Friday, November 2, 2007

John Doerr's Call to Arms on Climate Change

Yesterday I attended a talk by John Doerr in which he issued a call to arms on climate change. This was essentially the same talk he gave at the TED and available here. Here's a summary of the talk, but I highly recommend you spend the 20 minutes it takes to watch him deliver the TED talk.

Doerr starts by recounting a dinner conversation on climate change in which his daughter tells him that his generation was the one that created the problem, so it was his generation's responsibility to fix it. So Doerr and his partners at Kleiner went about learning about the problem and what could be done about it. Doerr highlighted four major lessons they learned:
  • Companies matter: Doerr described the story of how how Walmart decided to go green and cut its energy consumption by something like 20% using a series of simple strategies (painting their roof white, installing skylights, keeping refrigerated food in a separate room). When much admired companies like Walmart take the green route, other companies are bound to follow.
  • People matter: People need to make green choices. Doerr described Walmart's big push in selling CFLs: 65 million sold last year with a goal of selling 100 million this year. But consumers won't go green until they understand the full cost of their choices. In particular, consumers need to understand that the CO2 they generate with their choices is not free.
  • Policy matters: Doerr talked about the impact that California's AB 32 and Brazil's national policy on ethanol are having. In the talk I heard (but not in the TED version), Doerr talked about how having the Energy Star standard has made household appliances much more efficient, but that the lack of energy standards for flat screen TVs makes those devices quite inefficient.
  • Potential of radical innovation: Doerr talked about the promise of synthetic biology. He described how synthetic biology was used to get bugs to synthesize the crucial ingredient of an anti-malaria drug, thereby decreasing the drug cost ten-fold and saving a million lives. Amyris is now using this technique to have bugs synthesize much more efficient biofuels.
But through all of this, Doerr had this refrain: "It's not enough". The magnitude of the problem is enormous, and seemingly large efforts at tackling it (by giant companies like Walmart, by millions of individuals making green choices, and by giant states and countries like California and Brazil) are just not going to be enough.

Part of the problem is China whose green house gas production is now comparable to the US and growing much faster. When asked about his CO2 policy, the mayor of a major Chinese city responded by saying that the West produces seven times more green house gases per capita than China. Why then should China stop its growth while the West continues to lead its profligate lifestyle? Why indeed?

Doerr ended with some things one can do. The most important of these seems to be to lobby Congress to pass some carbon cap and trade legislation (see my previous post on this).

All in all a very fine talk.


Ashish said...

Glad to see you publicize TED - I am a huge fan.

Speaking of which, one of the most gripping presentations I have seen is here:

Topic: Cassini and Saturn's moons, Our place in the universe.

Worth the 18 minutes.


Pandu Nayak said...

I'll make sure to watch the TED talk you reference. I have a special place in my heart for Cassini---one summer, many years ago, I worked on a demonstration of spacecraft autonomy on a simulated Cassini Saturn Orbit Insertion scenario. This allowed us to do a real spacecraft autonomy demonstration on-board the Deep Space One spacecraft.

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