How to Incentivize Sustainability

The Environmental Defense Fund developed a market-based proposal to reduce the omissions of sulfur dioxide, the cause of acid rain. 

The first President Bush had promised the American people in his campaign to be elected that he would solve the acid rain problem.  And so when he got in to office I was invited to the White House by his counsel C. Boyden Gray and we talked about many subjects. But one thing that the Environmental Defense Fund was encouraged to work on was be a market-based proposal to reduce the omissions of sulfur dioxide, the cause of acid rain.  Here’s how it worked.


Companies were given mandatory targets to reduce their omissions by half, but they could do so any way they wanted -- through energy efficiency, low sulfur fuels, or scrubbers on the smoke stack.  And the kicker was if they managed to get even more than half of that production pollution reduced they could sell that extra increment to somebody else.  So for the first time there was a profit motive to do more than the law required.

The beauty of that was it brought down the cost of reducing sulfur so much that in subsequent years we achieved the 50 percent reduction at a small fraction of the cost that was predicted.  We had entrepreneurs inventing new ways to take sulfur out of the smoke stack at very low cost because there was profit in those new ways, but that also emboldened the government to set new goals for sulfur reduction in addition to that first increment of a 50 percent reduction. Then there was a second increment of another 70 percent reduction that has now been implemented.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
Surprising Science
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
Keep reading Show less

Project 100,000: The Vietnam War's cruel and deadly experiment

Military recruits are supposed to be assessed to see whether they're fit for service. What happens when they're not?

Flickr user Tommy Truong79
Politics & Current Affairs
  • During the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara began a program called Project 100,000.
  • The program brought over 300,000 men to Vietnam who failed to meet minimum criteria for military service, both physically and mentally.
  • Project 100,000 recruits were killed in disproportionate numbers and fared worse after their military service than their civilian peers, making the program one of the biggest—and possibly cruelest—mistakes of the Vietnam War.
Keep reading Show less

Here's how diverse the 116th Congress is set to become

The 116th Congress is set to break records in term of diversity among its lawmakers, though those changes are coming almost entirely from Democrats.

(Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Women and nonwhite candidates made record gains in the 2018 midterms.
  • In total, almost half of the newly elected Congressional representatives are not white men.
  • Those changes come almost entirely from Democrats; Republican members-elect are all white men except for one woman.
Keep reading Show less