Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Today, friends emailed me almost completely opposite views on the future prospects of cleantech. From CNN, we have a bullishly 'anti-green' interview with EXXON CEO Rex Tillerson: "I don't have a lot of technology to add to moonshine," says Tillerson of ethanol.

From the New York Times, we have a very long piece by Thomas Friedman on the power of green as a "geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic" way for America to proceed.

From Tillerson, we get the unabashed champion of capitalistic pursuit of profits in oil tech. And based on Exxon performance, he runs that business very well.

From Friedman, we get some very compelling business, political, and environmental reasons to pursue green as a stratetic initiative. He is dead right to say that government must find a way to price the carbon emissions these fuels put into the air. But he totally, utterly misses when he states that: "presidential candidates need to help Americans understand that green is not about cutting back. It’s about creating a new cornucopia of abundance for the next generation by inventing a whole new industry."

I don't agree. I think the mindset that says that our present consumption in the First World is supportable going forward as an a priori to considerations of green and sustainability is dangerously wrong headed. Unless and until we can find replacement technologies that provide the same (or more) aubundance than dirty tech provides, it is NOT at all clear that green can mean no hard trade-offs or reductions.

It's really two problems: how to shift away from dirty tech and maintain an acceptable quality of life (not necessarily growing aubundance for the rich), and how to bring up the worldwide quality of living for the vast billions living in abject poverty without using those easy, dirty methods to get there. Of course I want more aubundance, but I suspect that cheap, dirty fossil fuels provide a bigger pie than sustainable, green practices. Maybe we must accept a smaller pie? I want my politicians brave and capable enough to see and communicate that to the American people.