Innovation Over Regulation: How Elon Musk Could Solve the Carbon Crisis - America's Future

January 28, 2021

Policy

Innovation Over Regulation: How Elon Musk Could Solve the Carbon Crisis

By: Kelvey Vander Hart

President Joe Biden took office on Wednesday, January 20th, and immediately rejoined the Paris Accords, promising more action to lower carbon emissions on the horizon. The very next day, serial entrepreneur and creator Elon Musk announced via tweet that he has put up a $100 million prize for the best carbon capture technology. One of these men is leading the way forward on revolutionary solutions to our carbon crisis (and if you need a hint, it isn’t President Biden).

Details about Musk’s decision to bankroll an incentive for innovation are still forthcoming. However, someone close to the decision informed TechCrunch that the money is connected to the Xprize Foundation. Xprize is a non-profit organization that hosts competitions like this – those with the goal of encouraging innovation and the development of new technologies.

And Musk’s decision to focus on carbon capture is huge. Carbon capture is, put simply, the process of removing carbon emissions to keep them from being released into the atmosphere. While carbon capture technologies are not a new creation, they are still somewhat limited in capacity. New innovation could change this, effectively “cleaning” industries that once were considered polluters and influencing how we combat climate change. Musk’s incentivization could speed up the timeline of such technology being developed as it will spur on innovators.

To contrast, President Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris Accords (which has been touted as a huge step forward for limiting carbon emissions) effectively does nothing to actually reduce or capture emissions. While it is good to have international cooperation on global issues, rejoining is being framed as action, when it really is simple goal setting. A key problem is that the accords are toothless; there are no repercussions for joining and failing to meet your commitments. For example, America could harm our economy and industry through excessive regulation in order to reach our goals while a country like China could continue polluting like normal, effectively nullifying any positive impact.

Instead of working with industries to see where carbon emissions could be cut, Biden has so far taken a heavy-handed approach. One example is the immediate block of the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would have dramatically reduced carbon emissions and would have been the driving force behind a huge renewable energy buildout. But, because of the association with fossil fuels, it was on the new president’s targeted takedown list. If we want America to TRULY be a global leader when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, we need innovation instead of regulation.

Christopher Barnard, national policy director for the American Conservation Coalition, recently made this point:

“Indeed, we should be looking to unleash the export of U.S. clean energy to the rest of the world. Countries like China and India need U.S.-made clean energy technology to reach their targets. Countries should be incentivized to innovate and export such technology solutions rather than stifled by arbitrary, top-down rules.”

This is why the Elon Musks of the world are doing more to solve our carbon crisis than the government. Even if the Biden administration starts to encourage innovation more than they threaten regulation, which all free-marketeers hope they do, their governmental authority can never properly incentivize the market to create an answer for the global demand for clean energy technology. It will take people such as Musk, those with the capacity and willingness to enable those with the brains needed for innovation, to get us where we need to go.

The Musks of the world deal in market solutions. The governmental figures like Biden deal in mandates. And as those who have studied up know, when looking for innovative solutions, markets beat mandates every time.