Cleantech Counterpoint

My new column, Cleantech Counterpoint, on Gigaom’s Earth2Tech blog debuted today, with the first installment focusing on California’s AB32 carbon emissions law and a retrospective look at what is going on in Spain.

I have, like many others, been fascinated with energy technology and agree with many of my peers that this is the next wave of Silicon Valley. While I am an enthusiastic supporter of renewable energy development, conservation technology, and energy storage, I just can’t get on the bandwagon with those advocating that we do this at any cost.

A sustainable energy proposal that bankrupts an economy is by definition itself unsustainable. We live in the real world and in that real world are people who pay for things with something called money and the less money they have to support their families because they are paying more to drive their cars, heat their homes, and turn on their lights, well that’s bad for all of us.

The other motivation for me is that the energy economy is far different than any other economy, except for maybe semiconductor manufacturing, in that the capital outlays and supply chain risks are enormous. This isn’t a market where you, as an investor, put $10m into a deal and wait patiently for an exit. We need rational analysis that looks at technology development, raw material supply chains, regulatory issues, and lastly, consumption dynamics and that is a far more complex type of investment than a straight software deal.

Lastly, I am very wary of the law of unintended consequences applied to energy markets. We have already seen what happens when food crops are diverted to fuel crops and when government subsidies sustain and otherwise unsustainable approach, and this should cause us all pause as it relates to large scale energy investments. We simply cannot take the approach of “well this seems like a good idea so let’s do it”.

There are many really good ideas for developing renewable energy, conservation, and allocation of energy resources, and all of these developments are worthy of consideration. It should be clear to everyone that better utilization of our resources is a universal value and that those economies that develop energy intellectual property will be well positioned in the future.

I want to thank Om and Katie for giving me a forum to publish my writings, it says a lot about their editorial integrity that they seek out voices from different perspectives.

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Obama’s War

There are few events in the history of a country as consequential as when it decides to go to war. The Peloponnese and Carthaginians were advanced societies, the cultural and power centers of their respective regions, remembered now for the wars they fought and lost; Sparta for a last stand at the Battle of Leuctra their marked their permanent decline as a regional force. The zenith of Soviet global power was achieved when they entered Afghanistan, their failed state status marked by their exit.

In the final equation we debate the merits and morals of war but nothing is as consequential as the outcome. Iraq will not be remembered for a failure to find WMDs or for Abu Ghraib or for sectarian violence but rather a stable and democratic Iraq left in our wake. The outcome justifies the means, whether that outcome is good or bad.

The Founding Fathers were breaking with the tradition of entire human history when they assigned civilian elected leaders with Constitutional authority to direct the professional military forces, perhaps the lessons of Carthage and Peloponnese imbued them with a sense for the consequences of a military force under the control of autocrats. This arrangement has worked and the U.S. has been restrained in the application of war to when it mattered (we could debate Vietnam but that would be beyond the scope of this post), but it also means that military strategy has a political component

President Obama faces a decision that all Presidents must surely dread but it is one their job responsibility is quite clear about, Commander in Chief. As a candidate the President articulated clear strategy and principles on Afghanistan that earned him the support of both ends of the political spectrum but as President he has not been clear.

This brings into question whether the lefts strong support for the war in Afghanistan, as a “war of principle not choice”, was no more than a strategy to draw a contrast to the war they opposed, Iraq, and ally voter concern that the left was simply opposed to all war irrespective of the merits. Now that Iraq is won and in control of the Iraqis, we see support for Afghanistan in Congress waning.

We simply have to be in it to win it because the future of the region and the future of the United States depends on it. This is now President Obama’s war and failure here will be an indelible stain on his presidency, in many ways the success or failure in Afghanistan will symbolize his own success or failure and affect future generations of political and military leadership as far as the eye can see.

Frontline is airing on 10/13 a feature on Afghanistan that will no doubt live up to their reputation for in depth documentary about current events. Here is a preview.