Carbon Contrast: Google and Gore at Davos

In an adroit bit of live-blogging, Jeff Jarvis posted two missives from Davos, back to back. Jarvis started with a heavy breakfast of climate change and poverty with Bono and Al Gore before moving onto a more capitalist-minded lunch with Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Larry Brilliant. The juxtaposition between the two panels, both moderated by Tom Friedman, is stark and the contrast over what to do about carbon emissions boils down to the last paragraph of Jarvis’s second post:

The other unspoken divide is about economics: Gore and Friedman favor raising the cost of carbon. Page and Brin see a victory in reducing the price of the clean energy. Tax versus investment.

Gore and Bono continue to frame their rhetoric in terms of the “gray problem” of doom and gloom and the need for immediate regulation. Brin and Page offer “green solutions” as the way forward, the idea that technology can truly give us hope. This latter ideology is that of the cleantech world, where innovation, investment and ingenuity can truly yield progress, profits and a future for our progeny.

Gore and Bono both have their names linked with technology investment firms, Gore with venture firm Kleiner Perkins and Bono with private equity firm Elevation Partners. And no doubt value the ability of capital intelligently invested to do good in the world. However, their moonlighting as VCs does not seem to have changed the framework of their argument, at least as it came across on the panel. It’s still “if we don’t do this…” while the mindset of the cleantech world is “if we do do this…” As Jarvis explains it:

The key difference between this and the Gore-Bono panel prior to [the Google panel] is that Gore concentrated on the things we must stop doing — as the movement does — while the Google team concentrates on what we can start doing, thanks to technology.

Such an attitude shift will hopefully lead to a brighter future and will, at the very least, lead to better investments. Banking on technology alone, of course, is just idealistic (that we can have our cake and eat it too). But leveraging technology should be the meat, and regulation, the potatoes.

And it is the Google gumption that gives Page and Brin a slight edge over the Gore and Bono mentality. The whole idea of “R E Less Than C” works outside The Inconvenient Truth framework. Instead of punishing the mistakes of the fossil fuel age why don’t we just make them obsolete? This has been Google’s approach to every business sector they’ve conquered.


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