Big Green Tech Bet

A slew of articles, books, books on tape and probably even a feature film or two (!) about how to make a killing – or at least be one of the first to profit from – the new sustainable economy. Fine.

But now this.

Just as the world seemed poised to combat global warming more aggressively, the economic slump and plunging prices of coal and oil are upending plans to wean businesses and consumers from fossil fuel.

From Italy to China, the threat to jobs, profits and government tax revenues posed by the financial crisis has cast doubt on commitments to cap emissions or phase out polluting factories.

Barbara Helfferich, the European Commission spokeswoman on the environment, said, “Investing in reducing emission is more difficult to do in times of economic downturn than when you have money to spend.”

So, why is that and from where does that conventional wisdom arise? Is this case of vapors on the part of investors and governments evidence of a tepid, lukewarm commitment in the first place? If not, why not? Were they just trying to cash in on a trend and so will be the first to bail out (not that kind) on any signs of difficulty? That’s not commitment – that’s a finger-in-the-wind course adjustment whose short-term motivations have a great deal to do with the global eco-doldrums (-nomic and -logical) as anything. I thought this was what we were talking about moving away from? And in this first test, a few months in, we panic and revert. Excellent. Future generations, I salute you (and your particle masks).

Seriously though, among the major movers and shakers – those who farm the most dollars, pollute the most, corrupt the process the most and are generally willing to subvert societal goals for short-term gain on the grandest scale ( you know who you are) – there is always a race to be second when innovations pop up that could be economical if one of them figures out how. They sit back, hope no one will notice at first, castigate champions as fringe movements, seed resistance to the idea, cast aspersions on the motivations for it, campaign against it… all before slowly relenting and still doing nothing until someone with far less to gain figures out the best way forward. Your mileage may vary, but… there’s that.

This equation itself is preposterous, though only a symbol of the extent to which we’ve leveraged our futures, green or otherwise, on the whims of corporate beneficence, such that it is.

The whole thing is still a marketing campaign, though there are breakthroughs everywhere. We’ve staked the fates of future generations to the fire but our pathetic little consciences are still that of a cautious investor who will take his time in order to scuttle risk and get his. It’s a contradiction and our weakness signals the timidity at the top to bet mostly on our nature to cower. We proved ourselves capable and courageous earlier this month. Don’t be surprised that it’s already time to recommit.