Wednesday, February 27, 2008
ECON 260: Jeff Sachs on Global Cooperation in R&D
We are used to thinking about global cooperation in fields such as monetary policy, disease control, or nuclear weapons proliferation. We are less accustomed to thinking of global cooperation to promote new technologies, such as clean energy, a malaria vaccine, or drought-resistant crops to help poor African farmers. By and large, we regard new technologies as something to be developed by businesses for the marketplace, not as opportunities for global problem solving.
Yet, given the enormous global pressures that we face, including vastly unequal incomes and massive environmental damage, we must find new technological solutions to our problems. There is no way, for example, to continue expanding the global use of energy safely unless we drastically alter how we produce electricity, power automobiles, and heat and cool our buildings. Current reliance on coal, natural gas, and petroleum, without regard for carbon-dioxide emissions, is now simply too dangerous, because it is leading to climate changes that will spread diseases, destroy crops, produce more droughts and floods, and perhaps dramatically raise sea levels, thereby inundating coastal regions.
The National Academy of Engineering identified some possible answers. We can harness safe nuclear energy, lower the cost of solar power, or capture and safely store the carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels. Yet the technologies are not yet ready, and we can't simply wait for the market to deliver them, because they require complex changes in public policy to ensure that they are safe, reliable, and acceptable to the broad public. Moreover, there are no market incentives in place to induce private businesses to invest adequately in developing them.
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