Clean Energy Alone Does Not Equal Climate Action

clean energy equal climate action photo

Photo credit: jiazi via Flickr/CC BY-SA

When I wrote my reactions to Obama's State of the Union address last week, I mentioned how disappointing it was that he didn't take the chance to engage the American public on the issue of climate change. The most common retort to this was along the lines of well, actions speak louder than words -- and calling for a vast mobilization of clean energy is practically the same thing. Well, no it ain't. Grist's Dave Roberts explains why:

The argument for strong, focused government policy in support of clean energy -- in the absence of climate change -- is no stronger than the argument for supporting pharmaceuticals, or telecom, or any other industry that's likely to be big in the 21st century. It's no stronger than the general argument for industrial policy, which, whatever its merits, has not been strong enough to win the day since the Reagan Revolution. It's not nearly strong enough to support action of the speed and scale needed.
That's right. We won't see the kind of policy action required to properly address climate change until policymakers are actually convinced (or fess up to the fact that) we've got to address climate change. Clean energy subsidies are nice, and blocking trade with China on photovoltaics may be something of a boon to domestic industries, but let's be serious -- these are not the kinds of large-scale actions that will get us back to 350 ppm (or even keep us near 390 ppm, for that matter).

Without addressing the fact that climate change is already impacting the way humans live -- most often to their great detriment -- we'll never get close to taking proper action to mitigate those impacts. We'd don't really have the benefit of allowing clean energy to bumble along for decades longer, herded by a handful of tax breaks and a few research bucks, until someone has a Eureka moment in the R&D; process that makes solar power cheaper enough than coal for anyone to care.

No, we need to start mobilizing and deploying clean energy now -- and it's entirely possible. Researchers believe we could power the world with 100% clean energy by 2030, but lack the political will to do so. Telling everyone how cool clean energy is certainly isn't going to do the trick -- but inspiring the public to tackle mankind's greatest problem head-on just might.

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