Recent twitter entries...

Vince Cable takes a shot a NEF's 'Prosperity Without Growth' --and completely misses the bear

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I was horrified at Lib Dem shadow Chancellor Vince Cable’s attitude and behaviour at the Base Show Wednesday.

Vince Cable has a pretty good understanding of the imperative to address climate change but he’s shockingly still missing the bear on the interaction between the environment and climate change, and the economic crisis.

On Wednesday at the Base Show, Cable took a cheap shot at Tim Jackson and the decroissance or “degrowth” movement, showing he hasn’t got a clue!



Talking about the dual problems economic recession and climate change, he said:



“Now how do these two problems… interact? In the short term it’s been rather bad news for the environment. If you look at British opinion polls environment certainly climate change has dropped right off most people’s radar screens. They’ve got other things to worry about, they are more preoccupied with how they manage their jobs, about managing their household balance sheets, and a lot of anxiety about the economy dominates. Environmental issues, at least in the short term, have fallen down people’s list of priorities.

" And I think probably also, environmentalists who advocated zero growth , well, we’ve got zero growth in fact, we’ve got minus growth and it isn’t very nice. And I think people somehow wised up to this idea that all this puritanical non-consumption of resources we were being told was a good thing is actually really rather painful if you’re one of the people who was losing your job in the process. So recession has played very badly in terms of its environmental impact.

"Secondly, on the global scene there’s this lethal, what’s called this 10, 10 problem. 10% unemployment in the United States, 10% growth in China. So far the Chinese and the Americans have coordinated their activities relatively well in this recession but anybody who talks to anybody in American politics will tell you there is enormous tension building up in the system, resentments. The Obama administration has so far managed it well, clamor for action for protectionism, many ways return to atavistic prejudices of the 1930’s as this big new power growing up building a power station every week or every day I think. How do we cope with this?

"There’s a very strong resistance to people telling the Americans that they’ve got to calm down and deal with the climate….

[talks about science]

"The question now is how we bring together the concerns we have about the economy with the imperative dealing with the issues of climate change. I think they are compatible if the case is properly made… so how do we find a way out of this box.”



He then goes onto mention (ironically) restructuring British economy away from finance and dependence on London, and the need to concentrate on physical infrastructure projects for transport, new energy systems, a digital infrastructure, renewables infrastructure, etc, and the necessity to create growth.


“At the moment there is no mechanism for financing this because PFI has largely broken down, stock markets are unlikely to generate long term time horizons, private equity 5 year time horizons normally most companies will not embark on all this stuff because of political risk. There needs to be some mechanism that can bring in the enormous value of savings that we know is locked up in pension funds and insurance companies looking for a safe return with these very important needs for long term infrastructure much of which centers on low carbon future and long run environmental much more friendly economy. A lot of political will and a lot of imagination will be required to bring those things together. But I think the conclusion I have is that in both the short term and the long term there is a way in which economic recovery can be very firmly tied into an environmental agenda.”


During the Q&A I got lucky and was called on, I asked if the lack of financing for infrastructure and green projects couldn’t be resolved very simply by implementing what the Stiglitz Sarkozy report suggests (I didn’t even mention the New Economics Foundation because of his swipe at Jackson) and revaluing the economy, he replied:

“Well I obviously buy into that, to give the government credit they did produce a set of green accounts. They have done this technically but they haven’t made much use of it. It’s just sort of sitting there on our shelves. The technical side of the work has actually been done. It’s not easy-- there’s a lot of things you can’t quantify easily but the idea of getting parallel green accounts with the economy and what it tells you, which is not surprising, is that very often when we think we’re getting better off, we’re actually getting worse off if you factor in the environmental costs.”

(His equally uninformed answer to my second query, relating to personal carbon budgeting aside,)

Yes, Mr. Cable, it would show we are getting worse off. Then we would have something to change and work at wouldn’t we and wouldn’t that change make low-carbon, infrastructure projects more valuable?

If he buys into it, why isn’t he getting it?!

He has apparently never ever bothered to actually read anything about decroissance or flip through Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth (Jackson who contributed to a study commissioned by parliament) because if he had he would see that the problems he’s talking about can be resolved by changing incentives in the economy in a way that will encourage long term investment and conservation.

The potential in a huge rallying campaign behind changing society’s outlook and getting everyone on board to improve not only our long run well-being and ensuring growth of our society (not in terms of GDP growth, but as a people) wouldn’t make people turn against a government. Come one dude! You could solve long-run infrastructure investment, encourage savings, and shift the view of economic markets away from short-run returns in one move (well, likely a series of coordinated moves, but still). Long-run investment is low-carbon economy is “degrowth.”

With all the public support Cable has, I’m frightened.

And this is the man people want to be the next Chancellor under a hung parliament? CRINGE. I take back everything I ever said about the British public being generally better educated than the American public.


Though I won’t fault Cable entirely, the folks at NEF need to realize that the general public is (sadly) swayed by pretty language. Simply joking that ‘yeah, we should’ve thought about the “degrowth” title a little more carefully’ isn’t going to cut it. They’re spending too much time locked up in their tank rethinking the economy, they’ve forgotten that the use of language is as important as using language to begin with. I don't mean to be too hard on NEF, but I'd like to see a little more of the "do" bit in their motto.

Update 1: Read Andy Wimbush's (blogmaster at NEF) much more eloquent response to Cable.



Framing Clean Tech, China & the US: competition isn’t helpful, but neither is national security

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I want to call out Julian Wong (@GreenLeapFwd) on something he said recently that bothered me. He was on the Mid-Morning Report, Minnesota public radio, on 8 February talking about China’s cleantech revolution:

Wong: That’s certainly an angle that my centre, the centre for american progress is pushing, the national security angle. Perhaps it’s just a sign of the times, a sign of the current political situation where we’re in the throws of one of the worst economic recessions ever and what’s present on voters minds are the economic woes and how we get ourselves out of this an create new jobs.

He went on to imply, throughout the interview, that the national security, energy security angle was both more useful for understanding China’s cleantech push, but also for making the American public more accepting of China’s cleantech push, rather than seeing it as threatening. He then (ineffectively, and I’ll explain below) went on to draw a parallel between energy security and an improved discourse on cleantech and China.

I want to say that I’ve often asked Mr. Wong for comment on articles, he’s been very helpful and responsive to me, for which I am very appreciative and I respect him and his opinion very much, and much of the time he’s spot on. While he is correct that much of the time pundits unhelpfully frame cleantech in a US versus China, realpolitik, zero-sum game kind of way, Wong said that it’s more helpful to frame it in an energy security issue. This doesn’t seem much of a distinction to me however-- we’re still competing over resources.



The language we use when establishing relationships is very important, as are the cultural values that drive how we do so. By nature, American culture is competitive and because of economic theories like comparative advantage that stem from capitalism’s evolution in the West, competition has become the motivator, the way Americans relate to the world. Without digressing into a discussion of economic revaluation, we need to think about what competition implies: zero sum, real politik, winner take all, survival of the fittest, games, versus; dichotomies inherent in the term are winner and loser, benefits and costs, acquisition and sale, abundance and scarcity, positive and negative.

China cannot win the cleantech revolution because that implies that the US will lose: money, jobs, and resources to China. Energy security as a cleantech discourse is not much different in that it implies a certain selfishness, not needing to be dependent upon others and is abrasively independent-- things that are also implied in competition. To me, the word “security” twinges my neck with fear, it smacks of war (on terror) and threat.

Mr. Wong and others are correct in asserting that the cleantech revolution needn’t be a competition between China and the US and that it would be beneficial to both parties as well as to the global spread of cleantech that the relationship be more of a partnership, a shared development. The competitive mindset will hold back innovation and best practice in production techniques, will likely slow the overall rate cleantech development and implementation, and may even encourage devolution into petty trade wars.

But shared development and partnerships implies dependency-- “national security” implies the opposite. How is it possible that it’s more useful to frame cleantech in China and the US in “national security” rhetoric than competition?

The financial crisis and the climate change issue overlap in that they both demand a revaluation of resources, economically and sociologically, of the same nature. A “green new deal” deals with issues of sustainability in lending practices and wealth creation the same way sustainability necessarily implies more efficient use and distribution of scarce resources. Inherent in the sustainability discourse are these notions of efficiency and distribution which in turn imply the necessity for collectivity and cooperation. But national security is very isolating.

I’m sorry Mr. Wong, but it appears you’ve missed the bear.




Missing the Bear: Smart Grid spending in perspective: US & China

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I like to have my data with a bit of perspective don’t you? (& for now I’ll leave aside the necessary discussion we need to have about this US versus them nonsense.)





I have no idea if this is the right way to compare smart grid spending. I know very little about energy technology and infrastructure. An important consideration is that China, presumably, has a longer way to go in terms of its infrastructure improvement than the US.

Some things I'm not sure of:
Is it indeed more expensive to upgrade an old power grid than to build anew?
Is it safe to assume that there's more energy infrastructure in place already in an urban area than a rural area? And is it more easily (i.e. less expensive) upgradeable in an urban area than rural area?

How about it, out there? I really want to learn so please leave a comment!

Figures for Btu projected consumption

US kWh consumed 2008
Note: US electricity consumption down year on year in 2009, 3.6%, so I was being generous here.

China kWh consumed 2009
I used Chinese government figures because presumably, that’s what they are calculating their spending on, so I don’t want to get into a discussion about how Chinese government figures are exaggerated/inflated/false.

rural figures China

rural figures US (assumes 20% in 2000, generalized to 2008 estimate)

The Future of Journalism is Cooperative, Duh!

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Bill Thompson on the BBC:




I had an interesting encounter with an editor from the environment division of a major newspaper at the Cleantech Summit last Monday. I'm taking advice on moving to Asia next year to freelance. But I'm having trouble with the visa bit-- most countries insist on a journalist must have a sponsor from a media organization. And so that's what I'm looking for: a freelance writer agency to sponsor me (by the way, if you know one, please drop me a line). The Editor didn't know one either but what he said next smacked of entrenched "old media."


He said something to the effect of, "Think about what you're asking. You're asking someone to sponsor you and you're going to turn around and freelance and write for other people at the same time. No one's going to sponsor you for that." In other words, in order to do what I want to do, I'll have to be hired as a reporter. Getting hired as a reporter now is impossible. From my understanding, very few newspapers and online-only media outlets are making money. And the ones that are, aren't hiring.

The quote above is from Bill Thompson, who wrote a recent post on BBC about the global internet commons, a public area in which he contends information should continue to be exchanged freely. This is a point the Editor seems to be missing. It's something I've seen work in practice: I'm covering Copenhagen for four online-only media outlets: solveclimate.com, beyondprofit.com, simpleearthmedia.com, with a piece or two for corporate-eye.com. I approached these .com's at the outset that I would be a shared resource. And guess what? Not a single one of them had a problem with it. All each asked was that I didn't re-sell the exact same story to another. In other words, they will all have exclusive rights to what I write, but not to me. Most news organizations today (the Guardian, HuffingtonPost, New York Times) are sourcing straight news from the AP and Reuters, seemingly the only two media organizations left with foreign bureaus.

I'm willing to bet that I'll be able to get to Asia, freelance, and get a sponsor who doesn't have a problem with it. And if I don't the reason will be something to do with insurance and liability and not reportage. The trick is finding a media outlet that doesn't think like this newspaper editor and understands the future of journalism is about cooperative, collaboration. That's what the internet has made.

Missed the bear Mr. Editor? I think so.


Twitter's Coo's miss the bear on the pay model

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Today Twitter announced that it will be providing commercial accounts with, "access to analytical tools and ways to gain feedback from their followers."

Make me a better Tweeter? Really? I'm gonna pay for that? Really?

How many social media blogs offer free advice on how to tweet better can I access via Google?


As a struggling new media journalist semi-cum social media strategist I am familiar with the frustration and resulting overall sense of impending doom that comes with daily contemplation of the ever elusive pay model. Twitter is new media. Journalism is being transformed in a way such that it's inexorably linked with new media. New media is many things, including and perhaps most importantly free access to information. In that sense both the outcome of journalism's transformation and the way in which Twitter aids journalism-- access and transfer of information--must remain free.

Twitter has missed the bear, but only slightly, in its proposed pay model. Commercial accounts are a good idea but in a different sense of the word: those that could afford to pay for them, should. The BBC, for example, the Huffington Post, Wholefoods, restaurants, Starbucks--basically, anybody that's got anything to sell. When I read " commercial accounts" that's what I thought: commercial, not pay for a how to tweet service. I'm sick of picking up 5-10 real estate agent followers, for example, every time I tweet a keyword. Keeping up with my followers list takes time. If Internet marketers want to follow me to glean my buying habits, make them pay for it!

But how do we keep this fair for start-ups? Free limited time or private income disclosure or an honour system. Coffee shop honour systems work remarkably well. Most people in there with laptops are either freelancers or start-ups (or students) for whom money is scarce. I've worked enough "9-5"s in coffee shops to know the unwritten code: no stealing and watch some else's stuff when they get up to pee regardless of whether or not you're asked.

To recap: make people who can pay, do so and leave Twitter as a free information service for start-ups and citizens. Thus: Twitter employees make money, journalists can track breaking news and inform, and people who live under repressive regimes can still freely access information and transfer information. Everyone wins.

Missed the bear Tw' Oos? I think so.

Positivist Thinking about Copenhagen-- how leaders talked themselves out of a deal and why it may not matter

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A climate deal was possible by Copenhagen. Make no mistake. The way I see it, global leaders talked themselves out of it.


There are a few reports of world leaders playing down the ability to achieve a deal at Cop15:

It started with John Kerry in July.

Then in October and within a week of each other, Sweden's climate envoy Lars-Erik Liljelund and Yves de Boer both down played the possibility of an agreement.

And the flurry of leaders in last two weeks including Hillary Clinton, Obama, and Asian leaders, who all said that a deal at Copenhagen is now unrealistic.

From Politico.com: “It was unrealistic to expect a full, legally binding international agreement to be reached between now and when Copenhagen starts in 22 days,” said Michael Froman, deputy national security adviser for economic affairs.

But neither was Connie Hedegaard, Danish Minister for Climate and Energy, "poor nations" or Ban Ki Moon saying that no deal at Copenhagen is not an option.

I'm taking some time for personal improvement and learning about positive psychology and the power of positive thinking.* What I learned today is that it's equally as negative to say that something can't fail as to say that it probably won't happen. Instead of telling themselves it can't be done, world leaders should have been telling themselves that a deal is inevitable. In that way they wouldn't have put themselves either between a rock and hard place-- putting too much stress on the situation to succeed-- nor acted negatively about the deal and talked themselves out of one. [There is a way in which this negativity is indicative of larger social issues in our society, but I'll refrain from getting preachy and digressing...]

But before I drive us too far into the desperation: let's examine the extent to which we need Copenhagen:

Businesses have begun to realize that lowering their carbon footprints not only leads to energy efficiency and a healthy planet but healthier profit margins as well. Last month I spoke with Martin Chilcott, the CEO of 2degreesnetwork.com about how he sees businesses acceptance of climate change and sustainable business practices. He said, "We’re seeing revolution the way fund managers, investors, and owners are viewing sustainability....Green is now about managing risk better and customer value better." In other words, from the financiers to the boards to the shareholders, businesses are feeling the pressure. Chilcott explained, "If companies aren't managing this well, they aren’t managing risk and customer value well and you probably want to shift investment."

Businesses are properly motivated for green. They don't need governments to tell them to do it anymore, they aren't waiting. From BusinessGreen.com's James Murray today:

"But even if Copenhagen were to fail, there are still plenty of reasons for businesses to invest in low carbon technologies and practices. Energy costs and energy insecurity will rise with or without Copenhagen, while policymakers across the world will continue to work to boost low carbon industries, regardless of any international treaty. The UK's Climate Act and the EU's renewable energy directive, for example, will not be repealed if the Copenhagen talks end in failure and recriminations."

And a US climate bill, no matter how wimpy, is inevitable as well.

Beyond that there is enough social pressure to respond to climate change: witness the 10:10 debate in the UK's parliament, the Maldives cabinet meeting under water, to name a few. According to Dan Vockins at 10:10, the campaign is poised to expand internationally starting with the Cop15 festivities. I've repeatedly pointed out on this blog that if any region in the world gets climate change, it's Asia. I've also argued that China needs to step up and lead, and present the world with a new economic model. I've spoken with various economists who agree. And as Bryony Worthington of Sandbag told me about developing countries carbon emissions, "they will probably do it anyway just to embarrass them [the West]... When China says it’s going to do something, it generally does it.”

The point I'm getting at: whether or not Cop15 is more than just talk and a "political agreement" is reached, might not matter anyway. People are ready and so are businesses. We are in luck even, that climate change negotiations were preceded by an economic crisis that has allowed us, as a society, to think differently about value and business practice.

In positivist terms: we are moving forward, fully and completely, with or without the Americans and an agreement at Cop15. Deep breath: now, doesn't that feel better?

Not that that doesn't mean that we shouldn't watch Cop15 like a pack of hungry wolves. I'll be reporting from there for solveclimate.com, Simple Earth Media, and Intellecap Media. Watch this space!



*More fully: I believe in a combination of allowing "life" to show us a way but taking proactive steps to get us the rest of the way.



Saudi Arabia makes "green" changes? By whose definition is nuclear, green?

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The Monocle reports in its November edition that Saudi Arabia has 66.5 years of oil left. Their answer: go nuclear. From the Monocle November issue:


"You know the world is changing when Saudi Arabia, the number one exporter
of oil and gas, is toying with the idea of building its first civilian
nuclear power plant."

(issue 28 (2009), p 74)

Let me get this straight: the "world is changing"?! The world will be changing when Saudi invests in purely renewable energy technologies. Going nuclear isn't changing the world, it's running home to what's close and familiar.

Monday evening I attended London's Green Drinks 20th Anniversary where I'm pleased to say that I've had my opinion on nuclear power in developed countries reversed (thanks to a big ginger-haired fellow and an energy infrastructure geek, where I mean geek in the most affectionate way possible). I now understand that in order to achieve emissions reductions necessary to hold the world at a 2 degree Celsius average global temperature rise that developed countries need to utilize nuclear. But Saudi isn't a "developed" country, it's not even an Annex 1 country. It has got more leeway than that and because it has that extra time should devote itself to finishing the development process clean and green.

"World changing"? Sorry Monocle, you've missed the bear.



b2b Social Network Misses the Bear: understanding the green tech future

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In a recent interview I did with a social networking site for b2b greening strategies, the CEO of the company said the company’s expansion depends on US demand for green energy (and the demand for US businesses to provide green technology). This b2b social networking site is particularly useful because one of its functions is to act as an enabler between businesses, creating a competition free space so that businesses can collectively and cooperatively find green solutions. But the CEO's missed the bear: It won’t be US green tech companies that will lead the world in green technology, they will be Chinese. If there’s any market that ready for green, clean business adjustment it’s China. He’s also betting on traditional growth and consumption models.

China recently abandoned it’s “buy Chinese” policy for wind turbines. In an era of increasing protectionism it seems odd that China would do this especially as it has been the target of protectionist policies itself lately. But it makes sense when we consider that China has the global market cornered in light weight wind turbines, according to a report by Climate Group (China’s Clean Revolution volume II). China will even be funding and supplying a wind turbine farm in Texas, to its advantage: 1700 net jobs created and 30% $1.5 billion financing is from US stimulus money. And while China is still heavily dependent upon fossil fuels for production, according to the Climate Group, its continued iterations of 5 year plans have placed a robust legal and regulatory infrastructure at the base of future green development.


Meanwhile (shocker!) the US lags behind: From businessgreen.asia: “Energy Secretary Steven Chu warned that without a robust climate bill the US was in danger of being eclipsed in the burgeoning market for clean technologies by Chinese and European firms - fears that already appear to be being borne out.”

Somehow I doubt the US’s climate bill will be robust enough to give US businesses the impetus they need to beat or match China in green energy R&D, if for no other reason than whatever version of the climate bill passes the US is only seeking to reduce gHg emissions by either 17% or 20% by 2020 (8.5% of which is negated on account of economic recession-- here’s a question: why not go further?!), well behind most industrialized countries (17% by the way is also behind China). Both the Senate and House bills give too many carbon credits away to business (complimentary permits will keep the price too low) and do little to nothing about agriculture subsidies that keep us eating unsustainably (how you ask? corn subsidies = corn syrup for starters). Neither bill is tough enough on methane (one requires capture the other makes it optional, where methane is arguably a more malicious gHg than CO2).

Vivek Wadhwa has written about the Brain Gain phenomenon beginning to occur in Asia: if we consider universities as the R&D base of the world, then this is going to bottom out. His recent studies of US Chinese (and Indian) graduates find that these students are more likely to go home to what they see as more sustainable economic futures and a more supportive family life style.

The Chinese government clearly “gets” climate change a lot better than its counterparts in most developed countries: it has devoted 40% (Climate Group, Reuters says 34%) of its stimulus package to green projects. The US, by comparison, 12% (hate to think what that looks like if you put it in per capita measure). Despite the fact that they haven’t explicitly made emissions reductions commitments, their commitment to green tech R&D, efficient cars, and greening their energy shows that they are in a race to the bottom (lowest emissions) and they’re playing to win.

Anybody who has studied development knows that top down models work as long as the private sector is on board too. So is it? Sort of: According to Tang Hao in a commentary on chinadialogue.net, “China’s local government officials are evaluated by their economic successes – and so powerful companies are often treated leniently. From the point of view of many firms, law enforcement is the exception rather than the rule; any official who does otherwise will be seen as a trouble-maker.” Hao explains that it is a misconception that multinational firms are attracted to China only because of cheap of labour: it’s their lax environmental law as well. But business will reform because the government says so, and there is a trend in banking and investment towards green business. If it’s true that pollution is the result of bad business practice, then China is ripe for the kind of corporate cultural transformation that this b2b social networking site can offer.

Beyond China, looking at the US domestic market, the b2b social network CEO has also missed the bear on demand and consumption. A key to moving green forward is revaluing the economy and refocusing growth away from demand and consumption. It’s not possible that the US will demand increasing amounts of energy, at least if all goes well. Green energy is meant to be efficient and in terms of absolute demand should decrease. As it becomes more efficient the US should demand less energy, consume less not more. What would increase is welfare as the US goes green, but the capacity to do this and the future market drivers for clean green tech will be in Asia.

I’ve blogged before about China needing to step up and lead the world on climate change. Whatever agreement is reached at Copenhagen, by the time it needs to be implemented the Chinese will be the dominant world economy. Betting your company’s future on the UK and US green tech industries, Mr. CEO? Think you’ve missed the bear. Hire some Mandarin speakers and computer programmers, quick!