Reynolds on Geoengineering.--

Glenn Reynolds examines technological solutions to global warming:

[W]hat if we could reduce greenhouse gases without impoverishing the world? That would be worth doing anyway, because along with those greenhouse gases come all sorts of other nasty substances we're better off without.

That point is catching on, too. Even some environmentalists are already looking to nuclear power as, ironically enough, more environmentally friendly than coal, oil, or natural gas, and we'll likely see more such sentiment in the future.

But nuclear power is just a stopgap - as more advanced technologies like nanotechnology offer much greater prospects via solar energy and reduced energy consumption.

MIT's Vladimir Bulovic calls nanotech a potentially "disruptive technology" in the solar-energy field, offering a complete shift from today's fossil-fuel environment. And famed inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil projects the current rate of progress in solar power forward and argues, "The power we are generating from solar is doubling every two years; at that rate, it will be able to meet all our energy needs within 20 years."

Solar research is progressing rapidly, and recent research suggests that "quantum nanodots" may offer dramatic improvements, perhaps on the order that Kurzweil predicts. . . .

Ultimately, we're probably better off putting our energies into promoting cleaner, more advanced technologies like these than in trying to get people to reduce the scope of their lives through "hair-shirt environmentalism."

Hair-shirts have always had their fans, but have seldom been widely adopted. On the other hand, most people would like to lead cleaner, better, more efficient lives. Why not give 'em what they want, and help the planet at the same time?

A focus on cutting energy consumption with today's technology isn't going to make much of a difference. Let's work on replacing current tech with something better, instead.

Once the cost of solar power becomes cheaper than electricity generated by burning coal and oil (which might well happen within a decade), the carbon footprint of developed countries will begin to change dramatically. Even if solar power becomes cheaper than the alternatives, given that the cost of solar panels must be borne up front, ultimately the spread of solar power to the developing world will depend on how rich developing countries are in 10-50 years.

If technology is the best route to environmental progress, any environmental reforms that impoverish people are likely to be unhealthy to the planet in the long run.