we should subsidize and encourage "carbon farming" or any practice where a person's trade is literally to convert CO2 into a compact disposable material. For example, a small, well-run algae farm might convert 2,000 tons of CO2 into oxygen and hydrocarbons every year.TPI rebutted in the comments:
Part of the purpose of cap-and-trade is to spur just this kind of innovation through market forces (i.e., the increasing cost of emitting carbon) rather than through having the government directly subsidize every potentially promising technology.However I was not satisfied. While TPI advocates "green" technologies that will reduce the carbon footprint of people in developed nations. I went on to discuss this directly:
I don't think I am a fan of reducing carbon emissions. Not just because I enjoy my posh lifestyle in my warm, Midwestern apartment, and not just because I drive a gas-guzzling pickup truck, and not just because it would hurt the U.S. economy.What Plumer is suggesting is that not only is Bill Gates right that we need to more heavily fund far-future energy innovation, but we must also do things here and now to immediately decrease the negative impact humans are having on the global climate.
It is patently clear to anyone with a good search engine that the developing nations of the world are driving their economic and social development with coal. In China, coal planets open weekly, and in India a similar situation is occurring.
Indeed, in many developing nations, smoggy streets filled with junky cars is the norm, and the alternative is not exactly idyllic. Who am I to look down from my high horse of comfort and ease and tell people who barely get by that they need to do better, for my children's sake?
Obviously I agree with Bill Gates on this one. Investing in researching things that are once the stuff of science fiction has driven our civilization from cave-dwellers to shuttle astronauts. It's taken us from riding horseback to discussing horsepower. All the great technological discoveries of the last 200 years came from ideas tucked in the imaginative corners of researchers who stood at the frontiers of science and said "this isn't technically impossible, but would take a lot of years to develop" and then they started building a pyramid of scientific breakthroughs, block by block, and after 100 years or so you go from this to this. But it all starts with someone saying "based on bizarre phenomena X, I think someone could potentially do impossible task Y" and then competitive groups of researchers get busy turning equations on a page into a working device that can allow two humans to talk to each other even if they are miles apart.
This is why I shake my head at people that trash nuclear fusion. Have they forgotten how impossible nuclear fission used to seem? You go back 75 years, and you get these rogue physicists who think that by hammering a radioactive particle with neutrons it will fission into smaller atoms and spew more neutrons, creating a controllable chain reaction. And so some scientists believe this hocus pocus, talk a government agency into some R&D funding and 50 years later, nuclear power plants exist all across the globe.
But nuclear power wasn't invented in a bathtub "Eureka!" moment, nor are most breakthroughs. But the public acts like either scientists need cheap, instantly gratifying miracles or they should just give up the long-term research altogether.
Now, I'm not quite ready to cap, trade, or carbon tax my lifestyle away, and so I hesitate to agree with TPI and Plumer about immediate strategies to curb global climate change. But where I think we can all agree is the fact that researching radical new ways for humans to thrive on this planet (that coincidentally allow the rest of Earth's species to thrive as well) is an effort worth pursuing, and the governmental cynicism towards high-risk, high-reward research needs to wane.
(Plumer doesn't mention it, but it seems a little...subjective that Gates is advocating traveling wave reactors. The company currently researching traveling wave reactor technology is Terrapower, LLC...which is a subsidiary of Intellectual Ventures, the venture capital mega-company owned by many big names, one of which is Nathan Myhrvold, former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft.)