Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The End of Magical Climate Thinking

Usual suspects Nordhaus and Shellenberger argue that Obama needs to recognize that significant advances in clean-energy technology must occur before international climate regulation can possibly succeed, and his failure to do so led inevitably to the disappointment of Copenhagen:

Obama was following two decades of magical thinking among both greens and liberal Democrats about energy technology. In this view, energy efficiency pays for itself, solar and wind power are already nearly cost competitive with fossil fuels, and both can quickly and cheaply reduce emissions. This Pollyanna view of fossil fuel alternatives and efficiency, which makes going green seem cheap and easy -- little more than the cost of "a postage stamp a day" -- has provided the justification for green-policy advocacy that has overwhelmingly focused on pollution regulations and carbon pricing while ignoring serious investment in energy research and development.

The price of Obama's failure to break with green climate orthodoxy is only now becoming apparent. The collapse of international climate negotiations in Copenhagen last month was just the latest evidence that efforts to regulate global pollution output cannot succeed. The Kyoto framework, which imagined that carbon pollution limits could be the primary driver of the complete transformation of the global energy economy, has irretrievably failed.

The real technological obstacles to decarbonizing the global economy today represent an insurmountable obstacle to political efforts to limit carbon emissions. Until policymakers get serious about addressing the central technological challenge, all efforts to control carbon emissions are doomed.

But how is Nordhaus and Shellenberger's bottomless faith in technofixes not an equally dangerous and naive form of magical thinking?