Salvation Gets Cheap
April 22, 2014
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which pools the efforts of scientists around the globe, has begun releasing draft chapters from its latest assessment, and, for the most part, the reading is as grim as you might expect. We are still on the road to catastrophe without major policy changes.
負責集合世界各地科學家的力量來應對氣候 變化的政府間氣候變化專門委員會（Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change，簡稱IPCC）已開始公布最新評估報告草稿。從大部分內容看，其描述正如人們可能預想的那樣嚴峻。沒有重大政策調整，我們依舊在走向災難。
But there is one piece of the assessment that is surprisingly, if conditionally, upbeat: Its take on the economics of mitigation. Even as the report calls for drastic action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, it asserts that the economic impact of such drastic action would be surprisingly small. In fact, even under the most ambitious goals the assessment considers, the estimated reduction in economic growth would basically amount to a rounding error, around 0.06 percent per year.
但有一項評估結果卻驚人地樂觀，儘管是有 條件的：這項評估研究了氣候變化減緩的經濟學。儘管該報告呼籲採取果斷行動限制溫室氣體排放，但它也斷言這種果斷行動帶來的經濟影響卻小得出人預料。事實 上，即使是依據評估報告所考慮的最大膽目標來加以衡量，估計這種行動對經濟增長造成的減少也基本上是可以忽略不計的，約為每年0.06%。
What’s behind this economic optimism? To a large extent, it reflects a technological revolution many people don’t know about, the incredible recent decline in the cost of renewable energy, solar power in particular.
Before I get to that revolution, however, let’s talk for a minute about the overall relationship between economic growth and the environment.
Other things equal, more G.D.P. tends to mean more pollution. What transformed China into the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases? Explosive economic growth. But other things don’t have to be equal. There’s no necessary one-to-one relationship between growth and pollution.
People on both the left and the right often fail to understand this point. (I hate it when pundits try to make every issue into a case of “both sides are wrong,” but, in this case, it happens to be true.) On the left, you sometimes find environmentalists asserting that to save the planet we must give up on the idea of an ever-growing economy; on the right, you often find assertions that any attempt to limit pollution will have devastating impacts on growth. But there’s no reason we can’t become richer while reducing our impact on the environment.
左、右兩翼人士常常都不明白這一點（我不 喜歡那些專家將所有問題都說成「兩方都錯」，但在這個問題上，這種說法恰恰就是正確的）。在左翼方面，你有時會發現，環保主義者強烈主張，為了拯救地球， 我們必須放棄經濟不斷增長的想法；而在右翼方面，人們常常斷言，任何限制污染的努力都會對經濟增長產生毀滅性影響。然而，我們沒法在增加財富的同時減少對 環境的影響，這是沒道理的。
Let me add that free-market advocates seem to experience a peculiar loss of faith whenever the subject of the environment comes up. They normally trumpet their belief that the magic of the market can surmount all obstacles — that the private sector’s flexibility and talent for innovation can easily cope with limiting factors like scarcity of land or minerals. But suggest the possibility of market-friendly environmental measures, like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, and they suddenly assert that the private sector would be unable to cope, that the costs would be immense. Funny how that works.
我還要補充一點。每次只要提出環境問題， 主張自由市場的人們似乎都特別地沒有信心。他們通常鼓吹自己的信念，認為市場的魔力會克服一切障礙——私營領域的靈活性以及創新才能很容易對付土地或礦物 質稀缺這樣的限制因素。然而，如果對他們說市場友好型環保措施，如對碳排放實行碳稅或碳排放限額交易(cap-and-trade)體系是可能的，他們突 然又會斷言成本巨大，因而私營領域無法承受。這種矛盾極其可笑！
The sensible position on the economics of climate change has always been that it’s like the economics of everything else — that if we give corporations and individuals an incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they will respond. What form would that response take? Until a few years ago, the best guess was that it would proceed on many fronts, involving everything from better insulation and more fuel-efficient cars to increased use of nuclear power.
合理的立場一直是，氣候變化經濟學與任何 其它方面的經濟學完全相同——只要我們給予公司和個人以減少溫室氣體排放的激勵，他們就會做出反應。這種反應會採取什麼形式？直到幾年前，人們的最佳猜測 仍然是，會在許多方面取得進展，包括提高保溫效果，更多節能型汽車和增加核電等等。
One front many people didn’t take too seriously, however, was renewable energy. Sure, cap-and-trade might make more room for wind and the sun, but how important could such sources really end up being? And I have to admit that I shared that skepticism. If truth be told, I thought of the idea that wind and sun could be major players as hippie-dippy wishful thinking.
But I was wrong.
The climate change panel, in its usual deadpan prose, notes that “many RE [renewable energy] technologies have demonstrated substantial performance improvements and cost reductions” since it released its last assessment, back in 2007. The Department of Energy is willing to display a bit more open enthusiasm; it titled a report on clean energy released last year “Revolution Now.” That sounds like hyperbole, but you realize that it isn’t when you learn that the price of solar panels has fallen more than 75 percent just since 2008.
政府間氣候變化專門委員會以其一貫不帶感 情的措辭指出，自2007年發表上次評估報告之後，「許多可再生能源技術已經顯示出了極大的性能提高與成本降低」。美國能源部(Department of Energy)願意公開展示出更多熱情，去年發佈的一份有關清潔能源的報告標題就是《現在革命》(Revolution Now)。聽上去有點誇張，但是了解到僅僅是從2008年起，太陽能組件價格已下降超過75%以後，你就會覺得這並不誇張。
Thanks to this technological leap forward, the climate panel can talk about “decarbonizing” electricity generation as a realistic goal — and since coal-fired power plants are a very large part of the climate problem, that’s a big part of the solution right there.
It’s even possible that decarbonizing will take place without special encouragement, but we can’t and shouldn’t count on that. The point, instead, is that drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are now within fairly easy reach.
So is the climate threat solved? Well, it should be. The science is solid; the technology is there; the economics look far more favorable than anyone expected. All that stands in the way of saving the planet is a combination of ignorance, prejudice and vested interests. What could go wrong? Oh, wait.
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