What is Joe Romm Complaining About?

Joe Romm has continued his hysterical, content-free attacks on me and my colleagues for suggesting a view not 100% the same as his own. How dare we. After taking a close look at some of Joe's writing, it turns out that he seems to agree with just about everything I've written on energy policy, and his continued (mis)characterizations of my views simply don't square with what I've actually written.

Here are some examples:

On whether current projections of future emissions growth may possibly underestimate the mitigation challenge, Joe agrees with us that they just might:

[Socolow and Pacala] assume "Our BAU [business as usual] simply continues the 1.5% annual carbon emissions growth of the past 30 years." Oops! Since 2000, we've been rising at 3% per year (thank you, China). That means instead of BAU doubling to 16 GtC in 50 years, we would, absent the wedges, double in 25 years. That would mean each wedge needs to occur in half the time, assuming our current China-driven pace is the new norm (which is impossible to know, but I personally doubt it is). . . A similar problem to this is that many of the economic models used by the IPCC assume BAU rates of technology improvement and energy efficiency that are very unlikely to occur absent strong government action, so they are probably overly optimistic.

This last statement is of course exactly what we say in our Nature paper. So our argument about the possibility of understating the magnitude of the mitigation challenge that that Romm has criticized repeatedly (without actually questioning our numbers, but writing a lot of overheated prose), he in fact agrees with. Interesting. Weird.

In addition, I have never written anything against the deployment of existing carbon-free technologies. Quite the opposite. So when Romm says that I have called for an R&D-only approach he is either ignorant or lying, to be blunt. In fact I have argued for a vigorous short-term focus, such as in testimony before the U.S. Congress in 2006:

When it comes to effective substantive action on mitigation, I would argue that the available research and experience shows quite clearly that progress is far more likely when such actions align a short-term focus with the longer-term concerns. In practice, this typically means focusing such actions on the short-term, with the longer-term concerns taking a back seat. Examples of such short-term issues related to mitigation include the costs of energy, the benefits of reducing reliance on fossil fuels from the Middle East, the innovation and job-creating possibilities of alternative energy technologies, particulate air pollution, transportation efficiencies, and so on.

And last year Dan Sarewitz and I wrote more specifically of how such a challenge would be met in practice (resource-2492-2007.08.pdf">PDF). After reading Romm's writings, I cannot figure out at all what in the world Joe Romm would disagree with in the following:

Nevertheless, the broad and diverse portfolio of policies and programs necessary to catalyze a long-term technological transformation to a low-carbon energy system is reasonably well understood, even if the path and timing of the transition cannot be precisely engineered. These measures include robust public funding for research spanning the gamut from exploratory to applied; pilot programs to test and demonstrate promising new technologies; public-private partnerships to incentivize private sector participation in high risk ventures (such as those now used to induce pharmaceutical companies to develop tropical disease vaccines); training programs to expand the number of scientists and engineers working on a wide variety of energy R&D projects; government procurement programs that can provide a predictable market for promising new technologies; prizes for the achievement of important technological thresholds; multilateral funds for collaborative international research; international research centers to help build a global innovation capacity (such as the agricultural research institutes at the heart of the Green Revolution); as well as policy incentives to encourage adoption of existing and new energy-efficient technologies, which in turn fosters incremental learning and innovation that often leads to rapidly improving performance and declining costs.

In fact, significant aspects of such a portfolio were proposed and modestly funded during the Clinton Administration in the mid 1990s (Holdren and Baldwin, 2002), but they were politically doomed from the outset because they were too narrowly promoted as climate change policies, rather than as advancing a broad set of national interests and public goals and goods. They did not survive into the Bush Administration; nor did they significantly find their way into the international climate regime. Indeed, the Kyoto approach is a disincentive to implementing many of the sorts of measures listed above because they will not contribute to a nation's ability to meet its short-term targets.

So Joe Romm's continued, overheated, and plain weird attacks are difficult to interpret given that that he (a) has written that he agrees with our analysis of the possibility that current baseline expectations for future energy use may underestimate the challenge of mitigation, and (b) he completely ignores the fact that I have consistently supported a broad approach to innovation, including a focus on R&D, but much more. It is true that Joe Romm and I disagree about the value of adaptation, but his complaints of late have been about mitigation. But even if we disagree a bit on the specifics of climate policy, so what? Is his energy really best spent attacking others trying to address this challenge in good faith?

I certainly can't figure out his incessant attacks and name-calling, but it looks increasingly like they have nothing to do with the merits of our views on mitigation, since they appear to be pretty compatible. Should Joe continue to play the mischaracterization and attack game, I will respond as needed, but I am hoping that he can instead focus on making positive arguments for particular policies, and leave the junior high school chest thumping where it belongs.