Should the Federal Government Focus on R&D or Infrastructure? Time Has Run Out, so R&D It Is.

John Tomac

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

In the war against climate change, what should we focus on: R&D spending or infrastructure buildout?

This is an evergreen question, but here’s my answer. My proposal is that the United States should spend massive amounts of money on both these things. Practically speaking, however, that won’t happen. We’ll have to make choices. That being the case, I believe we should heavily prioritize R&D. There are two reasons for this:

  • To a large extent, we can push for green infrastructure via regulation. The brute force way is similar to CAFE standards in cars: we simply put increasingly stringent caps on carbon emissions, which would force utilities to move toward renewable electricity generation. Ditto for other sources of greenhouse gases.
  • More importantly, R&D is speculative and takes a long time to come to fruition. We need to begin an enormous R&D push now if we’re to have any chance of producing useful solutions in the next decade or two. We simply can’t wait to get started, and there’s really no way to get it going except via government investment.

Life and politics are always about choices and tradeoffs. It would be nice if we could get everything we want, but with our planet at stake it’s reckless to make plans based on that. We have to assume that climate funding is going to be hard to get and that we’ll need to set priorities. Compared to infrastructure, R&D funding is less partisan; more urgently needed; and has no other plausible sponsor than the federal government. For that reason, I would fight for everything, but strongly prioritize R&D if choices have to be made.

THE END...

of our annual funding cycle is fast approaching, on June 30, and we have a considerable $230,000-plus gap in our online fundraising budget.

If you value the nonprofit journalism you get from Mother Jones, and you can, right now is an important time to help us keep charging hard with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation.

payment methods

THE END...

of our annual funding cycle is fast approaching, on June 30, and we have a considerable $230,000-plus gap in our online fundraising budget.

If you value the nonprofit journalism you get from Mother Jones, and you can, right now is an important time to help us keep charging hard with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate