Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus have assembled a coalition in support of R&D investment, to their great credit. Yet they claim a peculiar priority for that undertaking. "All questions, political and economic, return to questions of technology," they assure us. If only we could escape the vagaries of culture and politics so easily.
It's true that the world's energy systems are shaped by the relative costs of different technologies. But it's equally true that those costs are shaped by the distribution of economic and political power. Cost is a cultural artifact--the result of a contingent set of economic models, market regulations, political connections, and consumer habits--as much as an objective feature of technology. Dirty-energy incumbents have spent the last century rigging the rules in their favor. Efforts to change costs must attend to sociopolitical and economic reform as well as technological development.
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