For two decades, we have been trapped in this minimalist and incremental mindset, which is wrong in two key ways. First, it is not working: CO2 emissions are rising, not falling. The global oil industry is having a field day – fracking, drilling, exploring in
Second, "decarbonizing" the energy system is technologically complicated. America's real problem is not competition from
To be sure, both economies could decarbonize if they cut output sharply. But neither the US nor
Decarbonizing the world's energy system requires preventing our production of vast and growing amounts of electricity from boosting atmospheric CO2 emissions. It also presupposes a switchover to a zero-carbon transport fleet and a lot more production per kilowatt-hour of energy. Zero-carbon electricity is within reach. Solar and wind power can deliver that already, but not necessarily when and where needed. We need storage breakthroughs for these intermittent clean-energy sources.
Nuclear power, another important source of zero-carbon energy, will also need to play a big role in the future, implying the need to bolster public confidence in its safety. Even fossil fuels can produce zero-carbon electricity, if carbon capture and storage is used. Lackner is a world leader in new CCS strategies.
Electrification of transport is already with us, and Tesla, with its sophisticated electric vehicles, is capturing the public's imagination and interest. Yet further technological advances are needed in order to reduce electric vehicles' costs, increase their reliability, and extend their range. Musk, eager to spur rapid development of the vehicles, made history last week by opening Tesla's patents for use by competitors.
Technology offers new breakthroughs in energy efficiency as well. New building designs have slashed heating and cooling costs by relying much more on insulation, natural ventilation, and solar power. Advances in nanotechnology offer the prospect of lighter construction materials that require much less energy to produce, making both buildings and vehicles far more energy efficient.
The world needs a concerted push to adopt to low-carbon electricity, not another "us-versus-them" negotiation. All countries need new, low-carbon technologies, many of which are still out of commercial reach. Climate negotiators should therefore be focusing on how to cooperate to ensure that technology breakthroughs are achieved and benefit all countries.
They should take their cue from other cases in which government, scientists, and industry teamed up to produce major changes. For example, in carrying out the
The example of atomic bombs might seem an unpleasant one, yet it raises an important question: If we ask governments and scientists to cooperate on war technology, shouldn't we do at least the same to save the planet from carbon pollution?
In fact, the process of "directed technological change," in which bold objectives are set, milestones are identified, and timelines are put into place, is much more common than many realize. The information-technology revolution that has brought us computers, smart phones, GPS, and much more, was built on a series of industry and government roadmaps. The human genome was mapped through such a government-led effort – one that ultimately brought in the private sector as well. More recently, government and industry got together to cut the costs of sequencing an individual genome from around
Fighting climate change does depend on all countries having confidence that their competitors will follow suit. So, yes, let the upcoming climate negotiations spell out shared actions by the US,
There is even a place at the table for
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