A Range of Views on Prins/Rayner

October 30th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Here are a few reactions, and my comments in response, to the Prins/Rayner piece in Nature last week, which has generated a good deal of healthy discussion on climate policies.

At his new DotEarth blog Andy Revkin notes perceptively that debate over greenhouse gas reduction policies is emerging between those who think that setting a price for carbon is the most important action to be taken, versus others who think that setting a price for carbon can only have modest effects on efficiency, and by itself will not stimulate a transition to a post-fossil fuel world. Most everyone nowadays, including Prins/Rayner, would seem to agree that putting a price on carbon makes good sense. The debate is over the degree to which setting such a price will lead to a significant change in the trajectory of emissions paths. Prins/Rayner are not optimistic (and I agree), and others are more sanguine.

At Nature’s Climate Feedback, a number of informed commenters respond to Prins/Rayner by raising questions about the effectiveness of Kyoto mechanisms. Prins/Rayner emphasize the symbolic importance of Kyoto, but criticize its practical results. They suggest that more of the same – feel-good symbolism over actual, large emissions reductions – is not what the world needs at this point. On this point reasonable people will disagree, but ultimately atmospheric concentrations will arbitrate the debate.

The Wall Street Journal Energy Blog does a nice job identifying where Prins/Rayner agree with and disagree with the policies of the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, the role of technology in the climate debate has been caught up in partisan bickering. Some argue that all of the technologies that are needed to stabilize emissions (or at least make a big forward step in that direction) are already available. I find this argument unconvincing at best, and more likely just plain wrongheaded. Others, such as Nordhaus/Shellenberger suggest that a massive investment in new technologies are needed, a point on which I, and Prins/Rayner, agree. Many environmentalists do their arguments (and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) no favors by taking an anti-technological investment stance, which seems more like a reflexive reaction to be against anything that the Bush Administration might be for — Note however that while the Bush Administration often uses the word “technology” in the context of climate change policy, they have never advocated the sort of investment advocated by Prins/Rayner/Nordhaus/Shellenberger.

There will be more to discuss when Prins/Rayner release the long version of their analysis, hopefully soon. We’ll link to it here when available.

One Response to “A Range of Views on Prins/Rayner”

  1. The Heretic Says:

    Don’t you think we should actually quantify what, if any, societal cost there is from producing CO2 before we assign said cost to it?

    As for developing alternatives (let’s get off the ethanol kick, eh? it’s just a waste of resources – especially water; and acknowledge that electricity is just made somewhere else…) we desperately need to do that, but not because of “global warming”. Fossil fuels are simply going to become in short supply (read “expensive”) and alternatives will become cost effective way before that…