The thing is that the Breakthrough people and their allies, among whom one must include Lomborg and Pielke Jr. at this point (and I'm betting on Kloor to line up real soon), are not asking for the technologically impossible. They are asking merely for the technologically possible at an economically impossible cheap price.
This really makes mindbogglingly little sense to me.
If carbon "costs" more in dollars such that clean energy is therefore competitive, vs. clean energy costing less via pixie dust, all that happens outside the energy sector is that energy costs more.
This leads to a balance between 1) a larger proportion of activity dedicated to acquiring energy 2) improved energy efficiency and 3) exactly the innovation which was wanted in the pixie dust strategy. It's too bad that this is morally equivalent to a Stalinist nightmare for reasons which continue to escape me, because otherwise it actually looks like a perfectly sound right-wing solution: account for externalities and coax the market to do the right thing.
I mean, you still get to look for the pixie dust! If it's really out there, a cost on carbon pretty much means somebody will find it. And if it's not out there, we do not all face a stupid, avoidable cataclysm.
Am I missing something? Aside from the Stalin thing, I mean?
We already have the technology. All the Breakthrough people are trying to do is negotiate with Nature over price. But Nature doesn't haggle. (Because, you know, of her monopoly position and all.)
Breakthrough thinking basically amounts to an idea that if we delay action on climate forcing, the price will go down. It's clear that at some point, if we delay too long, the price will start to go up. The argument is only whether we have passed that point.
I'd say it isn't even a close call anymore.
But it's an interesting question. If economics made any sense there would be an objective way to estimate this; it's a totally objective question if you have an objective definition of cost. If it's not too late to procrastinate yet, when will it be? How long should we wait for a price breakthrough that might not happen?
The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.
- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)