Teams from 15 different countries submitted plans to the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network this week, and instead of the usual hand-wringing and fear-mongering that typically accompanies these kinds of international talks on environmental issues, the plans they produced actually sketched out ways in which humanity might harness technology to combat and adapt to climate change. The NY Times reports:
The decarbonization paths rely on aggressive assumptions about our ability to deploy new technologies on a commercial scale economically. For instance, carbon capture and storage is supposed to be available starting in about 10 years. Second-generation biofuels are assumed to come into play by 2020. Hydrogen fuel cells and power storage technology are deployed starting around 2030…But these technologies all exist today and seem reasonably scalable. The teams did not rely on more speculative technologies, like cold fusion, to make their numbers.
This approach is a marked improvement over that championed by the environmental movement in the past, namely, that environmental concerns ought to trump economic ones because of some moral debt we owe to our planet. That’s a thorny debate, and it hasn’t—and won’t—produce results.The green movement sees technology as part of the problem, a contributing factor for the current state in which we find ourselves: staring at the frightening prospect of climate change. But technology still has a very important role to play, and the sooner environmentalists get on board with that, the sooner they can start championing solutions that have a chance of being put into practice.Nuclear energy is a zero-carbon baseload power source, and until we make significant breakthroughs in energy storage, it’s irreplaceable in a “green” energy mix. Wind and solar energy have come far, but they’re still too expensive to compete with fossil fuels. Investing in their development, along with research into carbon capture and storage technologies, will pay much bigger dividends than will propping up current-gen turbines and panels with government subsidies.Technological progress is a product of humanity’s remarkable innovative talents, and we’ll need every bit of that drive if we’re to tackle one of the most complex problems we’ve ever confronted.