Whatever you may think of Robert Samuelson, his essential point in today’s Washington Post is sound: With developing countries increasing their energy use dramatically over the next few decades, the solution to climate change will have to come from major advances in technology.
Put another way, given energy demand projections, we could not decrease the likelihood of climate change with existing technologies, as some environmentalists claim; they are simply too expensive, and carbon sequestration technology is in its infancy. This poses serious challenges, since technologies, once they are established, can become locked-in and hard to alter. This is not meant as cause for despair, but as another reminder that addressing climate change will require lots of money, and hence sacrifice, at least in the short to medium term. Yes, new industries will be developed, and yes there will be ancillary benefits, but the upfront costs will be far from trivial. The environmental movement should begin to prepare the broader public for these costs so that they aren’t surprised when they are introduced, prompting a backlash.
And it’s worth remembering: it is not capitalism or economic growth in and of itself that has caused the problem in the first place; it is industrialization. Economic growth and the capitalism of the future may very well be based on wind power, nanotechnology, and high-tech computing instead of coal power plants and manufacturing plants — but the transition is likely to be difficult. The longer we wait, the harder it will be.