Two NPR stories illustrate one of the most frustrating things about the climate debate. First there’s this one, which makes the important and necessary point that the climate problem — or specifically, the "reducing emissions enough to stabilize the climate" problem — is much, much bigger than most people understand, and that we’re going to have to spend trillions of dollars in coming years if we want to save our asses.
Then the following day we get part two of the story, which says that the sheer size and severity of the problem mean we need a new approach. What new approach? Well, according to Dan Sarewitz of Arizona State University, we need to "invent our way out of the problem." Huh? Apparently, that means we don’t want any of those nasty, politically difficult policies that raise the price of dirty energy. Those are too hard. "Doomed," he says. Instead he wants a new paradigm:
One example is how America transformed agriculture over the past century. The United States government created a highly successful, century-long effort to make food more abundant and affordable.
"And it didn’t do so by setting any particular target or timetable. It did so by investing in research and development — and very importantly, in institutions," Sarewitz says.
For example, agricultural extension programs brought together researchers to tackle the big problems, and farmers to put the solutions to work quickly. The key to it all was speeding up innovation. And the good news is none of this required an ugly political or public debate. That’s the model Sarewitz would like to use for climate change.
"The idea really is to take the political heat off of climate change and instead move this into the realm of policy wonkdom," he says, "where many many small decisions made across many agencies, many types of policies, many domains, set the conditions for moving in the right direction without demanding that people accept that this is the most important problem in the world."
Is this supposed to be a joke? We’re going to take a century to invest in research and build new institutions? It’s not about using technology we already have? When the head of the IPCC says global emissions need to peak and start declining by 2015?
Christ. It’s surreal.
Look, if you accept that the problem is enormous and urgent, and you think enormous, urgent solutions are "politically and economically doomed," then f**king be honest: we’re screwed. We’re going to commit our children and grandchildren to misery and suffering on a scale we can scarcely imagine. Don’t pretend that you can just wave your hands at innovation and invention and remove the problem from the world of politics. It’s grotesquely dishonest.