There is something dangerous about the way we communicate today. By nature, as humans, we seek those who approve of our opinions and avoid those who we disagree with. With the Internet and other mediums that provide the illusion of contact of contact and interaction with all types of people all over the world, you are lulled into a false sense that there is Massive amounts of energy and support for People Like You. This is a big problem with the contemporary green movement that seems to be Everywhere. But is it? And, even if it is, are the fleeting images of magazine covers and rock concerts deriving change?
This thought is raised and explored in a Guardian (UK) article about the green focused panel at last week's TechNet event. A long excerpt (after jump)...
The demand for green goods and green policy just isn't there yet, the panel said. Not in America, anyway. And demand is what fledging greentech companies need more than anything.
Green start-ups need people willing to buy their new products, so that they can re-invest in R&D and scale-up their operations, and therefore bring the price of those products down to a more widely affordable level. The central question the panel discussed was just what it will take to build that demand. Role-models and sex appeal are always useful, the four men agreed, but they've been around for years now. Everybody from Leonardo di Caprio to Cameron Diaz has a story to tell about their trendy, green consumption. The cool factor, it seems, is having little impact.
The exception, all agreed, is the Toyota Prius, which is ubiquitous on California's clogged highways. One member of the audience told the story of her middle-aged friend who traded in his Ferrari for a Prius. His rationale? In a Ferrari he looked like a desperate man going through a mid-life crisis. In a Prius he looked like a confident, caring guy. He reckons, his friend reported, that his love-life has improved as a result.
Dr (Larry) Brilliant (of Google) said his people had looked into the Prius phenomenon and come back with some surprising findings. Only 2% of those who bought Priuses did so for purely environmental reasons. That's right, 2%. Around 10% bought them because "they did the math wrong"; that is, they thought the savings in petrol would more than pay off the cost of the car when they won't. The majority of Prius buyers confessed they had bought the car A) because it gave them access to the carpool lane and B) because the distinctive look and green reputation said something about the kind of person they were.
In other words, people need incentives other than saving their children and grandchildren from possible environmental devastation.
The panel did have some great ideas about how to grow green consumption. Brilliant spoke of energy star ratings not just for fridges, but for all electronic appliances (fridges have doubled in size and use half as much power since the star ratings were introduced, he claimed). (Jonathan) Schwartz (of Sun) spoke of relocating data centres, which already make up 3%-4% of total US electricity usage, to places with cheaper, greener power. (The tech industry has to look at itself in the mirror, he argued.) (John) Doerr asked why his phone company can give him a breakdown of all his daughter's text messages, but his power company can't tell him how much electricity each of his appliances uses. (That's the kind of information that could change behaviour, he said.)
But as their conversation continued, they made a surprising observation. They said the problem with green issues is that they haven't coalesced into a popular movement yet, and it's a movement that's needed. It's not what you usually hear from middle-aged millionaires in suits. Sure, they have a bottom-line vested interest in inciting this particular purchasing revolution, but, as it happens, they're also right. As Brilliant described it: "Covers of magazines is not a movement. Writing articles on the internet is not a movement. We have got to feel it in our guts. ... We will not change our circumstances without a change in human consciousness".
Which brought the panel - and which must bring us - to the only logical conclusion: governments have to lead. To combat climate change governments, in particular the US government, have to act to create demand change.
Every member of this impressive panel agreed the most important thing a new president could do was introduce a carbon trading scheme. Only when carbon has a price, and American consumers have to start paying it, will their behaviour change, they said. Only when carbon has a price will non-carbon products become affordable on Main Street.
Charlie Rose asked the obvious question: if it's so widely agreed, why isn't it already being done? Doerr responded wryly: "Because of 800 votes in Florida."
More seriously, he said that US politicians aren't dumb. They won't move urgently on climate change until middle America tells them to. Schwartz added that companies are reluctant to act boldly because the metrics still aren't there. He quoted the old adage: "you can't manage what you can't measure," and said: "we have to start measuring things." As Brilliant said, "the holy grail" of making electricity from renewables cheaper than making electricity from coal still seems a long way off in this country.