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2/26/2008
05:38 PM
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Technology And The Big Foot Problem

Michael Specter's article "Big Foot," in the current issue of The New Yorker, examines some common assumptions about carbon emissions and how technology is going to have to step on the gas to tackle the climate change problem. It's worth a close read.

Michael Specter's article "Big Foot," in the current issue of The New Yorker, examines some common assumptions about carbon emissions and how technology is going to have to step on the gas to tackle the climate change problem. It's worth a close read.Among the ground he covers:

The locavore movement needs scrutiny. Eating locally grown food isn't necessarily the most carbon-efficient way to eat. An agricultural researcher quoted in the article puts it this way: "... the relationship between food miles and their carbon footprint is not nearly as clear as it might seem ... People should stop talking about food miles ... It's a foolish concept: provincial, damaging, and simplistic.'"

Calculating a person's carbon footprint is "dazzlingly complex," and "personal choices, no matter how virtuous, cannot do enough" to halt climate change, writes Specter. Big reductions in carbon emissions, he contends, will come only when new technologies, prompted by financial incentives, and changes in economic policies, force it.

Apple understands this. After it came under heavy attack by Greenpeace for using toxic materials to manufacture its computers and iPods, "stockholders took notice" and Apple reacted by announcing it would clean up its act.

(Greenpeace renewed criticism of Apple in October, claiming that the iPhone contains chemicals harmful to the environment.)

The economist who heads the Chicago Climate Exchange, Richard Sandor, believes that legislation and financial markets can "stimulate inventive activity" and spark technologies that can result in environmental change:

"I absolutely promise that if you design a law and a trading scheme properly you are going to find everyone from professors at M.I.T. to the guys in Silicon Valley coming out of the woodwork. That is what we need, and we need it now."

Read the entire New Yorker article, "Big Foot," here.

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