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Chapter Six Excerpt: The Technology Trap and the American Way of Life

By Joe Romm

"Chapter Six Excerpt: The Technology Trap and the American Way of Life"

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Perhaps the most politically relevant excerpt from Hell and High Water (paperback now at Amazon):

There is no doubt that the time to act is now. It is now that timely action can avert disaster. It is now that with foresight and will such action can be taken without disturbing the essence of our way of life, by adjusting behaviour, but not altering it entirely.
–Tony Blair, 2005

It’s important not to get distracted by chasing short-term reductions in greenhouse emissions. The real payoff is in long- term technological breakthroughs.
– John H. Marburger III, president’s science adviser, 2006

The mantra of the Delayers is “technology” and “technology breakthroughs.” Their technological fix to the greenhouse gas problem is, unsurprisingly, not imminent. It is “long-term.” But as we have seen earlier, failing to act in the near term–now–will bring about such drastic conditions that soon our only choice will be to react with extremely onerous government policies.

In 2005, British prime minister Tony Blair described the crucial two- prong strategy we must adopt: “We need to invest on a large scale in existing technologies and to stimulate innovation into new low- carbon technologies for deployment in the longer term.” Future technology will be able to help preserve our way of life in the long term if and only if we have already moved “on a large scale” to technologies that already exist. Over the next few decades, we must rapidly deploy available technologies that stop global carbon dioxide emissions from rising. Then, in the second half of this century, we must sharply reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by deploying all the new technologies we have developed.

The time to act is now…..

Conservative message makers, like Frank Luntz, realized that it could be politically dangerous to oppose any action on global warming, even if their efforts to obfuscate the climate science were successful. Luntz lays out a clever solution to this conundrum in his 2002 “Straight Talk” memo on climate change messaging [a must-read for all progressives]:

Technology and innovation are the key in arguments on both sides. Global warming alarmists use American superiority in technology and innovation quite effectively in responding to accusations that international agreements such as the Kyoto accord could cost the United States billions. Rather than condemning corporate America the way most environmentalists have done in the past, they attack us for lacking faith in our collective ability to meet any economic challenges presented by environmental changes we make. This should be our argument. We need to emphasize how voluntary innovation and experimentation are preferable to bureaucratic or international intervention and regulation.

This is the technology trap, where clean energy technology is used to delay action, rather than to foster action, on climate change….

Related Posts:

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The High Costs of Doing Nothing, Part III ›

3 Responses to Chapter Six Excerpt: The Technology Trap and the American Way of Life

  1. Paul K says:

    Where is the line between current and breakthrough technology? To me, until technology is applied, it is still in the breakthrough category, e.g. plug in hybrids. The main impediment to wide use of wind and solar, the best current technologies, is the high initial cost vs. savings over time. Since most people move every 8 to 12 years, it is hard to justify an investment that takes 15 to 20 years to break even. Here in Illinois, construction will soon start on a clean coal/sequester demonstration power plant funded in large part by the Dept of Energy.

  2. Jay Alt says:

    One huge difference between FutureGen and ‘breakthru’ projects like the elusive hydrogen car is that each component of FutureGen is already engineered and exists. And they are all being used in various industrial processes. The key reason to build FutureGen is to work out the bugs of combining the power generation island with the gasifier, air separation and scrubber islands. Utilitites and manufacturers must gain operating experience and so find out what the overall efficiency and availabilities of the system will be. The only way to do that (and pin down costs) is to build an actual demonstration plant.

    On the day the Alliance picked IL for the plant, DOE said they might not fund it because of cost inflation. Since then, they’ve floated ideas that the ‘research’ project could be divided up into small parts. That is garbage. It is not a research project or a prototype. It is a demonstration project of a complex system. Breaking the system up into components would be a foolish waste of money that would never generated the knowledge needed to run such a plant.

  3. Paul K says:

    I don’t know much about this beyond the announcement press reports. The DOE dissembling is not good news. Is there a way to bring popular pressure to get the project built to original specifications?