Fred Krupp being interviewed at the World Innovation Forum. Photo courtesy of Dov Friedmann - PhotographybyDov.com
Attendees from over twenty countries filled the Nokia Theater in NYC this past week to hear speakers on a range of topics, including disruptive innovation, global innovation, and the behavioral economy. As it was the World Innovation Forum, innovation was naturally on everyone's mind. Fred Krupp spoke about Eco-Innovation. Krupp, the President of Environmental Defense Fund and author of Earth: The Sequel, held an apropos talk given the simultaneous discussions by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the draft Waxman-Markey bill. The bill, if passed, will be the most significant action the U.S. taken to date in addressing climate change. Krupp lured attendees by pronouncing that the climate change bill would lead to a "gold rush" for innovators with "new fortunes to be made." However, Krupp gave the caveat that the bill may not pass this year and that world leaders may not agree with the approach. Still, he noted, if political climate action does occur, it will take place soon. On Tuesday, President Obama requested immediate action on energy reform from the 34 Democrats who sit on the committee. Waxman has promised to pass the bill out of his committee before Memorial Day.
The Need for a Carbon Cap
Krupp believes that with Copenhagen looming and the economy tanking, the window of opportunity is now. To demonstrate, he provided factoids relating carbon caps to hard hats. For example, there are currently more people in the U.S. working in wind energy than in coal mining. Krupp then featured a new ad campaign video with a mayor from Pennsylvania, John Fetterman. Fetterman has been providing testimony on behalf of a carbon cap, which would, he believes, result in more jobs in industries like steel. Fetterman's town, Braddock, used to be called little Pittsburgh for its steel industry. Renewable energy sources, like wind turbines, require steel and other metals. These turbines can be manufactured, transported, and assembled here in the U.S.
Krupp then delivered a strong pitch for a cap and trade system. Others, such as NASA's James Hansen, prefer a cap and dividend or a carbon tax. Regardless of the chosen method, there is currently no penalty for airborne CO2 emission. Krupp believes that as soon as strict carbon limits are implemented, both the economy and environment will improve.
Similar to that delivered in Earth: the Sequel, Krupp highlighted eco-innovators who didn't wait for the government to correct the price of carbon. One of these individuals is Bernie Karl, a geothermal pioneer. Karl is the owner of the Chena Hot Springs Resort, a resort that has an ice museum during the summer and a greenhouse during the winter. After spending $1000/day on diesel, Karl brainstormed how he could use his hot spring location to provide geothermal energy for both heating and cooling. Today, Karl no longer requires diesel fuels. Instead, he uses geothermal energy. Karl's advice was to never allow the lack of money or slow one down, as those are often one's strongest assets. He noted that plenty of smart people had warned him his geothermal idea would not work, until it did. As Krupp was speaking on Wednesday, May 6th, the Geothermal Energy Association had experts, including Karl himself, delivering presentations at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
Conrad Burke, CEO of Innovalight, a solar nanotechnology company, was the next eco-innovator that Krupp highlighted. Conrad works with thin film solar panels that allow solar to be used in a smaller space. Conrad has said that the market for his products is so large that there is room for many competitors.
Krupp said the cap and trade system was needed for companies like Karl's and Innovalight that require the stability and the predictability of a cap. For skeptical audience members, Krupp reminded us that he worked in this field during the first Bush presidency, a time of growing acid rain concerns. Emissions of sulfur dioxide were killing fish and damaging forests. The government set a cap on the total amount of sulfur dioxide, with current SO2 levels 50% below 1980 levels. This was not a one-size-fits-all requirement. There were no EPA scrubber requirements and no micromanaging. The rule let businesses decide how they would reduce pollution levels. Therefore, the rational is that, if the approach worked with SO2 and acid rain, it can work with CO2 and climate change.
EDF tracks eco-innovators on their website. While some innovations are game changers, small advancements can be significant as well. 60 million automatic irrigation systems operate in the U.S. irrespective of rainfall. Precision irrigation can measure water content in soil and only turn on those systems that are needed at that moment. Another innovation highlighted this year was Google's renovated data center. Much energy can be lost as wasted heat in such data centers. Google streamlined its data center managers and lowered its energy use to half the the normal amount.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Innovation has and can continue to reduce pollution levels. Global warming is not an apocalypse. We must confront global warming before it confronts us. There exists an abundance of solutions and Krupp believes the government does not hold all or even most of the answers. The US should set the performance bar and let innovation percolate. Krupp was little impressed with the Pickens plan, as it cherry-picks natural gas and wind energy. He believes the Pickens vision may ultimately act to confine us.
Fred Krupp is certainly an environmentalist who can speak the language of businessmen. If we are able to properly harness and cultivate entrepreneurial efforts, we may be able to place innovation in the fore of pro-environmental efforts.
More on Eco-innovation
Victorian Eco-innovation Lab
Solar Ink Being Developed by Innovalight
More on Cap and Trade
Democrats Introduce Cap and Trade in the House
Cap and Trade Could Save US Families $900 a Year
Will Cap and Trade survive a Gauntlet of Lobbyists?
Obama's Cap and Trade Would Generate $645 Billion in "Climate Revenue"