The Prince of Silicon Valley Urges its Citizens to Do More to Fight Global Warming

Legendary venture capitalist John Doerr (aka “The Prince…) told members of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group that they must do much more about climate change. The report of his talk from the San Jose Mercury is reproduced below. Click here for the article at the Merc’s website.

VC John Doerr presses Silicon Valley to fight climate change

Not enough.

If there’s one message from the speakers at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s “Clean & Green” Projections 2008 event Wednesday, it’s that despite the remarkable changes occurring to combat global warming, there’s far more to do.

John Doerr, uber-venture capitalist and guru of clean-technology investing, ticked off a list of global environmental accomplishments during his speech Wednesday. He pointed to the rapid greening of Wal-Mart Stores and its plans to sell 100 million energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) this year. He praised Brazil’s move to ethanol and how it’s leading to increased energy independence for that nation.

And he talked about Amyris Biotechnologies, an Emeryville company that used synthetic biology to create a cheaper anti-malaria drug and that has come up with “a really big idea” to use the same technology to develop biofuels. Doerr’s Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers just put more money behind the company.

But Doerr’s message, as the keynote speaker of the leadership group’s annual Projections gathering, was that much more needs to be done – by individuals, by corporations, by government – to solve global warming.

“This is the most pressing issue of our time,” he said. “I’m usually a raving optimist. On this topic, I’m worried.”

He peppered his talk with personal observations about the fears of his 16-year-old daughter and with statistics. The United States produced 5.8 giga-tons (billion tons) of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2006, he said. China produced 3.3 giga-tons. By 2050, the United States is projected to produce 9.8 giga-tons, while China will produce 22.9 giga-tons.

If that happens, Doerr said, the world will be “going out of business.”

The only solution is worldwide technological and policy leadership to combat the issue of global warming. “This is surely a problem that won’t be solved alone in a garage in Silicon Valley,” he said.

Yet the efforts of companies based in the valley, research being done at Stanford University and the University of California-Berkeley, and legislation from politicians in California are still important, Doerr said.

Think of Wednesday’s session as a Silicon Valley town-hall meeting. Of course, according to the leadership group, the “town” of Silicon Valley comprises 40 cities in parts of four counties where 2.8 million people live.

Inside the 500-seat Mayer Theater on the Santa Clara University campus, those in attendance heard from politicians and policy-makers, chief executives and scientists.

Not in attendance but frequently mentioned for his environmental leadership was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “We have a celebrity governor now and that helps,” said Mary Nichols, appointed by Schwarzenegger to head the state’s Air Resources Board.

Jerry Brown, a former California governor, used the forum to criticize the Bush administration, accusing it of hindering California’s attempt to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions.

Brown also insisted business leaders need to be in front of the issue.

“More CEOs have to take the lead because the politicians are a little afraid,” said Brown. “They’re afraid of telling the truth of what has to be done.”

Carl Guardino, chief executive of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, borrowed from Hewlett-Packard co-founder (and SVLG founder) David Packard in describing the motivation for this event and the 52-page Projections report: “Our job is to get into the game and move the ball forward.”

By Matt Nauman


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