Not the bomb

While we’re discussing parallels between the climate-change fight and the Second World War, here’s a more valid one from Andrew Sullivan:

Don’t conservatives understand that the best solution is for government to provide market incentives for new technologies, rather than trying to come up with the solution itself? Sure, some basic research support – but then leave it to the private sector to generate new ideas, and the market to see which ones will fly.

To decide which politician deserves your vote on environmental grounds…

Find out which politician is promising a Manhattan Project for some technological innovation. If you want real progress, vote for his or her opponent.

I think a comparison like that is useful for scale, but the parallel doesn’t extend beyond that. The Manhattan Project had a very specific technical end: coming up with a fissionable nuclear weapon the Allies could drop on some people. The environmental challenge is much broader, has no single obvious technical solution, and depends on a vast number of people voluntarily changing their behaviour, not meeting a specific military need. When Fermi and Oppenheimer and Feynman had a bomb finished, they knew they were done. This isn’t going to work like that.

Of course, I bet a lot of people not promising Manhattan Projects are still promising ethanol mandates and whatnot. Don’t trust them, either.

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