30 December 2008

2008: What a Year -- Bring on 2009!

Good riddance 2008.

It was a strange year, with many ups and downs for me professionally and personally.

I had knee surgery in January 2008, shortly after one of my largest long holdings, First Solar, took a nose dive. Then my Patriots blew a 16-0 season with a loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. I spent a lot of time in DC rather than home in Philadelphia, which kept me away from family too much. I tried to make change happen where change wasn't wanted and made some foolish decisions.

But I went to India, met some spectacular social entrepreneurs there and around the world, and spoke at conferences from Aspen to Salzburg. I had a poem in the American Poetry Review and did two phenomenal readings -- one in New York at the start of the year and at the University of Pennsylvania towards the end. And I got back to Alaska after ten years away, which renewed my soul.

I also built a team at Ashoka, where I was vice president for global development, and helped put together a major partnership with the Gates Foundation around entrepreneurial agricultural solutions in Africa and India.

Then I left that gig to start my own green energy investing biz. At the time oil was approaching $145/barrel and people were hot on the idea. In a matter of months, oil had shaved off 100 bucks and people began asking me "Does oil at 40 kill your start-up?"

A helluva year.

2008 was a year of adjustments, ambiguity, and ambition.

2009 will be a year of adjustments, ambiguity, and ambition, too.

What will be different?

For starters, I'm going to approach 2009 on my terms and with even more dedication to pursuing my idea.

I'm going to stay positive and focused and take the steps necessary to get this thing off the ground. Sure, I will make some adjustments to my portfolio, but I will keep focused on the long-term potential I know is there for clean tech, green energy, and energy efficiency. (And I'll keep trying to contribute to the excellent conversation going on over at stocktwits.com)

I'm also going to get both more global and more local, connecting with entrepreneurs and projects around the world, as I have in the past, but also more locally through things like Philly StartUp Leaders and other local networks.

I will keep trying to improve this blog, exploring the new green economy with a skeptical eye and a passionate heart.

Oh, and I'm going to find a publisher for my poetry collection, finally. (So if you're reading this, publishers, ping me an offer.)

2009 -- bring it on!

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24 December 2008

An Email from Santa, the Not So Jolly Old Elf

Two Christmases ago, I published this email from Santa, which arrived on the night before the night before Christmas. Readers had so much fun with it, I thought we'd share it again.

Enjoy! And Have a Happy Holiday.

Scott, aka The Green Skeptic

I received this email from Jolly, or not so Jolly St. Nick tonight:

TO: Global Warming Skeptics
FROM: Santa Claus
DATE: A few nights before Xmas
SUBJECT: My Christmas List

This is Santa, writing from the North Pole. Soon I'll be gathering all the toys for all the good little girls and boys and packing them in my sleigh to begin our journey, our night of nights.

The reindeer, however, are starting to complain about hoof-rot. Apparently, they've been standing around in too much slush. This has put me in a decidedly prickly mood this Christmas.

You know me; I'm not a single-issue guy. I believe that as long as you are good, and I mean good for goodness' sake, you deserve some slack on the other stuff. I'm an equal opportunity distributor. I know whether you've been bad or good or just plain evil. You also know I'm not one to discriminate against one group of people or another, believers or non-believers.

But this year is different. This year, I'm making a few changes to my list. I'm checking it twice and have decided that the naughty include any one of you out there who do not believe in global warming. All you climate change skeptics out there, you are on the naughty list this year.

Oh, you know who you are. And I've got one special gift for you: Nothing but COAL. You like the stuff so much -- and it's such a big part of what's leading to climate change -- you might as well have bags and bags of it and nothing more.

Make no mistake. Global warming is happening. You don't have to show me any scientific reports, although some nifty ones have shown up in my email box lately, sent to me from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

No, you don't have to convince me; I'm a believer. All I have to do is look out my window to my back yard, what's left of it! It's a soupy mess out there.

We usually have a good bit of ice up here at the North Pole -- and early. That's important, too; you see, every year the elves and I construct a temporary workshop up here where we make the toys and assemble the other goodies. The earlier the ice, the sooner we get started.

Although I have figured out a way to deliver the entire shipment of gifts on my list in one night, I still haven't perfected the manufacturing process. I can't speed it up. (Some of that I blame on the unions.) We need all the ice we can get up here for there is no solid ground.

But this year, the ice cover was the lowest it's been in almost 30 years. And at least one of those science groups studying this stuff tells me that, according to their models, by 2040, we'll have mostly open water up here. (They sent me this short animation clip, which sends chills up my spine: Arctic Ice Melt.)

Mrs. Claus has even started looking for Houseboats on Craig's List!

So, dear boys and girls, you better not pout or cry or whine or deny climate change any longer. And I'm telling you why: because climate change is coming to town. Time's a wasting. We need to do something about this now, before it's too late. Or before I have to move all of my operations to the South Pole!

Here's wishing a carbon-neutral Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

S. Claus, North Pole

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21 December 2008

Energy Efficiency May Be the Best Alternative...For Now

Energy conservationImage via WikipediaClean tech investments have been hammered lately, driven down by the economic depression and demand-destruction prices for oil. Less green to spend; less incentive to spend it on green.

It will take a while to recover. And, even though the oil price spikes of last summer are a fading memory; people do remember the impact they felt.

But one area stands to gain from both the presidential turnover and shifting of focus to infrastructure to stimulate the economy: energy efficiency.

No, I'm not talking about Jimmy Carter's sweater and I'm not asking you to turn down your thermostat.

Rather, I'm talking about using technology so that your energy consumption is monitored, even transferred to when it is not peak; where so-called smart meters can help you regulate your home's energy consumption over the Internet. You may never have to adjust a thermostat or ponder whether you turned off this or that light again.

New technologies are needed, but also old technologies. As Van Jones likes to say, the tool of the new green economy is the caulking gun. Forget "Drill, baby, drill," now the mantra is "Caulk, baby, caulk"?

And best of all, it may in fact lead to job-creation.

As Stephen Cowell, CEO of Conservation Services Group, said, "A $3 billion investment in energy efficiency will immediately produce 50,000 jobs. The multiplier effect of lower energy costs could lead to as many as 100,000 additional positions, resulting from increased products and services that have become unburdened by staggering bills."

McKinsey & Company would seem to agree, according to a recent studied cited by Karim Salamatian, a partner and chief investment officer of Viresco International Capital Management. Salamatian reports that "US$170 billion in annual global Energy Efficiency spend for the next 13 years will generate US$900 billion in annual savings beyond 2020."

An added benefit, according to Salamatian, is that it can "deliver 50 percent of the CO2 abatement required to cap greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 500 parts per million.

But will the American investor embrace energy efficiency? Or will they simply ignore the issue for as long as we have cheaper oil? Only time will tell.

The important thing is to demonstrate how energy efficiency projects can make a difference, be implemented quickly, and to make money.

And this is true not just in the states, but in remote locations as well.

"In markets such as China, Vietnam and India," Salamatian recently wrote in FINalternatives.com. "CO2 emission abatement is an afterthought, so there needs to be solutions where it is a by-product."

In other words, the conversation needs to get beyond global warming to creating jobs, saving money, and building the future -- today.

18 December 2008

CF Partners in London to Launch Carbon Hedge Fund

Early in 2009, CF Partners of London will launch a new 50 million euro (USD$70.06 million) hedge fund designed to profit from volatility in carbon markets.

The CF Carbon Fund will be one of the first dedicated carbon hedge fund products of which I'm aware. Others will likely follow.

The Fund, according to CF Partners "adopts a relative value and arbitrage-based approach to trading carbon and the correlation of carbon with other global energy markets. It seeks to capitalize on pricing inefficiencies and dislocations in these markets."

The European Union's endorsement of climate goals stretching to 2020 may make the EU's emissions trading scheme a stronger investment, according to Michael Szabo at Reuters, who reported on the announcement in London this morning. And "recent volatility in commodities markets has opened shorting opportunities."

"To date in the carbon space the majority of the players from a fund point of view have been long-only guys," Simon Glossop, one of CF's founders, told Reuters. "That's been a workable model up to this year, but carbon has now become an asset class in its own right instead of a compliance tool."

The global carbon market, which has an anticipated of US$100 billion this year, allows companies to trade rights to emit greenhouse gases.

Carbon prices, which are closely linked to energy prices, have fallen nearly half from a peak price last summer of 29.69 euros (US$41.60), according to Reuters.

Questions surrounding a new global pact on climate and uncertainty about future energy prices has made for a rocky carbon road.

"'The volatility around the market's policy risk is actually good for us from an investor point of view, so we encourage it,' Glossop told Reuters."

Glossop said that "the fund was investing in large hydro projects in China. The fund has a staff of 10 in London, with another employee on the ground in China originating deals." And the fund could grow to 250 million euros (US$350.3 million), but still needs to secure initial investment.

I'm unaware of anything like this starting up in the US, but president-elect Barack Obama's focus on a cap-and-trade program in the US could encourage development of such funds here.


CF Partners is a specialised environmental advisory and investments firm. The Firm’s strategic focus is on advisory, sales & trading coverage and fund management with a specialisation on environmental and global carbon products.

For more information: CF Partners Carbon Hedge Fund

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15 December 2008

Poznan Talks "Merely Adequate," According to EDF

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) reports on the Poznań climate summit:

EDF officials claimed the "overall results of the Poznań talks were 'merely adequate' and called on world leaders to work harder to reach a shared agreement to stop global warming before temperatures rise 2ºC.

"We got the bare minimum of what we needed from the talks," said Jennifer Haverkamp, EDF's director for international climate policy. "We got a clear mandate and timetable to go forward, but there's a lot to do and less than a year to do it. The wait-and-see game must end."

All talk and no action...I'm tellin' ya.

Since when is "merely adequate" acceptable? (Outside of US auto industry management, of course.)

Read more: EDF Reports on Poznań

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11 December 2008

Prez-Elect Obama Sends a Message: On Environment, Change

Dr. :en:Steven Chu giving a seminar at the :en...Image via WikipediaIf there was any question whether President-elect Barack Obama means to bring change to the way the White House handles the environment, he has answered.

Nobel laureate Steven Chu is apparently Obama's choice to head the Department of Energy as the prez-elect puts together his energy and environment team.

Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will be the nation's 12th energy secretary. He should be named next week, along with other key energy and environmental posts, according to reports.

Chu is an intriguing choice. He is not and energy insider, although he played a leading role in attracting a $500M investment from BP to establish a center for renewable fuels at Berkeley. And he is known for pushing the Lawrence Berkeley scientists to focus on climate change.

Some environmentalists are applauding the selection, as it signals that Obama wants to restore the credibility of White House science

Obama's environmental team will also likely include Lisa Jackson as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Jackson will be the first black head of the EPA and is known for her balanced approach to environmental and economic concerns.

Jackson is a former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and currently serves as chief of staff to New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine.

Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor for energy and the environment in the City of Los Angeles, will be Obama's pick for White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Obama is likely to tap liberal environmentalist Carol Browner for a new position to coordinate policy approaches to energy, the environment, and climate change. (Browner, an EPA administrator under former President Bill Clinton, has been an adviser on Obama’s transition team.)

What Obama's choices signal is a renewed emphasis on science, especially as it relates to energy policies, and a desire to make informed decisions about how to transform the US economy into a new green economy.

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08 December 2008

Review: CausedWired by Tom Watson

The best trend watchers are sharp observers of the present moment. They have a knack for assessing a trend as it's developing and making it come alive for the rest of us.

Think Tom Peters, Jim Collins, Malcolm Gladwell, Faith Popcorn. Now add Tom Watson to that list.

Watson, veteran consultant, journalist, and entrepreneur, gives us CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World, published last month by Wiley. It's an important book. Why?

Because what Watson analyzes here is a trend that will effect the entire non-profit sector and has implications for how change will happen in the future.

His premise and central thesis of the book is very simple: "New technology and the human urge to communicate will create the basis for a golden age of activism and involvement, increasing the reach of philanthropy and improving the openness of politics, democratic government, and out major social institutions."

He's right. Just look at the fully wired Obama campaign, the success of donor-oriented web marketplaces, such as DonorsChoose, kiva.org, and GlobalGiving.org, or the popularity of Facebook, MySpace, and even LinkedIn.

People are connecting in very real ways and through every virtual means, and they are getting involved and taking action -- even if it is simply sending a strange plant creature to your Facebook friends.

Tom has had first-hand view of this trend over the years, first as a journalist and later as a consultant and co-founder of onPhilanthropy,com. His personal reflections speak to a deep engagement in the sector, which lends color to this book and makes for an engaging read.

And this work is, as he quotes Ben Rattray, founder of Change.org, "...all about deep engagement--a lot of these viral campaigns, it's not just getting them to join, it's about deeply engaging them in the issues." The goal, Rattray tells Watson, is to "transform how nonprofit organizations engage with individuals, to improve the giving experience for thousands and thousands of people."

Another reason this book is important: this is truly cutting edge stuff. The sector, as Watson states in a late chapter, "is still being defined. It includes online social activism, nonprofit fundraising, wired social entrepreneurship, political organizing, flash causes, and digital philanthropy. It overlaps the larger worlds of organized charity and nonprofits, of politics and policy organizing, of consumer brands and marketing, even as it changes them."

And as the next generation of philanthropists continues to challenge the status quo and seek ways to be more engaged via non-traditional means, nonprofits need to become well-versed, if not downright sophisticated about this stuff. It is both an opportunity and a threat.

Tom Watson, however, provides an excellent road map of understanding about this new, wired (and wireless) approach to generating support. Anyone interested in the future of philanthropy should read this book, because the future has arrived.

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05 December 2008

Poznan: De Boer Says Serious Discussions About More Talking Needed

UNFCCC member countries (green) and observers ...Image via Wikipedia"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," is an old adage to be sure. But a new twist on it might be "All talk and no action makes for a dead planet."

I haven't been able to pay much attention to what's going on in Poznań, Poland, this week, the site of the 14th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Climate Change Conference. But checking in today, I hear UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer briefing the press on the fifth day of the Conference saying that serious discussions were emerging to launch the intensified negotiations needed to reach the 2009 deadline in Copenhagen.

Sounds like progress? Smells like more talk. De-boering...

Which brings to mind a twist on another expression, "Fiddling while Rome burns."

Many delegates were highlighting the need to move to a low-carbon society, citing the emission reduction range of -25 to -40 by 2020 over 1990 levels for industrialized countries, and asking these countries to show ambition and leadership with regard to these targets.

There was agreement that financial mechanisms, including insurance, can play an important role within a strengthened response to climate change, and that financial mechanisms for risk management in developing countries needed to be scaled up.

Parties were also considering how to increase funds for adaptation through the carbon market, with discussions focusing on extending the current 2% levy on mitigation projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to the other Kyoto mechanisms, Joint Implementation and Emissions Trading, Mr. de Boer said. He added that the inclusion of a limited number of Carbon Capture and Storage pilot projects under the CDM was also under discussion.

Here is a video of de Boer's statement:

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01 December 2008

Present in His Absence: Obama Poses at Poznan, Not

My friends over at Red, Green and Blue report that President-elect Obama is a big presence at the Climate talks this week in Poznan, Poland, even if he's not actually there:

It's the fourteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP14), and the fourth meeting of its kind this year.

"The pending change in American leadership is palpable in Poznan," writes Timothy B. Hurst of RGB. The "global climate conferees see the potential of president-elect Barack Obama ushering in a new era of U.S. leadership on the environment."

Obama didn't send an official delegation; after all, the US still has only one president, according to some. But Massachusetts Senator John Kerry did go to observe the 12-day conference.

President-elect Obama's plan is getting props at the sessions, according to Hurst and other reports.

"It's ambitious," Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate official said of Obama's target of slicing CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with a further 80 percent by 2050.

He'll have 11 months to work his magic on the global stage and hammer out an agreement that includes the US. The deadline for a new agreement to replace Kyoto is December 2009.

Perhaps Obama could even show up for one of these COP meetings.

Now THAT would send a strong message that change has come to the climate change stage.

Further coverage @: redgreenandblue.org

and http://tinyurl.com/6ng8oq