Technology and Climate Change: A Glimmer of Hope

HDR_daley ranch_forest1

If computers had brought us a paperless society,
we might not be worrying about how to get paper from
‘these maturing trees without harming the environment

Disputes still rage in the popular media, about whether the planet is warming; and how much human activity contributes.    And even among those who agree we are on a catastrophic course, differences abound over how to reduce carbon emissions and use of fossil fuels; who should pay for that; and who (including which countries) should bear the most economic and behavioral burdens.

Remedies emphasizing technology have always been alluring because they offer the possibility of avoiding  difficult behavioral changes (like using mass transit instead of cars)  or the decimation of entire industries (like aluminum, which have large carbon foot prints).   While someone still has to pay for new technology (private investors or taxpayers), a technological emphasis has considerable upside, for both venture capitalists and nations. 

Thus, it has been disappointing that optimism  here (by both government and private interests) has waned.  This story (in the Economist) about European pulp and paper companies joining to develop technologies to dramatically reduce their  large carbon foot prints, helps put technology back on the table.   

I have always believed that emphasis on technology, had the best chance of getting past the gridlock on climate change issues.  I’ve wondered  why we haven’t made massive investments here, as in military technology, transportation, and the space program, all of which led to other technological advances, even when experimental planes and  spaceships were crashing in the oceans, .

Even if you’re a skeptic about the science of global warming and averse to large, risky investments in technology, the upside of “R&D” spending should be welcome in comparison to cap and trade,  high carbon taxes, and stifling regulations. But has it  been welcome enough?   I thought  right and left in Congress, who hold starkly different views on how  to boost the economy,  would at least agree on the value of infrastructure spending, for example. But,  I was wrong.  So I could be wrong here too. .    

But, the story in the Economist was a glimmer of hope.  Or green shoots sprouting through cracks in the concrete?


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