Addressing global warmingI actually got this idea a while back in April when Thomas Friedman wrote a long article in the NY Times Magazine on "The Power of Green" (also a good short video summary there), arguing that America could build a great export industry around green technologies. But with Al Gore recently winning the Nobel Prize for his movie and work on climate change, it seemed like a good time to bring it forward (who knew those frozen northlanders, the Swedes, of all people, would be opposed to a little global warming?). Friedman points out that, on a global basis, even drastic measures in the U.S. will be negated by truly massive amounts of "dirty" and high-CO2 energy coming on-line in the developing world like China and India, primarily coal. He argues that what we really must develop are clean technologies that can compete with coal on a direct cost basis.
I think the technology will eventually get there, but in the meantime, it might actually make good sense to subsidize clean energy technologies globally so those 30+ year capital investments in dirty energy don't get made in the first place. One answer might be a tariff on imports from those countries that then gets invested back in clean energy in those countries - primarily nuclear (it would need to include a design and inspection regime to prevent diversion to nuclear weapons), but also clean coal and natural gas. It's one of those solutions that might actually get political traction.
Here's why developed nations like the U.S. might like it:
- Helps them have more time to adjust their local economy to globalization by increasing import prices.
- Fee on goods from places like China feels more like "their money" rather than ours, really a "voluntary tax" if you choose to buy imports. Politicians are not directly raising involuntary taxes.
- The money gets spent with our firms using high-tech to build the plants, stimulating our own economy via these exports.
A few caveats. As my regular readers know, I'm usually a free-market and free-trade guy. Yes, I realize this does create economic costs that have to be weighed up against the benefits. I also find much of the science and economics of climate change very controversial (it's quite possible we're better off adapting to it than trying to fight it). So I'm not really sure this is the right answer, but it does seem like one that is politically feasible (a critical criteria often ignored with all the talk of a carbon tax) while potentially having a large positive impact at a relatively low cost. And, of course, it has the potential to be a boom for the emerging clean energy technology industry in Houston...