Bjorn Lomborg, the Disingenuous Environmentalist, is (with the generous assistance of the Washington Post opinion page editor) once again fighting against any tax or regulation that might inconvenience his buddies in the fossil fuel industry. But, perhaps out of character, Lomborg is also proposing a very specific global investment - $100 billion US - in alternative energy research.
This is probably a good idea, although anyone who is even slightly skeptical of government might worry about empowering politicians to try to pick winners when it comes to financing research and innovation.
Smart economists (clearly a group to which Lomborg has no affiliation) tend to agree that the best way to address climate change is to ask the market to do it. You put a price on carbon - a price that begins to reflect the unfunded damage that CO2 (and other fossil fuel pollutants) do to the atmosphere - and let entrepreneurs act on that price signal and seek the most efficient solutions.
But Lomborg is suddenly a socialist - suddenly an advocate for direct government control and investment. Fair enough: an argument can certainly be made that government should be supporting alternative energy research. Where, though, should those governments get the money? Should they take it from the foreign aid programs that Lomborg sometimes claims to defend? I think not. Should they take it from the beleaguered taxpayer whom Lomborg presumes to champion in this latest piece? He says no.
What about this: why not get the money from the most profitable industry in the world and - not coincidentally - the people who are actually creating the problem? ABC tallied the revenues of the top five U.S. oil companies a couple of years ago and came to $1.5 trillion. When you consider that Exxon Mobil, the big cheese on this list, is actually the 17th on the list of the world’s largest oil companies (the top 16 are in government hands and don’t show on U.S. lists), there seems to be a little slush to go around.
So, sure, take Lomborg’s advice. Spend $100 billion on renewable energy research - and fund the investment with an extremely small carbon tax. It would hardly be noticed at the pump and, according to Lomborg (admittedly, not really a reliable source), it might actually start moving us in the right direction.