Biden’s New CEQ Climate Hire Wants to Make Climate Action Affordable

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

h/t Dr. Willie Soon; There is no even theoretically feasible engineering path to affordable renewable energy, but Biden’s new White House Council of Environmental Quality hire Jane Flegal thinks she can make climate action affordable and politically acceptable through innovation and clever politics.

“I am personally a little bit tired of both academic work and practical policy development that takes us at this point of entry, like how to design the optimal mix,” Flegal responded. “Because we just have enough empirical experience now to suggest that that often is not actually relevant to the political world.”

“And I’m not just dumping on carbon pricing here, by the way. I actually think this is true across a bunch of domains. And you said something really critical, which is, there’s a tendency, and this is definitely true in climate advocacy, to pit technology and politics against one another.

“You either are a techno optimist about the climate problem, or you think we have to shift politics,” she continued. “And I just think that whole framing is insane because they’re so deeply interrelated.”

Traditionally, policymakers approach climate challenges by asking for the optimal technological and economic solution, Parthasarathy said. STS scholars, by contrast, ask what type of technological solutions are needed to meet societal goals while being supported by the public.

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It is easy to identify what breakthroughs are needed. Solar panels which work at night or when covered with snow. Wind turbines which don’t wear out or ice up. Batteries which cost a lot less than the current storage cost of $30,000 / barrel of oil equivalent. A working, affordable nuclear fusion solution.

What is more difficult is identifying viable engineering solutions to these intractable needs.

The following was written in 2016 by Ross Koningstein and David Fork. David and Ross are experienced hard science Stanford PHDs and renewable energy enthusiasts, top scientists who were assigned by Google to solve the climate crisis. They dived into the problem full of unfounded optimism, only to have their hopes dashed on the harsh rocks of engineering reality.

Unfortunately, not every Google moon shot leaves Earth orbit. In 2011, the company decided that RE<C was not on track to meet its target and shut down the initiative. The two of us, who worked as engineers on the internal RE<C projects, were then forced to reexamine our assumptions.

At the start of RE<C, we had shared the attitude of many stalwart environmentalists: We felt that with steady improvements to today’s renewable energy technologies, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change. We now know that to be a false hope—but that doesn’t mean the planet is doomed.

As we reflected on the project, we came to the conclusion that even if Google and others had led the way toward a wholesale adoption of renewable energy, that switch would not have resulted in significant reductions of carbon dioxide emissions. Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach. So we’re issuing a call to action. There’s hope to avert disaster if our society takes a hard look at the true scale of the problem and uses that reckoning to shape its priorities.

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It all seems so easy, until you personally delve into the details.

There is a continuous stream of people like Ross Koningstein, David Fork, or now Jane Flegal entering the field, people who, for all their undoubted skills, have heads full of the mush they teach in today’s schools, lessons learned from professors who never pause to question their own wild opinions about renewables. People who seem to have no genuinely new ideas, but who are eager to dive into the problem, utterly convinced that a bit of innovation and direction and their personal genius can finesse society over the last remaining hurdle into embracing a broadly consensual solution to the climate crisis.

Good luck Jane. You are not the first, and you certainly will not be the last.

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via Watts Up With That?

March 5, 2021 at 08:33PM

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