Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 23 No. 2 (Spring 2009)


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The Coming Global Climate-Technology Revolution

Article Citation

Barrett, Scott. 2009. "The Coming Global Climate-Technology Revolution." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 23(2): 53-75.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.23.2.53


Emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases can be reduced significantly using existing technologies, but stabilizing concentrations will require a technological revolution--a "revolution" because it will require fundamental change, achieved within a relatively short period of time. Inspiration for a climate-technology revolution is often drawn from the Apollo space program or the Manhattan Project, but averting dangerous climate change cannot be "solved" by a single new technology, deployed by a single government. The technological changes needed to address climate change fundamentally will have to be pervasive; they will have to involve markets; and they will have to be global in scope. My focus in this paper is not on the moderate emission reductions that can be achieved using existing technologies, but on the breakthrough technologies that are needed to reduce emissions dramatically. The challenges are formidable. Indeed, it is possible that the revolution needed to dramatically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases will fail. Should the climate change abruptly, the incentive to "engineer" the climate will be strong. There will be a climate-technology revolution, but its nature will depend on the institutions we develop to address the challenge we face.

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Barrett, Scott (Columbia U)

JEL Classifications

Q42: Alternative Energy Sources
Q54: Climate; Natural Disasters; Global Warming
Q55: Environmental Economics: Technological Innovation
Q58: Environmental Economics: Government Policy


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