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Monday, September 30, 2019 Leer en Español

Where Will Climate Change Solutions Be Found?

Is the private sector already solving the climate change problem?

Image Credit: UIhere by Creative Commons

Assume for a moment that man-made carbon emissions are a major cause of climate change and that a changing climate is both brand new and all bad. If private, profit-seeking entrepreneurs developed new technology that could suck carbon dioxide out of the air, would climate alarmists embrace it?

Alarmism Regarding Climate Change

I’d like to think so, but I have my doubts. For many alarmists, their cause has morphed into a cult. They read what they agree with and dismiss with a snarl whatever doesn’t fit their views. They seem to spend a lot of time spewing vitriol at those who ask embarrassing questions. Are you as astonished as I am at how often some of them try to shut dissenters up, much like 13th-century Inquisitors?

A former bartender and now socialist congresswoman from New York says the world will end in 12 years unless we ban fossil fuels and spend trillions on government projects. A splenetic Swedish teenager lectures us from the UN about the imminence of “massive species extinction.” One of my neighbors is convinced they’re right. “I’ve read the science!” he insisted to me in a casual conversation. I raised the names of two very prominent, well-respected, and credentialed authorities who disagree. What a pity. If our minds were more open we might take notice of some remarkable things already happening.“What about the views of these two particular scientists?” I asked. Answer: “Never heard of ‘em.”

What a pity. If our minds were more open—if we mustered more confidence in what free people can accomplish and learned to be more skeptical of bungling big government—we might take notice of some remarkable things already happening. Maybe we’re looking to the wrong people for the right answers.

The Washington Examiner published an article on September 25 titled “Forget the Green New Deal: The Private Sector Has Solved Climate Change.” It began with this intriguing sentence:

What if climate change could be fixed without destroying the fossil fuel industry and without putting the coal miners and natural gas frackers on the street?

You can read it here.

My first thought was, Oh my, if this is true, it will put the Cult out of business! The massive government grants that flow to one side of the climate debate will dry up. Many political demagogues will have to find an honest line of work. The sky will surely fall!

The private sector actually solving a big problem in America? How could that be? Isn’t big government the big problem solver, like in Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela? And like the Department of Motor Vehicles?

Promising Technology Developments

The article reports on some promising developments. One involves a company now testing a prototype natural gas power plant in Texas that instead of emitting carbon dioxide, uses it to run electrical turbines. It also “sequesters excess carbon dioxide for later sale to customers who can use the gas to create a variety of products.” It will soon be selling these plants on the market.

Another company, author Mark Whittington reveals, is working on its own version of such “carbon capture technology.” At Rice University in Houston, researchers have created a process that “turns carbon dioxide into a liquid fuel that can be stored and burned in fuel cells.” And in Finland, a company has developed an innovative process that extracts carbon dioxide and uses it in food production.

Whittington concludes,

The Democratic presidential candidates are ignoring real-world solutions to the problem of climate change while clinging to unworkable fantasy plans that have no possibility of succeeding or even being enacted.

Why on earth would they do that? Maybe because if the private sector solves the problem, those candidates won’t be able to scare you into giving them more power and money.

All this reminds me of a famous but now forgotten competition from 120 years ago when humans struggled with how to make men fly. Armed with government subsidies, Samuel Langley’s expensive flying contraptions plopped into the Potomac one after another. Meanwhile, on their own nickel, two bicycle mechanics named Wright solved the problem.

Entrepreneurs Are the Solution

This, in turn, reminds me of another seemingly insoluble problem 160 years ago: how to transport people and goods across the West on a train. Some people, including Abe Lincoln, thought it couldn’t be done without government doing it for us. So the federal government threw lots of tax money at three transcontinental railroads. They all went broke after sloppily throwing down track to collect the subsidies. Meantime, entrepreneur James J. Hill built his own transcontinental. It made money, never went broke, and never collected a check from Washington.

You can look to politicians, bureaucrats, and the subsidized for answers to big problems if you want. Not me. 

In the 1984 film Ghostbusters, four parapsychology cranks finally are tossed out on their ears from cushy jobs at a state university. Lamenting their predicament, one of them suggests going into business for themselves. Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) expresses his reservations this way: “Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities. We didn’t have to produce anything. You’ve never been out of college. You don’t know what it’s like out there. I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results!”

You can look to politicians, bureaucrats, and the subsidized for answers to big problems if you want. Not me. My money is on the entrepreneurs.

  • Lawrence W. Reed is FEE's President Emeritus, having previously served for nearly 11 years as FEE’s president (2008-2019). He is also FEE's Humphreys Family Senior Fellow and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Liberty. His Facebook page is here and his personal website is