Mitigation, in other words, must seem lucrative on a case-by-case, rather than a collective, basis. Apparently it does, to some extent. Venture capitalists risked $1.6 billion on clean energy technologies in 2005, according Environmental Entrepreneurs, a group of business professionals who promote enterprise that is both economically and environmentally sound. That figure represents a 43 percent increase over 2004 and ranks the clean technology industry sixth among venture capital recipients. In addition, some of the world’s largest multi-national corporations cut emissions by up to 70 percent in 2004 for individual savings in the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a report by The Climate Group, a non-profit that pushes for business and governmental response to climate change. To quote Duncan: “Business seems to be buzzing with green activity.”
Indeed, a special section titled Small Business, published by The New York Times on Sept. 12, saw fit to include two articles on earth-friendly start-ups. In one, the challenge is clear: green businesses struggle “because they must operate under constraints that less idealistic enterprises can ignore,” writes Jonathan D. Glater. In the other, the opportunity is clear: “So far, commercial demand has outpaced supply” for biodiesel fuel, writes Susan Moran. The stories’ combined message might be summed up in The Economist’s concluding headline, “Where to start: Technological and economic solutions to climate change are available. The problem is politics.”
Again, we must give Duncan credit for not mincing her words: “America is the key.” Her report attributes most of the drive for green business to government. If companies believe that the government will regulate and legislate so as to make emissions reductions and investments in green technology worthwhile, business will act accordingly. Kyoto led to a strong carbon market in the European Union. Though flawed by many accounts, this market created profit incentives that made reductions palatable to business. In April, six of eight major energy companies testifying before the United States Senate said they would accept a similar system. But so far, Congress has balked at mandatory regulation.
If America is the key, according to Duncan, it must lead by example. She recommends subsidizing early-stage R&D of green technologies to bring down prices, and instituting a carbon tax (or a cap-and-trade system, as exists in the E.U.). If America leads, Duncan reasons, the developing world (most importantly China and India) will follow.
But the future of mitigating climate change remains as uncertain as the science itself. Will businesses continue to take the initiative on emissions reductions and green technology or will government step-up and lead the charge? Duncan puts the question directly to George W. Bush: if Kyoto has become anathema to American ears, why not start fresh? Call it the “Crawford Convention,” she writes, referring to the ranch where the American president ostensibly enjoys the pristine beauty of nature.
At least The Economist is doing something about its footprints, however. In a small footnote, the editors claim:
“This survey, which generated about 118 tonnes of carbon dioxide from flights, car journeys, paper production, printing and distribution, has been carbon-neutralised through the carbon Neutral Company. The cost was £590; the money was spent capturing methane from an American mine.”