Computing central to Krupp’s greatest race of all time

Posted on March 21, 2008

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I happened on Fred Krupp giving a talk from his new book: Earth the Sequel (my mpg at from archive.org) at Powells this week (I was in Portland, now back in Dunedin).

He takes a good news approach to sustainability – not good that climate change is happening – rather the opportunity presented. He says that without hope, people disengage:

if people don’t understand that we can solve this thing, they go and have another beer, they disengage

His basic premise is that with a cap and trade system in place, businesses see value in reducing pollution, and get more value from reducing more – hence driving a technology driven reduction. This, he says, has worked for Sulphur, now we need to do it for Carbon.

He tells a simple story:

If we were to allow garbage trucks to dump their garbage in parks, I’m afraid some people would do just that because there’d be no rules or repercussions…

but we’ve been doing that in America, right up until today, allowing people to dump global warming pollution into the air

The first step is that the government (US) has to put a legal limit in place (ie a cap). The second is a trading system that would be to

fire the starting pistol of the greatest race of all time

The trading system would work thus:

if you could figure out as a company how to get even more pollution out of the sky than you were required to, you could sell something of value.

In the case of Sulphur, entrepreneurs responded to this challenge, figuring out how to scrub sulphur dioxide at 10% of the predicted cost.

He sees no irony in:

using the very profit motive that got us into this mess to get us out of it

He gives several examples of entrepreneurs working in anticipation of the cap and trade system. I should note, given the subject of this blog, that every single one of his many examples has computing at the core. For me, this strengthens my conviction of the importance of moving green computing beyond saving energy in datacentres.

In summary, he describes how we are about to fundamentally change economics and that this will prompt “all sorts of innovation.

I’m a little skeptical of his faith in American business. I think he knows that, he prefaced the talk with

this is not a book that that says don’t worry, be happy, technology is going to save us

but then seemingly forgets this (at least in his talk).

I am certain that once (a cap and trade system) is in place, a whole plethora of technologies will emerge

In particular, if America is ten years behind Europe in a cap and trade system, how come the European business/scientists haven’t solved it? We seem to have faith not just in technology, but in American technology.

A big part of what Europe has done is using less (small cars for example), or organizing efficiencies through dense transport networks. In carefully avoiding any suggestion of doomsaying, Krupp seems to ignore the obvious: the US obsession with the big car, for example, is surely an easier target than developing whole new fuel systems.

Krupp is a quiet yet inspiring speaker. He speaks eloquently about invisible starting lines of great races:

We’re waiting to start the greatest, most important race of our lives, indeed any lives. It really is a race against time, a race that will provide vast riches and a race that will prove we can save ourselves from ourselves.

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