Hot Air

R&D: A different approach to climate change

We’ve all probably gotten a bit tired of the climate change hysterics (and their teen spokes-model) shouting at us over the last couple of years. It’s now routine for people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to tell us we have 12 years to live even though that’s not remotely true. Sometimes the left’s hysteria over climate change is so bad that even Vox can’t take it and has to call it out.

What has been clear to many on the right for a long time is that the left sees climate change not just as a problem but as an opportunity to create a new, socialist society. But as I’ve pointed out before, even if they get everything they want here in the US, it won’t do anything about the bulk of the carbon being put into the atmosphere by other countries around the globe. If fully enacted, the Green New Deal wouldn’t make much of a difference (except for making millions of Americans poorer).

Meanwhile, the more extreme voices are ready to institute population control. AOC seems to be tip-toeing in that direction as well. So I think it’s fair to say that a lot of sensible people see the climate change talk as personally intrusive, ruinously expensive, and ultimately ineffective. That combination may help explain why so many people aren’t terribly excited by it.

Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum has published a lengthy piece which at least tries to deal with some of these problems in a way that sounds less hysterical and more sensible. The Reader’s Digest version of his piece is here but the basic argument starts with the idea that, in the real world, people aren’t willing to give up much for themselves in order to change the climate.

In 2018, the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago fielded a national poll on climate change. Only 71 percent of respondents agreed it was happening, and of those, more than 80 percent said the federal government should do something about it.

Then the pollsters presented a scenario in which a monthly tax would be added to your electric bill to combat climate change. If the tax was $1, only 57 percent supported it. If the tax was $10, that plummeted to 28 percent. Those aren’t typos. Only about half of Americans are willing to pay $1 per month to fight climate change. Only about a quarter are willing to pay $10 per month.

And as Drum points out, things aren’t much different in progressive countries like Canada:

In Canada, a recent poll reported that most people say they’re willing to make changes in their daily lives to fight climate change—but only when the changes are kept vague. When pollsters asked specific questions, only small fractions said they’d fly less frequently, purchase an electric car, or give up meat. And a paltry 16 percent said they’d be willing to pay a climate tax of $8–$40 per month.

In short, people don’t want to pay more for what they already have. And as already mentioned, it makes no sense to ask Americans to dial it back if other nations are dialing it up at the same time:

This is the hinge point on which the future of climate change rests. Clearly the West is not going to collectively agree to live like Chinese farmers. Just as clearly, Chinese farmers aren’t willing to keep living in shacks while we sit around watching football on 60-inch TV screens in our climate-controlled houses as we lecture them about climate change.

This is why big government spending on wind and solar—everyone’s favorite solution to global warming—isn’t enough to do the job. Subsidies for green energy might reduce US emissions, but even if the United States eliminated its carbon output completely, it would only amount to a small reduction in global emissions.

Drum argues the only thing that could possible work is to actually make green energy cheaper and better than fossil fuels so that the natural desire of people for a better life drives them in that direction. And the only way to do that, he argues, is with a massive R&D investment equivalent to some fraction of what we spent winning World War II. Drum concludes with a section listing lots of areas that need more R&D investment: Solar, battery technology, nuclear energy, carbon capture, etc. He concludes, “Ultimately, massive R&D might fail. But unlike current plans, it has one powerful benefit: At least it’s not guaranteed to fail.”

I’m not completely sold on the idea but I’ll give Drum this much: Unlike a lot of people on the left, he’s at least talking about the issue in a way that doesn’t just sound like a Democratic Socialist excuse for upending global capitalism. On the contrary, his plan is essentially to fund solutions that could quickly filter into global use because of market forces (i.e. cheaper energy, more efficient products, etc.). This is how people on the left should talk if they actually want to see a greener future instead of just a more socialist one.

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