What's Next for Climate? How About Dumping Billions into Cleantech R&D;?


Photo: Apteva, Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

With climate policy watchers still reeling the one-two punch of failed climate legislation and an insurgent new class in Congress that dismisses global warming, the path forward for greens, activists, and clean energy proponents remains unclear. As Matt McDermott says, it's time for the entire green movement to do some soul searching. And, of course, some serious debate -- which is why Climate Next is so interesting. Hosted by Slate, the series features ideas from a variety of thinkers and writers on how best to address climate change going forward. The first installment in the series advocates a solution that's gaining traction in certain circles: Focus on funding cleantech R&D; first, and move towards regulation efforts later.Here's the crux of the Breakthrough Institute's suggestion to pour money into clean technology research and development:

A technology-first policy is not the same as a technology-only one. Better and cheaper energy technologies are a precondition for successful caps or carbon taxes, not a substitute. This is, in fact, how the United States tackled past pollution challenges like acid rain and ozone depletion: First we created low-cost alternatives, and then we implemented regulations to require their widespread adoption.
This Costnerian approach of if you-build-it-they-will-come has the benefit of appearing bipartisan, and sidestepping thorny regulation issues for the time being. If we develop clean energy technology until it can be cheaply mass produced, then companies won't mind shifting away from coal so much.

Of course, this solution only appears bipartisan so as long as the tenet of funding clean energy research isn't attacked as 'frivolous spending' or such -- you can guarantee that existing fossil fuel industries aren't going to like seeing costs for cleaner energy come down (cap and trade was just a more complicated version of kickstarting that process). They'll surely rally their sympathizers (and donor recipients) in Congress to oppose such a measure as well.

Which is not to say it's not worth doing -- far from it. It's just not going to be the silver bullet policy solution it looks like now by the time it gets to the table in Congress. A measure to spur clean tech investment could actually turn out to look a lot like the opposition to cap and trade -- then again, if the messaging caught on right, it could capture the imagination of Americans who want to see industry stay on the cutting edge.

More on Post-Climate Bill Strategy
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