law of Physics called the Stefan- Boltzmann Law. It says that a body radiates enery proportional to its temperature raised to the fourth power. What this means is that IF the Earth gets warmer than equilibrium, then it radiates more heat out until it returns to equiibrium. IF it cools down too much it radiates less & so warms back up to equilibrim with the amount of energy coming in. This is Mother Natures equilibrium enforcer. You can NOT avoid it by trying to change the climate.
Learn some physics before you try to do the impossible.

Posted by: JDoddsGW | October 13, 2010 10:43 PM | Report abuse

The overwhelming paleoclimate evidence from around the globe is that the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), the Roman Warm Period and the Minoan Warming were synchronous, world wide and much warmer than today.

However, the MWP deniers, such as the IPCC, US EPA and the UK’s MET Office, will never admit the existence of the MWP because it means that their religious-like belief in AGW is exposed for the steaming pile of junk science that it truly is.

In total, climate change is complex and not well understood.

But this part is simple.

Since the world was warmer when CO2 levels were lower, CO2 cannot be the earth's temperature regulator.

In the past, the Earth was warmer than it is today; before the social and industrial advances that have made modern people the healthiest and most prosperous in history. MWP deniers want us to believe that plant friendly and life giving CO2 is a bad thing to better advance their meglomanical desire to both boss around the developed world and further impoverish the poor while pocketing a lot of taxpayer money along the way.

Useless, misguided attempts to control carbon are not the answer to the ever changing climate.There is only one answer to changes in climate that has ever worked for humanity.

That is adaptation.

One of the many links to the overwhelming Paleoclimate evidence of the global nature of the MWP is below.

http://www.co2science.org/data/mwp/mwpp.php

More information

http://www.c3headlines.com/temperature-charts-historical-proxies.html

Posted by: orkneygal | October 13, 2010 11:40 PM | Report abuse

Does the R&D for the energy sector include exploration costs? That's easily north of $20B. The graph is pretty stupid anyway, it's a commodity business, of course it's not R&D based.

If people don't care enough about the earth to pursue more expensive, lower carbon, options for generating energy, why should we force pay companies to make it? Tragedy of the commons.

Posted by: staticvars | October 14, 2010 1:01 AM | Report abuse

Ezzie is busy trying to use another idiotic Progressive idea to influence elections. This pathetic paper employees a pathetic pseudo intellectual Demmie party hack. Wow, how original for the WAPO. Why anyone would ever purchase this rag except to line bird cages or for puppy training is beyond me. Pravda, which is what the Post is modeled after was said to be good for toilet paper too.

Posted by: RedStater3 | October 14, 2010 1:06 AM | Report abuse

"Pathetic pseudo intellectual" describes about 2/3 of the comments so far...

Posted by: gary51 | October 14, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

"Just to add another thought. There is a Law of Physics called the Stefan- Boltzmann Law. It says that a body radiates enery proportional to its temperature raised to the fourth power. What this means is that IF the Earth gets warmer than equilibrium, then it radiates more heat out until it returns to equiibrium. IF it cools down too much it radiates less & so warms back up to equilibrim with the amount of energy coming in. This is Mother Natures equilibrium enforcer. You can NOT avoid it by trying to change the climate.
Learn some physics before you try to do the impossible.

Posted by: JDoddsGW | October 13, 2010 10:43 PM"

The whole point of the Greenhouse effect is that CO2 captures that radiant energy. Radiated energy often occurs in the infrared part of the EM spectrum and CO2 (along with water vapor, CFCs, CH4, N2O, and some other gases) absorb this energy and effectively prevent it from being radiated back into space.

The Greenhouse effect has been known about for several centuries and is believed to have been in operation on our planet literally for billions of years. It is a primary physical reason there is life on Earth. The problem is that the Greenhouse effect seems to be getting stronger as of late and the most likely culprit is a build-up of infrared-absorbing gases - the greenhouse gases. Given the extremely well documented increase in CO2 (Keeling plot) along with the change in the stable isotopic composition of atmospheric CO2, a logical conclusion is that the increase in the Greenhouse effect is being caused primarily by a build-up in manmade greenhouse gases. This could all be wrong, but so far all of the evidence points toward warming.

Do you really think the IPCC didn't think about the Stefan-Boltzmann Law?

Posted by: klautsack | October 14, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

orkneygal-

From the IPCC Third Assessment Report (published in 2001) -

"Medieval warmth appears, in large part, to have been restricted to areas in and neighbouring the North Atlantic. This may implicate the role of ocean circulation-related climate variability. The Bermuda rise sediment record of Keigwin (1996) suggests warm medieval conditions and cold 17th to 19th century conditions in the Sargasso Sea of the tropical North Atlantic. A sediment record just south of Newfoundland (Keigwin and Pickart, 1999), in contrast, indicates cold medieval and warm 16th to 19th century upper ocean temperatures. Keigwin and Pickart (1999) suggest that these temperature contrasts were associated with changes in ocean currents in the North Atlantic. They argue that the "Little Ice Age" and "Medieval Warm Period" in the Atlantic region may in large measure reflect century-scale changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation (see Section 2.6). Such regional changes in oceanic and atmospheric processes, which are also relevant to the natural variability of the climate on millennial and longer time-scales (see Section 2.4.2), are greatly diminished or absent in their influence on hemispheric or global mean temperatures."

Certainly doesn't sound like they're ignoring anything.

You said -

"In the past, the Earth was warmer than it is today; before the social and industrial advances that have made modern people the healthiest and most prosperous in history. MWP deniers want us to believe that plant friendly and life giving CO2 is a bad thing to better advance their meglomanical desire to both boss around the developed world and further impoverish the poor while pocketing a lot of taxpayer money along the way."

Google Milankovitch Cycles. Then look at the IPCC report. You might be surprised at how thoughtful and thorough these people are.

Posted by: klautsack | October 14, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

This article and the comments that followed (freetoken1 is right on the money, everyone else is insane) mostly prove that the situation is truly hopeless. The time to look for solutions is over and the time has come to begin looking for ways to live with the consequences.

Posted by: HerooftheBeach | October 14, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

illogicbuster - if the current climate change was due to the sun, you may have a point. because it is caused by GHGs once again you make no sense whatsoever.

orkneygal - do you ever post anything else? The IPCC discuss the medieval warming period, and its existence does not disprove climate change. get your facts straight

msoja - do you have any understanding about cap-and-trade? the government can pass laws to create a market. FYI cap-and-trade was a republican idea that Regan passed into law over 20 years ago to deal with SOx and NOx pollution that caused acid rain (or is that another liberal conspiracy?)

anyway, nice article, but i think the politics are going to be impossible to overcome for a number of years. As the comments to this post attest, there are simply too many people out there who are happy to bury their head in the sand rather than face up to reality b/c they don't like what's in stall for us in the coming years...

Posted by: climatebob | October 14, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

"anyway, nice article, but i think the politics are going to be impossible to overcome for a number of years. As the comments to this post attest, there are simply too many people out there who are happy to bury their head in the sand rather than face up to reality b/c they don't like what's in stall for us in the coming years...

Posted by: climatebob | October 14, 2010 1:10 PM"

I don't think it's a case of their heads being buried in sand. I think most of these people just parrot whatever right-wing schlock is told to them. They probably have some issue that really burns for them - maybe it's taxes, maybe it's HCR, maybe it's the deficits, maybe it's abortion - something. The rest of the stuff they just don't really care about one way or the other. But because some Rightwing figurehead rails against climate change the same way they do about abortion or gays or something, these folks go ahead and adopt that position. Their disagreements aren't "sticking their head in the sand" because the issue just doesn't speak to them. It's not based in science or even in policy or how it may affect their lives. It's about being part of the team.

Posted by: klautsack | October 14, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Blathered by: climatebob

illogicbuster - if the current climate change was due to the sun, you may have a point. because it is caused by GHGs once again you make no sense whatsoever.

-----------------------------------------

So, the increasing radiant energy output by the sun for the last 150 years wouldn't increase the temp on Earth? What mind altering drugs are you taking? Or, are you just a shill? One or the other, which is it?

Posted by: illogicbuster | October 14, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

illogicbuster - you seem to imply that the sun is the dominant cause of current warming. This is false. Do some research if you have any genuine desire to gain a well informed opinion on the subject. You could start here:
http://www.skepticalscience.com/solar-activity-sunspots-global-warming.htm

Posted by: climatebob | October 14, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

@klautsack

I think you've hit on it. These are people who want to control the uncontrollable. They're boiling with frustration. The best way they've found to gain some sense of control is to become part of a team effort to fight back against common enemies. The team tells them who to hate and how to fight these enemies. They rely on these marching orders for everything on which they don't have expertise, which is pretty much everything. The result is mass self-induced insanity, but it's an insanity which gives its sufferers a greater sense of power and control.

So railing in the comments like this is a sort of therapy for them. Unfortunately for the rest of us a side effect of this therapy is that we have public policy based on nonsense and hate.

Fighting global warming is like rescuing someone from drowning who's beating and clawing you in panic. Swimming for two is hard enough. Swimming for two with boxed ears and fingers in the eyes may be too much.

Posted by: dfhoughton | October 15, 2010 5:51 AM | Report abuse

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