The battle over climate change is more often than not pictured, especially by the liberal community, as an ideological conflict between idealistic environmentalists allied with the vast majority of the scientific community arrayed against a coterie of low-information obsessives ginned up into a frenzy by the fossil fuel community.
To the scientists and the environmental community the solution resides in overcoming the resistance of the fossil fuel industry, their lobbyists, and allied interests (Wall Street etc.) as well as the low information voter foolishly seduced by them. Once that is accomplished they seem to believe, we can march together into a fossil fuel free future with footprints low in carbon and cocooned with sustainable energy. In that way we can avoid the apocalypse those stupid greedy people are wishing upon us.
Alas, we may avoid the apocalypse, but probably not in any way that resembles that picture of the future.
What is wrong with that picture is that it assumes that the leaders of the fossil fuel industry are both blindly greedy and stupid. Greedy they may be, perhaps even blindly so, but stupid - they can buy smart.
It is a gross error believe that those who own and control the vast reserves of fossil fuels, estimated by some to be worth more that the combined GNP of most of the countries on earth, for no reason other than greed, disagree with the almost unanimous conclusions of scientists throughout the world. It would be just as wrong to assume that they believe the arguments of their lobbyists and hired consultants as it would be to think they believe in the truth of the advertisements they produce to sell their products.
It is equally incorrect to assume that these masters of the universe are, in real life, the same as those stunted trolls who haunt the internet or Faux News convinced of the truth of that stuff.
A business has two very important, if not all important, goals. The first is to maximize its returns from the resources it controls and the second is to seek new sources of revenues and profits.
As someone whose job it was at times to develop political strategies for corporations, it was not at all unusual to develop strategies to persuade the public, more often than not through use of surrogates, that a competitors proposal was unreasonable with the goal of eliminating that competitive threat along with the hope that eventually my client could acquire the competitors resources for his own benefit.
Look the current situation. The value of existing fossil fuel reserves are astronomical. At current value it has been estimated by some as greater than the GNP's of most of the countries of the world combined. The financial goal of those who control those resources is to extract every drop of value from those reserves they can, by whatever means they can. For this reason they seek the highest prices for their product that they can achieve without substantially reducing their market (OPEC approach). It is also to their advantage to destroy any competitor they cannot control or that would lower the value of their reserves (Koch brothers, EXXON etc. approach).
If this were all it was about then all well and good. It is a simple battle. Us versus them, good versus evil perhaps. If we win the world prevails, if they win armageddon, if not apocalypse.
Assume instead, as we must, that they, those in control of the reserves and those dependent upon them, are not as stupid as those who believe them. Then they also must know that not only are they risking the end of their enterprise, as well of every other enterprise on earth, but that end may occur before they maximize the value that can be extracted from their reserves.
So what does one in that situation look and plan for? It is simple really. It is a mechanism that allows them to continue to maximize the value of their reserves while staving off the apocalypse. Conversion to solar or other renewables is anathema to them as is most efficiency initiatives (Not all of them. Those that are slow acting enough that relatively high fuel prices can be maintained, they grudgingly accept).
In addition, in order to maintain control of the process and the solution, is is essential that the situation reach a crisis at which any solution they propose cannot be rejected (from their standpoint there is too much at stake for them to do otherwise)
I am sure one can come up with a number of options they could consider. The one solution that I assume being considered, has been hinted at in the various international conferences on climate change. "Respectable" scientists and engineers who will (if not already) profit from it and so-called, "independent" non-committed organizations (who one could assume already are) declaim that they believe human ingenuity can be relied upon to come up with a "technological" solution to the crisis before it is too late. Often it is followed by vague references to mechanical "carbon sinks" or other means to "scrub" excess carbon from the atmosphere (Big science, big engineering and big profits for the fortunate few).
I imagine that before any truly significant international action is done on climate change, the proverbial s**t will have hit the fan and the world will be at the verge of panic. At that time, a publicly funded, "Manhattan Project" solution could be proposed to develop the technological solution. Everyone will most likely rally around this. The "environmentalists" will because, if one reads most Diaries, posts, blogs, reports and the like on the subject, a strong number seem to hint that any solution that saves the world and has a minimum impact on our standard of living would be acceptable. It is similar to the emotion and rationalization behind the support of many otherwise rational people for most wars.
The "business" community will support it because in addition to the overarching panic, the huge contracts for research and development will go to private companies.
The financial community will love it because enormous sums of money would have to be raised and they would get their cut in fees (It may be even a better deal than privatizing social security).
The fossil fuel industry will like it because it is, after all, their program. The only thing they will concern themselves with is making sure the burden of the cost is not laid solely on their shoulders. They will argue that it is humanity's need and they should not bear the burden alone. Our governments will of course agree.
The "Manhattan Project," as can be expected, will produce a capitol intensive solution that ultimately will be privatized.
All of us will continue to pay to put carbon into the air in the form of the residuals of fossil fuel use. We also will pay for removing the carbon from the air. In other-words the ultimate goal of free enterprise will be within reach, the privatization of the air we breathe. But hey, we will still be alive.
The primary economic issue that affects this scenario, at least for those behind this approach, is can the system be managed to remain less expensive than alternatives or can the barriers to entry be imposed and maintained.
Alternative energy technologies have inherent problems, among them are they require entities to develop, manufacture and distribute them. Should the costs of these alternatives threaten the fossil fuel approach, they can either be bought out (as was public transportation during the march to the automobile-fossile fuel economy) or legal and legislative barriers can be raised to their entry into the market (Solar energy un-American?).
Am I being overly pessimistic or paranoid? Perhaps, but when the debate, among many scientists and environmentalists, changed from not how to prevent human induced climate change but how to deal with its effects, this scenario inched closer.
Is there another alternative out there? Perhaps, I am sure there are many other scenarios that can be imagined. I doubt they will be more realistic.
I originally thought that the new economic powerhouses of the world like China and India, because of the lack of significant fossil fuel reserves in their country, would resist and strongly move toward completely sustainable economies. China, however, has moved just as vigorously, perhaps even more so, into acquiring foreign reserves as they have moved into sustainability. Also their approach is based more upon their perceived need for energy independence than any climate change concerns. Also I suspect, when the dust settles, many of these "scrubbers" or whatever will either be located in their countries or owned or financed by them.
(Note: For those who argue that the "big science, big engineering" solutions are unfeasible or scientifically faulty or even ineffective, remember that in the drive for war rationality often disappears when faced with fear, expediency and profit)