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

26 November 2008

Review: The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones

"Our very survival will demand invention and innovation on a scale never before seen in the history of human civilization," Van Jones writes in his book The Green Collar Economy.

"Only the business community has the requisite skills, experience, and capital to meet that need...in the end, our success and survival as a species is largely and directly tied to the new eco-entrepreneurs--and the success and survival of their enterprises."

Jones has spent the better part of the past few years calling for "green jobs." A call that is fast becoming part of president-elect Obama's early agenda that may chart the course for his first term.

As founder of Green for All, Jones identifies what he calls "one solution that can fix our two biggest problems." Green jobs.

Jones has written an important book. In part because it puts his message of change and transformation into context as it relates to the great movements of social and environmental change of the last century -- while suggesting a path forward for change in the 21st century.

To Jones, green jobs can help transform our economy, put people to work, and create opportunity for those who have been neglected. He suggests that the new green economy can also help provide pathways out of poverty for many of the disenfranchised.

"That is good news for people who are being thrown out of work in the present recession," writes Jones. "That is good news for people in urban and rural communities who are suffering from chronic lack of work. That is good news for our veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. That is good news for people returning home from prison, looking for a second chance."

He also surveys the range of platforms for dealing with climate change, energy, and economic crises, including those of organizations with which he is involved, such as 1Sky and the Apollo Alliance.

Jones identifies a need for a "Green Growth Alliance" to be formed between the five main interest-partners: labor, social justice activists, environmentalists, students, and faith organizations.

Jones suggests we can't buy and drill our way out of this dilemma. "We can, however, invent and invest our way out," Jones writes. "Choosing to do so on a massive scale would have the practical benefit of cutting energy prices enough -- and generating enough work -- to pull the U.S. economy out of its present death spiral."

There are countless books out there about going green, and tackling climate change and energy issues. What's different about Van's book? Simply put, it is his message that economic progress and environmental protection can be joined with social equity issues to forge a triple-bottom line solution benefiting all three.

"The necessary solution," Jones suggests, is "a crash program in conservation and renewable energy -- so that we can save our ability to survive on the only planetary home we have ever known."

And with president-elect Obama calling for an economic stimulus that includes investments in infrastructure and energy efficiency, Van Jones's message may be getting its green day in the sun.

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25 November 2008

On Four Years of The Green Skeptic and Being Thankful

It's been four year since I created "the green skeptic" blog. A lot has changed in that short span of time -- and we have much for which to be thankful.

Despite the collapse of our economy, increasing numbers of poor people, and even more dire predictions of climate change crisis, we are on the verge of real change in the world.

I refuse to be pessimistic; skeptical, but not pessimistic.

I believe that four years from now we'll be on our way toward making lasting progress on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and creating jobs. We won't be all the way there, but we'll be making progress.

It will take us awhile to weather this downturn and craft a thoughtful and pragmatic response. But I believe we will get there.

And there appear to be many others who agree that the next great wave is a green wave.

It's just slow-moving right now, which is good; slow-moving waves tend to build stronger and conserve their energy for the shore.

Happy Thanksgiving. And thank you for reading.


20 November 2008

The New New Economy: This Caulking Gun For Hire

Silicone caulking can be used as a basic seala...Image via Wikipedia"Caulk, baby, caulk," exclaimed Melissa Berman, CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA), as she held up a caulking gun to close today's New New Economy conference in New York.

Caulking guns and energy efficiency haven't got this much play since Jimmy Carter turned down the thermostat at the White House and donned his peanut-colored Mr. Rogers cardigan on national television.

The conference, hosted by RPA, focused on investing in climate change solutions during challenging times. It was attended by over 400 investors, philanthropic advisors, foundation heads and philanthropists.

Van Jones, of Green for All, kicked off the morning in his inimitable style, at times poking fun at and exhorting the crowd, but always on target with solutions.

Jones makes green seem, well, fun and relevant, and yet still manages to communicate the gravity and urgency of the situation. Greens everywhere should study his style and delivery, as well as his message.

The American economy needs to be retooled, Jones said, from an economy based upon consumption, debt, and destruction to one based on production, thrift, and restoration.

"You might call it a new green thing, but my grandmother put it another way: 'Don't waste stuff.'"

Mr. Jones's sentiments set the tone for the day and ran like a thread throughout the sessions.

The three sessions I attended, on sustainable venture capital, carbon markets, and microfinance, all built on his three themes.

"Efficiency is key," said Diana Propper de Callejon of Expansion Capital Partners in the venture and private equity session. We need to figure out "how to pay people to conserve, to help utilities generate less and still make money."

Al Gore and David Blood (or "Blood & Gore," as moderator Stuart Davidson referred to them) closed the day's sessions speaking about their experiences at Generation Investment Management, the firm they launched five years ago.

Gore has settled into his role as climate statesman very well. And one can't help wondering where we'd be if the outcome in 2000 had been different. (Arguably, Gore has had more impact from his private sector approach than he would have had as president.)

Arguing for mainstreaming sustainability in all investing, Gore said, "There are a bunch of subprime carbon assets out there. If you or your portfolio manager have a lot of money tied up in subprime carbon assets -- lookout. They are about to collapse."

That comment sent the audience pulling out their iPhones and BlackBerrys. I'm looking for a bubble in caulking gun company stocks over the next quarter.

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19 November 2008

Global Entrepreneurship Week: Unleashing Ideas

I'm reblogging a post from Nathaniel Whittemore, the founding Director of the Center for Global Engagement at Northwestern University. Cool stuff.

This week is the first Global Entrepreneurship Week, a celebration of creativity, innovation, and inspiration designed to connect young people around the world and spark fires of entrepreneurship to solve big problems and create new opportunities.

Launched by Make Your Mark and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurs, the week brings together literally thousands of organizations holding events around the world. In the United Kingdom, for example, more than 600 partner organizations are hosting more than 3,000 activities.

The week is particularly focused on introducing the Millennial generation to the idea of entrepreneurship and enterprise. For example, events held yesterday included:

  • a debate called "In the Current Economic Climate, Can Entrepreneurs Change the World," as a part of ChainReaction,
  • a video conference about entrepreneurship and the Millennium Development Goals between Ghanian university students and California Polytech State University,
  • a debate about entrepreneurship and the local environment in Porto Alegre in Brazil

I'll be posting videos and commentary all week. You can follow along here or check out some of the main sites aggregating content from around the world:

  • Unleashingideas.org - the main site for Global Entrepreneurship Week, where you can see the full variety of activities happening around the world
  • the Kauffman Foundation's page for GEW, which includes "Daily Dispatches" with some of the most interesting happenings
  • the official Youtube Channel
Reblogged from socialentrepreneurship.change.org

Go to the original source: social entrepreneurship

More on Global Entrepreneurship Week here and here.

And a blog from Singapore: Connect the Dots

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17 November 2008

On Why Throwing More Money at GM and the Other Big 3 US Automakers is a Bad Idea

<span class=
The big three U.S. automakers are circling their wagoneers and SUVs and hovering over the bailout trough. And Democrats want to reward their labor votes by letting the big three feed off the TARP.

Even President-elect Obama, speaking on CBS News 60 Minutes last night, said we can't let the big three fail. At least he offered conditions.

"We need to provide assistance to the auto industry. But I think that it can't be a blank check," Obama told Steve Kroft. He wants an answer to the question "what does a sustainable U.S. auto industry look like? -- so that we are creating a bridge loan to somewhere, as opposed to a bridge loan to nowhere."

I don't think a sustainable U.S. auto industry includes GM. They've been failing for years, and their hubris, along with some bad negotiations with the UAW, have gotten them into this mess.

Bailing them out now will just postpone the inevitable. These dinosaurs are going to die -- in fact, they are already dead.

Other industries have gone through the restructuring offered by bankruptcy and emerged, why can't the auto industry? It's a viable alternative.

Why should we trust losers like GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, who told an industry trade publication that he won't offer to resign should he successfully scarf up some of the TRAP, er, TARP funds.

He won't resign? What part of failure doesn't he understand? They should make General Motors (GM) and Wagoner an example and let them go bankrupt.

GM has had a failure of imagination (except for self-interest) for more than half a century, ever since they destroyed the light rail and trolley car industry in the 40s and 50s.

Alfred P. Sloan, then GM president seized a great opportunity, "We've got 90 percent of the market out there that we can somehow turn into automobile users. If we can eliminate the rail alternatives, we will create a new market for our cars. And if we don't, then General Motors' sales are just going to remain level."

The documentary film film "Taken for a Ride" (1996) tells the story of that sordid affair in GM's history.

GM has never cared about us -- ever -- why should we care about them?

Oh, sure, I hear the whining about all the downstream jobs that may be affected by the failure of the big three -- one of which, Chrysler, is a privately held company. But, I've got news for you: the automakers don't give a shite about those downstream suppliers and parts manufacturers. This is about keeping business as usual going for as long as they can.

Mark my words, Wagoner and his cronies will take the money and run, just like they did when the Clinton administration created the taxpayer-funded $7 billion "Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles" to help jumpstart fuel efficient technologies capable of 80 mpg.

That effort was scrapped for the more profitable lines of SUVs GM and others cranked out when oil was cheap. (The government's own PNGV website devoted to that project is no longer live.)

And then there was the EV1, the subject of the documentary film "Who Killed the Electric Car?" According to the film and its sources, GM made a tremendous effort to erode demand for their own product and then killed it. Literally. GM allegedly took back every EV1 and disposed of them, a few ended up in museums, but almost all were found to have been crushed.

Wagoner, told Motor Trend magazine in 2006 that the worst decision of his tenure at GM was "axing the EV1 electric-car program and not putting the right resources into hybrids. It didn't affect profitability, but it did affect image."

Now GM has the Chevy Volt, FlexFuel SUVs, and are working on other hybrid technologies. They are making progress, but kicking and screaming the entire way.

Volt has so many issues
they will be lucky to get any on the road by the end of this decade, and its projected price will be out of the range of most Americans.

And with <$60 per barrel oil, I've seen more than one GM dealer pimping their backlog of SUVs again, with good terms.

They haven't learned and never will. They can't. Because the problems of GM have to do with 30 years of management mistakes that now has them having to grow for the sake of growing. That is not a winning strategy.

As Wagoner himself told Business Week in 2003, "We have a huge fixed-cost base. It's 30 years of downsizing and 30 years of increased health-care costs. It puts a premium on us running this business to generate cash. Our goal is to grow. We don't care who we take it from."

We don't care who we take it from. Now, that's a winning outlook and proof positive that we'll be throwing bad money after more bad money by investing in the future of GM.

It's time to let them go bankrupt and let the smart survive. And let's invest the money in a better car company made for the new green economy.

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13 November 2008

The Founder Factory: Where Phillypreneurs Came Together

I attended a very cool event today called Founder Factory at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia.

Hosted by Philly Startup Leaders and the MAC Alliance, the Founder Factory was a sold-out, one-day conference where wisdom from Philadelphia-area business leaders was shared with other Phillypreneurs.

Highlights from the presentations included successful area entrepreneurs such as Lucinda Holt, Steve Goodman, and Josh Kopelman.

Steve Goodman, the legendary lawyer from Morgan Lewis, offered an historical perspective of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Philadelphia area since he arrived in 1969, much of which he helped foster. Goodman did for Philly what Fred Wilson did for New York in his keynote at Web 2.0 in September.

Josh Kopelman, founder of Half.com and First Round Capital, assayed the current financial situation and looked forward to mid-2010, when he feels the logjam in venture funding will have to be deployed and things may start flowing again. He also used the example of some great world monuments many of which, including the Eiffel Tower and Golden Gate Bridge, were being built during earlier recessions.

His conclusion? Great things happen in the face of adversity. Just what many of us who are starting things now needed to hear.

Serial entrepreneur Lucinda Duncalfe Holt offered 5 things every entrepreneur needs to think about, focusing especially on people, flexibility, and execution. (Lucinda and Josh also had the best slide decks I've seen in a long time. The key: pictures, not a lot of text -- oh, and it doesn't hurt to have a liberal dose of Hugh Macleod cartoons.)

In addition to the stories shared by these and other entrepreneurs, they also offered feedback to three Philly-based startups in a "Fishbowl" setting, including search engine DuckDuckGo, DropCard, and GoBYO.com.

A fantastic event that, along with DreamIt Ventures, IgnitePhilly, and other recent events, demonstrates that there is something percolating in Philly.

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11 November 2008

More On What's Next for the New Green Economy

I've been thinking more about last week's panel discussion, "What's Next for the Green Economy?"

A few of the questions made me think about President-elect Obama and what he'll be facing when he takes office in January.

So I thought I'd try to answer some of the questions here and, in a future post, I'll offer my two cents to Mr. Obama.

Will a Green Economy rebound faster from financial turmoil?

I think it will, if only because the concerns that are driving the green wave are not going away anytime soon: dependence on foreign oil, stemming climate change, and high fuel prices.

(On the last point, while price per barrel is down in the mid-60s today; it averages out around $109 per barrel for the year. As energy analyst Gregor MacDonald points out in this post, the average price over time is more important for commodities like oil.)

Will consumers stick with Green during tough times?

Tough one. Depends upon how hard hit they are where they keep their wallets. The good news is, companies like Wal-Mart have already made commitments to go green and are making money at it.

It will be tough to maintain momentum if the costs of greener goods don't come down or if manufacturers stick to luxury green items. Overall, however, there are gains in green stuff like organic foods and some consumer goods, such as Energy Star-rated appliances. (TVs should see a bump-up, with the changes coming in the new year concerning the switch to digital signals.)

What is the next administration really facing that's not being talked about in the media?

How to pay for the huge transformation from old, dying economy to new green economy. You can't nickel and dime your way there, but with the War in Iraq (and Afghanistan) still going on and $700B bailout of banks and potentially more for automakers. Where ya gonna get the money?

Does America need a energy technology bubble just like the information technology bubble?

Yes. Bubbles can be good. As author of Pop! Why Bubbles Are Great for the Economy, has written, "the excitement of a new technology interacts with some of the more unstable components of America's character—boundless optimism, a tendency toward entrepreneurship, a tolerance of creative destruction, and greed—to produce a kind of mania."

We could use a little of that boundless optimism today. Dontcha' think?

When the bubble bursts, we'll be left with a new green infrastructure that will keep the new green economy going.

And it may just save our assets.

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09 November 2008

What's Next for the Green Economy?

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussing “What’s next for the green economy?” Hosted by the Eco Investment Club of San Diego, it was a lively discussion of great questions from an engaged audience.

With the financial markets in a tailspin (although they were getting an anticipatory boost that day) and crude oil prices also dipping to lows we haven't seen in some time, it was no surprise that "what's next?" was a question on everyone's mind.

My fellow panelists included Glenn Croston, author of 75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference, Oren Jaffe, co-founder of EcoTuesday, Jan Schalkwijk, CFA and Principal of JPS Global Investments, Ron Robins, founder of Investing for the Soul and author of the blog, Enlightened Economics, and Dave Iverson, a noted economist and environmentalist.

The questions ranged from investing to energy prices to the impact of the next administration on both. Here is a sampling of some of the questions:

Will a Green Economy rebound faster from financial turmoil?

Will consumers stick with Green during tough times?

What is the next administration really facing that's not being talked about in the media?

Does America need a energy technology bubble just like the information technology bubble?


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07 November 2008

Fuzzy Math? Some See Unrealistic Numbers in Obama 5M Green Jobs Promise

President-elect Obama has an ambitious plan to create 5 M "green jobs" with an investment of 150 B over the next ten years.

Under the current definition, green jobs include insulation and solar panel installers, wind-turbine manufacturers and green building construction workers, as well as infrastructure jobs such as those associated with the electrical grid and rail mass transit.

But some, according to the Wall Street Journal, are questioning the numbers in the plan.

And as Congress considers an additional economic stimulus package that may include green jobs, there could be even more debate -- especially from those most influenced by traditional energy lobbies.

"The green-jobs argument," WSJ reports, "rests on the notion that big capital investments in new-energy technology today will be more than offset by savings in reduced fossil-fuel costs. Though oil prices have fallen, the International Energy Agencyy predicted Thursday that once the economy picks up again, they will resume climbing, potentially topping $200 a barrel by 2030. The IEA called the current energy system 'patently unsustainable' and called for 'radical action by governments.'"

Some argue that 5 M is not a net number; that, in fact, some of these green jobs will merely supplant other jobs in the traditional energy economy or that green job gains will be "more than offset" by job losses elsewhere in the economy.

But whether we're talking 1, 2, 3 or 5 million jobs seems to miss the point.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, "private sector payroll employment has fallen by 1,825,000, or 1.6%, since October 2000, the month when unemployment began to rise." This is, according to EPI, "a slightly greater decline than in the 'jobless recovery' of the early 1990s."

The point is an influx of capital into potential job creation in a new and emerging sector is going to be a better stimulus than rescuing failed banks and promoting business as usual. And certainly a better idea than rewarding auto-manufacturers for their failed vision by bailing them out too.

"The added allure of clean-energy spending as economic stimulus is that the industry is relatively young and growing fast," writes Jeffrey Ball in WSJ. "Unlike the fossil-fuel industry, which has matured over decades, it is just starting to build its basic infrastructure -- wind turbines, solar panels and a more-sophisticated electric-transmission grid."

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05 November 2008

Mr. President-Elect, Bring On the New Green Economy, But Be Practical

Now that the election is over and Americans have selected Barack Obama as our next president, it is time to get back to work.

I'm not going to dwell on the historical heft of this event; many people have and will.

Suffice it to say that, regardless of your politics, you had to be proud to be an American last night. We are truly the land of promise and opportunity.

And it is opportunity that I hope President Obama will focus on when he takes office in January.

Now is the opportunity to transform our economy from one based upon greed, deception, and pollution to one of green, transparency, and solutions.

We heard a lot from both candidates about the new green economy, a new energy economy, during the campaign. Much of it was aspirational and not entirely pragmatic.

As he moves forward with his plans, I'd like Mr. Obama to live up to this statement from his speech last night:

"I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree"

It is time for us to get a realistic path forward for the new green economy, which is the best way to turn this economy around and move America forward again.

But it is important to take pragmatic steps within the limitations of the current economic climate.

We need real answers about how Mr. Obama plans to move this economy toward its green future. The goals he outlined in the campaign -- 5 million jobs and $150 Bn -- may not be realistic in the short term.

But in tempering his ambitious goals, I hope Mr. Obama will stick to his guns on going green.

It is important to our future that we have realistic, measurable goals and strong leadership at this time -- now more than ever -- especially on alternative energy, climate change, and overhauling the financial sector.

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02 November 2008

Review: Investing in Renewable Energy by Jeff Siegel of Green Chip Stocks

Book cover of Book cover via AmazonInvesting books are almost as tough to time as investments. Books are time-bound. What's happening when you write it will no doubt change by the time the book is published. The market may peak or collapse. Or the stock you recommend may tank. The company you featrue, as happened with VeraSun (VSE) this week, may go bankrupt.

Better to stick to the web for real-time recommendations and commentary (see my StockTwits post from a few weeks ago).

And investing books in an emerging sector in a volatile market are even tougher to time.

2007 was a banner year for alternative energy. The clean tech sector garnered more than $117 billion in new investments that year.

By January 2008, alt-energy stocks were imploding and pundits were crowing about the bursting of the next bubble.

Then all hell broke loose, the credit and mortgage crisis hit, the economy tanked, and the price of oil plummeted from its all-time highs.

October 2008 will go down in history as one of the blackest months on Wall Street.

What a time to launch a book, let alone a book about alternative energy investing.

But that's exactly what happened with Jeff Siegel, who, along with Chris Nelder and Nick Hodge, have just released Investing in Renewable Energy: Making Money on Green Chip Stocks (Wiley, 2008).

The good news is the authors run an investment advisory service that focuses exclusively on renewable energy and the organic and natural foods markets. You can subscribe to his service and e-newsletter at GreenChipStocks.com.

To their credit, they do print a disclaimer about the relevancy of printed media in an age of instant analysis, and suggest you don't take investment advice from the book without doing your own research.

That said, there is enough worthy and relevant information in this book to make it worth having on your shelf along with last year's The Clean Tech Revolution, by Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder, if only for the insights into the sector and the general knowledge about what to look for. (See my review of Clean Tech Revolution here.)

Messrs Siegel, Nelder, and Hodge do know the sector well and have thoroughly researched the various technologies, from solar and wind to geothermal and efficiency. They don't spend as much time visiting with companies as Pernick and Wilder did, but they do offer insights into the benefits and drawbacks of some well-known and some lesser known publicly traded stocks in the sector.

Their overall premise is that "green chip" investing will pay off in ways that blue chip investing once did. Recent Green Chip newsletters indicate they are still bullish on the sector, albeit with tempered enthusiasm over the short term.

"There is little doubt that the companies operating within this industry today," write the authors, "will ultimately become the dominant players int he overall energy generation and transportation mix of tomorrow."

Why? Because "our insatiable energy consumption and lack of conventional supplies to meet our growing demand," the authors write, "this is probably one of the safest long-term bets you can make."

I'd emphasize the LONG term in that sentence and, if you buy this book, make sure you subscribe to Green Chip Stocks as well to keep up on market conditions that will affect the overall profitability of renewable energy.

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28 October 2008

On Social Entrepeneurship in a Time of Economic Crisis

This evening I participated in a panel at the Social Entrepreneurship Forum at SUNY Purchase. My fellow panelists were Rob Katz from the Acumen Fund and NextBillion.net and Rex McKenzie assistant professor of Economics at Purchase and author of the PEB blog, and moderated by Leah Massar.

A good panel, and excellent audience participation.


One question that came up: Is now a good time to start a social entreprise? To that, I would answer with a link to this post by Y Combinator founder Paul Graham Why to Start a Startup in a Bad Economy. He was writing about start-ups, but much applies to social enterprise as well.

26 October 2008

On McCain, Obama, Energy & the Environment

(This post is the text from a talk I gave today at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in Philadelphia, as part of their Election '08 Forum.)

I've spent the past few weeks researching John McCain and Barack Obama on the issues of energy and the environment. I've looked at their published platforms, reviewed their speeches and debate appearances, and scanned the opinions of a gaggle of pundits.

And, after all that research, I'm reminded of a TV commercial from the 70s, the one with the French chef comparing margarine and butter. "There is no differ-ance…" he exclaimed.

Well, there's not exactly no difference between the two on energy and the environment, but the similarities outweigh the differences, with the differences mostly in the details and ideology.

Senators McCain and Obama have been talking the good talk in terms of the environment. And their focus on energy independence has, along with last summer's high gas prices, raised awareness about the need for alternatives, including wind, solar, and even clean coal and nuclear.

McCain and Obama both support a cap-and-trade system on greenhouse gas emissions, which uses a limit on carbon emissions to force reductions and provides emissions permits (or the right to emit CO2) to be traded between sources.

McCain would give away some of the carbon credits, while Obama wants to auction the credits off to the highest bidder. Both would use profits from the sale of credits for investments in clean energy technologies.

Both candidates acknowledge that "human-caused climate change is real and urgent," which has some expecting a sea-change in climate legislation, green energy investments, and leadership on setting a new global climate agreement.

Critics of Senator Obama say that he has not yet put forth any major legislation or initiative on the environment, while Senator McCain was the lead sponsor of the first climate change legislation, McCain-Lieberman, which called for mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

McCain is still a leader in this regard, calling for 60 percent reductions by 2050; Obama wants an 80 percent reduction in that same time frame, which is closer to the UN recommendation.

I'm not sure setting the higher target -- or even McCain's lower target – is feasible early in the next administration, so we may see them change their positions once elected.

On a number of issues, McCain and Obama have already backtracked on earlier positions. Obama originally opposed offshore drilling; he later embraced it when it was clear a majority of Americans were in favor. McCain has long opposed renewable energy tax credits, which provide incentives for renewable energy generation, but voted for them in the $700B bailout package. (His objection, apparently, is not to the concept, but the structure of the existing tax credits.)

Back in May, McCain said offshore drilling would have little impact on gas prices; by the convention he was chanting "Drill Baby Drill." Obama also initially supported subsidies for ethanol; in part, to please his corn-rich state of Illinois. He now says he would consider withdrawing that support if it proves to have negative impact on food prices.

Both candidates support drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska's Central North Slope – the 23 million acres set aside by President Harding in 1923 as an emergency oil supply for the U.S. Navy. And they both oppose drilling in Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge on the eastern end of the slope. (Governor Palin vows to "work on John" about ANWR, but I don't think she'll get very far with it – he's long been against this political hot potato.)

Surprisingly, Obama and McCain have both come out in support of clean coal technologies. This is something many environmentalists are strongly against and may be another issue where the candidates could reverse their position once elected. "Clean coal" has a lot of baggage – even within the utility industry, with its haphazard approach to exploring options such as Carbon Capture and Storage, Coal-to-Liquid conversion, and scrubbers for existing coal plants.

All three approaches are expensive, unproven propositions; environmentalists argue the money is better spent on renewables.

Then there is nuclear. McCain is calling for 45 new nuclear plants by 2030, with an ultimate goal of 100. Setting aside the unresolved questions about waste storage, which is an area in need of serious investment, in my opinion, this position is not without controversy. (McCain, by the way, supports the Yucca Mountain storage facility in Nevada; Obama opposes it.)

Energy analysts who have looked at McCain's goal think it wildly ambitious, given the costs to build such plants, permitting hurdles, opposition, and the time frame for construction. Obama is willing to consider nuclear as part of the mix, but wants to emphasize renewables.

Obama is equally ambitious when he claims "we can create 5 million new jobs, easily," if we subscribe to his proposed investment of $150B over ten years in clean energy and infrastructure. A worthy goal and one that is not without some research to back it up. But I'm not sure how this can be paid for, especially with recently high levels of government spending associated with the "Surge" and "Splurge" – the war in Iraq and the bailout.

One area that has been only tacitly addressed and could potentially have the largest impact on meeting greenhouse gas emissions targets and stimulating the economy is energy efficiency. Unfortunately, efficiency is about as sexy as Jimmy Carter's cardigan sweater, thus the candidates have not been talking about it on the Campaign Trail. Nevertheless Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute and others have argued that efficiency is the fastest and cheapest way to reduce our energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama and McCain both want to set building efficiency goals. Obama proposes weatherizing 1 million low-income homes annually and McCain wants to start by "greening" the federal government, which has over 3.3 B square feet of offices.

Obama also wants to expand the federal grant program to help states and municipalities build more efficient schools, libraries and police stations that adopt the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) principles. He also wants to get rid of traditional incandescent lights by 2014, which should be a boon to CFL and LED producers.

Both support efforts to improve the grid and increase percentages of electricity from renewables: Obama envisions 25% of consumer electricity coming from renewables by 2025 (renewables recently topped 10%, according to the Energy Information Association) and McCain has commented that wind could provide 1/5 of electricity supply by 2030 with the right tax credit structure.

On automobiles, McCain has voted against Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, while Obama supports raising and perhaps doubling those standards (currently 27.5 mpg for passenger cars and 22.2 mpg for light trucks) over the next 20 years.

And, finally, the two candidates don't see eye-to-eye on two environmental tax issues: renewal of the Superfund clean-up tax on polluting industries (McCain = nay; Obama = yea) and Obama's proposed Windfall Profits Tax, taking "excess" profits away from oil companies to support alternatives and offer a "rebate" to individuals and couples ($500/1000) to help offset fuel costs.

In the end, there are a lot of overlaps in their positions, with a few critical differences, mostly in the details or ideology. It is clear that the potential for leadership on energy and the environment is the strongest since Clinton and Nixon.

Both candidates believe that climate change is an urgent issue, are committed to energy independence and investments in alternatives, and want to make green jobs a reality. Senator McCain has long been a conservationist, in the Teddy Roosevelt Republican mold, and Senator Obama has been engaged in environmentally friendly proposals since his time in the Illinois Senate.

The big question is the economy. There are troubling signs that the double edged sword of the economy and war may impede progress on the environment and a new energy economy in the coming administration. Oil could go as low as $50/barrel before it bounces back, which it will, and the financial crisis is likely to drag on, if it hasn't already moved from Recession to Depression.

Unfortunately, the environment and all things green tend to thrive in positive economic times; it is still considered a luxury issue. That may all change if oil and gas supplies have indeed hit peak – Russia, Norway, and Saudi Arabia are all in decline -- if the impacts of climate change begin to be felt more acutely, and, frankly, if we can demonstrate that the best way to rebuild our economy is to do it around something more sustainable than new home sales, consumer spending, toxic mortgages, and credit default swaps.

In my view, the next President must stay the course in his pursuit of a new green economy, but be realistic about costs and timing. Right now, we've heard mostly platitudes.

Practical solutions exist and we need to accelerate the adoption of low-carbon energy sources, raise efficiency standards to spur development of energy efficient products, and improve the electricity grid and energy infrastructure. This will require a laser-like focus on the lowest cost solutions and make trade-offs where necessary.

In the end, policy action is only a partial solution, innovation and entrepreneurship is critical. We can't expect the government to do it all – especially now that they are taking over the entire financial services sector.

Let's hope the next president, whoever he is, heeds the words of Oxford professor Steve Rayner, to paraphrase, "We don't need a silver bullet, but rather silver buckshot" to tackle these issues.

We need to make the environment and energy part of the economic and national security agenda. I think Senators McCain and Obama both realize this; and whoever wins on November 4th will set aside platitudes for pragmatism.

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