Is Technology the Answer to Climate Change?

I love technology. I have covered it ever since I became a reporter 13 years ago. Which is possibly why I cringe when I hear people, like Thomas Friedman, argue that technological transformations are what’s needed to deal with climate change. Technology is part of the answer, clearly—electric cars, coming up with methods for slashing the cost of solar arrays, making it more efficient to store and transport wind power. Clearly these are key.

But without the political will to implement efficiency standards, emissions cuts, and a price on the cost of CO2 emissions, technology—and its transformative capabilities—will lag in this instance because in most countries, the price of CO2 emissions isn’t calculated when we buy petroleum and natural gas today.

But it’s not just a matter of managing the national political changes that will ensure these technological fixes. Dealing with the problem has to be handled on a global scale. The Economist, at great believer in technology and the transformative powers of the market, put it really well when it discussed the practical lessons of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change third assessment report this spring.

“If a few countries—even a few big countries—adopt a carbon price, it will make little difference. All the world’s big emitters need to do it. Which brings the world straight back to the problem that sank Kyoto. No country alone can make a difference, and it is in every country’s interest to ensure that everybody else bears the burden. As the IPCC report convincingly argues, the technology and the economics of this problem are easily soluble. It is the politics that is so difficult.”