Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 23:42 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 23:42 | SYDNEY

Unanswered questions about climate change


Sam Roggeveen


28 April 2009 11:21

When it comes to climate change, I've long been a technological optimist. That is to say, my assumption has been that the advance of technologies that reduce emissions will make the seemingly insurmountable policy challanges seem less important over time.

But here are two arguments I've been toying with as to why that is unrealistic. Your thoughts welcome on whether this logic stacks up:

  1. Energy efficiency will make the problem worse: Making a power plant or a car engine less energy-intensive is, in economic terms, no different to making fuel cheaper, and thus will only encourage greater energy use. Internal combustion engines are now massively more efficient than when first invented, but this has not reduced fossil fuel dependency or net emissions.
  2. If this logic holds, it follows that the answer lies not in more efficient use of fossil fuels, but in eliminating their use by substituting renewable energy. Quite apart from the technological challenge this presents, there is also an economic problem. As renewable solutions are adopted, it drives down demand for fossil fuels, meaning renewables have to compete against steadily cheaper oil, gas and coal.

To add to the list of concerns, here's an article explaining why the growth of wind power could be an environmental lose-lose. Not only does it do nothing to reduce reliance on fossil fuel power plants, but it reduces the economic incentive for investment in nuclear power.