Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Beware of Simple Solutions to Complex Problems

Over at The Atlantic (here), Noah Smith offers what he labels an "easy" two-step solution to the problem of global climate change:
The way to save our planet is clear. Step 1 is to embrace natural gas as a "bridge" fuel, limiting the risks from fracking and helping China and other developing countries to switch from coal to gas. Step 2 is to fund research to ensure that the jaw-dropping three-decade plunge in solar power costs continues for two decades more. Natural gas is the temporary ally. Cheap solar is the cavalry that will ride in to finally save the day. 
I have just two points to make about Smith's proposed solution: (1) Neither of his steps is nearly as simple as he makes it sound; and (2) his presumptuousness about the potential of solar power is breathtaking.

Normally, I wouldn't even bother reading an article with a title like, "The End of Global Warming: How to Save the Earth in Two Easy Steps." In this case however, I thought it might be useful for making the pedagogical point that Lin Ostrom often stressed: simple solutions do not exist for complex, combined social-ecological problems. Those who offer simple nostrums as panaceas are not serious problem-solvers.

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