The Copenhagen conference was a bust and it's pretty clear that a cap-and-trade bill isn't going to happen any time soon. So what's the game plan for dealing with climate change and carbon now?
A coalition of three think tanks that span the political spectrum—the conservative American Enterprise Institute, the left-leaning Brookings Institution, and the progressivish Breakthrough Institude—have proposed a new "post partisan" strategy: Pouring tons of money into clean energy research and development. Rather than making dirty energy expensive, make clean energy cheap by funding new technology.
The new report calls for increasing federal innovation investment from roughly $4 today to $25 billion annually, and using military procurement, new, disciplined deployment incentives, and public-private hubs to achieve both incremental improvements and breakthroughs in clean energy technologies. The authors point to America's long-history of bi-partisan support for innovation.
This idea may well make a lot of sense. The amount of money we spend on energy-related research and development is pretty small compared to other areas.
David Leonhardt covers the idea for The New York Times and seems to like it. Ezra Klein acknowledges that this is the most politically feasible approach. And Bjørn Lomborg, the "skeptical environmentalist" happens to suggest something very similar in his column yesterday:
The shift away from fossil fuels will not be easy. Policymakers must prioritize investment in green-energy research and development. Trying to force carbon cuts instead of investing first in research puts the cart before the horse.
It sounds like a whole chorus of voices on climate change has somehow slipped into multi-part harmony: Forget carbon taxes; spend on clean energy research. The idea doesn't seem to have percolated through to the politicians yet, but it's unclear if the Republicans are up for spending money on anything right now, no matter what the American Enterprise Institute says.
UPDATE: As Christopher Mims points out in the comments below, there are prominent dissenters: Dave Roberts at Grist, Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Joe Romm at Climate Progress.