The NY Times has it Backwards
The New York Times' Monday editorial criticizes President Bush for seeming "disconnected from reality" when it comes to climate change. That may be an accurate assessment, but the Times, too, is disconnected - not from the seriousness and urgency of the problem, but from the need for breakthrough technologies in dealing with it. It seems the Times believes, as Al Gore has said, that "we have all the technology we need" to deal with global warming. Unfortunately, this just isn't the case. Our technology is nowhere near the level it needs to be to make a dent in the global warming problem. They have it backwards:
The error is placing too much faith in grandiose projects and technological leaps to solve a problem that is urgently here and now. The most realistic path to reducing global warming gases is to limit emissions across the economy by putting a price on carbon. That would give private industry strong incentives to develop greater efficiencies and cleaner fuels.
The Times is just plain wrong that a regulation-centered approach will produce the kinds of technologies we need right now to stop global warming. The editorial bemoans Bush's rejection of Kyoto, but it's simply not true that what was missing from Kyoto was us. Kyoto was poorly designed to begin with, and we should learn from its failure to adopt a better strategy. We can limit until we're blue in the face, but no amount of regulation or carbon taxing is going to bring down the price of clean energy.
The Times contends that technology innovation follows regulation, but the reverse is just as often the case. Consider that for both the 1989 Montreal protocol that phased out ozone-depleting chemicals, and acid rain regulation in the United States, regulation only passed when cleaner technology was cheap and readily available.
When it comes to reducing emissions, cap and trade schemes present a Gordian Knot: increase energy prices too much and face a political backlash from consumers and industry alike. Increase them too little and the impact on greenhouse gas emissions will be nil.
What's more, even if the United States jumps whole-heartedly onto the cap and trade bandwagon it will do nothing to address the elephants in the room - China and India, and the rest of the developing world. These nations have made clear that they will not take steps to reduce their carbon emissions unless doing so becomes consistent with rapid economic development. With developing nations quickly eclipsing the rest of the world in terms of emissions, an effective plan to deal with global warming must include them.
Where does this leave us? With the U.S. blaming developing nations, developing nations blaming rich nations, and everyone blaming the United States, I think it's pretty clear that finger pointing isn't helping anyone.
The Times calls for Bush to embrace the Lieberman-Warner climate bill, now before Congress. But the truth is, this bill will do startlingly little for clean energy, instead falling into the same old trap of pitting ecological action against economic development. What we're missing isn't a place to lay the blame, nor is it harsher regulation - it's energy that's fast, clean, and cheap.