The academic highlight of my grad program was a directed research thesis with Boston College IS professor, Rob Fichman. Disrupting the Carbon Quo was an exploration of the role innovation economics can play for acomprehensive response to climate change. For a few months, it was myjob to get schooled in energy transitions, up to speed with climatescience, and comfortable with the notion of techno-economic paradigms.In the process, I built up a small “new energy” library, a selection ofwhich I’m featuring here.
A few months back, GLD Insider Walter Frick featured cleantech web resources in his post, How to Become a Clean Energy Infovore. So after you’ve munched on those, check out some of these books for adeep dive in climate science, the commercial response, and potentialeconomic impacts. The Prize and The End of Nature are next in my Kindle queue, what’s in yours?
Earth: The Sequel – If there is ever a Hall of Famefor the environment, Fredd Krupp will surely be an inductee. At times,he is controversial for his market-based proposals for environmentalchange, but it’s hard to argue with the Environmental Defense Fund’s results, which include a successful implementation (1990 Clean Air Act) of a cap and trade mechanism for sulfer dioxide, and demonstrable sustainability campaigns with Fortune 500 enterprises — where impacts arequantifiable, scalable, and margin-enhancing.
The Sequel is a great read for those interested in theinnovation half of innovation economics. After a solid overview of themajor factors that are suffocating the planet and which demand acommercial response (“A New Industrial Revolution”), Krupp profiles some of the most promising technologies that could disrupt the carbon quo.This takes readers from the Bay Area labs of Amyris Biotech; to theSydney “garage” of thermal solar pioneers, Ausra; to the Para state ofthe Brazilian Amazon, where the courage of a local ribeirinho —appropriately named Herculano — led to the creation of the Anfriziowatershed reserve (halting deforestation, one of “Today’s Solutions,”according to Krupp).
A Question of Balance – On to the economics half ofthe equation…Yale scholar William Nordhaus — a preeminent expert onclimate economics — picks up where Krupp’s rhetorical question leavesoff: “markets have failed the environment because they have failed toaccount for the cost of pollution.” Nordhaus accounts for the cost ofpollution — he pegs the current “externality” social cost of carbon atabout $30/ton — and the price of containing it, using the 2007 DynamicIntegrated Climate Economics (DICE) model, and then describes the results of various climate-response scenarios.
Those scenarios are laid out in detail in Chapter IV, and serve as an excellent primer for anyone interested in climate change policy. They include: business as usual (BAU); various CO2 caps; temperature risecaps; Kyoto measures; and ambitious targets of both the Stern Review and Al Gore. Which is the winning horse? Spolier alert! It’s BAU.Kidding, you’re going to have to read the book.
Nordhaus’ book reads like a 204 page research paper. He lets thefacts and figures make the case for his recommended climate changeresponse, with little (but some) editorializing. A Question of Balance is an incredible resource for policy wonks and for anyone looking forcredible, high-level frameworks which make the case for disrupting thecarbon quo.
The Past and Future of America’s Economy – Robert Atkinson largely inspired my thesis topic with his BusinessWeek article, Innovation Can Fight Global Warming. His book describes a theory of underlying techno-economic waves ofeconomic productivity; whereby creative destruction/disruption is notonly fashionable — its system critical.
The book is an excellent (though slightly longer) companion to the Energy Transitions article over at Encyclopedia of the Earth for understanding why we’re due for a fundamental shift in underlying energy infrastructure and technology.
Atkinson’s book is not about cleantech, per se. But its easy toapply the concepts he describes to the carbon quo: despite institutional resistance to change (think Big Oil), disruptive technology has thepotential to create a “web of interlocking products and firms producingthem,” creating ripple effects throughout an economy, leaving commercial causalities in its wake, and driving a new wave of growth. When youcouple these fundamental forces with the mounting pressure of climatechange and need for technology solutions, we could be in for a majoracceleration of the disruption.
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