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This essay puts forward the argument that without several revolutionary ‘black swan’ innovations, technological advances will need to be supported by strategic planning and a restructured energy market to tackle climate change. The current market ‘lock in’ of high-carbon energies and high cost of low-carbon technologies mean that the potential for new technologies to gain widespread adoption are highly restricted.
by Jack Hamilton, 24th March, 2012
‘Environmentalists are fiddling while Rome burns’. This is the claim of Vinod Khosla, the founder of Khosla Ventures, a venture-capital firm that is currently investing over $1 billion into low-carbon technologies in the hope that a ‘black swan’ innovation will be a key to tackling climate change. In Khosla’s estimations the green technologies of electric cars, wind turbines and smart grids will not be enough and rather there needs to be a ‘1000%’ change if the whole world is to enjoy the energy-rich lifestyle of the Western world. Until the green technologies are available at a price which is affordable in the developing world, ‘everything is a toy’[i]. Others maintain that existing technology will be sufficient if market factors facilitate its widespread adoption. Joseph Romm, the editor of Climate Progress, argues that the way to tackle climate change is through the ‘accelerated deployment of existing technologies’ in order to move down the cost curve more rapidly than a breakthrough[ii]. These two opposing views set up two fundamental questions: are advances in technology alone able to tackle climate change and if this technology exists why has it not been adopted?