Can we beat global warming with existing technology?

I said here that "nobody believes" we have the technology available today to tackle global warming. Gar responded: yes, someone believes it, namely me. Lindsay Meisel from the Breakthrough Institute responded: yes, lots of enviros seem to believe it, and no, it’s not true.

Thinking more about this, it strikes me that that the question itself is deceptive. It’s no wonder people seem to be talking past each other trying to answer it.

As phrased, the question implicitly assumes that climate change is a technological problem. More honestly phrased, the question RPJr et al are asking would be this: Assuming today’s institutions and practices remain roughly as they are, can we beat global warming with existing technology?

That makes a key assumption clear: that law, politics, and socioeconomic practices are static. Technology is the one dynamic variable.

If you believe that institutions and practices are not static — that they, like technology, are dynamic and at least to some extent under our control — then you end up with a very different question. To wit:

Can we beat global warming with some combination of sociopolitical changes and today’s technology?

That answer to that question is, in my opinion, yes.

But RPJr., the Breakthrough folks, and other technophiles want to foreclose that possibility. They want us to accept their essential pessimism, what RPJr. calls "political realism." They want us to accept that we don’t have the collective wherewithal or willpower to change the way we do things. Thus we have to wait for the magic technological savior.

I think that’s wrong. Maybe you think it’s right. Either way, we should talk about it honestly and quit trying to back-handedly restrict the scope of the discussion.