James Bushnell has a nice little piece on why economists do not get super enthused about “zero net energy” or whatever we’re zeroing today.
I tend to agree with him, but as usual with my interactions with economists, I’m a bit more angled to think of policy in a political context.
Yes, mathematically and logically, if you want to manage carbon or whatever, it is always better (or strictly speaking, never worse) to optimize over a larger system than a smaller system. That is, it is better to have a zero-net-energy neighborhood than a neighborhood of zero-net-energy homes, and it is better to have a zero-net-energy country than a bunch of zero-net-energy states.
But one needs to account of human behavior.
- All politics is local. You can affect smaller things and you can see the effect of smaller things. This does not work for climate change, but … that’s what’s so hard about climate change.
- Bushnell points out that “zero promotes a fiction of self-sufficiency,” but I think he actually has it exactly backwards. People, Americans in particular, have a love affair with the fiction of self-sufficiency and that can be used to sell anything, including net-zero policies.