December 03, 2006
The Simplest Solution to Eliminating U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change
"Air capture" refers to the direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Leading work on this technology has been done by David Keith at the University of Calgary, his recent Ph.D. student Joshua Stolaroff, and separately by Klaus Lackner at Columbia University. Motivated by recent discussions on this site about the Massachusetts vs. EPA lawsuit, I wondered what the costs would be of neutralizing the carbon dioxide emissions of U.S. autos via air capture, and indeed all of U.S. emissions. Here is what I have come up with.
Air capture is a compelling technology because it requires no government regulation, no change in behavior, no international negotiations, and, most importantly from the standpoint of political action, no changes in energy production or use. Politically, it is therefore as simple and straightforward an approach as can be imagined. It is a top down technology in the sense that it can be used to "tune" the atmosphere to a desired concentration level. The downside is that it is expensive, but still far cheaper than the damages projected, for instance, in the recent Stern Review. Its ease in implementation and political simplicity more than offset its higher costs than other approaches to reducing carbon emissions.
In his recent dissertation (of which I have a copy but I am unaware if it is available online), Dr. Stolaroff suggests (his lower realistic estimate) that air capture technologies can remove carbon dioxide at a cost of $140/ton of carbon dioxide (or about $500/ton of carbon). In an interview with PBS earlier this year, Prof. Lackner suggested that the costs of direct air capture might eventually be as low as $30/ton of carbon dioxide (or about $100/ton of carbon). In the thought experiment below I’ll use both $100/ton and $500/ton.
1. US Auto CO2 Emissions
U.S. auto emissions are responsible for about 6% of total global emissions. The U.S. EIA estimates (XLS) total global carbon emissions in 2006 to be 7.45 GtC. Six percent of this is 0.45 GtC. The total costs of air capture to remove this amount of carbon from the atmosphere is $45 billion (at $100/ton) and $224 billion (at $500/ton). There are approximately 250 million passenger vehicles in the United States. The annual cost of air capture per auto is therefore $179 (at $100/ton) and $895 (at $500/ton). By contrast, this web site suggests that drivers can offset their auto emissions for $30-$80 per year per auto.
2. All U.S. CO2 Emissions
By extension, all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions could be offset by air capture for a per capita cost of $600 (at $100/ton) and $3,000 (at $500 per ton). At current use of gasoline (approximately 150 billion gallons per year) this could be achieved with a gas tax of $1.09 per gallon (at $100/ton) or $5.43 per gallon (at $500/ton). This level of taxation is comparable to gas taxes in European countries. If demand decreases as a result of the tax, as it probably would, then the tax would of course have to increase proportionately.
If the policy goal is to reduce total U.S. emissions by 40% then this could be achieved with a gas tax of $0.43 ($2.17). A gas tax of $1.00 would probably be more than enough to get this process started, including the costs of developing the air capture technology. The tax level could certainly be modified in future years based on experience with the actual costs of air capture technology and U.S. fuel usage.
This solution is so simple and straightforward, I wonder why those concerned with global warming aren't trumpeting it as a solution in the United States? Instead, the focus is on complicated and politically intractable approaches with dubious chances for success. Air capture is easy (compared to other solutions that have been proposed) to implement and politically requires only enough motivation to win a $1.00/gallon gas tax. If global warming is indeed going to cost us 5-20% of global GDP, how can we not pursue air capture?
What have I missed?
Looks like the one thing you missed is that your father's research suggests atmospheric CO2 to be of little significance, eg http://climatesci.atmos.colostate.edu/2006/05/05/co2h2o/ and http://climatesci.atmos.colostate.edu/2006/04/27/what-fraction-of-global-warming-is-due-to-the-radiative-forcing-of-increased-atmospheric-concentrations-of-co2/
Why should we waste any funds on addressing that which cannot even be separated from noise?
Posted by: Curious at December 3, 2006 05:40 PM
Thanks Curious. Let me state what I probably should have in the main post -- this exercise is simply a thought experiment that begins with he assumption that a policy goal is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at some level which requires drastic greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
I am already on record as stating that this particular framing of the problem is unlikely to succeed with respect to mitigation or adaptation goals (see my papers "Misdefining Climate Change" and "Breaking the Global Warming Gridlock"). A policy thought experiment is simply designed to follow through to the consequences of various assumptions, which is what I have done here.
On my father's research, you might want to check again, he concludes that CO2 is indeed significant, but so too are other factors.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 3, 2006 06:02 PM
According to Richard Tol: http://www.uni-hamburg.de/Wiss/FB/15/Sustainability/enpolmargcost.pdf
You state: The total costs of air capture to remove this amount of carbon from the atmosphere is $45 billion (at $100/ton) and $224 billion (at $500/ton).
Even at your optimistic estimate of $100/ton, spending $45 billion to prevent damage that is likely only $14/ton does not sound like a good deal.
It probably is a good technology to have available in case damage looks likely to be more severe than currently expected.
Posted by: Steve Gaalema at December 3, 2006 06:19 PM
I think it is an interesting idea. It nice that no one has to change their habits. It is still very expensive and at the end you have only removed 6% of Total Carbon.
This option is only worth it under the Stern review who put the value of reducing Co2 at a higher price than ever before. I believe that most economist put the cost/benefice price tag for C02 reduction at less or about 30$/TCo2.
Here are some financing solution that a skeptic like me would be ready to accept to support your plan:
first an incentive should be put in place to motivate people to buy more economic cars. If they produce less Co2 the less is needed to be removed from the air. One solution would be a scaling sales tax charged at the moment a car is bought (an example would be that car that make less than 20mpg could have a tax of 100% of the price tag. The more efficient a car would be the lower the tax would be. The most efficient car could have a sales tax has low has 1%. This would help lower the price tag you put at the pump in 2 ways: reduction of the demand for gas=lower price and you could lower the tax per gallon you suggested earlier. The advantage of this is that rich people could still buy their hummer and poor people could still buy more economic car.
Another way to help reduce the price of your solution is a scaling price for electricity. The more electricity someone is taking the more he would pay. For example: the basic need could be sold at cost and the more someone would use it the more they would pay for it. Hydro-Quebec has developed an electronic counter that can tell people how much they are consuming electricity and how they are paying for it. Such a device could give a fair price to everyone.
I think by those additional measure would make it easier on everyone, at least those with smaller income.
Posted by: Sylvain at December 3, 2006 06:54 PM
Last time you brought this up, it was shot down pretty quickly with the observation that even if air capture was possible, renewable energy and efficiency measures were substantially cheaper. Have you anything new to say on the subject, or are you just hoping everyone had forgotten?
Posted by: James Annan at December 3, 2006 07:03 PM
Thanks for visiting.
In the world of policy, cost is but one criterion for considering the adoption of a policy. Another factor is probability of success. A policy that costs $10 with a 100% probability of success might be comparable to a policy that costs $5 but has only a 50% chance of success.
I am happy to further discuss this topic, and if you are not that is OK by me.
Also you might want to contact David Keith and Klaus Lacker to let them know that you have unilaterally "shot down" their work and they need not bother with further research ;-)
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 3, 2006 07:15 PM
Thanks for your comments.
I understand why some people would evaluate the costs of air capture as exceeding the benefits. However, what I am interested in is why people who clearly think that the benefits exceed the costs aren't discussing this option. I am thinking of people like Gore, Hansen, Stern, etc.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 3, 2006 07:20 PM
Think of policy options like renting an apartment or buying a consumer good. Do you always make a decision based only on costs? Or do other factors play a role in such decisions?
I do envy your absolute certainty in such matters;-)
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 3, 2006 07:42 PM
I think you provide your own answer to this:
"However, what I am interested in is why people who clearly think that the benefits exceed the costs aren't discussing this option. I am thinking of people like Gore, Hansen, Stern, etc."
When you write this:
"Air capture is a compelling technology because it requires no government regulation, no change in behavior, no international negotiations, and, most importantly from the standpoint of political action, no changes in energy production or use"
For people like them:
-Government regulation is required. Why would they agree to something that don't give them more power.
-No change in behavior is the total opposite of what Gore want. For him we live a sinful life that can only be saved through a change in our behavior (not his of course).
-International negotiation is also required because Europeans need to make profit through the carbon market (since they are the ones that would benefit from this scam).
Posted by: Sylvain at December 3, 2006 07:55 PM
>However, what I am interested in is why people who clearly think that the benefits exceed the costs aren't discussing this option. I am thinking of people like Gore, Hansen, Stern, etc.
My guess is that for politicians your option is lacking the satisfaction of controlling the lives of their subjects.
A better reason to prefer efficiency improvements and non-fossil fuel energy generation is reduced reliance on unstable suppliers and reduced real pollution (from coal).
Posted by: Steve Gaalema at December 3, 2006 07:59 PM
Of course we should be considering all options for both mitigation and adaptation. Obviously, if we are concerned about damages from climate change, the further we are along in committing to climate change and the longer we defer effective reductions in GHG/carbon black emissions, the more we will need to consider sequestration/carbon capture and storage (CCS) options.
What you are missing in suggesting investment CCS now is that the problem remains one of the difficulties posed by failing to resolve at the global level the question of exploitation of a global open-access resource. First, in a global commons, no individual nation has any incentives to change its behavior unless others are willing to change their own as well, and unilateral actions are likely to be a waste of effort, as such efforts will benefit all. Second, on a domestic level policy remains subject to rent-seeking.
In other words, what you are recommending may be just as "complicated and politically intractable" as other approaches: why should US taxpayers agree to pay more for gas if the benefit in reduced CO2 levels will be shared with all other nations, unless the investment in CCS is shared with other nations? The gas tax you propose would shift the demand in cars away from the type for which US manaufacturers are tooled - can we expect that they will oppose such a tax? Such a tax would also lower the demand for gas, and thus lower the returns that oil companies would otherwise earn - would they also favor such a policy?
By virtue of the global nature of the atmosphere and of climate change, ALL policies must be coordinated globally to be effective. That's the rock upon which Kyoto/ETS etc. is foundering.
Posted by: TokyoTom at December 3, 2006 09:57 PM
I think first of all that rather than an increase in tax on gas people should be charged on miles driven. This way there is a direct link between action and consequence. Roadcharges or tolls that depend on model car driven and miles driven are likely to be more effective.
The US would by the way not be the big victim of European carbon trading schemes. The US economy is more efficient in its energy use and more innovative and therefor likely to be able to sell carbon credits to other countries.
China has already made carbon reduction a a priority as they are going to be especially hit by changes in climate. The US has the power to take a leadership role and mold global policy.
Posted by: Mark UK at December 4, 2006 08:22 AM
A tax on gas has the same effect has what you are suggesting people who drive more will consume more so pay more taxes.
A higher price at the pump lead people to choose car that have better fuel efficiency, as it has been seen in the last year where many people elected to buy the Toyota Yaris because of the extra expense at the pump.
This change in behavior helped reduce the GHG emission (I have no idea by how much) by having people drive more efficient car.
I find it very interesting that everyone blames the oil industries for making too much money as they are accused of manipulating the price. While the higher price of gas is the best way to reduce co2 emissions. The Kyoto protocol is based on setting the price of fossil fuel energy artificially higher so clean energy becomes more competitive.
Posted by: Sylvain at December 4, 2006 09:17 AM
The advantage of a charge per mile is the direct relation to the activity. Once a tax is levied on gas people get used to the new cost. If they are charged every time they switch on the car they will think more carefully about whether they should walk, take the bus, cycle, etc.
Posted by: Mark UK at December 4, 2006 09:43 AM
Mark UK -
I disagree that the tax should be on miles driven. Why should I be limited, in my Toyota Corolla, to the same speed as someone driving an e.g. H2? I think the speed limit should be set at, say, 35 mpg. That would be about 35 mph in an H2 and about 85 in my Corolla.
I say that with tongue in cheek (in case William's watching) because the largest cause of freeway crashes is speed differential, and not high speed. The mpg speed limit would be a catastrophe in terms of safety. As is, one has a longer life expectency in one's car than out of it. (~ 2 deaths per hundred million freeway miles)
Posted by: Steve Hemphill at December 4, 2006 09:56 AM
What I was suggesting was a charge based on distance and engine capacity. You have a big car, you pay more. You drive more, you pay more...
Posted by: Mark UK at December 4, 2006 10:24 AM
Roger, can you give those carbon costs in terms of $/kilowatt-hour from a coal/gas burning power plant? I don't know enough about production efficiencies to be able to estimate that very well.
Also, once you sequester, measuring how much CO2 stays sequestered, and how much escapes is potentially tricky, since sequestors have incentive to predict optimistically.
Posted by: Lab Lemming at December 4, 2006 12:54 PM
Great thought experiment! One outcome of such thought experiments is the surface (make visible and explicit) values and assumptions behind judgements and policy choices.
It would seem that the assumptions behind your question Roger were expressed near the end of the PBS piece you referenced:
[QUOTE}WALLACE BROECKER: We have to really go at it and have a lot of competition so the people who learn how to do it the cheapest and environmentally the safest win out.
But what might other values and assumptions be?
Al Gore gives some clues as to his values and goals in a couple of recent statements. I organized them into two themes.
Theme #1: Generational Mission, compelling moral purpose, Rallying Cry
[Quote]We have the opportunity here to avoid needlessly bickering with one another on the editorial pages, and instead join together to experience what very few generations in history have had the privilege of knowing: a generational mission, a compelling moral purpose, a shared and unifying cause, and an opportunity to work together to choose a future ...
Theme #2: Global Solution, Playing by the Rules
A responsible approach to solving this crisis would also involve joining the rest of the global economy in playing by the rules of the world treaty that reduces global warming pollution by authorizing the trading of emissions within a global cap.
There also the ever popular idea that Gore is positioning himself to run for president and is picking policies to suit that goal.
Posted by: Cortlandt Wilson at December 4, 2006 01:27 PM
Mark: A distance charge would never fly in this country, just as it would be rejected in Australia or any other sparcely populated industrialized country. Maybe it would go over OK with you British (60.6 million people in 84,000 square miles) or the Dutch, but not here in rural Utah (2.2 million people in 85,000 square miles).
Posted by: Nordic at December 4, 2006 02:00 PM
People here are not all that keen either! The idea would be to charge more for busy urban roads where alternatives would be made available and less for rural roads where there is no option but use the car.
Posted by: Mark UK at December 4, 2006 03:11 PM
May I suggest a twist to your proposal?
If every new* installation (and car etc) will be under the obligation to "air capture" all emitted carbon dioxide, then this regulation will in effect function as a (pretty hefty) carbon tax.
In many cases, it will in fact be cheaper to conserve energy or to switch to other fuels. The capture obligation is likely to be effective in only a limited number of cases.
*I say new installations to make it more palatable to vested interests.
Note that Jae Edmonds and colleagues have calculated this through. It is effective and relatively cheap (provided that you allow companies to reduce emissions if they prefer that to air capturing).
Posted by: Richard Tol at December 4, 2006 03:52 PM
Thanks Richard- In practice I agree with you. However, my musings are air capture are far from a proposal. Instead it is a thought experiment to simply examine the ultimate consequences of such an approach.
If those saying that we have only 10 years to act actually believe that to be the case, then they will inevitably have to gravitate to air capture approaches as emissions continue to rise.
Please send along that reference to Jae Edmonds' work. Thanks!
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 4, 2006 04:27 PM
Well, no one else has mentioned it, so maybe I am misremembering or was misinformed, but I though that one problem with carbon capture was its energy requirement. ie we need to consider the amount of energy expended to capture per amount of energy produced not just a dollar cost. When you do consider this, it makes carbon capture an inefficient method of reducing net emmissions compared to efficiency and conservation.
It is appealing though, and would have the potential advantage of reducing warming already committed to though not realized.
Capture from the ambient air requires sequestration as well, are those costs factored in?
Posted by: coby at December 4, 2006 04:47 PM
Coby- Since this is a thought experiment we can assume such problems away with, say, nuclear powered air capture stations, or fossil fuel powered stations with CCS technology at the end of the smokestack. Thanks.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 4, 2006 05:14 PM
If we suppose that this proposal was in effect and was achieving its goal.
Has anyone thought about what would be the effect of removing Co2 from the at a fast pace. Would there be no effect at all or could the effect be similar as those observe in a drug addict. I mean could the solution create the problem we want to avoid ie: non linear climate change.
Posted by: Sylvain at December 4, 2006 05:26 PM
I hope you might reconsider that kind of assumption, Roger, it becomes a very uninteresting exercise now.
Of course ambient-air carbon capture with magically clean and free energy sources is a great deal.
Posted by: coby at December 4, 2006 06:10 PM
Using dodgy figures from sources like scientific American, I get 1.2 cent/KWH increase in coal based electricity for every $50/ton.
So a $500/ton charge would add a whopping 12c/KWH onto the current cost of coal power generation. At that price, you could outcompete coal by connecting a hampster wheel to a dynamo, and all the mainstream alternatives (gas, hydro, wind, solar, nuclear) would be way cheaper.
Posted by: Lab Lemming at December 4, 2006 07:07 PM
Try page 42 of the IPPCC Tech Summary on carbon sequestration for a cost comparison:
I think their figures are based on little practical knowledge (although vast compared to Prof. Lackner chatting in an interview about what he speculates open-air capture would cost), but still appear to come out better than open air.
You can assume away the emissions produced to power your open-air sequestration, but since this is an economic cost analysis, it would be wrong to assume there's no associated economic cost with getting rid of those emissions.
Closest "semi-real world" analogy to this is carbon sequestration at biomass plants, where the biomass is doing open-air capture. IPCC says (same page above):
"In addition to fossil fuel-based energy conversion
Posted by: Brian S. at December 5, 2006 02:38 PM
"I think their figures are based on little practical knowledge (although vast compared to Prof. Lackner chatting in an interview about what he speculates open-air capture would cost), "
This link leads to a document related to this subject by Klaus Lackner though you need a subscription to AAAS to wiew it.
Posted by: Sylvain at December 5, 2006 03:04 PM
Thanks. The costs of removing the emissions associated with air capture are implicit in the cost estimates, so don't worry about that. The estimates are guesses anyway, near as I can tell.
The report that you linked to is indeed interesting, but does not discuss the technology of air capture. That itself is an interesting choice by the IPCC.
Your comment does raise the notion of technological optimism and technological pessimism. Some of the same people who are ready to assume that the hydrogen (or solar or wind or biomass or whatever) economy is just around the corner, exhibit an interesting change in perspective when it comes to, say, the challenges of nuclear energy, or in this case air capture.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 5, 2006 03:43 PM
Roger, as I noted above, the tragedy of the commons problem affects all potential solutions.
No economic actors have incentives to invest in such technologies or to actually pay to use them, as there are no returns for them to capture, and nations are likely to embark on requiring that such technologies be used only if other countries share the costs. Free riders may prevent any action whatsoever.
The same is true with investments in adaptation/development in the third world. The Stern report and writings by Nordhaus and other economists make the same points.
Posted by: TokyoTom at December 6, 2006 03:04 AM
Tom- Thanks for your comments. In framing climate change as a commons problem you have painted yourself into a corner. I would encourage you to begin thinking about other perspectives on the problem. Things may be less dismal from a different vantage point.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 6, 2006 07:13 AM
Roger, I disagree. I think frankness about the nature of the problem is the best way to move towards solutions. The political discussion is about how we manage collectively an ope-access commons.
We can make a good start on this by starting to analyze related problems and solving the simplest ones first, thus building experience and trust. Say global fisheries, for example?
Posted by: TokyoTom at December 6, 2006 07:50 AM
Tom- Problems are defined by people. Instead of a commons problem climate change might be reframed. See my paper "Misdefining Climate Change." See also:
Pielke, Jr., R. A., 1997: Asking the Right Questions: Atmospheric Sciences Research and Societal Needs. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 78(2), 255-264.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 6, 2006 07:56 AM
"Roger, as I noted above, the tragedy of the commons problem affects all potential solutions.
No economic actors have incentives to invest in such technologies or to actually pay to use them, as there are no returns for them to capture, and nations are likely to embark on requiring that such technologies be used only if other countries share the costs. Free riders may prevent any action whatsoever."
Actually, if world economic growth behaves as I expect in the 21st century, free riders won't prevent any action (at least at the end of the century).
Let's asssume the IPCC is approximately correct, and the CO2 concentration in 2100 is approximately 680 ppm. (I think that's at least 100 ppm too high, but let's forget that for the time being.)
If the concentration is 680 ppm in 2100, that's ~300 ppm above the current concentration, and ~400 ppm above the pre-industrial concentration of 280 ppm.
Using a cost/ton of ambient CO2 scrubbing of approximately $250 ton of carbon, and approximately 2 billion tons of carbon per ppm of atmospheric CO2, that means it costs about $500 billion (or $0.5 trillion) to remove 1 ppm CO2 from the atmosphere.
Therefore, it would cost $150 trillion to get down from 680 ppm to the present 380 ppm, or $200 trillion to get down from 680 ppm to the pre-industrial value of 280 ppm.
If economic growth in the 21st century behaves as I expect, the world per-capita GDP in 2100 will be approximately $10 million. Using a population equal to the current population of 6 billion, the world GDP in 2100 will be 60 QUADRILLION dollars.
The projected costs of $150 to $200 trillion would therefore be 0.25 to 0.33 percent of world GDP in 2100. That's equivalent to about $125 billion, when compared to today's world GDP of $50 trillion. In other words, that's approximately what rich countries give to developing countries every year in foreign aid.
Posted by: Mark Bahner at December 6, 2006 10:48 AM
I think, Roger, you must be pulling our legs when you call this the "simplest solution", especially the claim that it entails "no government regulation, no change in behavior, no international negotiations, and, most importantly from the standpoint of political action, no changes in energy production or use. Politically, it is therefore as simple and straightforward an approach as can be imagined."
But that leg-pulling joke aside, here's an interesting thought experiment for the policy/politics/ethics folks:
Let's say air capture, or any of the many geoengineering options being widely discussed (e.g. my colleague here at the UofA, Roger Angel's recent idea* to block 1.8% of the incoming energy with a gadget at the L1 Lagrange orbital point), ends up being feasible in a few decades. And let’s say we actually reach the point where we can, as Roger [Pielke, not Angel] suggested, tune the atmosphere’s CO2.
[ * Roger Angel, 2006. Feasibility of cooling the Earth with a cloud of small
What level do we tune it to? And who gets to decide that level? The “worst off” individual (to follow Rawls famous “Theory of Justice”)? Then we probably let the Maldivians decide, since under current projections, sea level rise could completely wipe them off the map. Places like Russia, on the other hand, would probably prefer to have some moderate global warming, because that probably would give them better agriculture in Siberia, and ice-free ports on the north atlantic.
Posted by: Scott Saleska at December 6, 2006 01:35 PM
And the costs for sequestration are dodgy if you look closely. For example, a recent PESA (petroleum exploration society of Australia) article reported that University of Queensland had reduced the CO2 sequestration cost by half, to $25/ton CO2. That sounds like a technological breakthrough, but careful reading showed that the reduction in cost was purely economic. The CO2 was being sequestered in coal beds, so the sequestration process displaced methane, which was captured and sold. The increase in sequestration cost was entirely due to the increased market value of the methane over the course of the study period- the actual process remained unchanged. So if you are looking for the cost of carbon removal and sequestration, you really need to look at the nitty gritty details of how it works and what variables effect the cost.
Posted by: Lab Lemming at December 6, 2006 05:48 PM
The global atmosphere is a classic open-access resource, so analysis of climate change as a commons problem is one of the single most effective analytical tools we have.
Technological advance increases pressure on the reource, in turn creating pressures to find ways to manage the problem. But because of the open-access nature of the resource, absent new technologies (such as barbed wire) that make it easy to privatize the commons, reaching effective agreement is subject to problems of coordination (rules and free-riding) and enforcement (cheating). And social pressure is a frequently occuring aspect of the solutions communities devise to managing common resources. Solutions may lie both in building mutual confidence and trust to overcome prisoners' dilemma issues, finding appropriate tools to persuade recalcitrant parties, and new technologies/institutions that may privatize the commons.
As I have also pointed out Public Choice analysis about how decision-making within individual countries is subject to rent-seeking and rent-capture problems, and by the short horizons of decision-makers, is also quite helpful in understanding policy blockages and ways that policy is susceptible to manaipulation.
I am afraid I don't understand why you would suggest that we abandon a commons analysis. Are you making a tactical point?
Posted by: TokyoTom at December 6, 2006 08:20 PM
Mark, you are essentially suggesting that if we wait, technology will enable us to cure the commons problem more cheaply than we can now. You might be correct, but the problem remains that without establishing incentives now, it remains unlikely that anyone will invest in developing the desired technology. Are you suggesting government programs?
Most economists would suggest that we start quite modestly, and ramp up or mitigation efforts as our wealth increases and technology costs fall, rather than simply continuing to twiddle our thumbs.
Posted by: TokyoTom at December 6, 2006 08:24 PM
Tom- Thanks. Commons problems are "solved" (quotes because they are often not completely solved) by turning them into non-commons problems. Witness the response to ozone depletion (made possible by technological innovation of substitutes, first motivated by no regrets actions), acid rain (privatizing pollution rights), etc. If you insist on defining climate change as a commons problem you will find that there may indeed be no solution beyond muddling through (which may be where we are headed). If it is to be "solved" then someone has to figure out a way that is politically, technologically, and practically feasible to turn the challenge into a non-commons problem. I have no answer to this, but I have suggested getting a start with no-regrets actions. See my congressional testimony from last summer for this argument in more detail.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 6, 2006 08:51 PM