Public Utilities Reports

PUR Guide 2012 Fully Updated Version

Available NOW!
PUR Guide

This comprehensive self-study certification course is designed to teach the novice or pro everything they need to understand and succeed in every phase of the public utilities business.

Order Now

Horse-Manure Crisis

Freakonomics author Steven D. Levitt suggests science and market forces will eliminate the climate-change problem with minimal effort.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2007

that roughly 30 percent of the entire healthcare bill in this country would be devoted to polio. Between the time of that report and 50 years later, Salk invented vaccines, which now for 5 or 6 cents apiece are the solution to polio. The current share of our healthcare spending that goes to polio is probably one hundredth of 1 percent.

What does that have to do with climate change? I’m not a scientist and I don’t know what the answer is to climate change. But everything we know from the past and what I know from talking to scientists tells me technology is likely to be the solution to climate change.

If climate change is driven by carbon, how do we fight it? We put a lot less carbon in the air. That’s almost exclusively the way people are thinking about the problem now. We affect people’s behavior to produce less carbon either by putting taxes on carbon production, or switching to other kinds of energy that don’t produce carbon. That’s fine but it’s costly. According to the Stern Report, it looks like this approach will cost the economy about $7 trillion.

People are talking about sequestering carbon, putting it in the ground. That’s another idea. But there are also other ways.

I’ve talked to a number of top scientists, people at the intersection of science and business. One guy has two solutions to global warming that he can do for less than a billion dollars today. One of the ideas that has been floated, and I don’t know if it’s right or not, was published in Science, and the guy said we could put sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere, and that has a big effect on cooling the earth. [Editor’s note: See “People in Power,” February 2007, for Dr. Ken Caldeira’s views on this.] It doesn’t take very much sulfur dioxide. By current calculations, what you need are two garden hoses, one at the North Pole and one at the South Pole. If you could just stretch a garden hose to the stratosphere and turn on the spigot, that’s how much sulfur dioxide you need going into the stratosphere to completely reverse global warming.

How do you get it there? The guy in Science had a program that involved taking a bunch of airplanes to the stratosphere and dropping [the SO 2]. He concluded by saying it would be a very expensive solution, something like $7 billion. But if he’s right, it’s a thousand times cheaper than what the Kyoto Protocol suggests.

Other scientists have ideas about seeding clouds over the oceans, and ideas about shields. There are seven or eight different ideas, by credible world-renowned scientists, who believe they have pieces of the puzzle for solving climate change. And in each solution we’re talking about a few billion dollars, not a trillion dollars.

But the thing is, how hard have we thought about the technology? Not very hard. We’ve been thinking about it for five or 10 years. [Consider that, compared with] the amount of research that has