In a New York Times op-ed published on the first Sunday after Barack Obama’s presidential election, Nobel prize winner Al Gore shifted from his longstanding focus on regulating carbon pollution to advocating direct government investments in clean energy as the best way to deal with climate change. Gore is the country’s most prominent spokesperson on climate change and a shift in his thinking in reaction to new economic and political circumstances is highly significant.
Of Gore’s five recommendations to President-elect Obama, the first four are for investment–in solar thermal plants, energy efficiency, a new electrical grid, and in electric cars–and only the final is for regulation, establishing a price for carbon. But even on this last point, Gore was far from aggressive, suggesting merely that the United Nations meeting to replace to Kyoto treaty in Copenhagen next year should result in countries agreeing to “invest together in efficient ways.”
Kyoto is dead and good riddance. The developing countries of the world will be doing just that–developing–and will not put said issues on hold for environmentalism.
The reasons for why this are are pretty complicated, but in simple terms countries only take on environmental policy after they have achieved a sufficient degree of wealth that they can simultaneously afford to deal with the environmental consequences that result from mass industrialization/wealth creation AND not threaten overall wealth. The latter half of that equation is not yet the case in places like China and India, hence they will not go in for a carbon cap scheme that would reduce wealth creation.
So, the issue is to get them technologies for the industrialization that are non-polluting (as much as possible).
Shellenberger and Nordhaus, the authors of the article and the important book Breakthrough, are right I think that cap systems without first infrastructure build up are cart before horses. But the investment schemes alone (whether you are more right-wing and want them privatized or center-left like the authors and want big gov’t infrastructure deficit spending) are still only horses and need I think to be carting something and rather soon.
Something like Capitalism 3.0 could then be sequenced/merged with Breakthrough-like policies for a more effective double punch.