Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lomborg's actually right about something

When I started writing this, I thought Bjorn Lomborg's claim that total worldwide spending on renewable energy research annually is only $2.5 billion would be about as accurate as his little jibe that climate activists land in Greenland on a glacier that's growing (it's not).

But after poking around on the web, I think it's probably correct or at least within range of being correct. That's such a low figure that I think it needs to be scaled up even faster than budgets that directly address emissions reductions. So score one point for Lomborg (although he could have also used the opportunity to criticize Bush for requesting 16% budget reductions on this research).

Where Lomborg goes wrong is in thinking that his one point means he's won the game. He wants the government spending to increase ten times, which is fair enough. But then he wants developing nations to pay for what I'd guess would be a third of that increase, the opposite of fair when they didn't create the problem.

His biggest mistake though is thinking this will revolutionize everything. It won't increase total spending on research ten times - much of current spending is from private and academic sources that won't be increased and may even diminish. And the primary government incentive for research probably isn't direct funding, it's likely to be tax breaks for renewable energy projects that allows that industry to be competitive and gives them commercial reasons for doing research.

Virtually all the climate solutions - increased renewables, increased nuclear power, carbon sequestration, even increased conservation and energy efficiency - require significant technological advances. Assuming Lomborg's one idea is all that's needed is a mistake.

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