The following post is from Ted Nordhaus, responding to an essay from David Hawkins of the NRDC.


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You and I have always maintained a respectful relationship so I’ll pass on the name calling and just respond to the content of your response.

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You say, "the authors are wrong in their claim that we have to wait for new ‘breakthrough’ technologies before we can move away from dirty resources." You know this in not true. We have never suggested such a thing. We made clear in our book, we made clear in the New Republic excerpt, and we made clear in our most recent post here at Grist that we support regulating carbon, we support doing so now, and that taking these steps will indeed help us begin the move away from dirty energy sources. We have a longstanding record of supporting efforts to regulate carbon, going back well before the publication of our original essay, and we continue to hold a clear and consistent position on the subject.

You further misrepresent our argument by suggesting that, "in arguing for ‘breakthrough’ technologies rather than deployment of today’s clean energy solutions, Nordhaus and Shellenberger are peddling the same false choice the Bush administration has used to justify its retrograde policies for the past seven years." Again this is patently false. I challenge you to find anything that we have said that would suggest that we should delay deploying present clean energy technology while we wait for future technology. To the contrary, we have advocated buying down the price of clean energy technologies through procurement and other incentive policies in order to speed their deployment.

What we did say was that carbon regulations and pricing, while sufficient to achieve modest reductions in global carbon emissions, would not be sufficient to achieve the deep reductions that climate scientists and environmental organizations, including your own, have called for. You, in fact, acknowledge this to be the case when you write, "while necessary, it is also true that an emissions cap on carbon isn’t sufficient to drive the more profound technology changes we need to harmonize economic growth and climate protection."

It is you, not we, who is promoting a "false choice." We state clearly that a regulatory framework is a necessary part of the solution to the climate crisis. It is you, not we, who suggest that doing so contradicts establishing a serious public technology policy and investment agenda. This is the real false choice and reveals the true priorities of the environmental movement, or at least your corner of it. One can acknowledge the need for a regulatory framework while also recognizing that it is not the silver bullet that NRDC and others suggest that it is. One can take the need for a regulatory framework seriously without insisting that it subsume all else. One might even have the temerity to suggest that it is indeed not the most important element needed to transform the global energy economy without "dismissing" the need for regulation.

Finally, I would suggest that we might not be the ones who are "passionate, but confused" in this debate. IPCC and Stern both are clear about the need for exponential increases in the level of public investment in clean energy technology. Moreover, any effective regulatory strategy must be global and must, by most accounts, establish a harmonized price for carbon. Perhaps you would like to take a few minutes to explain to the good readers here at Grist how you intend to prevail upon China and India to establish such a price?

You are correct that Socolow and Pacala demonstrated that global warming emissions could be cut deeply through the deployment of current technology. What you neglect to mention is that they estimated that doing so would require establishing a price for carbon that is dramatically higher than anything being proposed by NRDC in either the U.S. Congress or international negotiations to renew the Kyoto treaty. Moreover, among the wedges used by Socolow and Pacala were "clean coal" and nuclear, technologies that NRDC has, to date, been unwilling to endorse.

Update [2007-9-30 18:33:27 by David Roberts]: Somehow when I originally posted the essay, I omitted the last paragraph. My apologies! Here it is:

David, it’s time that we leveled with policy makers, the rank and file membership of the environmental movement, and the American public, about what we can and cannot expect carbon regulations and pricing to realistically accomplish. Yes it will achieve meaningful reductions and yes it can help set the table for and establish market conditions more amenable to the much deeper reductions we will need to make. But you know as well as we do that those steps, of themselves, will not achieve the deep reductions in CO2 emissions that we need to make. It is unfortunate that some one who is so deeply committed to addressing the climate crisis is so sanguine in his faith that the private sector will make unprecedented levels of investment in early stage research, development, and deployment of breakthrough alternative energy technologies in response to carbon prices that no serious energy expert or economist, including those you cite, believes to be sufficient to justify such an investment. It’s time to take the technology challenge as seriously as the carbon challenge rather than simply wishing the problem away by assuming that with the right market conditions the private sector will simply take care of it.