Pleasant (Silicon) Valley Sunday

flodesign.jpg I sometimes describe my self as a techno-optimist, something of an ecogeek. I like the idea that there are technologies which can help us to deal with climate change – new and interesting stuff that can make decarbonising the global economy a reality. To illustrate what I mean, there’s an excellent (and long) article by Jon Gertner in the New York Times, discussing the activities of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the powerful venture capital firm with substantial “greentech” interests. Gertner was given an inside look at some of the more visible of KPCB’s investments (FloDesign – that’s their wind turbine above, Ausra, & Bloom Energy amongst others), but I found the following section particularly interesting. Gertner interviews Al Gore, and discover’s he’s become more optimistic about our ability to deal with climate change:

“My previous optimism involved an act of will that occasionally was hard to reconcile with the worsening reality,” he told me. His optimism had recently grown considerably, partly because of the prospect of new policies on carbon emissions, and partly because of innovations he’d seen at Kleiner. Some of these were green-tech companies, Gore said, that were in “deep, deep stealth”; they were known to no one except for a few V.C.’s and the entrepreneurs themselves. I heard a similar point elsewhere. John Doerr’s speech last spring at M.I.T., for instance, was notably more upbeat than the emotional one he gave at the 2007 technology conference, where he said, “I don’t think we’re going to make it.” I recently asked Doerr how he felt now. “I’m more optimistic about the innovation that will occur,” he replied. “I’m more humbled by the scale of what has to be done. Or more sober. And I’m particularly concerned about the speed.” The green-energy technologies Kleiner was investing in, Doerr continued, “won’t impact the problem at scale in the next five years, just because they have long development times associated with them. In the 5-to-15-year period of time, I think they’ll demonstrate, and clearly point the path to, lower costs than we would have otherwise imagined possible.”

That has to be good news. Technology is not the only answer to the problem, as Lomborg might insist, but it is a key part of the response we have to make. There’s a race on – climate change against human ingenuity. We’re smart enough to win, but we’re greedy enough to make the job difficult. And we need to be lucky…

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