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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Al Gore Lauds Corporate Advances in the Fight Against Global Warming. Then Totally Misses the Point.

Al Gore recognizes, in a virtual panel discussion on business technology and the environment, that corporations are ahead of governments when it comes to tackling emissions issues.

“Most business leaders are way ahead of political leaders, and that’s good news because once the market shifts, that really starts to make a difference,” Gore said.

Chambers agreed, saying that there has been a “market transition” where many business managers and government leaders are trying to reconcile economic growth with environmental stewardship.

“For the first time, the environment is not just hitting (leaders’ ) radar screen; they also know this is doable with economic growth,” he said.

Then he totally misses the point and continues to embrace economically destructive mandates and the clumsy hand of government over-regulation instead of realizing that the solution is coming to us (although, admittedly, without all the fun political grandstanding that comes with saving the planet from our evil, corporate overlords). The market--consumers and producers--are already addressing emissions issues through a combination of economic and ecological interest.

On the economic side, consumers want energy efficiency because the cost of energy has risen sharply over the last few years and those costs are shaping the way that they shop and build. Producers, on the other hand, have seen their own costs rise for the same reasons--and it’s not just direct energy costs and commodities, the cost increases have crept into things like shipping and printing costs. Working for a publisher, I can tell you that we’re facing a year where we know that our paper, ink, and mailing costs are going to bump significantly--which means that we either pass the increases onto our advertisers, we see our margins shrink, or we find ways to increase efficiency to lower our costs.

To cut those expensive bumps in costs, especially since we’re unlikely to be seeing a barrel of oil at $60 or less any time soon, companies are looking to find new ways to do the same jobs with significantly more efficiency--which means less emissions without the economic pain that an artificial government mandate might leave us. An interesting story on CNet today talks about a new use for a very old technology that could yield significant gains for shipping companies.

Sail power is back.

The MV Beluga SkySails, a cargo ship rigged up with a billowing 160-meter sail from SkySails, used approximately 20 percent less fuel than it would have without the sail during a two-month voyage. Put another way, that’s 2.5 tons of fuel, or $1,000 a day, in operating costs. Beluga Shipping ultimately hopes to save $2,000 a day with the technology.

The ship left Bremen, Germany, on the 22nd of January, sailed to Venezuela, and then headed toward the Norwegian port of Mo-I-Rana, docking on March 13. In all, the ship sailed 11,952 nautical miles. The sail was up, depending on the winds, from between 5 minutes and 8 hours a day.

The point is that businesses and consumers want to solve the same problems that Gore does, although not always for the same reason.

But consumers and producers operate from environmental concern, too, even though the professional protesters would never imagine that it’s so. Al Gore’s troops believe that they have to fight against the corporations and consumers to achieve their positive goal--which is why their focus remains on government action instead of funneling their energy into technology and solutions on the corporate side. The truth is that, in many ways, corporations and consumers have joined the fight voluntarily because they believe either that global warming is as scary as Gore portrays it to be or because they believe the world will be cleaner and better if we reduce our energy use and waste.

I’m in that second camp. Through my thirty-seven years of life, I’ve heard lots of scary warnings from communities of scientists, and those warnings are almost always proven to be overstated hugely. Forgive me for being cynical when they tell me that the world is about to end.

I do believe, though, that inefficiency bleeds growth out of the economy, any metro area would be a more pleasant place with lower emissions, it will be easier to deal with energy demands if we find more clean ways to feed energy into the grid, and it’s awfully hard to want a car that gets poor gas mileage when the price of Regular keeps sucking money out of my wallet like the big, scary NAFTA monster in Ross Perot’s nightmares. Like most people, my desire to cut emissions comes from a combination of beliefs and desires driven by my own personal values (economic and ethical).

My desire to save the world may not be as pure as theirs, but it’s just as useful and results-oriented.

If politicians and scare-mongers like Gore would just stay out of the way, the market will continue to tackle the problems that government can’t.

Read the story.

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