Former Vice President-turned-Kleiner-Perkins-green-VC Al Gore and Cisco’s charismatic CEO John Chambers will be giving a virtual talk on how tech innovation can fight climate change this morning. It’s not just a means to educate the world on cleantech opps, the two will be stumping Cisco’s “TelePresence,” a live-streaming virtual meeting service.
While the two will appear to be having a discussion in the same room, Chambers will be at the Cisco HQ in San Jose, Calif., and Gore will be in Nashville, Tenn.; the whole thing will be broadcast live to audiences in London and Orlando and will also be broadcast on the web. Oh yeah, and we’ll be live blogging it. Updates to follow:
Sue Bostrom, Cisco executive VP and chief marketing officer, gives an opening presentation before Gore and Chambers take the virtual stage. Bostrom says the third wave of the Internet is all about virtual video communications that will unleash productivity and cut down on the need for business transportation. Bostrom says Cisco has had 80,000 telepresence sessions (which equals 100,000 hours) for a savings of $100 million in travel expenses and a reduction of 15 million cubic tons of carbon emissions.
They start the virtual chat — yes, it works. (No one in the Cisco IT department is getting fired this morning!) Below are notes taken from the chat. The questions are being asked by a moderator:
Gore: The global scientific community has worked for 15 years and issued four unanimous reports. The evidence from graphs, charts and numbers is one thing, but ice is melting, and the sea level is rising. The sooner we can halt this destructive process, the better.
When business leaders take a hard look at their companies, the majority of them isolate travel as one of the big variable costs where discretionary CO2 emissions are concerned. People have been waiting for a new video teleconferencing option to come along that would be realistic enough to be a substitute. I don’t own stock in Cisco, and I’m not here for an endorsement, but I’m impressed by this system. This is really the most realistic effort thus far.
We’re beginning to see movement, but not nearly enough. The planet has a fever and the fever is going up. If we make up our minds to act, we can do this. We have the renewable technologies we need. But we need the political will to act. We need to change our laws. We, as citizens of our respective countries, need to be activists to get an urgent and adequate response.
Q). What role does the tech industry have in fighting climate change?
Chambers: What the difference is this time is really the Internet. We are in the second wave of the Internet — it is all about collaboration. Our kids invented it. It will use tools from Web 2.0, like TelePresence. We need creative ideas and people who traditionally haven’t worked together to collaborate. Only by bringing together people who have different ideas can we change this. We can make dreams come true in Silicon Valley. It is the ability to not have to be in the same room to solve problems. What you are seeing today is history.
Q). Which do we need more, innovation or policy changes?
Gore: I’m a big fan of innovation — and it will play a key role — but we need regulatory and policy changes and global treaties to establish the rules of the road and to be fair for the innovators. But we can’t subsidize the traditional carbon-based technology.
Carbon is invisible, so businesses don’t take it into account. I’ve advocated a bold policy change that could release innovation and shift the source of that revenue. The single best thing we can do in every country is to reduce taxes on businesses and employees and replace every dollar of that revenue with pollution taxes. If we put a price on carbon, it would unleash the innovation for solar, wind energy, teleconferencing, etc. All of our choices would be clarified if we could put a price on carbon.
Q). From a business process perspective, how does a company like Cisco address climate change?
Bostrom: First off, you have to have senior leadership. We have an “eco” board, and they have laid out a vision of where Cisco wants to go but also a strategy: What are we doing to be a more efficient company, and how are we helping empoyees collaborate, reduce travel and make energy saving devices? And how do we build the network architecture to help people embrace this technology for an environment impact?
Q). Given that China and India are growing so rapidly, what can we do to fight global warming in the developing countries?
Gore: I am optimistic, and that is because we are moving toward a tipping point of our response to this crisis. I’m a recovering politician, on about step nine. We are reaching that tipping point, and businesses are getting there. Pollution is waste, so if you eliminate it you save. We really have no choice. We have to find a way to move together.
One thing that is needed more than anything else is for the United States to provide leadership. So long as the United States drags its feet, it lets China and India and every other nation off the hook. All the presidential candidates have positions that are very different from the current administration. But the path to change runs through the United States.
Chambers: The tipping point is the Internet, video conferencing and collaboration with people that aren’t in the same room. If each of these leaders can collaborate, we can bring this issue to the forefront.
Q). What are the main lessons to take from this discussion, both as businesses and individuals?
Gore: I think we have to learn from this challenge. As John Chambers said, we are at a transition. The economy of the world is actually recarbonizing — the use of coal is increasing. In addition to understanding it, we have to feel it. We are naturally equipped to respond with urgency. The key challenge is communicating and collaborating. We have to put a price on carbon and measure the value and see what is needed.
Our children will ask one of two questions. Looking at all the ice gone and the horrific consequences, they could ask: ‘What were you thinking?’ Or they could ask: ‘How did your generation rise to meet this challenge?’