Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Infrastructure Investments and the Anti-Ducksqueezers

All the traveling I've done over the past few weeks has me a little late to this party, but The Economist has been hosting a noteworthy debate on its website.

The proposition around which the debate centers is that "we can solve our energy problems with existing technologies today, without the need for breakthrough innovations."

Arguing in favor of the proposition is Joe Romm of the Center for American Progress and arguing against it is Peter Meisen of the Global Energy Network Institute.

I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with both sides, and there are heaps of comments I feel tempted to make, but it's late, and I want to keep this short, so I'll start with one observation and gauge my motivation to make more when I wake up tomorrow.

Central to Romm's argument is the notion that there exists a set of forces that are holding back the deployment of existing technologies that would, in combination, transform our economy to a point at which we would avert climate change catastrophe.

He does identify some forces, and he does offer some seemingly reasonable deployment strategies, and I appreciate that he does those things, but I don't think he addresses one hugely important piece of the solution.

He prescribes what I will go ahead and oversimplify by calling investment in infrastructure, but he doesn't talk about mustering the political and/or cultural will necessary to actually lead governments, businesses, and individuals to make those investments.

He points to a set of solutions that I find reasonable, and he has me convinced that, yeah, if we're somehow able implement every solution in that set and implement to the level recommended, we will transform our world in a hugely positive way and, in the process, quite likely slow global warming to an extent that will keep it under control.

But I don't think it matters that I find the solutions reasonable or that I'm convinced.

What's important, I think, and what I think Romm (and everyone working on solving these huge problems) ought to start considering in a much more serious way, is how to convince the short-term-focused, ducksqueezer-skeptical* general public (a group that includes most legislators, corporate leaders, Wall St. investors, Fox News addicts, and minivan suburbanites, among others) that huge climate-focused infrastructure investment is in everyone's best interests.

We need people to agree that we ought to listen to Joe Romm and the people to whom Joe Romm is listening, and I don't think we're there yet. I think it's possible, but I think we need to start communicating more effectively. Simply. Elegantly. Inclusively.

Maybe this echoes back to previous thoughts about enlightenment, strategic persuasion, and the need to battle short term greed's manipulative creativity with equally compelling stories.


Any ideas?

Fire Al Gore as the climate change spokesman and hire Arnold Schwarzenegger?

*Note: In case anyone's confused, a ducksqueezer is a righteously energetic environmentalist. I read it first in a Neal Stephenson novel called Zodiac, and, while I admit that I've cooked this up on my own and not derived it from any reliable source, I think it refers to people that pick up oil-coated waterfowl and wring them out before releasing them to fly away clean and happy.