The Difference Between Climate Change and Clean Technology Development


It seems to be very difficult to get the point across that there is a difference between mitigation of climate change and development of a clean-technology industry. Unfortunately, this confusion started with my colleague Jon Gillman who conflated the issues of climate change and clean-technology development.

The trap of conflating climate change and clean-technology development then subsequently ensnared PolicyMic Contributing Writer Martin Hyman in his response to Mr. Gillman. The first trap is when Hyman rebuts the “jobs vs. environment” point by referencing “beneficiaries of the stimulus bill." This is incorrect because the stimulus bill was designed as a means of creating jobs through development of new technologies and industries. It was not designed with any intention of managing climate change or impacting the argument that mitigating climate change will create or destroy jobs. In contrast, Gillman’s point was that environmental controls mean we export dirty jobs.

These arguments are not the same thing. Creating jobs through the development of new technologies is a result of policies that promote clean-technology development – the intention of the stimulus bill. Jobs that are exported because of pollution restrictions are a casualty of the fact that technology is not yet cheap enough to mitigate the pollution at home. They are the result of two different policies and unfortunately job export is happening because we have not sufficiently invested in the development of new technologies.

Hyman then deals with Gillman’s argument that businesses are able to export pollution. He subsequently discusses the costs to business of a carbon reduction policy, or as he states: “the people affected by business closings, higher energy prices, and so on due to environmental regulations.” It is more than legitimate to be concerned about the effects on people as we transition from a fossil fuel-based to a renewable energy economy. In any transition there is change, the calculus is that as things settle everyone will be better off. But in Hyman’s argument there is the implicit assumption that because we have figured out a regulatory or market solution to climate change, we will be able to implement that solution. This assumes we have developed the technology required and will be able to scale it efficiently and effectively.

This is incorrect and frankly dangerous thinking. Carrots and sticks will function as technology innovators in limited settings, such as in the successful Acid Rain Program of the 1990s. In that case the amount of acid rain-causing pollution was capped, and the industry was left to their own devices to find the most cost effective means of reducing emissions.

However, we are in a fundamentally different situation. We need to rethink how we operate our economy over a broad spectrum of industries and sectors. Carbon is everywhere and if we are going to eliminate it we need to have the technologies that will allow us to replace it.

This requires a program that spurs innovation in technology so that when we have a carbon or GHG reduction mandate we have the technological capabilities to comply with it.

Photo Credit: Dan Desroches