November 25, 2008

I Repeat: Worldwide Recessions Are Bad
Companies and countries worldwide are finding that they'd rather save their economic skins than the planet. So says the New York Times in this article about stalling alternative energy projects. Ezra Klein muses that the recession may be just the excuse reluctant governments have been looking for to put the kaibosh on carbon reduction efforts. As I've said before, there's really no silver lining to worldwide recessions. Credit is tight so projects get delayed. Carbon emissions don't drop despite the reduction in industrial activity. Fuel prices go down so demand goes up.

But the fear of massive, ongoing backsliding is probably overstated. As we've now seen from President-elect Obama, the recession in fact provides an enormous opportunity on all climate fronts. With the economy in desperate need of a stimulus, a massive green infrastructure bill gets fast-tracked. Suddenly we've got billions of dollars a year pouring into just the priorities necessary for combating global warming and stimulating the economy. And, as Ezra rightly observes, lower fuel prices simply take the sting out of carbon market pricing - which should make it easier, not harder to implement such a system.

And I point you to a fascinating exchange between Joe Romm and Andrew Revkin of the New York Times. Revkin represents the enlightened end of the mainstream media regarding climate change. But as with the MSM generally, there remains in his reporting a - some might say healthy - skepticism of what we know and what we can actually do for the climate. Romm, much to his chagrin I imagine, is more of the Cassandra variety of expert - he's one of the few people who could make NASA climate prophet James Hansen look like a moderate. Note also that Romm's no ideologue (otherwise he wouldn't be featured so prominently on Beyond Green): his positions are convincingly backed by science. Anyway, Revkin wanted to get Romm's take on where things stand in terms of the enormity of the climate task before us. In the course of their email exchange, Romm says:
For me, 2015 is the target year. If you have any cost-effective, scalable low carbon technology then, that's what we'll go with. Obama will launch the $15 billion a year in 2009. I suspect the first two years will be part of the stimulus -- which I expect will have many more tens of billions of dollars in it for clean energy.
2015 is still, thankfully, seven years off. That's a long time by any standard. After all, seven years ago the world had just been transformed by 9/11, the Iraq War was still a gleam in Dick Cheney's eye and America had not yet been brought to its knees by the Republican Party (whoops! My ideology is showing!) On the technology side, in 2001 the Internet Boom had just busted, Google was still a small privately-held company, biodiesel was used vegetable oil not the equivalent of pure crude oil synthesized by vats of algae and the Prius (not the mention the Apple iPod) had just been introduced. Point being, a lot can happen politically and technologically in that time frame. This recession should be a distant memory by then and we will have invested, potentially, hundreds of billions of dollars in the green sector.

I'm not, of course, counseling complacency. But I am counseling skepticism towards a media that will push any simple narrative that sounds dramatic (Gas is cheap!! Here come the guzzlers!! Saving the climate is expensive and hard!!) and confidence that with the right leadership the recession will be a bump rather than a black hole for the climate.

Now if we can just convince the MSM that the narrative should be "seize the moment" and not "fear the moment," then perhaps we'll start acting like Americans again.

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