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June 2, 2007 8:47 PM   Subscribe

John Doerr: Seeking salvation and profit in greentech. This is a grim talk from a man who is well-connected with the tech industries best and brightest. He spent a year talking with scientists, experts, and politicians the world 'round about industry and the atmosphere. And as a result he has put a few hundred million dollars toward disruptive technologies... because he is scared -- scared shitless -- about what lies ahead. He also calls us to action.
posted by five fresh fish (55 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Basically, we consumers need to pressure our vendors, and we stockholders need to pressure our companies, and we citizens need to pressure our representatives, to deal with global environment change.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:00 PM on June 2, 2007


I find it strange that a guy who wants to save the environment is also happy that they found a cheaper way to make anti-malarial drugs. More people = more damage. It's a tough fact. Sure, he thinks this kind of engineering will lead to biofuels, but what he should be rooting for, if he believes what he says, is a carefully engineered sterility plague.

Honestly, if you want to cut your contributions to ecological damage ... have less kids. Of course, the people prone to doing that will die out, leaving the consumers to breed.

I think we're way, way past the carrying capacity for humans on the planet, which depends on if your lifestyle is Suburban SUV or dirt-grubbing granola. We'll either drastically cut down on our population or nature will do it for us. Nothing short of fiber-optic telecommuting, personal fablabs, neighborhood scale fusion plants, and semi-AI robots going through our trash and landfills recycling everything we pitch will stop it.
posted by adipocere at 9:16 PM on June 2, 2007


More people = more damage

This is the essential problem behind all fights against diseases or pandemics: If you keep keeping more people alive in the face of naturally occuring viruses, bacteria, pathogens, and so on, there will be more and more hosts for newer scourges.

Birth control is what is happening.

(ducks)
posted by longsleeves at 9:30 PM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I find it strange that a guy who wants to save the environment is also happy that they found a cheaper way to make anti-malarial drugs.

John Doerr is probably the most successful venture capitalist that ever lived. As such, I suspect he is more interested in keeping the earth habitable for humans, rather than returning the earth to some hypothetical state of nature.

Nothing short of fiber-optic telecommuting, personal fablabs, neighborhood scale fusion plants, and semi-AI robots going through our trash and landfills recycling everything we pitch will stop it.

Those are exactly the sort of things that he has built his fortune by investing in.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:31 PM on June 2, 2007


This is a good sign. Once rich people figure out how to profit off saving the earth, it will probably happen. Or at least it's more likely to happen.

I find it strange that a guy who wants to save the environment is also happy that they found a cheaper way to make anti-malarial drugs. More people = more damage. It's a tough fact. Sure, he thinks this kind of engineering will lead to biofuels, but what he should be rooting for, if he believes what he says, is a carefully engineered sterility plague.

You're a moron. First of all Malaria only kills about 1 million people a year, hardly enough to really make much of a difference in terms of pollution, and it's much more likely to kill someone in a poor, non-polluting country then a rich country which produces more (Far more) greenhouse gas per capita.

Secondly, I'm pretty sure he's more interested saving the environment for people, rather then saving the environment for it's own sake (as some crazies who want to drastically reduce the population)

finally, I find it absurd that some random person on the internet thinks he knows more, offhand then some guys who's at least done quite a bit of research. I mean where do you get off making claims like that? Seriously.
posted by delmoi at 9:34 PM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Calling Doerr "well connected with the tech industries best and brightest" is a bit like suggesting that the Pope has a few Catholic friends.

Bill Gates might have more money than Doerr, but Doerr arguably has a far better track record* and likely has much more influence. When Bill comes up with a new idea, people outside of Microsoft laugh. When Doerr comes up with a new idea, people get to work.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:39 PM on June 2, 2007


* - more successful ventures, though Bill's few successes have generated more revenue.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:40 PM on June 2, 2007


Oh, we'll never return it to some hypothetical state of nature. I'm just looking at sustainability. That's keeping the Earth habitable for humans. I don't have any illusions otherwise. I don't think we can replant all of the trees, recreate the dodo from scraps of DNA harvested by dessicated displays in the Smithonian, and then all go live on the Moon.

And, as to the things he invests in, the first two could be done, the last two ... probably not in time.

I know malaria kills one million people a year. HE SAID SO IN THE VIDEO. Goddamn, delmoi. However, as someone who keeps touting these changes of one percent or so (as he does in the video), that one million people per year would be on the order of the changes he's talking about. Get it?

And, yes, delmoi, I'm a moron. Please, if it makes you happy to think that, have at it.
posted by adipocere at 9:43 PM on June 2, 2007


I don't doubt Doerr's newfound passion for "greentech." If his efforts end up helping change the way we consume, lessening our environmental impact, making the world better for future generations, I'm glad for his investments. That said, I find it... interesting... (maybe ironic? can't find the right word) how people in their 50s find new passion in our environmental impact. Doerr talks about his daughter and how worrying about her future caused this change in thinking. It's a shame that it took so long (if he is that intelligent.)
posted by gen at 9:51 PM on June 2, 2007


I know malaria kills one million people a year. HE SAID SO IN THE VIDEO. Goddamn, delmoi. However, as someone who keeps touting these changes of one percent or so (as he does in the video), that one million people per year would be on the order of the changes he's talking about. Get it?

yes, but the people who die are not the ones who are living 'unsubstainably' in 200 Congo put out 1,380,000 tons of CO2 total for 2954258. The US put out 5,799,240,000 Tons for about a hundred times as many people. One american produces about 40 times as much CO2 as a single Congolese. Killing a million people in sub sahara Africa a year wouldn't come close to reducing the world's greenhouse gas emissions by anything close to 1%.

And on the other hand you're talking about the pain and suffering of hundreds of millions of people who get the disease and don't die, plus the painful deaths of millions of people to get a greenhouse gas emission reduction equivalent to replacing about 1,000 SUVs with hybrid SUVs.

I mean really, to even suggest such a scheme as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is just harebrained. It's like you're not even thinking about the quantitative effects at all.
posted by delmoi at 10:08 PM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Irrelevant, too, wholly irrelevant, so let's let the dumb comment slide by, k?

I daresay this fellow does more in a week than most of us do in a year. One doesn't get that kind of success (in choosing those right investments, in landing his kind of clients, of talking with the sorts of people he talked with) without busting one's ass.

He knows one helluva lot more about what's really go one with the environment than anyone here, I'll wager. And he sounded shit-scared to me. Certainly deeply emotional... with the suggestion that twenty years might make it or break it.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:20 PM on June 2, 2007


Too, it's not like his daughter is one of us common people, not with a dad that's got the resources he has. If he's freaked out by her future with all that advantage, what hope for the rest of us?

Damn, we are going to be living in intensely interesting times.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:21 PM on June 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's like you're not even thinking about the quantitative effects at all.

That may or may not be true, but it doesn't change the fact that you're a douche for calling him a moron--ad hominem attacks invariably derail any meaningful dialogue one hopes to have on any given topic. If you disagree with his assertion, fine, disagree--but delmoi, you have a terrible habit of knee-jerk, personal insults. For someone who posts as frequently--and generally as smartly--as you do, it's an irritating habit.

(see what I mean about ad hominem attacks? I bet you're mostly thinking about how I called you a douche.)
posted by LooseFilter at 10:25 PM on June 2, 2007


(sorry all for contributing to a derail)
posted by LooseFilter at 10:26 PM on June 2, 2007


LooseFilter: the guy was suggesting it would it be a good idea to let hundreds of millions of people suffer needlessly. I don't think the comment would have irritated me so much otherwise. But yes I could have been more polite. Sorry.
posted by delmoi at 10:42 PM on June 2, 2007


I wasn't suggesting "such a scheme." I'm not sure where you got that idea from. It's not a prescription, it's a comparison of the outcomes of measures, that increased efficiencies will be offset by the consumption from more people. And I'm considering it with the idea that Africa will start picking up its consumption and impact, the same way China is doing now. With increased economic investment in Africa, they'll start picking up the American standard of living (and consumption, too).

What I specifically said was "more people = more damage." It's not wrong. It's also not wrong that the one million you save today will go on to make two million not much later on. And so on, and so forth. If he's serious about sustainability, then a carefully planned reduction of the birthrate everywhere is a lot more effective than scrabbling for one or two percent here and there, which will only buy you a little more time. That was the prescriptive part. Okay, delmoi? Please react to what I actually say, not what you have constructed.

Even the most optimistic scenarios for carrying capacity are around nine billion, with most running much less than that. Nine billion isn't very far away. And that's when you're talking about some really optimal conversion of sunlight into food calories. I'm still waiting to see some analysis based on bottlenecks like energy, arable land, and such. I think we might be able to squeeze another couple billion out of having meat animals grazing on non-arable land and pushing the envelope on more efficient routing of the food we already have. I'm not talking Club of Rome or anything, but it isn't as if the Earth can support an infinite number of people. Once you accept that, we're merely haggling over the price, as Churchill put it. Once we hit that point, hundreds of millions suffering from malaria won't mean squat compared to billions. It's cold, it's hard, it's ugly, and it's life, and I don't have any magic bullets for it. The only suggestion I kicked out there was less kids, and if we can't find a way to ram it down the collective throat of the planet that we're pretty much done with being fruitful and multiplying, it'll get done for us, and it will be a lot messier.

But, hey, don't worry about what I have to say, I'm a moron.
posted by adipocere at 10:47 PM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


adipocere may be morbid but is unfortunately dead-on. There are too many people releasing carbon on this planet. A century of disease eradication and a half-century without a World War has left this planet overpopulated and the earth is going to do something about it. It's cute that John Doerr is thinking about making climate change profitable and it really warms my heart to hear stories about Walmart going green when 98% of the crap they sell is made from oil and is built to last a season at best. You want change? Outlaw corporations. Start taxing food and goods by their carbon footprint. Venture capitalists are not going to fix this problem at this point - only government mandates can do so. To put it in terms Johnny Doerr can understand - the time for the soft landing was back when he and his generation where dropping acid on Haight street. They had all the right ideas back then, and I fear they were the last great hope to save the world - it's too bad the best and brightest of them had to sell out that vision to become billionaires in business. Now he's realizing that those billions aren't going to be enough to save his progeny. I'm sure he and his daughter will be the last to go when the floods start -as for me... I live by the river.
posted by any major dude at 10:49 PM on June 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


Clearly our problems with greenhouse gas emissions would be smaller if our population was as well, but I don't think that any sort of non-catastrophic population reduction would be fast enough to solve our problems in the time frame we need (the next hundred years or so). And any kind of war would drastically increase CO2 production in the interim.

Also, if people are worried that their children might die of some disease, then they're likely to have more. It's improving healthcare and making people able to feel comfortable supporting themselves without a family support network that actually reduces birthrates. It's no coincidence that the richest nations are the ones who are having trouble growing their populations.
posted by delmoi at 10:59 PM on June 2, 2007


There are too many people releasing carbon on this planet.

I've heard tell that eliminating one American can save up to forty Congolese.

The earth is beyond carrying capacity were everyone to live a Western lifestyle.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:10 PM on June 2, 2007


Sure, he thinks this kind of engineering will lead to biofuels, but what he should be rooting for, if he believes what he says, is a carefully engineered sterility plague.

Do you live in a science-fiction novel?
posted by mullacc at 11:10 PM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's no coincidence that the richest nations are the ones who are having trouble growing their populations.

It's true that the wealthier someone is the less children they have but with wealth comes greater carbon emissions. There needs to be balance. Nature always moves toward balance. We don't live sustainable lifestyles. To suggest that we can change this thing by making the "sacrifice" of using compact flourescents is naive. I believe the only sustainable cultures this world has ever seen has been the hunter/gatherers. They couldn't rape the land, if they had too many children there were consequences. Resources became replenished as the moved about on their nomadic existence leaving some for the next generation. No one in the first world is going to be willing to go back to that form of existence and even if we did - the resources are not available for us to do so at the current population so something has got to give.
posted by any major dude at 11:19 PM on June 2, 2007


It's true that the wealthier someone is the less children they have but with wealth comes greater carbon emissions.

That's true (although I wish people would say CO2 emissions, rather then 'carbon' emissions, anyway) But it isn't wealth directly that causes people not to feel like they need to have a lot of children, but rather something else associated with wealth. It might be busy jobs, a need for a long education, financial security and intrinsic rewards for differing childbirth. It's possible that all those conditions could be met without increasing greenhouse gas emissions much, as well as reductions in the first world.
posted by delmoi at 11:35 PM on June 2, 2007


mullacc, the guy is talking about growing fuel in vats. Sounds like he's living in a science-fiction novel, too.
posted by adipocere at 11:37 PM on June 2, 2007


mullacc, the guy is talking about growing fuel in vats. Sounds like he's living in a science-fiction novel, too.

What do you think they use to make ethanol?
posted by delmoi at 11:51 PM on June 2, 2007


The video is really interesting. I don't know enough about the guy to have a well-founded opinion, but my initial impression is that if there were more like him, we'd live in safer times.

Some of the comments in this thread though are downright loopy. Population control as a solution? We're not talking about halving various pollutions outputs - if we want to have a chance at sustainability and survivability, we're talking orders of magnitude less population. It could matter less whether there's 3 or 6 or 9 billion people on this planet. We're fucked without serious revolutions in culture/lifestyle/technology.

Delmoi may have been harsh, but I think he's right. Talking about population control beyond trying to cap it in the near future looks like little more than masturbation. You think letting diseases run amok is a solution? It's not even close. It's a hand wave at cynicism and 'harsh reality', which contributes little to nothing when it comes to figuring out what we can do.
posted by Alex404 at 12:16 AM on June 3, 2007


Delmoi, that's my point. It all looks pretty science-fictiony, doesn't it? Pick up Make Room, Make Room!.

Alex404, seriously, look and see if I actually suggested letting diseases run amok. Please.
posted by adipocere at 12:22 AM on June 3, 2007


Doerr has done something that we are all capable of doing. He found changes to make in his own life, and he is helping others to make changes for themselves.

There is no reason for a dialog on sustainability to be sidetracked by speculation about population control. To be clear, the population issue is very important, but there are no direct ways to control population that are palatable, or in my opinion even realistic. Delmoi described the lower birthrate that occurs when people anticipate a secure future for their children. Jefferey Sachs describes it as a rapid, voluntary shift in demographics.

I have some relevant information on sustainability and population growth here.
posted by FissionChips at 12:40 AM on June 3, 2007


"I find it strange that a guy who wants to save the environment is also happy that they found a cheaper way to make anti-malarial drugs."

Are you human?

He wants to save the environment, not for himself (he's too old for it to make much difference to his life), but because of his empathy for future people who will experience the consequences of global warming. He rejoices that a million people a year will be spared suffering and dying prematurely from a preventable disease for the same reason.

The two emotional responses are inextricably linked in the human condition. A human being with enough empathy for others to feel one will likely feel the other.
posted by lastobelus at 1:57 AM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Educated women with access to birth control and whose children have access to health care have fewer children.

Home insulation should be tax deductible. Computers should use way less electricity than they do now. If your house generates excess electricity you should be able to spin your electric meter backwards until it gets to zero, then get credits for any additional electricity produced to use in months where you use more than you produce.

We should have as a goal reducing the total energy used for personal transportation by 50% in the next ten years.

The minimum efficiency allowed by law for central air conditioning units in my area is a SEER 10, and it should be at least SEER 14(40% more cooling capacity produced for the same energy input).

Increasing base efficiencies, smarter production of smarter products, and incentives to do this are all going to be needed to get us out of this mess. I don't know if this can happen without oil costing twice what it does now, but it would be nice if things could change without being forced to change by crueler forces than you or I want to wrestle with.
posted by dglynn at 5:07 AM on June 3, 2007


Once rich people figure out how to profit off saving the earth, it will probably happen.

No. Rich people profit. Period. By any means available that they can get away with. The trash the earth/save the earth question is irrelevant to them. "Save the earth" is usually another marketing scam (even if it's not in this particular case).
posted by DarkForest at 6:03 AM on June 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Great speech by John Doer.
posted by stbalbach at 6:05 AM on June 3, 2007


A very moving talk. I love the TED talks: I wish I could take the time to watch all of them.
(recommended)

But reduce emissions by a half? I'm with Monbiot: the rich need to get down by 90%. We'll fail even if we meet his targets, certainly.

I'm pleased that he turned China's emissions back on the West to some extent, but to praise Walmart in the same segment? When the reason China emits so much is that we purchase race-to-the-bottom crap we don't need from them. We may reduce our emissions, close our smokestacks, then buy more from China. It'll help us in cap-and-trade, but won't save the planet.

There's more wrong with this too, but I don't want to bore everyone. And besides, I did like it too.
posted by imperium at 6:22 AM on June 3, 2007


I find it quite irritating that Wal*Mart is a hero, while "it's hard to get individuals to do the right thing." What practices does he think are encouraging "wild card" China's booming economy to boom so carboniferously?

I appreciate that such a rich and connected guy is throwing his resources at the problem, but his whole tone irks me. Like, he pooped his pants when he realized his wealth couldn't protect his own family, so he had to get the Important People involved, and now that the Important People are starting to get it he's worried that it's too late.

What I hear in Doerr's voice is the sound of a man who is absolutely confident in his own power and skill trying really, really hard to sound humble, and not quite getting it.
posted by localroger at 7:04 AM on June 3, 2007


WTF? How is it Wal*Mart's fault that American consumers are greedy and cheap? It's somehow bad that the biggest employer-nation on this globe is becoming active in reducing its energy footprint? You're looney.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:14 AM on June 3, 2007


What scares me is that people with access to the experts and leaders are scared. Doerr isn't the only one.

Like the guy or not, I gotta figure there's something going on that's a little worrying, and I'm damn glad there are changes happening already.

Wal*Mart is a behemouth corporation: it is going to play a significant role, even while I hate their evil business ethics.

Now, how do I get off the grid? I need cheap, efficient solar, dammit!
posted by five fresh fish at 7:22 AM on June 3, 2007


5ff, Wal*Mart has systematically forced their suppliers to move offshore to meet their increasingly unrealistic pricing demands. The US consumer does not demand that level of rapacity, and would probably never realize or care article X could be had for $3.00 instead of $4.20 by the expedience of shipping it from China.

Meanwhile, most of the people I know -- including some extremely red-state right wing loons -- all think CFL's are the best thing since sliced bread. (Granted, this has to do with objection #1 that they're now cheap enough, but whatever.) I know people who think Al Gore is a loon who have also changed out all their bulbs. Whatever world Doerr is living in, it's not RL.
posted by localroger at 7:26 AM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


John Doerr is well-meaning, but a bit ignorant. I think this comes from working in Silicon Valley, where listening to engineers is a sure way to end up failing, due to the unique nature of information technology innovation.

Unlike silicon valley, in the physical engineering world, improvements of orders of magnitude are few and far between.

I'm also little upset that he focused on sugar-based ethanol as much as he did. What a red herring of a technology.

I was all ready to be excited, but I don't think John Doerr gets it, either. He's just doing what he knows how to do. I hope to be proven wrong.
posted by anthill at 8:09 AM on June 3, 2007


But reduce emissions by a half? I'm with Monbiot: the rich need to get down by 90%. We'll fail even if we meet his targets, certainly.

I don't have references for this, but I've been assuming that emissions reductions have always been a short term fix, basically just intended to buy us enough time to develop a more fundamental solution to the problem. The only way to actually prevent massive climate change over timespans of a century or more will be to actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, maybe via bacteria, or some more mechanical process. Al Gore probably tries to avoid discussing the solution in these terms because he doesn't want to encourage people to think that if we just wait 50 years, the problem will solve itself, but that has to be the endgame.
posted by gsteff at 8:16 AM on June 3, 2007


And again, localroger, what on earth does that have to do with Wal*Mart doing the right thing by choosing to conserve energy?

I'm fully aware that Wal*Mart is the worst thing to happen ever. What I do not understand is how they can be criticized for reducing their energy footprint.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:27 AM on June 3, 2007


How is it Wal*Mart's fault that American consumers are greedy and cheap?

It's not, of course. But realizing the kind of economy of scale made possible by the masses of the greedy and cheap has made being greedy and cheap all the more appealing by lowering prices there, and has eliminated thereby some of the choices that the thoughtful and rich people used to prefer. So naturally, they resent it, for making the market more efficient.

anti-malarial drugs. More people = more damage.

Yeah, so the choice is: lots of people die horribly now, or else some less well-quantified number of people, probably more, die at some later time, unless something revolutionary happens between now and whenever that time is. Tough call.
posted by sfenders at 8:27 AM on June 3, 2007


I get a kick out of the idea that anthill knows more about ethanol production's future than the guy who just spent a year talking with the Brazilians, who have by far the most advanced technology.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:28 AM on June 3, 2007


Who would have thought that scientists attempting to cure one disease may have created a new one. /promotional voice - Followed by ad for $115,000 2 ton 'hydrogen' car/
posted by acro at 8:56 AM on June 3, 2007


5ff the damage Wally World has done by racing everyone else to the bottom is far worse than the little good it has done with this greening up of its retail stores (which smells to me suspiciously like a PR stunt designed to offset some of their frequent bad publicity). What does it matter that a guy makes little children laugh if he turns out to be John Wayne Gacy?

And it is irksome that Doerr obligingly handjobs them for this while conveniently ignoring the fact that they are directly responsible for another of those big problems that worry him, the role of China in all of this. Disconnect much?
posted by localroger at 8:59 AM on June 3, 2007


My impression of the whole anti-malarial thing wasn't so much that the anti-malarial drug was the point (though gee whiz neato cool) as that the same technology would make possible better liquid fuels -- though he didn't say it specifically, I suspect he means liquid fuels that don't need to be distilled, a high energy process that offsets a good chunk of their carbon-neutrality.
posted by localroger at 9:02 AM on June 3, 2007


Kuntsler 'national automobile slum denies a hopeful present'
posted by acro at 9:04 AM on June 3, 2007


I get a kick out of the idea that anthill knows more about ethanol production's future than the guy who just spent a year talking with the Brazilians

Hmm, well sure. But Doerr is not exactly the authority on all things ethanol and its relationship to carbon dioxide. In the talk he says Brazil replaced 40% of its gasoline consumption with ethanol, and that this saved 10% in total CO2 emissions from all sources in the country. Looking up the numbers, it appears that this calculation is correct only if you assume that ethanol has zero net CO2 emissions. Given how many people, experts and otherwise, are routinely given to exaggerating the benefits of ethanol in the US, I think the most reasonable conclusion is that Doerr has met and been persuaded by some such people in Brazil; not that Brazil has figured out how to grow, process, and transport sugarcane ethanol without using any fuel.

(Yes, maybe the net carbon emissions from the process are close to zero, but unfortunately, the improvement in reducing CO2 is only that ethanol left over after you subtract the ethanol (or equivalent petroleum) used to produce it. This becomes obvious if you consider replacing all fossil fuels with ethanol; you might conceivably have zero net CO2, but to do it you'd need to produce not just 100% of the amount of ethanol it'd take to run everything that used to run on oil, but 100% plus whatever it took to produce the ethanol. Not that this would actually be possible within the limits of arable land suitable for fuel crops.)
posted by sfenders at 9:20 AM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Or, I could be wrong about that. Damn.

EROEI for sugarcane ethanol turns out to be way higher than I guessed, putting the CO2 reduction within the margin of error of my estimate of gasoline's share of the total if this is correct. I mean, I knew it was better than ethanol from corn, but had no idea it could be better by 400% or more. Huh.
posted by sfenders at 9:36 AM on June 3, 2007


1. Improved electric motors with high temperature superconductors. 2. Improved electrical grid effciency, reliability with high temperature superconductors. 3. Large desert solar power generating stations. 4. electric cars
posted by acro at 9:48 AM on June 3, 2007


Thanks sfenders, I was conflating Brazilian sugarcane with American corn. five fresh fish's skepticism is totally deserved. However, reading through your link turned up a crucial comment:

"Sugar cane ethanol from Brazil is NOT a realistic target or a comparable model for USA ethanol from corn. It is very easy to replace all gasoline when you would only need 8 billion gallons per year and you have a generous plant that thrives rain-fed under tropical conditions, occupying less than 1% of a country's arable land, to produce alcohol to replace 50% of all that gasoline. However, this cannot be extrapolated for USA's conditions, neither for corn, not even for sugar cane in Southern states. So, realistically, let's understand that sugar cane ethanol in Brazil is mangoes and corn ethanol in USA is apples."
That was what was missing from John's talk. Not to mention that sugarcane production in the USA would also involve a lot of farm labor - does anyone know if the sugarcane crop lends itself to mechanical agriculture?
posted by anthill at 10:12 AM on June 3, 2007


lastobelus, negative, I am a meat popsicle.

Here's the thing: "human" responses and instincts are what got us into this problem in the first place. Big families give us warm and fuzzies. Have fun now, worry about the future later. Protect your nearest and dearest, screw everyone else. AIDS is tough to crack, so let's believe that it can be cured by giving it to a virgin. Evolution is complicated, a deity is easier. Everything will be alright if we just follow the strongman. I prove my masculinity by having many children, who will care for me when I am older. I don't know when I will eat next, so I will eat a bunch now and exercise later. These instincts are becoming more and more inappropriate. Human beings were designed to overcome failure; we're lousy at dealing with success.

Nobody said it would be fun, but a chilly, dispassionate look at our priorities and probable outcomes is what will help us.
Holding hands and singing "All We Need Is Love" hasn't worked yet.
posted by adipocere at 10:42 AM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sure, Brazil turned to ethanol for one large part of their plan because they happened to have handy a way to easily and efficiently make it. Ethanol investment in America is either considerably more speculative (in the case of cellulosic ethanol for example) or considerably less useful, or possibly harmful (in the case of the process that currently dominates the market) once you factor in things other than CO2 emissions. Things people tend to care about, like food, water, and soil. Listening again to Doerr, it does seem fair to say his neglecting to mention this stuff is at best unintentionally misleading.

It's not surprising in one respect; while this "green is the next big thing" attitude is great to see, and essential to improving things, I wait expectantly for it to expand to include, with the same kind of enthusiasm, environmental problems other than global climate change, of which there are many to choose from.
posted by sfenders at 11:16 AM on June 3, 2007


I wait for it to enthusiastically adopt 'demand reduction', conservation, reducing, and reusing. I'm not going to hold my breath until we hit rock bottom and the economists finally agree that eternal growth isn't a viable option.
posted by anthill at 3:20 PM on June 3, 2007


"human" responses and instincts are what got us into this problem in the first place.

I don't think you'll care at all for the alternative. If there is a planned reduction of the human race, who do you think will take the hit - the planners?
posted by me & my monkey at 4:39 PM on June 3, 2007


I'm not going to swear or call anybody a moron ... I'll save that for when the going gets rough and it's too late to do anything else.

The longer we take to face the problem, the worse. There should be an ongoing n-nation scientific summit with a timetable addressing possible solutions. It's been 50 years since the IGY: that worked!

We need to start looking at *serious* conservation measures early on. Estimate, for example, the impact of replacing *a few* hundred-watt bulbs with CFLs across the board. Do *all* major cities needed to be flooded with "security" lighting all night long? Can we gain by returning to recycling methods used in the past (e.g. glass bottles)?

It shouldn't be too hard to come up with a list of 200 such ideas, calculate the potential of each one, and implement the most obvious, then the best, ASAP. Paying principal now saves interest later!
posted by Twang at 11:32 PM on June 3, 2007


I would so love it if my town were to turn off the streetlights.

And the car lots, my god, there should be a 10x surcharge on their electrical costs. Freakin' places are lit up brighter than sunlight.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:20 PM on June 4, 2007


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