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Sensible Policy

Sensible ________ policy. Readers may fill in the blank with whatever current issue is of high interest: scientific research, immigration, health care, economic development, jobs, climate change, space exploration, campaign financing, infrastructure renewal, etc.

Unfortunately, the adjective “sensible” may be misplaced given the degree of policy paralysis that seems to be the status quo in our collective governance.

Brightening my spirits, a recent article offers hope that “sensible” might actually be applicable to energy policy if we’re willing to take the authors’ advice (Nature 466 [July 15, 2010], 316–317).

The analysis starts with the twin recognitions that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is in the public long term interest and that technological innovation to solve such problems mostly occurs in the private sector.

How to take advantage of this recognition to affect public policy? Ask the Department of Defense to direct its immense procurement of energy products to promote innovative new technologies. 

The private sector, knowing that an eager, deep-pocketed customer is reliably available, will follow with a burst of innovation, much like it did with semiconductors and advanced materials in the years following World War II. Moreover, this strategy does not undermine basic research investments, mostly by the Department of Energy,  whose payoff may be years or decades away.

It sounds simple, perhaps even too good to be true. But the stakes are higher now than when the article was written because the U.S. Congress has walked away from its responsibility to put a price on carbon.

Posted In: Policy

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