29 March 2007

Social Entrepreneurs: Changemakers' "That Was Easy" Competition

Changemakers, an initiative of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, focuses on the rapidly growing world of social innovation. It provides solutions and resources needed to help everyone become a changemaker and presents compelling stories that explore the fundamental principles of successful social innovation around the world.

Changemakers has just announced the finalists for its "That Was Easy Competition: Leaders in the Young Changemaker Movement."

55 organizations led by young people all across the country participated in this collaborative competition hosted by Youth Venture and Staples, in collaboration with Changemakers, to celebrate the power of young people and to draw attention to the important and growing movement of young changemakers. Their entries reflect how the creativity and passion within young people are changing the world one community at a time.

Five finalists were selected by the Judges Panel for their outstanding impact, innovation, and potential. As a member of the Changemakers community, you are invited to vote for the Grand Prize Winner from one of the five finalist teams. Prizes include $1,000 grant for the winning venture, a consulting opportunity at Staples Headquarters, and $5,000 Staples shopping spree!

Visit Changemakers: That Was Easy from now until April 9 to cast your vote! The Grand Prize Winner will be announced at an Award Celebration at Staples Headquarters on April 27.

Post your comments, questions, and insights and be part of the change that matters. While visiting the site, create your own profile and start meeting other Changemakers today.

What are you waiting for? This is a vote for the future!

28 March 2007

Clean Tech: CNN reports on "Dirty side to clean energy investing"

Steve Hargreaves writes on CNNMoney.com about the increase in venture capital investments in the Clean Tech sector, which The Green Skeptic reported on last week: Investors. Hargreaves asks whether this is a good thing.

"Venture capital is sexy: The glamour of bringing a new business to market, the promise of big returns, the risk of losing it all," writes Hargreaves. "There's no doubt this fast money plays a big role in building the businesses of tomorrow - especially those in the burgeoning alternative energy sector, which has seen funding triple over the past four years.

"But venture capital investors often bank on a relatively quick payback, and have high expectations for the firms they back. Those expectations have sparked debate among renewable energy financiers: Is too much venture capital money a bad thing?" Hargreaves writes:
Venture capital flowing to renewable energy firms has surged to almost $3 billion last year from just over $1 billion in 2002, according to the data tracking firm Cleantech Venture Network.

"There's just a ton of money trying to invest in companies," said Matt Cheney, head of MMA Renewable Ventures, a San Francisco-based renewable energy finance company.

That's good for startups looking for cash, so long as they can become profitable relatively quickly.

The typical time frame for venture capital firms - which provide cash and provide management expertise usually in exchange for part ownership - is three to five years, according to one venture capitalist.

"Money doesn't have a lot of patience in general," said Cheney. "I'd say eight out of 10 of these operations don't go anywhere. And for those eight, it gets pretty ugly."
Read the full article here: CNNMoney

26 March 2007

Innovation: "Zero is the New Black," Godin Says

Seth Godin notices when things are changing. Today, he's picking up on the buzz going around New York and "No Impact Man":

"The richest and best-educated people in our economy are shifting, and pretty quickly. They're just as willing to spend money as they always were, but now it's not focused on fancy organic stuff at the Whole Foods Market or giant bulletproof cars from Germany or private jet travel. Instead, the market is trying as hard as it can to spend time and money without leaving much of a trace," Seth writes. "I think this story has legs and is going to be around for a long time. Zero is the new black."

Read Seth's complete post: Seth Godin

Check out No Impact Man's blog

24 March 2007

Global Climate Change: Gore's Proposal Makes Sense, says Washington Post

The Washington Post's Warren Brown, writing in his column to be published in tomorrow, says that former veep Al Gore's proposal to Congress earlier this week "actually made sense, especially on the matter of fuel economy and its relationship to global warming." And he offers a challenge to Congressional leaders on the issue, include Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

"Don't single out cars and trucks," Gore said, adding that carbon emissions from motor vehicles constitute "a slice of the problem," and not the biggest slice at that.

He went on to suggest that Congress abandon its habitual blame-shifting, responsibility-dodging approach to energy conservation. He asked his former colleagues to draft legislation that would require contributions from all Americans -- industrialists and retailers, politicians and consumers. Yikes! Gore even called for increased taxes on fuels via taxation of carbon content.

"That's gutsy and smart," Brown writes. "Gore's proposal embraces the reality that energy conservation is a two-part problem involving industries and their consumers. It recognizes that trying to solve the problem by working only one side of the equation, the industrial side, is doomed to ultimate failure."

The challenge, according to Brown, is for Congress to get beyond its usual wishy-washy encouragement of energy conservation and stop pretending that you can put the burden of carbon reduction -- or paying for the right to pollute -- on industry. He observes that Gore, as a "free man" not a candidate, can suggest such things as higher energy taxes, because he's no longer in anybody's pocket. This isn't the case for Boxer and others who, Brown asserts, practice a sort of "voodoo environmentalism."

By turning a blind eye on the consumer responsibility, in other words, Congress neglects to remember what their mothers taught them, that a burden shared is a lighter load.

Read Warren Brown's commentary in the Washington Post.

22 March 2007

Global Climate Change: "Just Call Me Al..."

Okay, I don't take back what I said yesterday morning about the need for Al Gore to pass the torch on the climate change issue -- the coverage about the politicization of the issue in the wake of his Congressional testimony has supported my arguments.

But, damn, if the Woodman hasn't drunk a bit of Bill Clinton-juice or perhaps Letterman and Leno have become his coaches. The guy was downright charming and funny.

Only he missed an opportunity to quote Ronald Reagan's "There you go again..." in response to his detractors!

21 March 2007

Global Climate Change: Gore on the Hill, Will He Hurt the Cause?

No one has brought more attention to the issue of global climate change than former veep Al Gore. He has been doing so for 15 years. His film garnered the attention of Americans and scooped up an Oscar for best documentary. His efforts even earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. And people have listened.

But on this, the first day of spring, as Mr. Gore prepares to testify before Congress, the skeptic in me is beginning to wonder whether he is the best spokesperson for the issue now, as we hit the tipping point.

Of course, I've said it before: it's hard to separate Gore the climate spokesman from Gore the Democrat. Indeed, I've complained that much of An Inconvenient Truth seemed like a disingenuous bid for a presidential candidacy. (I know he denied it at the Academy Awards, but there are many with a sneaking suspicion he will run again.)

And with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and now once skeptical Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-MI), leading the charge on the issue, it's beginning to take on a troublesome partisan patina. Troublesome, in part, because such partisan posturing could engender a backlash.

A recent National Journal poll found that only 13 percent of congressional Republicans say they believe that human activity is causing global warming, compared to 95 percent of congressional Democrats. Moreover, the number of Republicans who believe in human-induced global warming has actually dropped since April 2006, when the number was 23 percent.

This is troublesome indeed for those of us who believe that the science is confirmed and who want to turn the debate to solutions, especially economic opportunities that address the potential impacts.

Where is the Republican leadership on this issue? Sure there's the Governator, but I also think of Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD). Then there is Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who went to Alaska with McCain a couple of years ago and underwent a Saul/Paul conversion.

Arguably, there are many facets of climate policy that appeal to Republicans, such as increasing security through diversifying our energy supply and realizing the potential impacts of a new economy based around energy technologies.

What we need is for a bipartisan or non-partisan spokesperson to emerge and take the torch from Mr. Gore. Any takers?

19 March 2007

Energy: "The Future of Coal," US study calls for more investment in carbon capture

Last week, an interdisciplinary group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professors released their report on The Future of Coal, making recommendations about how the United States should use coal for energy.

The report, "The Future of Coal – Options for a Carbon Constrained World," evaluates the technologies and costs associated with generating electricity from coal, along with those associated with the capture and sequestration of the carbon dioxide produced by coal-based power generation.

The Green Skeptic recognizes that electricity demand in the US and the world (hello, China!) will require a mix and increase in all generation options (cleantech, coal, and nuclear) well into the future, coupled with increased efficiency and conservation. And that means coal will continue to be a major factor in power generation. But to do so, we must figure out a way to manage the carbon dioxide emissions from this high-impact source.

The MIT study, which is addressed to government, industry, and academic leaders, outlines the complex and interrelated technical, economic, environmental and political challenges associated with increased power generation from coal and options for managing its carbon dioxide emissions.

The report team, led by co-chairs Professor John Deutch, Institute Professor, Department of Chemistry, and Ernest J. Moniz, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, states, according to the MIT website, "that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is the critical enabling technology to help reduce CO2 emissions significantly while also allowing coal to meet the world's pressing energy needs."

Emma Marris interviewed the authors in news@nature.com: Future of Coal Interview

Download the full report: MIT - Future of Coal Report

Global Climate Change: Investors Press Congress in Wake of Warmest Winter

NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reported last Thursday that the combined global land and ocean surface temperature from December through February was the highest since records began in 1880. January's record warmth was primarily responsible for putting the combined winter temperature over the top.

Sources at NOAA confirm that the ten warmest years on record have occurred since 1995. After this winter, the next-warmest was in 2004, and the third was in 1998.

The combined temperature for the December-February period was more than 1 degree Fahrenheit above the mean 20th century temperature.

Such warming trends are heating up the debate around mandatory greenhouse gas emissions cuts and increasing the anxiety among investors, as we've reported in The Green Skeptic before. Some don't want their investments to be blind-sided by regulations that may be on the horizon, while other investors see opportunities developing in clean-tech and alternative energy.

Today, dozens of institutional investors, including Merrill Lynch, The Capital Group, and the largest US pension fund, the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) are calling on Congress to adopt strong legislation with tangible greenhouse gas reduction targets, according to Ceres, the coalition of investors and environmentalists.

The coalition asserts that setting mandatory emissions cuts will give investors confidence to invest more in low-carbon technologies, and other so called "clean tech" alternatives.

Cuts could also stimulate a cap-and-trade market for greenhouse gases, which investors see as an opportunity just waiting to be developed.

Last January, 10 companies that would find themselves regulated under such legislation, including Duke Energy Corp. and General Electric Co., called on Congress and President Bush to set a national limit on emissions that could potentially lead to as much as a 30 percent reductions over the next 15 years.

Investments in the clean tech category are showing signs of strength. In February, the Cleantech Venture Network reported that North American and European venture capital investment in totaled a record US$3.6 billion for 2006. This was a 45 percent increase over 2005 (US$2.5 billion) and double the 2004 investment of US$1.7 billion.

Companies asking to be regulated, hungry investors smelling opportunity, and venture capitalists willing to sink serious money into the arena. Clearly it's time to adopt mandatory cuts and stimulate this investment climate.

11 March 2007

Blogging: Green Skeptic Included in Green Gamma Search Engine

I received word last night that The Green Skeptic is now featured in Green Gamma Search Engine. Here is a bit about them from their web site:

Green Gamma is a search engine for green products and information. It is also a sustainable community for green minded people. Welcome!

If you search "Gamma" wave on Wikipedia here's what you'll see:

"A gamma wave is a pattern of brain waves, associated with perception and consciousness" and " Gamma waves are involved in higher mental activity."

There you have the genesis of Green Gamma. Green thinking is perceptive and involves a higher mental activity.

This isn't pompous thinking, it's simply a statement that if you are in Gamma mode, then you are not thinking of self and are conscious of the world around you. That's a good thing!

You can check it out at: Green Gamma

10 March 2007

Social Entrepreneurs: New Updates to Squidoo Changemakers Lens!

I've updated the listings in my Squidoo Changmakers lens for social entrepreneurs, including the new, fabulous Amazon Plexo! Now you can vote for your favorite books on social entrepreneurs, microfinance and more...

Take a look and let me know if there's something I should add: Changemakers on Squidoo

08 March 2007

Blogging: Environmental Sites Show Incremental Growth, says Compete.com

Andy Kazeniac from Compete.com informed me that they have completed their analysis of environmental websites and blog over the 13 months. Their finding? Although environmental awareness in mainstream media has been increasing over the past year it isn't necessarily translating into exponential growth for our sites.

In January, Compete revealed that "traffic to a few major environmental sites has doubled in the past five years, but the climb was not a steady one," accroding to Andy. "After that post, we received requests to look beyond the 'old school' sites, and that’s exactly what we did."

With the help of The Earth Blog, they compiled a list of 125 relevant environmental sites, including yours truly, and tracked their traffic as a whole over the past thirteen months. What we found was more of the same unsteady growth.

"A 15% growth in aggregate unique visitors over last January is certainly a marked improvement," Andy writes. "But with UV totals for this January just over 3 million for 125 sites, these aren’t Earth-saving numbers."

As one would expect, the release and now the Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth generated a spike on the topic of global warming. That said, cautions Kazeniac, "with an increase of less than 400,000 unique visitors, all the fanfare doesn’t seem to be producing a proportional move to action."

One hopeful note, Kazeniac says, is that the "sites appear to be getting stickier: this January saw a 25% growth in sessions and a 59% growth in page views as compared to the same time last year."

Read Andy's post on Compete

01 March 2007

Global Climate Change: Gore Energy Consumption Flak

Much has been made about the Drudge Report on Monday about Al Gore's energy consumption.

From the report: "Gore’s mansion, [20-room, eight-bathroom] located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

"In his documentary, the former Vice President calls on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home.

"The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average."

Brian Doherty, in Reason Magazine's Hit & Run blog, writes

"Is this sort of hypocrisy too cheap to meter, um, to take note of? Mmmaybe....Since [sic] Gore's whole deal is that civilization-saving absolutely and vitally requires an action on everyone's part that he seems to refuse to do himself, it leads one to wonder about how this whole global warming thing is going to play out with the public and with the government. (Unless Gore's house is powered completely or partially off a conventional coal-burning grid, which doesn't seem to be true based on Drudge's piece.)"

Jim Henley comes to Gore's defense (and the defense of Libertarian, free market principles) in Unqualified Offerings,

"Al Gore uses a lot of electricity. Al Gore buys carbon offsets. Libertarians who take anthropogenic global warming seriously - count me among them - generally favor markets in emissions over hard regulatory targets for individual homes and businesses. That way people and companies can decide to conserve or offset or buy unused capacity as they see fit, minimizing emissions while maximizing utility.

"Curiously, the 'free market' think tank that gives us our first link declares that Gore's free choice to use his own money to offset his family's carbon output makes him a 'hypocrite,' since he thinks global warming is bad."

An editorial in this morning's Wall Street Journal jumps on Gore, saying that he "is rich and fortunate enough to be able to afford the "carbon offset" for his energy indulgences. The middle-class parents who need a gas-guzzling SUV to haul the kids to soccer practice might not be so lucky. They might even settle for an unheated pool."

WSJ, which also features a good overview of carbon-offset options in its Personal Journal section today, has some nifty jibes, such as this one, which I will quote in full (because it'll cost you to read it online otherwise, even for us subscribers to the print edition):

We don't begrudge Mr. Gore his Tennessee spread or his pool, but his energetic energy use does underscore the complicated nature of modern economic life and the real costs of "doing something" about global warming. The pleasures of affluence take energy, whether they be relaxing in a hot tub after a long day of predicting the end of the Greenland ice sheet, or flying in a private jet to talk political strategy with Leo DiCaprio. You never know where you're going to leave your next carbon footprint.

God, that's brilliant writing. It's one of the things I love about the WSJ. (I wish I had the luxury of anonymity to be so pointed, barbed and tailored!) The truth is we free marketers love the concept of selling carbon credits and buying offsets. Why shouldn't the wealthy have the option to buy off their guilt? That's what surprises me about the WSJ editorial; the pot-shots at Gore are not the issue, it's not taking the concept to heart or the wallet.

Contrast this with apologists, such as David Roberts, who publishes some defensive "Talking points on the Gore pseudo-scandal" in Grist.

*It's nice to see the conservative media taking the message of conservation and energy efficiency seriously. Hopefully they will hold their own leaders and readers to the same high standards.
*The Tennessee Tax Dept. does not consider the "Tennessee Center for Policy Research," which roughly no one had heard of before this, a legitimate group. It's run by a long-time right-wing attack hack, and its only registered address is a P.O. box. Why is everyone in the media taking what it says about Gore's electricity use at face value?
*The Gores are not an average family. He's an ex-VP with special security arrangements, and has live-in security staff. He and his wife both work on their many business and charitable undertakings out of their house, so they have space for offices and office staff. All that would be tough to cram in an average size house.
Gore buys the maximum allowable green electricity from the program offered by his utility.
*Most of the electricity in TN comes from hydro and nuclear, and so doesn't generate all that much CO2 anyway.

But what the detractors and apologists alike seem to be missing is that Gore needs to be leading by example. Buying offsets and contributing to "green electricity" purchases by Nashville Electric Service is not enough for Mr. Global Warming. He needs to walk the talk and do more than offset his carbon.

Having never been to the Gore's Belle Meade home, I don't know whether wind or solar is a better option, but it seems to me that one or both should be installed at his estate. And what about geothermal? Is that an option outside of Nashville?

(WSJ also reports today about entrepreneurs in Hong Kong who have installed converters on exercise equipment to capture the energy units generated. Mr. Gore may want to talk to those fellows. It could have a dual benefit: he can generate energy for his PowerBook, while shedding some of the pounds he's put on eating on the road.)

Not sure what Gore can do about the private jet. I understand that flying in coach or even business class may not be an option for a former veep. But let's see him calculate his miles and buy some credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange!

Perhaps Mr. Gore needs to do a full carbon output analysis and disclose that publicly along with a plan for how he will relieve his carbon footprint. Lead by example, Mr. Gore.