Using Technology to Address Climate Change

Oral Testimony to the House Science Committee

Introduction
Thank you for having me. It is an honor to testify before this committee. My name is Ted Nordhaus, and I’m the Founder and Executive Director of The Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think tank located in Oakland, California. My think tank counts among its senior fellows a number of prominent climate scientists, technologists, and social scientists. My testimony today will draw upon this work to present a synthesis — reflecting our assessment of the nature of climate risk, the uncertainties associated with action and inaction, and pragmatic steps that we might take today to address those risks.

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Green Growth Is Still Possible

A Response to the Decoupling vs. Degrowth Debate

Jason Hickel and I have exchanged a few rounds of public debate, prompted by his critique of ”green growth” published at Fast Company. The question being debated is whether decoupling offers a pathway towards a sustainable future. His core conclusion is that the answer is no, and that ecomodernists such as myself are indulging in magical thinking. “Even under best-case scenario conditions,” Hickel argued, “absolute decoupling of GDP growth from material use is not possible on a global scale,” and certainly is not enough to reduce material use sufficiently to stay within planetary boundaries. Consequently, he argued that slowing GDP growth is necessary to avoid environmental collapse.

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Why Bans of Internal Combustion Engines Don’t Make Sense

We Need Better Technology for a Smooth Transition

The imperative to respond to climate change, as well as recent progress with electric vehicles and other alternatives to gasoline, has emboldened many countries to mandate a transition to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) through a ban on internal combustion engines. Great Britain plans to ban the sale of new gasoline or diesel cars by 2040 and completely ban their operation by 2050. France will also ban new gasoline burning cars by 2040, though hybrids will still be allowed. Several other countries have adopted or are considering similar policies. Legislation under consideration in California would also end the sale of new internal combustion cars by 2040.

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How Not to Save Nuclear

Emergency Bailouts Aren’t Climate Policy

Nuclear closures are dramatic affairs. The past week has been a tragedy for FirstEnergy. It announced the planned retirement of three of its nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy for its subsidiaries, and requested an unlikely emergency subsidy — putting the fate of its nuclear plants in the hands of the federal government. The maelstrom of uncertainty surrounding FirstEnergy illustrates the challenges facing American nuclear as a whole. Nuclear is politically unpopular and economically undercut by natural gas; at least a dozen nuclear plants across the country are scheduled for retirement in the next ten years.

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Decoupling or Degrowth?

Why "Peak Stuff" May Not Be As Dire As You’ve Heard

Does humanity’s growing use of materials mean that decoupling is impossible? In a word, no, and attempts to reduce all resource and environmental problems to our material footprint won’t help us solve problems of resource scarcity or environmental impacts.

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Solar Power: The Case for Tempered Optimism

How the EIA and IEA underestimated industry’s growth, and why we must still be cautious

The rapid growth of solar power in the 2010s, both in the United States and worldwide, is one of the big success stories in recent energy history. However, as many analysts have pointed out, this success is one government agencies failed to foresee. Why have forecasts consistently underestimated the growth of solar and how can forecasts be improved in the future? This is an important question, since as we think about the options for decarbonizing the world’s energy system, we need to know what different technologies can do.

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Climate

Climate change is one of the biggest environmental, technological, and developmental risks in human history. Confronting the risks posed by increasing global temperatures requires a deep understanding of energy and agricultural policy, the needs of urbanizing and industrializing populations, and non-climate environmental and public health risks.

PUBLICATIONS

 


ANALYSES


Historic Paths to Decarbonization
 

Climate Legislation
 

Carbon Taxes and Energy Subsidies



BREAKTHROUGH IN THE NEWS



Amy Harder, "Can the US Government Revive Nuclear Power?" November 23, 2014


Tim McDonnell, "Obama's Deal with China Is a Big Win for Solar, Nuclear, and Clean Coal," November 12, 2014


Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, "The Problem With Energy Efficiency," October 8, 2014


Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, "Allay or Adapt? The Real Climate Change Debate is About Technology," October 2, 2014


Walter Russell Mead, "Fuzzy Math Can'd Hide Shale Boom's Green Credentials," August 21, 2014


Fred Pearce, "World's poor need grid power, not just solar panels," August 5, 2014


Brad Plumer, "There's a big gap between Obama's climate ambitions and his actual policies," June 9, 2014


Jim Manzi, "Energy in the Executive," June 4, 2014


Justin Gillis and Henry Fountain, "Trying to Reclaim Leadership on Climate Change," June 1, 2014


Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, "Global Warming Scare Tactics," April 8, 2014



Jim Manzi, "The New American System," April 2014


Jennifer Dhouly, "Some Say Keystone Fight Distracts From Broader Climate Aims," February 16, 2014


Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, "Environmentalists Made a Big Mistake By Focusing All Their Attention on Keystone," February 6, 2014


Ben Geman, "Greens Still See Red On Nuclear," February 2, 2014


Ben Geman, "Environmentalists Face a Day of Reckoning on Keystone Pipeline," December 30, 2013


CNN Crossfire, "Is Nuclear Power Safe?" Debate Between Ralph Nader and Michael Shellenberger, November 7, 2013

Steve Fuller, "Nintey-degree revolution," October 24, 2013



Matthew Stepp and Alex Trembath, "A Climate Policy That Would Actually Work," October 11, 2013


Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, "Can Climate Skeptics Save the Planet?" September 27, 2013