July 30, 2008

Reducing emissions isn't the issue…

By: Sonny Bunch

…because reducing emissions isn’t feasible. Matthew Yglesias is enjoying his time in Aspen, taking breaks from the conferences to lecture the auto/gas industry about how they perceive the future. He says:

At a panel on “Climate and Sustainability: Fueling the Future: Sustainable Choices for a New Transportation Landscape” neither the guy from Mercedes-Benz nor the guy from Chevron seems to think measures to reduce energy demand have any role whatsoever to play. Instead, it’s exclusively about awesome new kinds of cars and new sources of fuel. As they say, it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.

We can debate all day about the glorious, life-affirming benefits of reducing carbon emissions, but at the end of that day it’s simply not an achievable goal. Whatever meager reductions in emissions the U.S. manages will be dwarfed by output from India, China, and the rest of the developing world. What liberals like Yglesias are talking about here is crippling our economy (and the rest of the world’s, if they could), retarding centuries of economic progress in order to achieve a minimal reduction in global temperatures.

Instead of looking at the straight line goal (carbon emissions are too high, therefore we must reduce carbon emissions), we need to (if you’ll excuse the term) think outside the box. Instead of reducing emissions, can we devise a biotechnology capable of eliminating the CO2 currently in the atmosphere? Instead of panicking over mild increases in overall temperature and some changing weather patterns, can we adapt our society around these changes while maintaining a decent standard of living? Instead of packing everyone into the cities and leaving the exurbs a barren wasteland of abandoned houses and plummeting property values, can we create an acceptable (i.e., safe and fast) electric car? Instead of sitting on mountains of coal that we’re afraid to use for emissions reasons, can we perfect clean-coal technology? For the love of god, can we please get to work on building more nuclear power plants?

Reducing energy demand is a pipe dream. It means totally restructuring American (and global society). It means taking a massive hit in the pocketbook, a hit that would be terribly regressive and damage the lives of the poor much more. Most importantly, it means no more fancy trips to Aspen–it’s not terribly carbon sensitive to fly all these luminaries into a mountain village so they can all chat about how god-awful pollution is. But we can’t deprive the elites of their conferences, can we? After all, who would tell us how to live our lives?