Trucost Blog / 22 Sep 2010

Climate war: The economics of clean fuel will beat fossil fuel

New clean-fuel economics have the potential to see off the old fossil fuel economy – if given a chance.

The war over climate policy is being lost to the fossil fuel lobby and its PR army, first on scientific grounds and then in the economic sphere. Jyoti Banerjee listens to an interview with Eric Pooley of Business Week, who argues that the new clean-fuel economics will see off the old fossil fuel economy – if given a chance. A very big if…

Eric Pooley, a business editor at Business Week, has written the climate war, a thriller about the failure of climate legislation to be enacted in the us. His book blames the fossil fuel lobby and its PR entourage for holding back legislation through a doubt and dissension campaign. He also blames President Obama.

Recently, Pooley was interviewed by Francesca Rheannon of Writer’s Voice and the resulting podcast is well worth a listen. Here are three points i appreciated from it:

1) The fossil fuel lobby is fighting the climate war on two fronts at the same time: climate science and old-fashioned economics. By casting doubts on the science of climate change, the public is confused, and legislation is held up, watered down or stopped. The economics argument is all about jobs, growth and prosperity – can we risk these for the sake of an esoteric idea such as climate change? Of course, to us tech folks, this sort of debating position has a familiar feel: we call it FUD, for fear, uncertainty and doubt. It’s the basis of the defence employed by a large incumbent player about to lose a deal to a young fleet-of-foot pretender.

2) Pooley is clear that the Big Lie needs to be dealt with: that somehow doing stuff for the environment is bad for the economy. Fossil fuel drove the economic engine of the last hundred years, but it cannot do so any longer. It will have to give way to  a clean fuel engine which can drive growth for hundreds of years going forward. Clean fuel will spawn new industries, new firms and new jobs which we currently cannot even imagine. Just as buggy whip companies will never have been able to envisage today’s global automotive industry, or print media companies the digital opportunities that enable a single writer on the internet to be read by billions of people. Economists have a phrase for this sort of Schumpeterian innovation: they call it creative destruction.

3) Pooley’s solution is based on sound economics as well: take away the subsidy that fossil fuel enjoys by putting a price on carbon. Once, the externalities related to carbon consumption are incorporated into our day-today economic thinking and analysis, the opportunity for clean fuel will be unfettered.


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