Thursday, November 27, 2014

Governments and Climate Change


Our present masters would have us believe that markets are the sine qua non of human existence. Conversely, they claim that government is the bane of human existence. They see its purpose as enslavement. It is, they say -- always and everywhere -- a threat to human freedom.

But history proves, Linda McQuaig writes, that markets have never developed new technologies. In fact, it has been government which has -- again and again -- supported their development:

In fact, virtually all previous major technological breakthroughs have started with heavy government involvement and financial support, notes technology professor Mariana Mazzucato in The Entrepreneurial State. Only after the state has made the initial, high-risk investments are corporations and venture capitalists willing to put their timid toes into turbulent water.

Mazzucato describes the state’s pivotal role in developing the computer industry, the Internet, nanotech, biotech, the emerging green tech sector — even the logarithm that was crucial to the success to Google.

“In all these cases, the State dared to think — against all odds — about the ‘impossible’: creating a new technological opportunity, making the initial large necessary investments, enabling a decentralized network of actors to carry out the risky research, and then allowing the development and commercialization process to occur in a dynamic way.”

And governments are critical to solving the problem of climate change -- because only governments can afford to nurture and develop green technology:

“Energy markets are dominated by some of the largest and most powerful companies on the planet, which are generally not driven to innovate …” notes Mazzucato. “Leaving direction setting to ‘the market’ only ensures that the energy transition will be put off until fossil fuel prices reach economy-wrecking highs.”

The truth is we already have solar-powered and electric cars that we could all be driving. Imagine if we also had a government that used taxes or subsidies to reduce the cost of a green car to about half the cost of a regular gas-guzzler, and ensured recharging stations for these green vehicles were as common as gas stations.

Imagine if we had a government that actively co-operated with other nations in addressing the climate challenge, and communicated to the Canadian public that it considered fighting climate change as big a priority as fighting Islamic State.

Of course, the Harper government has no intention of doing any of these things. Oil greases everything they do. And government, they say, is a dragon to be slain.


Lorne said...

Clearly, Owen, McQuaig speaks of some of the many inconvenient truths that the corporate and market mentality would prefer we not ponder. Thanks for writing about this.

Owen Gray said...

McQuaig has always punctured the hype, Lorne -- from the time that both she and Tom Walkom were student journalists at the University of Toronto.

mogs moglio said...

The plunge in the price of oil is happening dear readers faster than you think:

Now it is no longer equitable to keep the tar sands operational because it costs more than $69 dollars a barrel to get it out of the ground they need at least a $100 per barrel to stay afloat... A dead business...

Thank goodness:

"The US benchmark dropped $4.64 to $69.05 a barrel, although market business slowed by midday in thinning Thanksgiving holiday business."

And Libya who Harper oil boy wanted and did bomb the heck out of needs $184 per barrel to break even I guess Alberta is sunk.

Owen Gray said...

The plunge is oil prices will puncture Harper's dream of making Canada an energy superpower, Mogs.

mogs moglio said...


And puncture Harper's future like a flat tire ya know...