No innovation without regulation

President Bush had this to say about climate change tonight: To build a future of energy security, we must trust in the creative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs and empower them to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology. Our security, our prosperity, and our environment all require reducing our dependence on oil. ...

By , a former managing editor of Foreign Policy.
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President Bush had this to say about climate change tonight:

President Bush had this to say about climate change tonight:

To build a future of energy security, we must trust in the creative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs and empower them to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology. Our security, our prosperity, and our environment all require reducing our dependence on oil. Last year, I asked you to pass legislation to reduce oil consumption over the next decade, and you responded. Together we should take the next steps: Let us fund new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions. Let us increase the use of renewable power and emissions-free nuclear power. Let us continue investing in advanced battery technology and renewable fuels to power the cars and trucks of the future. Let us create a new international clean technology fund, which will help developing nations like India and China make greater use of clean energy sources. And let us complete an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases. This agreement will be effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy and gives none a free ride. The United States is committed to strengthening our energy security and confronting global climate change. And the best way to meet these goals is for America to continue leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more efficient technology.

It’s not clear what Bush means by an “international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases.” But nearly everyone I talk to about climate change says that binding emissions targets are the only way it’s going to happen. Not only that, but technological innovation of the size and scope needed simply won’t happen without those binding caps.

Don’t believe me? Consider this graph of patent applications related to the control of sulfur dioxide emissions:

What happened in 1970 and 1971, I wonder? (Disclosure: My father is a coauthor of the paper from which the above graphic was taken.)

Blake Hounshell is a former managing editor of Foreign Policy.

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