How Innovation Can Save Us From Environmental Catastrophe

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Thai woman talks on her cell phone while wading through the flood waters in Bangkok on November 7, 2011. The Thai capital is slowly sinking, and floods could get worse from climate change. (SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty)

On Monday, another grim piece of news emerged about the health of our planet. A massive ice sheet in West Antarctica has begun to collapse, perhaps leading to what could be a rise in global sea level of at least 10 feet.

But when it comes to climate change, not everyone believes that we're doomed, and one of those hopeful few is Robert Bryce, author of “Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong.”

According to Bryce, innovations surrounding the seemingly old technologies of natural gas, nuclear power and coal are they keys to future global prosperity, and eventually a cleaner environment for everybody.

Guests:

Robert Bryce

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman and Jillian Weinberger

Editors:

T.J. Raphael

Comments [5]

Jessie Henshaw\ from Way Uptown

It's a great idea to reduce demand, but the trick is if you reduce demand on one thing,.... you still end up using the money for something else... If you really follow the implications to the source on that what you find is the only way to reduce demand in a lasting way is to earn less, that's right, stop driving the economy to grow and grow so... we can increase our demands on the earth with out limit.

So, the true science implies the one and only "good" way to do that is to mimic what natural systems do, and that's to switch from quantitative growth to qualitative growth, when the latter becomes more profitable as a limitlessly sustainable way to live for an innovative society!

I have lots on my research journal, "Reading Nature's Signals"
http://synapse9.com/signals

May. 13 2014 03:44 PM
Jessen from Springfield, OR

In a way, this convenient line of argument seems like a re-iteration of ideas we've seen before from Lomborg and the Breakthrough Institute, addressed by CAP's Dr. Joe Romm. It would be interesting to hear his thoughts on the takeaway. He has also tackled Bryce's odd arguments about climate science in the past:
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/10/08/338766/robert-bryce-science-wsjscience/

All that aside, one problem is that energy innovation generally isn't something that has progressed very quickly. Despite changes in technology, the world's consumption has only exploded, along with the emission of fossil CO2 from a globalized economy. And despite the expansion of natural gas fracking and the off-shoring of much energy intensive manufacturing, the 'per-capita' American carbon footprint still exceeds China's. But it is convenient that we can export coal, point to our reduced emissions, and call it a day while betting the farm on the rate of future innovation.

The other problem is that humanity has never dealt with a potential catastrophe that involves thermal inertia and amplifying feedbacks. The best science suggests that avoiding greatly accelerated interglacial climate change, to which today's ecosystems and societies may not be so adaptable, we must be working on substantially slashing the rate of CO2 accumulation.

May. 13 2014 01:53 PM
Mike from Oregon

Seems like I've heard this all before: technical efficiency will fix the problems. Trouble is, by the time you fix today's problems for 7 billion people, next year you'll have 8 billion and the problems will be larger than today's fixes.

Science and technology always lag population growth.

May. 13 2014 12:59 PM
Lise from Portland, OR

Robert Bryce's contention that there is not enough land to put up enough solar panels doesn't take into account that there are millions of flat roofs. Decentralized power isn't popular because it doesn't make anyone enough profits, but it does make power. Nuclear waste is a serious problem and a human rights issue-- no one wants the waste anywhere near them and the nuclear power industry doesn't pay it's externalities. Here in the NW we hear daily about problems at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

May. 13 2014 12:55 PM

There is nothing better than wearing clothes or sleeping between sheets that have been air-dried on my backyard clothesline! The fresh scent of clean country air is the best, although my neighbors have not always agreed with this. I look forward to great laundry days - warm, sunny and breezy.

May. 13 2014 10:20 AM

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