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Jul. 8 2010 - 1:14 pm | 79 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

The iPad vs. the House Energy and Commerce Committee

Via Andrew, here’s Ezra Klein responding to Jim Manzi:

“Even if Manzi is right that the costs [from global warming] are manageable into 2100 – a century, after all, is a long time for a human, but not for the atmosphere – what does that do to our descendants who have to deal with a scorching planet between 2100 and 2200? And then into 2300, and then 2400?

I think Manzi’s answer is that technology will save us by then. And maybe he’s right. But maybe he’s not. And if he’s not, then we’ve let the problem become unimaginably bad for our descendants. If you bet on technology and you’re wrong, it’s not like we’ve got another of these planets waiting in the back somewhere.”

I come down on Manzi’s side of the argument – I think global warming is more than likely happening and I believe that humans are more than likely a contributing factor to that warming. There are many other factors, and I’m far from certain that the doom and gloom scenarios presented by climate change doomsayers are accurate. But I do think we’re seeing climate change and that we are in part responsible for it.

We’re prone, I think, to wildly exaggerating our fears. End-times advocates have always done this, and always will. Science and technology just give us lots and lots of new and fascinating ways to make our predictions of the future more catastrophic. That used to be the realm of God, and now it’s the realm of science. Fair enough.

But I think technology will be the great saving grace in the end, if we allow innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish. This means not only avoiding expensive, economy-sapping cap and trade schemes, but keeping government out of the business of innovation altogether.

Government should pave the road that innovators drive on, but we should be wary of investing too much public money in green technology directly. Creating a good business climate for the development of sustainable energy, and tweaking our regulatory structure to allow for a more competitive distribution model for that energy are about as far as government should go. Anything more and you start to see diminishing returns.

In any case, when I think about where I should place my faith, I need look no further than the iPad or any of the other marvels of modern technology. Why would I put my trust in the burgeoning ideas of a bunch of politicians? Whatever cap and trade nonsense they do devise, I imagine it will be riddled with loopholes and prone to capture. In the end we’ll see a huge transfer of wealth from taxpayers to special interest groups and the energy industry. I’m betting the innovators at Apple or Google save the world before the House Energy and Commerce Committee does.

If we really want to curb carbon usage, perhaps we should consider implementing a carbon tax. If you want less of something, taxing it is a sure-fire solution. Start small and then raise it incrementally each year. That way we could apply some pressure on fossil fuels and encourage consumers to look to other technologies, while giving those technologies time to catch up with demand.

And please – let’s not have a green-tech race with China. Let’s have a green tech race right here in America. Competition is great, but there’s no reason our government should compete with China on something best left to the private sector. Our businesses should compete with one another instead! Why we need to race with China over anything is beyond me, when we still have the most innovative entrepreneurs in the world right here at home.


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  1. collapse expand

    I find your analogy of the iPad flawed. The iPad is great, but the government doesn’t provide all manner of incentives that keep typewriters cheap so that people buy those instead. The development of technology that could help us overcome our 19th century energy technologies prior to the dawn of the 22nd century is sundered by government support for fossil fuels.

    Now I know that Jim Manzi (and you) is all for eliminating the various supports the fossil sector gets. Unfortunately, he also works for a conservative media establishment that routinely gives cover to Republican politicians whose energy policy boils down to roughly ‘drill baby drill’ and ‘drill here, drill now.’ A lot of that drilling isn’t profitable without government support. So until intellectual cover is no longer given to people who want to keep us on 19th century techniques for getting energy, those of us who want to regulate our energy usage with an app on our iPad are going to need to settle for painstakingly composing letters to our utilities on typewriters.

    I fully realize that this doesn’t make the case for cap and trade – a policy I do not favor. But a government intervention in energy markets to favor non-carbon-based energy sources will probably in some way be necessary to spark a rapid transition to a superior energy economy.

  2. collapse expand

    I know its unlikely that you follow Canadian politics but you might be interested to read about the “Green Shift” plan that was a major part of the Liberal Party’s platform in 2008. The core of the plan was a carbon tax that was supposedly balanced by an income tax reduction. In theory it wouldn’t really hurt the average person, and they could choose to save money by finding products and services that resulted in lower emissions.

    When its summarized like that it seems quite appealing. The Conservative party did a whole lot of fear mongering about how it would destroy our economy (although I guess the banks took care of that anyway) and it destroyed the Liberal campaign.

  3. collapse expand

    And here’s where I ask, if businesses were willing to invest in this kind of industry/cause, why haven’t they yet? If wind, solar, hydro are going to save our future, well why the hell are we waiting for the future to do this stuff? If the clean energy market can get our economy moving again, why the hell are we not pursuing it to get the job market moving and create out next boom economy and the jobs to go with it? This is just an insane mentality to me, and why the current climate in American politics – especially from the right – and culture is such a load of BS. Don’t spend the money now, brainy dudes will take care of it later! And then there’s the cries and gnashing of teeth about all the insane debt we’re leaving our children. Please.

    The best example of this I can think of is the documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car?” where the short answer of it all was, everyone. Americans don’t want cars that don’t do 100mph or can’t haul their chubby kids in packs to the cineplex, so demand killed it. Companies like Ford didn’t want to and honestly couldn’t spend the near billion dollars to invest in the tech. The government was subsidizing and pushing for more efficient cars, but then Bush came in and changed all that and, oh look, what’s this Prius thing? I don’t know but it almost put all our American car producers out of business because they were too busy making things that got 12 miles to the gallon and gas happened to spike to over $4 per as well.

    The reason government gets involved in this is because it’s expensive and businesses get complacent. How long have we been sucking at the oil teet and how much misery has it caused? How many spills and how many wars have there been? And why are we still with it? Because it’s too expensive to do otherwise and too many companies are enjoying monster profits from it. And everyone is looking at this from the same BS “black and white” lens of either “Government bad! Let the businesses handle it!” or “Big business bad! The government do it!” Maybe, just maybe, it’s *gasp* a grey area. Maybe they’re both equally competent, incompetent, malicious or magnanimous? Maybe when you combine government subsidy and mandate with private sector ability and innovation you get, oh I dunno, pretty much every boom economy this country has ever seen. You ever bother to think that your iPad only exists because government grants made the Internet a viability for commercial use in the 90’s which lead to Netscape and Microsoft which lead to the tech boom which lead to the re-emergence of Apple which puts us where we are now? Probably not, because then this article wouldn’t exist.

    Yes, Cap-and-trade probably has more downside than good (most of them actually because it wouldn’t be regulated properly, already too many loopholes), but if businesses aren’t willing to pony up the cash to pursue alternative forms of energy, and the government “should not be involved” well then what do we do about this carbon problem that even some conservatives are now admitting we may have? We cap and traded 25 years ago over methane (if I remember correctly) and no one cried over that because it was helping to stop acid rain. But Al Gore didn’t exist back then so no one had anyone to use as a symbol for fearmongering so I guess that was okay. And if you don’t like C&T, well, alternatives have be proposed, why not talk about those instead?

    All just another symptom of the almost manic-depression we have in this country anymore. “We can do such great things!!! But, eh, that would probably be too big an effort and some stooge somewhere will mess it up.” It’s just crap mentality all around from both ends of the spectrum, and another reason we’re falling behind. I can’t wait for the justification some sides will come up with to not reform our education system next.

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