24 December 2012

An Email from Santa Claus to Climate Skeptics: An Annual Green Skeptic Tradition

A few 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, it's become an annual tradition. Enjoy!

Happy Holidays!

Scott, aka The Green Skeptic

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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18 December 2012

OMG, I Missed My Anniversary!

The humble pie is on me
Oh my God, I missed my anniversary!

November 24th, dear reader. November 24th 2004.

That was the date of my first post on The Green Skeptic. My 8th anniversary should have been acknowledged on the 24th of last month.

I completely missed it. Did you?

But I didn't post at all in November. I'm on track for my lowest number of posts since 2005.

It's not writer's block, lately, I just haven't been that inspired by what's going on in the great green (and clean) world.

Forgive me.

I could blame it on the trough of disillusionment. I could blame it on investors. I could blame it on the market. I could blame it on shale gas. I could blame it on a lot of things. But I'm the one to blame.

Frankly, I'm uninspired. And there is nothing worse than an uninspired blog post. Well, almost nothing.

In order to jump start my inspiration, I want to hear from you. What do YOU want me to write about? What do YOU want to hear from me? I'm not talking about PR pitches; I get way too many of those.

They usually start with something like, "Hey Scott Green Skeptic, The: You don't know me but I have a story idea for you about a game-changing technology. If you're interested in writing about this game-changing technology for Scott Greek Skeptic, The, please write me back and I'll give you access to blah, blah, blah..."

Write me something real. From the heart. Something that will inspire me to write and I'll try. I might fail, but at least I'll try.



PS You can post your comments below or write to me at greenskeptic[at]gmail[dot]com.

24 October 2012

Our Climate War: FRONTLINE's "Climate of Doubt"

We're in the midst of an uncivil "Climate War" that pits Climate of Fear vs. Climate of Doubt.

Last night I watched a program called "Climate of Doubt," FRONTLINE's hour-long take on the influences and influencers who have reshaped the climate change debate over the past five years.

It was decidedly one-sided, unfortunately, and painted the skeptics and questioners with the same brush as the tobacco lobby and other malcontents.

Some of the tactics they used may have been learned from smoke and mirror campaigns, but it doesn't make their questioning any less valid. (More on that later.)

I'm often asked whether I am a climate skeptic. After all, my blog is The Green Skeptic. My answer is always the same: No, I am not a climate skeptic. (I consider myself a moderate, (Teddy) Roosevelt Republican, those statements combined effectively put me out of the running for any political office.)

I believe the climate is changing, I've seen it with my own two eyes in places as far afield as Alaska, Indonesia, and even the northeast where I live.

But I also believe that skepticism is a hallmark of human nature and it should be applied in liberal (pardon the usage) doses to every human endeavor, whether business, environmental or intellectual.

Skepticism is also a healthy part of the scientific method as hypotheses are formulated, tested, and modified.

On the subject of the climate, my views are simple and I've said all this before here and in my appearances on FOX Business's Varney & Company:

1.) The climate is changing, but the true impacts are unknown, perhaps even unknowable;
2.) Some of that change is caused by man, but not all;
3.) We should focus on the cheapest ways to mitigate climate change while simultaneously insuring against the most likely potential changes that could have big impacts on our health and safety (changes in disease vectors, sea level rise near our coastal cities, impacts on food production); and
4.) There is huge potential investment opportunity in affordable solutions that may actually encourage prosperity not prevent it.

Now, back to my earlier comment about questioning.

The folks who are questioning the consensus of opinion or the validity of the science are neither necessarily wrong nor right. They may be looking at the data in ways that back up their arguments as much as anyone else who wants to prove a point. They may also be trying to deliberately confuse people about the issue, as the FRONTLINE program suggests, to create just such a climate of doubt.

Of course, as journalist John Hockenberry asked one of his interviewees last night, "What if you're wrong?"

The question could be asked about either side. Frankly, we won't know who is wrong or right until it's too late.

What really troubles me about the FRONTLINE program last night is that we've lost all foundation for rational, reasonable debate in this country. We have become a nation of blamers and attackers. Anything we don't agree with is shouted down rather than reasonably argued against. It happens on both sides of the issue and good people are getting hurt in the process.

There is a difference between passion and zeal, and we've lost sight of that difference.

We need to get back to rational, reasonable dialogue and a healthy skepticism and away from attack ads, smear campaigns, and trying to prove who is right.

We need to meet in the middle and develop cost-effective solutions to mitigate the impacts of even the most modest scenarios and, perhaps we'll end up promoting prosperity while insuring we're around to enjoy it.

We need to take a chill pill and create a climate of collaboration and put an end to this climate war.

23 October 2012

Review: Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Something there is that loves a Midwestern pragmatist. And if a pragmatist is one who advocates practicality, then Maggie Koerth-Baker is a Midwestern pragmatist.

In her book Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us , which I am woefully behind reviewing, Koerth-Baker, the science editor at the blog, Boing-Boing, serves up equal doses of pragmatism and practicality in a Midwestern voice that is as mellifluous as wind cascading over the plains -- or the blades of a wind turbine.

Although she opens her book with the sentence, "'Climate Change is a lie,'" Koerth-Baker is neither climate denier nor climate hawk, although I suspect she is closer to the latter.

But that opening salvo is part of telling the story of the Climate and Energy Project, an environmental activist group in her home state of Kansas, and its founder realization that "you don't have to care about climate change to care about energy."

And, Koerth-Baker argues, we better do something about energy.

"We're currently on a course to use 28 percent more energy a year in 2030 than we do now," Koerth-Baker writes. "If that comes to pass, we'll need more of everything: more coal, more nuclear, more oil, more gas, more wind, more solar, and a whole lot more money to pay for it all."

This is a practical, solution-oriented book. Koerth-Baker is a whizz at making complex concepts such as our national grid, Feed-in-Tariffs, and underwater hydroelectric generation simple -- and she's a good story teller too.

She also recognizes that, "no single energy solution is as good a solution as it sounds." Energy efficiency is great, but it can't solve all our problems. It's too easy to end up with too much or too little wind and solar, and other forms of generation have side effects and negative impacts, such as pollution.

The solution rests in changing the way we think about energy.

As Dr. William Moomaw of Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy tells Koerth-Baker, "What we have to do is help people see that they don't really care about the energy and emissions. What they want is the services--light, base comforts, mobility, electronics."

Making the green option the default may also help, creating buildings and systems that make it easy to reduce energy consumption.

"Instead of worrying about how to change people," Koerth-Baker asserts, "you change the world around them." Such as the way the Navy has approached it in their Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, and other examples she cites.

In the end, Koerth-Baker, ever the pragmatist, is cautiously optimistic.

"This can work," she concludes her book. "This future can happen. Yet it won't simply happen on its own. Standing between us and the future of energy is an awfully big wall. Whether we can scale it will depend on how well we can plan and whether we have the willpower to follow those plans through."

Sound, practical thinking.

17 October 2012

A123 Runs Out of Juice

Out of juice.
Not so long ago, I was long A123 Systems. But over the course of 3 years, I went from long to wrong.

I was enthusiastic about the company's products, its lineup of investors (GE, Qualcomm, Sequoia Capital), and its partnerships with leading electric vehicle manufacturers, such as Fisker.

And, back on October 2, 2009, when $AONE stock hit its all-time high of $25.77, I along with others felt pretty good about it.

That is, until the stock started its long, slow dive towards .06 a share. (I sold the last of my holdings in July at a pretty significant loss.)

Yesterday, A123 joined an illustrious list of US government-backed companies seeking bankruptcy protection, a list that includes Abound Solar, Ener1, Beacon Power, Open Range Communications, and Solyndra.

Not very good company, I'm afraid.

What happened?

It all comes down to price. The cost of producing A123's batteries didn't come down fast enough so that, it "cost them more to make them than the could sell them," according to an industry analyst quoted by Bloomberg this morning. "The more they sold the more they lost."

Coupled with the still too-high costs of electric vehicles and consumer "range anxiety" and you have a volatile mix of factors that led to the company's failure.

But that's not all. The company had been plagued by contract and warranty issues over the last couple of years, competition from Asian giants like Panasonic, LG, and others, along with increasing potential safety concerns.
AONE Flatlined.

In August, a Fisker Karma caught on fire in Woodside, CA. The fire was apparently unrelated to the car's A123 battery pack, but it nevertheless fueled concerns about Lithium-ion battery safety. A earlier recall of Karmas for a battery coolant leakage issue didn't help matters.

Even a Chinese lifeline couldn't save the beleaguered company, as "unanticipated and significant challenges to its completion" scotched a deal with Chinese automaker Wanxiang.

Now Johnson Controls (another company whose stock I once held) has agreed to purchase A123's automotive business assets for $125 million and the rest of the company may be sold at auction on November 19th.

Consolidation happens. Companies fail. A123's bankruptcy is just another example of a bet gone bad.

For every cleantech failure, however, it gets tougher and tougher to recharge investor and consumer confidence.

03 October 2012

C3 Summit: Alternative Energy vs. Fossil Fuel Supplies

There is little doubt that we are going to run out of fossil fuels one day. Yet, our demands for energy will not decrease. Despite the promise of renewable energy, collectively renewables provide only about 7 percent of the world’s energy needs. So where do we go from here?

A few weeks ago, I participated in a panel at the C-3 Summit in New York. The Summit is "an exclusive event dedicated to building new relationships, fostering existing partnerships and exchanging best practices between the U.S. and the Arab world by building a cohesive global community through collaboration and international commerce."

The panel was moderated by Dan Nelson, a former ExxonMobil executive who now runs a consultancy called International Strategic Insights.

It was a great panel, with particularly smart insights coming from the other panelists, including Ambassador Jarl Frijs-Madsen, Royal Danish Consulate General, Mark Fulton of Deutsche Bank, David Pursell of Tudor Pickering Holt & Co, and Peter Gish of UPC Renewables.

My own modest contribution focused on the price and perception issues related to renewable energy and what I learned from spending time with Tom Hicks of the US Navy earlier in the week.

Here is the video of the panel:

27 September 2012

Cleanweb Hackathon Returns to NYC

Cleanweb Hackers Hacking in NYC, January 2012

The Cleanweb Hackathon returns to NYC tomorrow, Friday 9/28, at AlleyNYC.

I can't make it this time around, but you can read my thoughts on the January Cleanweb Hackathon here. 

The Hackathon brings together software developers, designers and entrepreneurs to brainstorm solutions to vexing problems in energy, waste, water, energy efficiency and many other issues facing our resource constrained world.

Those of you familiar with the Hackathon concept know it is an intensive developer session in which apps leveraging web 3.0, mobile, and social media technologies are built in a little over a 24-hour period. 

As in previous Hackathons around the country (and across the pond), the teams will be plied and supplied with APIs and pizza, datasets and coffee as they race against the clock to get their app built. On Sunday, the teams will present their apps to a select panel of judges.

The Friday night kick-off features a presentation by Mark Grundy of the Carbon War Room to focus developers on solving big issues in key sectors that align with the city's long-term sustainability plan, PLANYC

This event is part of the Cleanweb Hackathon series that was started in San Francisco in September 2011 by Blake Burris and Sunil Paul and later mushroomed into a global movement with Cleanweb communities and events in cities throughout North America, the UK and Europe in 2012.

For NYC hackathon details and registration: http://nyc.cleanweb.co/

For an overview on Cleanweb, check out: http://www.slideshare.net/blake/why-cleanweb-will-beat-cleantech

Wish I could be there! Hack-on!

10 August 2012

Man the Lifeboats and Consider the Hype Cycle

I had an email exchange the other day with my friend John Moore of Acorn Energy, a long-time energy entrepreneur and investor, who wrote to me, almost as an afterthought, "FWIW, I am seeing interest in cleantech crumble with the Indexes."

"I'm beginning to think that cleantech may have to wait until my kids' generation takes over," I responded. 

Then John reminded me of the Gartner Hype Cycle for Technology and added, "Usually big things happen after the parade has passed." 

Gartner Hype Cycle for Technology

"I strive to dwell on the slope of enlightenment," I responded.

Later in the week I spoke with a cleantech investor who was bemoaning the state of things.

Usually an optimist, this investor said it was getting harder and harder to maintain that position.

While family offices, strategics, and international investors (read China) are entering the game, from this investor's perspective, the cleantech investing scene looks pretty bleak. 

The funds still investing seem to be doing follow-on rounds to shore up their existing portfolios. And a number of investors have left or are leaving funds and flocking to positions at companies (or even big four accounting and advisory firms -- ahem).

"But perhaps," this investor offered. "Perhaps cleantech investing will be stronger with a smaller group of dedicated people."

I couldn't help thinking of that Gartner Hype Cycle and especially the through of disillusionment. Perhaps that's where we are now and maybe, just maybe, we'll climb the slope of enlightenment to reach the plateau of productivity.

May it happen in our lifetime.

20 July 2012

Is the Sky Falling for Cleantech Investment?

As Henny Penny cried, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling."

And to look at the latest report on quarterly cleantech venture investment released last week by Cleantech Group, one might think the same is true for this sector.

"Measured by dollars invested, cleantech venture investment fell 14 percent compared to the previous quarter ($1.88 billion) and was off 25 percent from 2Q11 ($2.15 billion),” according to the Cleantech Group. “The number of deals recorded in 2Q12 was 155, compared to 197 in 1Q12. The tally may rise again once all investors have reported all deals."

But does it really mean the sky is falling?

“Despite headwinds facing the sector and global economic instability, we continue to observe top tier funds such as Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, NEA, and others actively investing into cleantech,” said Cleantech Group CEO Sheeraz Haji in a press release. 

“While some may be ducking ‘cleantech’ as a label in North America," Haji noted, "growth in technologies addressing resource and energy challenges remains strong and both corporate and investor interest remains high.”

"The dip in cleantech venture capital this year is not unexpected," Dallas Kachan of Kachan & Co., wrote in an email to me last week. "We forecasted a decrease in cleantech VC in 2012 due to a tightening in the investor fundraising climate, waning policy support in the developed world, perennial concerns about IRRs in cleantech and macro-economic turbulence and other factors.”

Another factor may be that investors who were dabbling in cleantech the past couple of years have fled the sector, which may have artificially inflated the numbers in previously quarters and years.

I've also been hearing from several investors and entrepreneurs with whom I speak to regularly, that there's still an overall belt-tightening in the investor world.

Other investors may not be convinced the sector will thrive without a carbon price, which we won't see any time before the November election -- if then!

The news isn't all grim, however, and venture capital is not the only money in the sector.

Increasingly, big companies are filling the gap from the venture community and those firms that are in it for the long haul are making follow-on investments. 

"The largest companies in the world are buying their way into clean technology markets," Kachan noted in the same email exchange, "supplementing the role of traditional private equity and evidencing a maturation of the cleantech sector. A decrease in venture is being made up for by a rise in corporate involvement in cleantech."

Still, there has been a shakeout in cleantech companies as subsidies get pulled and follow-on money ceases its flow.

"A lot of cleantech startups have been getting shaken out and will continue to do so," wrote Rob Day in his excellent take on the Cleantech Group findings.

Day also noted some positive news, however, that Limited Partners (LPs) "finally appear to be slowly getting   back into the habit of funding cleantech venture capital firms. So I think we'll see a pickup in deal flow in the second half of the year. But probably not enough to forestall the ongoing shakeout."

As Day and others have noted, deal counts may be more indicative than dollars when it comes to judging the overall health of investing in the sector.

The top two sub-sectors in terms of deal counts in the Cleantech Group report? Energy efficiency and water.

01 June 2012

How to Save a Planet - On a Budget: New ebook featuring The Green Skeptic

My insights on cleantech investing are featured in a new ebook from The Energy Collective. How to Save a Planet - On a Budget

Built from the webinar we did last November, the book offers insights from over a dozen experts in the field and includes pertinent information for companies, investors, and clean energy advocates. 

The book asks the critical question, How can we drive progress to a clean energy economy when governments are broke and investment is scarce?

My thoughts can be found in Chapter 3, "The Changing Shape of Clean Tech Investment."  

Download it free here: How to Save a Planet - On a Budget

For those concerned about the planet’s well-being, it’s one of the crucial questions of our time, one that may have implications for our environment for generations. In a time of financial scarcity, our goal at TheEnergyCollective.com is to figure out how companies and governments can shift to greener, cleaner consumption of energy, and, most importantly, how they will pay for the infrastructure projects that are essential to limiting our output of climate change-causing greenhouse gases.

To that end, we conversed with a diverse group of experts and examined case studies that describe viable solutions to our climate crisis in the midst of an economic crisis. We hope this content will be of interest to energy professionals looking to learn about where the industry is going, those in cleantech interested in financing solutions, those in government hoping to improve local infrastructure, and advocates, journalists, policymakers and policy wonks looking for the latest insight on market solutions to climate problems. 

We cover:
  • Paying the true cost of energy through carbon pricing
  • Can carbon markets drive green innovation and infrastructure?
  • Public-private cooperation for a greener economy
  • The economic case for green infrastructure
  • Cleantech startups and the venture capital funding climate
  • Federal policy and cleantech
Featuring Input from:
  • Gernot Wagner, Environmental Defense Fund
  • Marc Gunther, FORTUNE
  • Jesse Jenkins, Breakthrough Institute
  • Will Coleman, Partner, Mohr Davidow Ventures
  • Thiemo Gropp, co-founder, DESERTEC Foundation
  • Andrew Carman, Head of Americas for Project & Structured Finance - Infrastructure, Cities & Industry, Siemens Financial Services, Inc.
  • Jo Danko, Global Director for Sustainable Solutions, CH2M HILL
  • Lucas Merrill Brown, Rhodes Scholar, Oxford
  • Kirk Edelman, President and CEO, Siemens Financial Services U.S
  • Lane Burt, Technical Policy Director, USGBC
  • Lee Thiessen, Executive Director for Climate Change Policy and British Columbia’s Climate Action Secretariat
  • Janet Peace, VP of Business and Markets Strategies, C2ES
  • Dan Shugar, CEO, Solaria
  • Scott Edward Anderson, founder, VerdeStrategy
Download it free here: How to Save a Planet - On a Budget

10 May 2012

Baby You Can Drive My (Electric) Car - EVS26

Electric vehicles have come a long way since the days for the botched EV-1 experiment of the 1990s. 

Fisker Karma
Formerly considered tin cans without much oomph or sex appeal, EVs took a back seat to the more trendy hybrids (Prius) and powerful SUVs.

Yet, if this year's EVS26 at the Los Angeles Convention Center proves one thing to me it's that electric vehicles range from the sexy sports cars (Fisker Karma and Tesla S) to a rather sedate sedan from Coda Automotive.

In between are new arrivals, such as Lexus and Lotus, and major players like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt.

Trucks and motorcycles, too, including the improbable, gorgeous Siemens Smart Chopper, were well represented, along with personal mobility devices such a GM's EN-V and a proliferation of electric bicycles.

There was not much in the way of fleet vehicles at this year's EVS, certainly not compared to when the show was in Shenzen, China, according to some. But we know from talking to several at the show that partnerships with FedEx, UPS, and companies like PepsiCo loom large in the sector.

Charging technologies were heavily represented, including a few wireless options.

The trouble with electric vehicles, however, is their reputation as de-featured, boring, and even unexciting. What gets lost, according to acolytes, is that these cars are fun to drive.

Drive a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt, and I have to agree: they are boring. Why? Because they drive just like a regular car, a little quicker pick up at acceleration perhaps, but essentially you're driving a comparable internal combustion engine vehicle made by Nissan or Chevy.
Siemens Smart Chopper

Okay, there is an on/off button like the one on your computer, but it's not very different from their other offerings.

The Tesla and Fisker and Remy, as well as the Qualcomm-Halo-sponsored racing car, however; now, you're talking something that will give your heart a little race.

A few take-aways from the show:

1.) We've got a loooong way to go before mass adoption of these vehicles will happen.
2.) There are more entrepreneurial charging methods/technologies out there than will likely survive, and
3.) The "cool factor"/fun to drive conundrum must be addressed if we're ever going to get the public to switch to EVs.

Finally, things like range anxiety, cost, and perceived risk are still all very real obstacles to widespread public adoption.

But make them fun to drive and we will drive.

04 May 2012

Why Can't Water Get No Respect?

Matt Damon with Water.org CamelBak Groove bottle 
We take it for granted, yet we can't live with out it. We are made of water -- more than 60 percent water.

But so is the clothing we wear and the food and drink we consume.

Think about it. A pair of stonewashed jeans takes roughly 500 gallons of water, including growing, dyeing and processing the cotton. A t-shirt? 700 gallons. The cup of coffee I'm drinking as I write this? 35 gallons. A pint of beer? 20 gallons. 

Over 130 gallons of water to make a 2-liter bottle of soda (not sure if that counts making the bottle itself); and that hamburger adds another 630 gallons.

Pretty twisted, huh?

According to water.org, the average American uses 176 gallons of water per day compared to 5 gallons of water the average African family uses each day.

That five-minute shower my teenage son takes uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day -- if they can get access.

Last night, water.org received the World Social Impact Award from the World Policy Institute at its 50th Anniversary celebration.

Those of us in the audience were grouped by issues and asked to get into dialogue with our table mates. I sat at one of the water tables.

We were led in our discussion by Sanjay Bhatnagar of WaterHealth International and Dr. Upmanu Lall, the Alan and Carol Silberstein Professor of Engineering at Columbia University and director of the Columbia Water Center.

Our table quickly came up with a critical question: Why can't water get no respect?

Water is the Rodney Dangerfield of natural resources. And yet it's critical to our lives and livelihoods; indeed, our very survival depends on it.

We didn't have any answers, other than the usual fact that water isn't priced appropriately and it is relatively abundant. Perhaps we need price signals like we have for oil that tell us how much our water actually costs, one of our group suggested.

Dr. Lall shared with us some research he's privy to concerning a technology that may solve the production of clean drinking water. But our group was pretty clear that access will continue to be an issue that we need to address.

And that's why organizations like water.org -- although they may be just a drop in the bucket of needs -- are so important and deserving of recognition.

22 April 2012

Earth Day 2012: Maya Lin's "What Is Missing?"

Maya Lin and me discussing "What is Missing?" in 2008.
A few years ago, Maya Lin told me about her plans for a "last memorial," an ongoing, multimedia, multi-site project that unfolds every Earth Day. 

She calls it "What is Missing?" 

I wrote about one component, "Unchopping a Tree," back in 2009.

Another component is a global online memorial that Lin hopes will "connect us personally to what we are witnessing diminish or disappear from nature, in the hope that raising awareness about these poignant stories of loss will help spur action."

Last year, she quietly launched phase one: a Map of Memory. But, as Maya says, "to focus only on loss was too depressing, which is why we waited until this Earth Day to go public." 

The second phase is called Conservation in Action and features stories about ecological restoration and conservation around the world. 

On the site viewers can learn what is being done by conservation groups to protect what is missing before it is missing, including partners such as  Cornell Lab of Ornithology and World Wildlife Fund

"We are here to give people hope that so much is being done to help," says Lin.

Yesterday, Maya sent around a helpful guide for using the site:

Click on Time Travel Inline image 6 to go between map of past (the Map of Memory) and the present (Conservation in Action).  
Check out View in Time Inline image 7and View in Place Inline image 8 and see what happens.  

Then select Sort  Inline image 9 to better understand the content.(On the Map of the Present, Red Inline image 10's and green Inline image 11's highlight conservation successes and disasters) we also allow you to see all the Core Videos we have produced. Those Core Video dots have a sound rollover. With over 600 historical entries on the Map of Memory, you can learn about what the world used to be like from an environmental standpoint.

Lin also wants this to be a truly interactive memorial, where you can add your own memory of what is missing for you -- a place that was important to you that is now paved over or a species that meant a lot to you that is no longer found where you remember it being. She also wants to know about the work you and others are doing to help save or restore a place that's important to you.

"What Is Missing?" Screenshot

Throughout her career, Maya Lin has challenged us to look at the world differently. Her art and architecture often use elements of the natural world to shake up our perception of what is around us. Her memorials have changed the way we think about memorials and how we interact with them and with our memories.

With "What is Missing?" Lin challenges us again to think differently about our relationship to the Earth and the species with which we share the planet.

This Earth Day, take stock of what is missing and spend some time on "What is Missing?" contributing your own memories.

19 April 2012

Why Cleanweb Will Beat Cleantech

Blake Burris and my friends at Cleanweb Hackathon have created an excellent primer on "Why Cleanweb Will Beat Cleantech."

Have a look:

You might also enjoy the narrated version of the deck on YouTube by @cleanwebvc: CleanWeb

16 April 2012

Contrarian Investors Take Stage at Mid-Atlantic Cleantech Investment Forum

"Energy efficiency is the cleaner energy option that pays for itself," suggested Mark Fulton to the large crowd gathered for the Mid-Atlantic Cleantech Investment Forum last Thursday evening. "It applies already existing technologies at scale with no government funding and a payback of 2-4 years." 
Mark Fulton

Fulton is Managing Director and Global Head of Climate Change Investment Research and Strategy with Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors, so he has the data and charts to back up his statements. 

His team is currently exploring financing models for energy efficiency, which they believe will generate over $1 trillion in savings over 10-20 years.

"The Empire State Building energy efficiency upgrade demonstrated 30 percent IRRs," offered Fulton. "So why isn't anyone investing in it?"

Perhaps it's the wise investor's contrarian outlook.

The Forum, now in its 4th year, co-hosted by the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic and Blank Rome's Cleantech Group, offered some contrarian suggestions from an investor panel.

The panel included Tucker Twitmyer of EnerTech Capital for whom "efficiency plays have been our bread and butter," and Lux Capital founder Josh Wolfe, who's refrain, "it's a great technology," belied the fact that not all great technologies make great investments.

It's such a contrarian outlook, too, that has led to successful investments for Lux, EnerTech, and NRG Energy's venture arm, and that has cleantech newcomer Edison Ventures looking to capital efficient "cleanweb" models as a way to play in the sandbox. 

The nascent cleanweb movement, initially launched by Sunil Paul at Spring Ventures, brings together web coders to tackle big energy problems. (You can read more about the cleanweb hackathons here.)
Tucker Twitmyer

Twitmyer, who has been investing in clean energy companies and projects for over 10 years, sees parallels with earlier cycles in the space, "LP [limited partners] who haven't seen the kinds of returns they want have started heading for the exits."  

But that's not necessarily time to panic, suggested Wolfe. On the contrary, when the bulk are investors are chasing the next big thing, Wolfe and other successful investors see opportunities in what's left untouched.
Josh Wolfe

This thesis has paid off handsomely with one such investment, Kurion, which has a solution for addressing toxic nuclear waste, realizing $40 million in profit on $100 million in revenue last year.

The company was one of the few working to clean up the Fukushima nuclear reactors in the wake of the tsunami a year ago.

Another panel at the Forum on shale gas development revealed that there's a growing need for clearly defined regulations in the natural gas sector, especially around well-casing construction and fluids disclosure.  But the panel of experts concluded that sustainable natural gas development is achievable.

Presenting company pitches by new entries in the space rounded out the evening's program, including Green Power Technologies (the "BERT" people), Matcor, OmniWind, Primus Green Energy and XL Hybrids.

"We need to start talking about cleaner energy, not just clean energy," offered Fulton in his keynote. "Sixty to seventy percent of American voters support the idea of cleaner energy," which includes advances to make existing forms of energy better, cleaner and more efficient.

Recognizing there are no silver bullets or magic remedies, fora like this one are designed to call attention to the variety of solutions available. No matter how contrarian they may seem. 

(Disclosure: The author is a co-founder of the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, which co-hosted the Forum.)

30 March 2012

4th Annual Mid-Atlantic Cleantech Investment Forum - April 12th

The Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, along with Blank Rome's Cleantech Group and the Academy of Natural Sciences are pleased to host our 4th Annual Mid-Atlantic Cleantech Investment Forum featuring panels of experts and thought leaders discussing the new future of shale gas development, cleantech venture and corporate investing, as well as our annual showcase of leading Mid-Atlantic cleantech companies.

The program will include:

Keynote Speaker: Mark Fulton, Managing Director and Global Head of Climate Change Investment Research & Strategy, Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors

Shale Development Panel featuring
Andrew Leitzinger, Director, Appalachian Basin UG Services, URS Corporation
N. Foster Mellen, Senior Strategic Analyst-Oil and Gas, Ernst & Young LLP
Thomas Murphy, Extension Educator and Co-Director, Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research 
Peter Terranova, Vice President Midstream Assets and Services, UGI Energy Services, Inc.
Moderated by Peg Hill, Chair of Blank Rome's Marcellus Shale and Hydraulic Fracturing Industry Group

Cleantech Investment Panel including:
Bruce Chung, Vice President-Venture Investments, NRG Energy
Michael Cichowski, Principal, Edison Ventures
Ellen Purdy, Chief Financial Officer, Renmatix
Tucker Twitmyer, Managing Director, EnerTech Capital
Josh Wolfe, Founding Partner and Managing Director, Lux Capital
Moderated by Thomas P. Dwyer and Louis Rappaport, co-leaders of Blank Rome's Cleantech Group 

When: Thursday, April 12, 2012, 3:30-7:30 PM
Where: The Academy of Natural Sciences, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia

To purchase tickets: Mid-Atlantic Cleantech Investment Forum

(Disclosure: The author is co-founder of the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic.)

17 March 2012

My Next Step on the Path: Ernst & Young's Global Cleantech Center

The author ponders his path on Block Island.
A few years ago I announced the launch of my consultancy VerdeStrategy here on The Green Skeptic.

I've enjoyed working with some great clients in a consulting and advisory capacity for marketing, capital raising, and strategic positioning. I've helped some great companies and entrepreneurs navigate often stormy waters of the past few years. 

But I missed being a part of a team, part of an entity larger than myself and a few colleagues who came together on specific projects. I missed the camaraderie that comes from an enterprise of shared vision and objectives. 

So now I'm embarking on a different path. 

This week I joined Ernst & Young's Global Cleantech Center to direct their marketing strategy. I'm becoming a part of a great team of experts and thought leaders in the cleantech space, including Gil Forer, Scott Sarazen, and John De Yonge. You can read some of their writing on the cleantech opportunity in their Global Cleantech Insights and Trends Report for 2011.

With Ernst & Young, I'm joining an even larger global team of assurance, tax, transaction, and advisory professionals that share my values -- values that have been consistent throughout my career with The Nature Conservancy, Ashoka, and VerdeStrategy.

I'm excited about this new opportunity in my life and work. And I hope to be able to continue to share my sector insights through The Green Skeptic and my commentary on FOX Business and other media.

Meanwhile, a hearty thank you to my clients and friends for your support over the past few years. And apologies to my readers for the lack of posts over the past few weeks as I sorted out this transition.

Keep in touch and stay skeptical!

28 February 2012

The Green Skeptic on FOX Business: Is Algae the Answer?

I sat down this morning with Charles Payne of Varney & Co on FOX Business to talk aboiut algae biofuels and if such alternative fuels provide a solution to our fossil fuel constrained future.

Here is the video:

And here is a link in case your browser doesn't support the video format: The Green Skeptic on FOX Business