Best way to fight climate change? Stop fighting

Workers install photovoltaic solar panels at the Gujarat solar park REUTERS/Amit Dave
Workers install photovoltaic solar panels at the Gujarat solar park REUTERS/Amit Dave

Climate change is a divisive issue.

Fossil fuel fans tend to deny it exists. Supporters of alternative solar and wind energy shout that the world will end if humanity doesn’t change course.

The stakes are high. Confrontation doesn’t appear to be helping.

So, why not just side-step it?

From the counter-intuitive science desk comes an intriguing new study out of UC Berkeley.

Researchers say the best way to move forward may be to stop cracking down so hard on carbon emissions, and hugely step up investment in clean alternatives instead.

“Most of the carbon pricing that has been put in place so far is very weak. It doesn’t do a lot to move things along,” Nina Kelsey, a Berkeley post-doctoral scholar, told Yahoo Canada.

“We’re less interested in deciding if a certain policy is good or bad. We’re more excited about asking, okay, if you want to tackle the climate problem, how do you build the coalition to get you there?”

Faced with a carbon fight that can only get nastier, these researchers are suggesting something nice: positive, full-on construction of clean energy.

“The question is getting to people who invest, because that’s how you build industries, and industries are how you build jobs,” she argued.

“How are we creating a world in which people are making money off of green industries, and finding jobs from green industries?”

In other words, people can’t buy green energy if it isn’t widely available. Until it is, carbon and nuclear energy will continue to power our world.

“Back when people were dealing with the ozone layer, the same people who made CFCs were also with the companies that ended up making CFC substitutes,” Kelsey noted.

“That business didn’t go away. It just started doing new things. I think that often can be the case in climate change.”

She also stresses there is no single energy renewal policy that will be appropriate everywhere on Earth.

“A lot of the places that have been most successful – California, Denmark – started with measures that built specific industries. The wind industry in Denmark is a product of policy that comes out of 1970s in response to the oil crisis. In California, we responded both to an air-quality crisis and the oil pricing shocks of the 70s.”

The thing about opposing something, if you think about it, is that whatever you’re opposing will inevitably oppose you back. That eats up a lot of valuable time, energy and resources.

On the other hand, simply moving ahead with a solution offers the full benefit of those same resources, without all the extra stress, effort and frustration.

“It’s probably politically easier to start with direct measures that build industries directly rather than trying to filter it through a very broad, shallow policy like carbon pricing,” Kelsey said.

“I’m a pragmatist. I think the real test of any approach is whether it gets something done. A lot of the thrust of our article is to say, okay, let’s get down to brass tacks.”