Can Global Warming Be Stopped by Technology Alone?
One of the themes in the comments over the last week has been the debate over technological advances vs. emissions reduction -- which one offers a better solution to global warming?
In an article in the new policy journal The American Interest (subscription required), Sen. Joseph Lieberman argues that creating market incentives through legislation to limit emissions accomplishes both goals. He points to the successful cap and trade system that governs sulfur dioxide pollution (the stuff behind acid rain.) As long as fines are high enough that it's more cost effective to comply than to risk emitting more than one's credits -- and glaring loopholes are closed so companies can't wriggle through to circumvent the restrictions -- the system works.
A thoughtful article (translated from German) appears in the Science Policy blog. The authors, prominent German scholars who've done a lot of writing on climate change-related issues, say that the question of whether the recent hurricanes are effects of global warming is best left to the scientists to debate, and climatologists should be trying to figure out how long it would take to see real results from massive worldwide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. (Here's a useful timeline of the last few years in climate change science and policy.)
The authors contend that the questions the rest of us should be pondering are: "How can we protect ourselves in the coming decades from extremes of weather like Hurricane Katrina, heat waves, floods and other extremes; and what should a climate policy that takes just this as its goal look like?"
One technological solution, which on first glance seems rather far-fetched, would be constructing a "space ring" around planet Earth. For some technologies that are viable right now and really could make a big dent in fuel usage -- such as alternative heating, cooling and electricity generation systems -- see Ilona's terrific post at Truegrit.
Mark Hertsgaard (who writes a lot about this subject) was saying in February what many more people are saying now: In order to protect ourselves in the short term, we need to "fortify emergency response capabilities worldwide, to shield or relocate vulnerable coastal communities and to prepare for increased migration flows by environmental refugees."
In a recent LiveOnline discussion, columnist Eugene Robinson answers a question from Princeton, N.J. with this admission that he is personally concerned about the possible effects of global warming on the intensity of hurricanes: "That's what I worry about -- that any little garden-variety hurricane that gets in there will turn into a monster. In reality, it won't happen every single time. But after reading those new studies, I'm convinced it's going to happen a lot more frequently. If we don't take this into account in rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, we're idiots -- and we'll be sorry when all the new houses and casinos and nudie bars that we build get washed away in a few years."
Debaters, any thoughts on how we can keep those houses and casinos and nudie bars intact?
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