Thursday, November 15, 2007

Combating Global Warming: Last night's MIT Enterprise Forum

Last night I was at a meeting of the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge that focused on "How Innovative Businesses are Combating Global Warming."

Ian Bowles, Massachusetts' secretary of the executive office of energy and environmental affairs, opened the evening with an update from the State House. Bowles talks so fast I am pretty sure his compensation package has a words-per-minute clause. Very smart guy. But he predicted that we won't see any federal action on a carbon tax or CO2 emissions trading, either of which could help mitigate global warming, until the next Presidential administration.

I moderated a panel with Emily Kreps from Goldman Sachs, Daniel Goldman from Great Point Energy, Phillip Boyle from Powerspan, and Professor Daniel Schrag from Harvard. Schrag led things off with a short and dismaying PowerPoint overview of the latest data and projections about climate change: Houston, we have a problem.

Goldman talked about how his company is transforming coal into natural gas, and sequestering the CO2. Boyle explained how Powerspan removes acid-rain-causing pollutants from power plant emissions, and can also sequester CO2. And Schrag explained some of the thinking related to "global dimming" -- figuring out ways to reflect sunlight before the earth's atmosphere absorbs the heat. He's concerned that some country might decide unilaterally to try a global dimming experiment, with dangerous effects, since we don't know enough about how climate works.

The panelists all agreed with Bowles that we're not likely to see any federal implementation of something like the Lieberman-Warner bill soon, which would cap emissions and reduce them over time.

I suggested that citizen action is what's needed, given that we have a little more than a year before our next President takes office. Initiatives like Hull Wind and the CalCars plug-in hybrid movement work. Why wait for Washington to get moving?

Afterward, I met a bunch of entrepreneurs working on swell stuff.... Michael Chen is trying to develop wind farms in China...Jon Strimling from was explaining the benefits of using biomass fuels to heat one's home...and Benjamin Brown runs the Web site MakeMeSustainable.

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