What's Next for Climate Policy?

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Welcome to the Climate Next discussion.

We're tapping half a dozen innovative thinkers to move the climate debate beyond global treaties and cap-and-trade bills and to the wide world of policy options that haven't yet gotten their due.

It's time to break new ground. In a series of essays published over the next three days, we'll try to build a set of solutions that I think will look less like a climate fix and more like a statement of what industrial policy should look like in America. Outside the magic of a price on carbon, there have to be strategies for meeting the climate challenge.

So taking into account the political realities of our time, what can be done--particularly by US policymakers--to start solving the dual problems of energy poverty in developing nations and global climate change?

Perhaps the most radical suggestion is to move energy research into the national security realm, with the Department of Defense pushing for breakthroughs in wind power, carbon capture, and so forth. But other ideas abound. In the near-term, as many as one-third of the nation's aging fleet of coal plants could go (or be pushed) offline. This period of transition could be a key moment for the nation's energy system.

But new policies are going to be messier than cap-and-trade's easy fix for the market; the hands of people and industries will be visible in their creation. The questions of who pays what and how will be complex. The mechanisms will be many. But, really, did anyone think you could transform the world's most important system with a little tweak far upstream?

This series aims to broaden our thinking about what to do about climate change. We're rethinking the role of utilities and the government, coal and solar, developing nations and consumers. At the very least, we're getting some alternatives out on the table so that we can compare the dominant approach of the past decades with new thinking.

In the coming week, we'll hear from a broad cross-section of energy researchers and analysts with their own critiques and plans. From the Sierra Club's Michael Brune to the American Enterprise Institute's Steven Hayward, we've challenged these thinkers to offer up radical plans and to break from conventions. We can't say that's happened in every case, but small policy innovations can take on momentum just like technologies. Armond Cohen suggests that we focus on deploying technology that we already have so that we can learn by doing; we hope that we can test our policies the same way.

Leading us off will be Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, co-founders of the Breakthrough Institute. They've long argued that cap-and-trade was a political nonstarter. Here, they lay out their reasoning and offer up an alternative route forward.

This post was produced by Slate for the Climate Desk collaboration.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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