Day: July 10, 2006

Policy is more Important than Science?

Excellent article in today’s Washington Post

A Dated Carbon Approach

You can even cut carbon using no technology whatever. Mexico City has reduced its output of carbon dioxide by almost 55,000 tons a year by opening one efficient bus route; the key innovation here was the creation of two bus lanes. The new buses run on diesel — not exactly a technological breakthrough. But because they are rapid and frequent, the buses have brought car use down and reduced emissions. So what matters is not just the technologies we have but the incentives to deploy them. The average Western European uses half as much energy as the average American, and that’s not because there’s more technology in Europe. Rather, Europeans have embraced anti-carbon policies ranging from gas taxes to emissions caps, from an absence of extravagant mortgage subsidies that encourage super-size homes to congestion charges for drivers in London and Stockholm.

Sing it, Cap’n Obvious, actually, it is not obvious to a lot of people. Politicians love “research” because they can turn around and say that they are doing something about a problem when all they are doing is postponing the discussion by calling for “new technology” to fix the problem. Scientists like this as well because this means money in their pocket. Research groups, be they in universities or in government institutes, perpetuate themselves by getting more funding to do more research, which leads to getting more funding to do more research while keeping an army of post docs, grad students, research assistants and professors gainfully employed. It’s kinda like reproduction, only less fun! It is a good system and a lot of good work gets done, but for a lot of questions, the answers are already there.

Policy level decisions require that clear cut choices be made, while they are NOT zero sum games, there are winners and losers in most of the decisions, and this current incarnation of politicians do not seem to want to make these kinds of decisions unless the winners are big companies (energy, pharma, healthcare, etc), rich people (tax cuts, etc.) or war.