Quote of the Day, April 6th, 2009

April 6, 2009 | Jesse Jenkins,

"Technology policy lies at the core of the climate change challenge. Even with a cutback in wasteful energy spending, our current technologies cannot support both a decline in carbon dioxide emissions and an expanding global economy. If we try to restrain emissions without a fundamentally new set of technologies, we will end up stifling economic growth, including the development prospects for billions of people.

Economists often talk as though putting a price on carbon emissions--through tradable permits or a carbon tax--will be enough to deliver the needed reductions in those emissions. This is not true. Europe's carbon-trading system has not shown much capacity to generate large-scale research nor to develop, demonstrate and deploy breakthrough technologies. A trading system might marginally influence the choices between coal and gas plants or provoke a bit more adoption of solar and wind power, but it will not lead to the necessary fundamental overhaul of energy systems.

For that, we will need much more than a price on carbon. ...

Economists like to set corrective prices and then be done with it, leaving the rest of household and business decisions to the magic of the market. This hands-off approach will not work in the case of a major overhaul of energy technology. We will need large-scale public funding of research, development and demonstration projects; intellectual property policies to promote rapid dissemination to poor countries; and the promotion of public debate and acceptance of new options. We will need to back winners, at least provisionally, to get new systems moving. "

An oldie but a goody from well-known economist and direct of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Jeffrey Sachs, April 2008 in Scientific American, "Keys to Climate Protection."


Nobody says a carbon price is sufficient in itself, but it is absolutely necessary. New technology has just created new ways for us to use more energy. More efficient cars mean more driving and more sprawl, and only a little less fuel burning.

An explicit, predictable, progressive carbon tax is the most effective first step. With it, the technology will follow. Without it, we perish.

Fortunately, the House Ways & Means Committee is getting the idea. See http://www.carbontax.org. Video, petitions and letters to Congress at http://www.pricecarbon.org.

By James Handley on 2009 04 07