COPENHAGEN – Common sense was an early loser in the scorching battle over the reality of man-made global warming. For nearly 20 years, one group of activists argued – in the face of ever-mounting evidence – that global warming was a fabrication. Their opponents, meanwhile, exaggerated the phenomenon’s likely impact – and, as a consequence, dogmatically fixated on drastic, short-term carbon cuts as the only solution, despite overwhelming evidence that such cuts would be cripplingly expensive and woefully ineffective.
This scientific pie fight, characterized by juvenile name-calling, ignoble tactics, and intellectual intransigence on both sides, not only left the public confused and scared; it undermined the efforts of the most important organizations working on advancing the science of climate change. Almost inevitably, at international summits from Kyoto to Copenhagen, governments failed to take any meaningful action on global warming.
Fortunately, there finally seems to be a growing number of influential scientists, economists, and politicians who represent a more sensible approach to the issue.
As I argued in my 2007 book Cool It, the most rational response to global warming is to make alternative energy technologies so cheap that the whole world can afford them. In broad strokes, this requires a deliberate and significant boost to research and development spending. Based on recent work by Isabel Galiana and Chris Green of McGill University, I advocate expenditure totaling around 0.2% of global GDP – roughly $100 billion a year.