It is entirely true that we shall face problems as we pass through this all too brief life. So too is it true that some of those problems need to be solved by collective action. That though leaves us with the problem of which type of collective action? Some will say that government is necessary here and at times they will be right. Others will say that government is such a ludicrously inefficient way of doing things that they are very rarely right in so thinking – which is also true.
The interesting question is why is government so inefficient? One answer being that it’s slow, so very, very, slow. Take this about climate change:
Arguably, the world has never faced a greater challenge. The causes of global warming are so complex and pervasive, the process has been going on for so long, and the time available to reverse this trend is so short, that the goal of containing climate change may seem at times unattainable. The coronavirus pandemic, with its fear, loss and suffering, has only made this task even more difficult.
The challenge is indeed formidable. To overcome it, global leadership must be extraordinary. The economic and social transformation that needs to take place to set the world on a path to sustainable development and, crucially, to prevent the average temperature of the Earth’s surface from rising by more than 1.5C, demands bold and decisive action. Above all, it requires informed and inclusive leadership in the public and private spheres, from men and women alike – especially from women, whose role in this transformative process will be essential.
Well, whether we believe this or not isn’t quite the point. We’re trying to divine why government doesn’t work all that well, not whether climate change is true or not. And government has been working on this problem for a long time and from what they’re saying about it we’re only just getting to the point where they will:
For three decades, countries – or parties, as they are known under the convention – have debated and deliberated on the mounting threat posed by human activities to the stability of the climate system and, consequently, to the future of our planet. Progress has been slow, often disappointingly so.
Well, yes. Three decades then and not much has been done by politics so far. That’s their claim, not ours. If this was the only system we had available to deal with the problem then this would be sad but still government would be the solution – it being the only one possible. But is there another solution possible?
As with the point that Bjorn Lomborg was making in the 1990s. Solar had been falling in cost by 20% a year, was likely to continue doing so and if it did then by the 2020s it would be the technology of choice purely upon cost grounds. There would still be minor issues over intermittency, to be sure, but the basic climate change problem would be solved. If, of course, there is that problem that needs to be solved.
Which does mean that if this report is true then the climate change problem is solved. Solved by the invention of cheaper than fossil fuels energy generation and all we need do is wait. As the current generation of installations wears out they will naturally be replaced by the lower cost alternative.
That is, we’re done. No need to abolish capitalism, uproot the global economic system, build back green or better. The process desired is already baked into the price system. Of course, for some, that non-uprooting and non-abolishing will be a missed chance but for the rest of us we can now proceed to dealing with some other problem on our little list.
We could call this the technological solution, the market one – markets prompted by a bit of shoving perhaps – we could even call it the capitalist greed one. But, if we are to believe those claims about the prices of renewables then this other, not-government, system has solved the problem that government has spent 30 years girding its loins to try to even start dealing with.
Not-government being a more effective, at least faster, method of solving this particular collective problem that is.
The reason being that markets don’t require that buy in from the entire society. That takes that three decades. We could say it takes that long for the society to be convinced of the problem. Or that’s how long it takes the propagandization of the education system to produce a complaint populace. But we have here that evidence that it does take a generation.
A few folks playing with fume hoods and Cd/Te thin film vapour deposition on glass for a few years takes – well, a couple of years and the economic resources necessary to keep a few folks going for a few years. Solyndra may have lost $500 million of taxpayers money but their basic idea of economising on expensive silicon by focussing light onto it was a valid enough experiment. Until someone developed a new way of making the required purity silicon and the price dropped from $450 a kg to $20 a kg. We need a lab or three to look at Ge, In and also Ga doped silicon, not an entire country – what appears to have also been a dead end on that cost/performance basis. Chasing after the current fashion, perovskites, needs tens of millions, not the tens of trillion politics seems to be demanding.
It’s simply faster, better, cheaper – we can indeed achieve that impossible Holy Trinity of engineers at the same time – to use greed, markets and experimentation than it is to mobilise the entire population through politics.
If climate change is indeed a problem then it’s one that will be, or is, fixed by making non-fossil fuel energy generation as cheap or cheaper than fossil. The claim is that this has been done. Done by market processes working upon the required technologies. We have therefore solved the problem. Politics, on the other hand, is just about to gird its loins to get down to doing something about it.
Note that the logic doesn’t in fact depend upon the veracity of any of those individual statements. This is simply what we are being told currently. The correct conclusion to draw from all of this – all the different things we are currently being told – is what we should have known right at the start. Government and politics is a shitty way of solving a problem because it just does take a generation to raise the agreement that something must be done by politics and government. By which point the problem is solved already, d’ye see?