On the New York Times’ environmental blog, Green Inc., James Canter posted an article entitled The Unintended Consequences of Climate Change Solutions. In this post, he cites a preliminary Dutch study [PDF] that highlights the “uncertainties” of alternative energies. For example, the report cautions against embracing biofuels and carbon capture too tightly because doing so might actually increase the emission of certain air pollutants, like nitrogen oxide in the example of carbon capture. The frenzy surrounding hybrids raises similar questions.
Each time a new technology is unveiled, it invariably causes unintended consequences. Take cell phones for an example – I never used to worry (and get frustrated) about dropped calls, poor reception, missed txt messages before I broke down and signed up for one in 2003. Despite these admitingly frustrating (and enraging, at times) problems, they are still more convenient than the oh-so-1990’s cordless land line. Simply put, cell phones succeeded because they solved the original problem.
We need to stay focused on solving the specific problem at hand – rising carbon emissions. Developing alternative sources of energy from biofuels and “clean” coal, have a place, but they are less about reducing carbon emissions than about preserving an fossil fuel-intensive lifestyle that requires little action by individuals.
As this article implies, there will be no panacea – we cannot simply buy a hybrid and rest on our laurels feeling oh-so gosh-darn proud of ourselves. Not only do we have to drive less, we have to encourage our neighbors to drive less, too. For example, when you go to the grocery store next time, ask your neighbor if he wants anything or if he would like to come along. Not only will you consolidate errands (thus reducing carbon emissions), but you might make a new friend too. And you betcha that’s an unintended consequence that Alexandrians should embrace.