In a column for the New York Times titled “There’s Still Hope for the Planet,” columnist David Leonhardt describes why investments in technology – particularly governmental investments in clean tech research and development – may be the best bet for reducing CO2 emissions, and may provide a small basis for optimism to those interested in fighting climate change.
Leonhardt argues that renewable energy, which is becoming increasingly cost-competitive with traditional fossil fuels, and the emergence of natural gas as a replacement for coal, make putting a price on CO2 emissions less attractive than investment programs. “Carbon pricing is going to have an uphill climb in the U.S. for the foreseeable future,” he quotes Robert N. Stavins, a Harvard economist and advocate of such pricing, “so it does make sense to think about other things.”
Most experts working on climate change call for a mix of policies that would raise the price of CO2 intensive energy and lower the price of clean energy. However, Leonhardt says that many climate advocates now see innovative technology as the best bet in minimizing climate impacts. Nevertheless, as federal stimulus programs supporting clean energy near their ends, many experts fear that the gap between fossil fuel and renewable energy prices will widen, and that financing will dwindle for clean energy R&D.
Brookings’ Mark Muro, who co-authored this call for robust federal engagement in clean energy technology, agrees that there is reason for optimism, but counters that Leonhardt’s article “is a bit too blithe, and narrow, in suggesting that the total of the needed technology-oriented agenda is the $25-billion-a year-or-more federal R&D investment target my group and others have been advocating for years now. While such a R&D level is necessary to finance research to bring down the costs of clean energy in the future, it will not be sufficient. Also needed are demanding procurement programs and smart public-private finance structures to help deploy clean new solutions and pull in and leverage private, low-cost capital to finance widespread adoption. And a low carbon price would help too!”
Are investments in clean energy, absent other policies, sufficient to reduce CO2 emissions? Are you optimistic about our ability to tackle climate change? Can we rely on technology to stop climate change? Should we?