Our goal should be to create a world with abundant, clean and cheap energy for all. This is an objective that reconciles progress and planet. This is a challenge that can bring rich and poor countries together in a common goal. If we are to address climate change, we must turn to humanity’s familiar benefactor – technological innovation – and apply it to developing better clean energy.
Second, we need a complete reversal of our relationship with poor countries. Rather than trying to force them to accept unpalatable caps on their emissions, we should be trying to help them gain access to new and greater sources of energy. Poor countries are natural allies in the clean-energy challenge because they know that fossil fuels will not be enough to meet their development needs – they are already too expensive. To bring power to their populations, these countries will need abundant and inexpensive energy alternatives. Rich and poor countries should work together to develop breakthrough technology to deliver cheaper energy for the world. Only when clean energy is more efficient and cheaper than fossil fuels will it be embraced by poor countries.
Third, we need to prepare back-up plans to help us cope with the worst eventualities, which are terrifying indeed. Most fall under the category of ”geoengineering,” the intentional modification of the earth’s climate. Geoengineering proposals include schemes to pump sulphates high into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight (this idea is sometimes referred to as a ”synthetic volcano,” because there is evidence that sulphur dioxide from volcanic eruptions can have a powerful cooling effect on the planet); using ocean spray to generate artificial clouds; fostering oceanic plankton to absorb more carbon; turning carbon from agricultural waste into charcoal and burying it in the ground (biochar); and global dimming using reflective mirrors in space. The field of geoengineering needs much more work. Currently the list of ideas is long, risks are high and research is thin.
Many environmentalists dismiss geoengineering as highly dangerous at best and an excuse for inaction at worst. They have a point. Geoengineering should not be a substitute for cutting emissions, but, given the unpredictable risks humanity faces, it may have a role to play.
What government policies will be required to achieve Plan B? The conventional wisdom asserts that pricing carbon through ”market mechanisms” is the best and lowest-cost way to reduce greenhouse gases. This view is backed by a tide of political rhetoric about the ability of such pricing to ”unlock” investment in new technologies and deliver a ”clean-energy future.” Unfortunately, both the political rhetoric and the conventional wisdom are wrong. Emissions trading schemes will find the most efficient way to reduce emissions from existing technology, but they are not particularly effective in bringing forward the technologies of the future. Continue reading more…