Provide our scientists and engineers with the wealth they need to succeed.
For the last several centuries the world has changed, and humans have adapted. Science discovers, tech is created, and we adapt faster. But now thanks to CO2 and other earth-warming emissions, the climate may change faster.
Which means that we may have to adapt faster.
Which means that we may be more dependent on science and technology than ever before.
Which means that we may need more excess economic wealth than ever before.
I am purposely using the word “may” because no one really knows what the future will bring, the best we can do is forecast. However, based on what we know, it is a prudent assumption that the climate will change, the earth will warm, and we will have to adapt.
Which means that we require robust decentralized economies, fueled by free markets, capitalism, and good economic decisions. A proven recipe for creating excess economic wealth, required for advancing science and technology.
Unless one fervently believes that the world is in imminent peril, that climate change is an existential threat to humanity, complete with an arbitrary temperature tipping-point always about ten years in the future. If this is what you believe, nothing probably matters anyway; you will remain anxious, depressed, and angry.
I choose optimism. I have faith in human ingenuity and am confident that we will adapt to a warmer planet, that we will eventually stop the warming process, and perhaps even reverse it.
The only question is how best to do so. The quick answer being that no one really knows yet.
Climate warming emissions will continue to increase as developing countries modernize, as populations continue to grow. Perhaps these emissions will level off in a few decades. Perhaps global energy creation will be carbon neutral by the end of this century.
While many are convinced that we must convert from fossil fuels to clean energy ASAP, cost be damned, the more likely outcome is that we will be burning fossil fuels for some time, as it will remain the only affordable and reliable source of energy for much of the world for many decades.
It must also be appreciated that emitted carbon dioxide will persist in the atmosphere for decades, a fundamental impediment to reducing our impact on the climate in the short term. Just to stabilize the CO2 levels, global human related carbon emissions would have to drop to zero. Reducing the CO2 levels will require achieving this goal plus several more decades of time.
While the U.S. and some European countries have made progress in terms of reducing emissions, the easy low-hanging fruit was and is converting coal power plants to natural gas. The U.S. reduced its emissions by about 20% from 2005 to 2020, thanks largely to fracking.
Replacing natural gas power plants with solar/wind is a higher fruit to pick, a significant cost being the temporary storage of energy, while another cost is the required upgrades to the electrical grid. And for those days when the wind & sun do not cooperate, we will still require a parallel backup traditional energy generation system.
All of this will consume a tremendous amount of excess economic wealth, it is not simply a matter of printing dollars. While any energy system can be politically mandated, history tells us that unless it is less expensive than the alternatives, it will probably not be adopted. Especially on a global scale. If China and the developing world do not follow our lead, we may never reach the global net-zero emission goal.
Let’s not forget that humanity has other challenges. Excess economic wealth will have to be consumed to address global poverty, to cope with future pandemics, to transform developing countries to developed countries, etc.
And yet, I remain optimistic.
An essential requirement for a robust, wealth-creating economy is cheap, reliable energy. If we make poor economic decisions, such as prematurely converting our reliable electrical grid into something less reliable, or drive up the cost of energy for all, we will be economically shooting ourselves in the foot, reducing the creation of excess economic wealth, just when we need it the most.
Anything that reduces the creation of excess economic wealth is a problem.
Examples being excessive centralization, paying able-bodies adults not to work, distorting our economy with excess dollars, excessively high inflation, an inefficient education system, the excessive forgiving of debt, the subsidizing the wrong products, excessive taxation, etc.
Which in turn will hamper our ability to adapt to future climate change.
Fear-driven premature political “solutions” will almost certainly be overly expensive, if not outright incorrect, because as time goes by, our scientists and engineers, if provided with sufficient funding, will continue to make discoveries, will continue to advance technology.
Just as our scientists found a solution for Covid, I am confident they will find a solution for the world’s energy needs. Let them pursue all options, including nuclear, because once again, the future is hard to predict.
We cannot wait too long, but we do have the time to do this right.