The Climate Change Debate Evolves

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The Climate Change Debate Evolves

The Trends editors have said a lot of things about climate change and alternative energy over the past few years, and we've essentially been right:

In 2004, we forecasted that "green positions" would be co-opted by big business. In effect, the fringe positions of Greenpeace and others would be modified and used by big companies as a way to market themselves and make more money. Companies like Enron had previously positioned themselves behind climate change, and since then, everybody from BP to Wal-Mart to Toyota has run tons of commercials about "just how green they are."

We also said that encouraging farmers to grow corn to make ethanol was a big mistake and that government mandates would do nothing to make us more independent of OPEC oil. Moreover, this strategy would do little or nothing to reduce carbon emissions. We also predicted that this would lead to food shortages for the world's poorest people, as well as higher prices for everyone.

In the June 2007 Trends, we forecasted that the public would demand smart, rigorously cost-justified solutions that deliver positive expected net present value. A year later, in its June 2008 issue, Scientific American1 reached the same conclusion. The game has now changed from doing anything in a panic, to doing only what's justified in a carefully methodical manner.

In the past, we have highlighted the differences between smart-tech and dumb-tech. "Dumb-tech" is the term we use to describe knee-jerk myopic policies that governments tend to adopt when choosing among technical solutions. Soviet-style central planning epitomizes this sort of stupidity.

On the other hand, "smart-tech" is the term we use to describe market-based solutions that are selected through the competition for resources. Smart-tech solutions don't just make people "feel good about themselves." They make sense economically.

Examples of smart-tech are:

  • Purdue University's new aluminum-gallium-indium alloy that enables safe, low-cost production, transport, and use of hydrogen fuel.
  • Cellulose-based ethanol production, which may soon combine carefully selected microorganisms with crops that grow on substandard land to provide enough fuel for every American car.
  • New low-cost, environmentally friendly technologies for processing U.S. and Canadian oil sands.
  • Horizontal drilling that will permit cost-effective development of North Dakota's recently discovered Bakken Formation, which contains between 200 billion and 500 billion barrels of oil...

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