We’ve all had our laughs about Al Gore’s energy-guzzling house in Tennessee and leaders of the green movement traversing the globe in carbon dioxide-releasing jets.  

More than mere hypocrisy, these failings are tacit admissions of a truth: In an advanced, highly technological society, most of us can’t or simply won’t live as if we inhabit a less sophisticated society. It’s impractical to take the slow boat when you can fly. If saving the planet requires that most of us adopt hunter gatherer lifestyles, I fear we are doomed. But we aren’t.

The challenge of global warming will not be met solely by dimming the lights. It will be met by something that may not lift many greenie hearts: entrepreneurship. A free-market environment is the best way to fight global warming because it allows entrepreneurs to create, and sell, new technologies. Just to name a few technological advances of the last 100 years, disposable medical supplies, plastics, air conditioning all have made the world a better place, and all make more innovation possible.

Human ingenuity, not pretending that jets don’t exist, solves problems. I’m only half joking when I say that, if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere really is going to kill the planet, somebody out there should start working on a carbon dioxide gobbling process. Come to think of it, somebody probably is. ‘Entrepreneurs are sub rosa,’ says P. J. Hill of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), a free-market environmental group in Montana.  Hill jokes that every time the price of oil rises to a certain level, technocrats get busy pursuing alternatives.

Myron Ebell, director of global warming and international environmental policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), says that there is evidence that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is, indeed, going up and that the earth is “a little bit warmer.” But, “This is not a scary story,” Ebell says. There is sufficient time for “clever people to figure out new technologies.”

One of the key obstacles to finding real solutions: government intervention, which is ever so warmly encouraged by most left-leaning environmentalists. Hill urges that government must not “step in and pick winners and losers” because the result is an inevitable rush for federal subsidies or tax benefits for programs that, in reality, promise little relief. Here think ethanol and wind farms. Nuclear power, which may actually provide solutions, is by contrast, widely derided by those in the technologically-hostile sector of the environmental movement.

While most people don’t want to live like cave men, they are interested in products that will help us conserve the planet and be good stewards of the environment. There is a market for such products and good products will not need government intervention to succeed. Many consumers, for example, prefer “fair trade” coffee, which carries assurances that it was produced under acceptable conditions. As long as this is a choice, rather than government mandates, this is a highly appealing idea.  

Many doomsday scenarios are predicated on the idea of stasis that people will continue to behave exactly as they do now; even as the world around them grows warmer, they will fail to adapt. But that is not how human beings behave.  If it were, much of The Netherlands would be under water. Inhabitants of that region began to build ‘artificial dwelling hills’ as early as 500 BC, until dykes began to be constructed in the 1200’s. There is no reason to believe that homo sapiens are any less sapient today. Human resilience will be the key to confronting the global warming challenge.

And what about my call for a machine or process to eat up the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?In the process of researching for this article, I learned that there are actually people at work on a process to alleviate carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. One intriguing theory, which may or may not be promising, it’s in the initial stages?is that releasing sulphur into the atmosphere will reduce carbon dioxide.

Imagining some space age device, I wondered how this would be done. Some have suggested a less avant garde way to get sulphur into the atmosphere: build more coal mines. Coal puts more sulphur into the atmosphere. Or maybe we should use more aerosol sprays? Aerosols were blamed in the 1970s when some scientists and prominent laymen including Isaac Asimov, feared that cooling, not warming, was the coming danger for the planet. Global cooling? Puh-leeze, not that again.