Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Global Warming Plan from the White House

Fresh on the heels of Gore's speech on Monday, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman has released an outline of the administration's plan for addressing climate change. As usual, the administration is emphasizing voluntary measures over government intervention. The plan calls for some funding of research into carbon-free alternatives. Voluntary measures are helpful, but at some point there needs to be some strong regulation if there is to be large-scale improvement. Calling for more research, while important, seems in this case to be another form of kicking the can down the road, and leaving the problems for the next administration to solve.

But Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University, said the country would have to spend "hundreds of billions of dollars a year" to move away from a carbon-dependent economy. He added the government would have to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, either through a tax or cap-and-trade system, to create incentives to develop and implement cleaner technologies.

"Most energy technologies that do not emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will cost more than those that do emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere," Caldeira said. "A major energy R&D program only makes sense in the context of a price on carbon emissions."
There seems to be a certain fascination with technology in the abstract, as if there will emerge a simple and painless solution to reduce carbon emissions. Unfortunately, carbon emissions are so deeply embedded into our economy and daily lives that a simple solution is unlikely in the short term. At some point there need to be some hard choices; the sooner that starts, the better.