The Green Conversation

With video archives already available, and open media in full bloom, the recent GoingGreen 2008 conference in Sausalito can now be viewed for free by anyone. GoingGreen was produced by AlwaysOn, a conference company founded in 2002 by Red Herring founder Tony Perkins, now going into its 7th year of dreaming up and successfully producing terrific, elite events that cater to private sector entrepreneurs and investors. Up until 2007 AlwaysOn had not done an event in the cleantech sector. In early 2007 Perkins asked us, EcoWorld, to design a program for GoingGreen, based on our long-standing status as an online environmental publication aimed at an audience of consumers and businesspeople, with a consistently optimistic editorial position that adheres to free-market, libertarian, technocratic ideals at least as much as collectivist ideals.

There was too much good, too much substance, too many clean technology options presented at GoingGreen in Sausalito last week to summarize here. The panels spanned the gamut of clean technology applications, and some of them were mesmerizing. This conference was a conversation about clean technology – and every company CEO there was creating a clean technology application. But what were the reactions to GoingGreen in the blogosphere?

Like AlwaysOn, the position of EcoWorld is to encourage open media. For example, during the entire GoingGreen conference, there were two large projection screens above the stage, they were about 10′x10′ each, in a relatively small main room that only held about 200 people. One screen showed closeups of the panelists, the other showed whatever comments were being posted by the audience via the internet. Some panelists are not used to this – and more to the point – AlwaysOn has never held events that went into as many controversial areas as GoingGreen goes. Green and clean technology are leading the high-tech world into a hopefully benign if not synergistic collision with two huge forces; the biggest industries on earth, and the environmentalist community.

So here are a few reactions in the blogosphere to GoingGreen: From Stowe Boyd’s influential journal /Ground, in a post entitled “GoingGreen Sounds A Bit Off,” “My sense is that GoingGreen is motivated by some deeply wrongheaded principles, and while they may not be shared by all the speakers, choosing someone like Ed Ring to moderate confirms that Tony Perkins is somewhere to the right of Dick Chaney.”

Stowe did a little checking on EcoWorld and apparently was put off by my use of the term “global warming alarmists,” in the recent post “Is the Earth Warming or Not?” He might have considered more the entirety of this post, where (1) we are reacting to yet another attack by an organization tasked to demonize “deniers” on the internet, and (2) the data in this post regarding climate trends, from the gentleman who had just been attacked, atmospheric scientist Dr. Roger Pielke Sr., which deserve serious reporting and peer review. In any event, we welcome the opportunity to use a more acceptable term than “alarmist.”

On another post on the respected blog EcoLocalizer, in a post entitled “Venture Capital Meets Green Technology at Going Green Conference,” Keith Rockmael writes “What the heck are these guys making up this [the agricultural] Green panel anyway? We might as well had four guys from Monsanto up there uttering the benefits of GMOs and how much benefit they bring farmers. Ceres and Mendel Biotechnology who made the Going Green Top 100 companies have investers/partnerships with, among others, Monsanto. Oops did someone not do their green due diligence homework? Maybe they could add Exxon-Mobil as a top green company for next years conference.”

Only private companies are eligible for the GoingGreen 100, but we did try to get Exxon-Mobil to attend this year; their top executives were all booked up. And we are looking for people who are inventing or implementing clean technology applications, not the “sustainability outreach manager” that the mega-corporations tend to still try to shuffle out to any “green” conference. So when big companies present at GoingGreen, it will be so we can take a look at their technology, whether it is desalination or water reuse or microbial processes or any other fascinating innovation.

Why the negative tone to these two reports? If EcoWorld wants to publish material prepared by “global warming deniers,” it is a matter of open media principle. Our goal as well is to always respect divergent points of view. Isn’t that a good thing? If a global warming “alarmist” has something valuable to contribute to the conversation then we encourage their comments. As for plant genomics, why the selectivity? Scientists are genetically engineering everything today, from human chromosomes to enzymes that eat waste and excrete fuel. Why is the plant genomics conversation taboo? As a conversation about technology, GoingGreen was a great success, but we also need a conversation about the conversation.

Credibility is earned from examining the content of an argument, not by denying the right to argue or even converse. Why is global warming skepticism – whatever that is supposed to mean – sufficient reason to excommunicate an environmentalist from the fold? Because we value a continued conversation on topics ranging from global warming to genomics to “smart growth” somehow means we don’t agree on any other environmentalist values? Isn’t such dogmatic dismissal of a heretic the same behavior as the clerics of old? Isn’t to declare the scientific explanations for any phenomenon as beyond debate to deny the conversation that defines science? How is this indictment any different from that famous line, “you’re either with us or your with the terrorists?” And what of the conversation among journalists – the decorum, the dialogue? Is journalism green, yellow, red, blue, or truly transchromatic?

The conversation about what is clean and green and what we ought to do about that as a people is long and nuanced, as is the conversation about climate trends and what we ought to do about them. Our goal isn’t to fight fire with fire; nor will we ever waver from our committment to open media. But with open media comes responsibilities similar to those we hold as citizens of a democracy; to be civil, to recognize complexity, to rely on intellectually honest arguments, to avoid certainty, to encourage debate, to commit to earning credibility. It is too bad when all credibility often requires is an opinion, a judgement, instead of due diligence. Perhaps we are all guilty of this at times.

An example of a journalist who did provide a service, instead of a sermon, while covering GoingGreen 2008, is the diligent Katie Fehrenbacher, writing for the excellent website earth2tech, who in her post “How to Invest in Clean Abundant Water” has rendered a professional report on Christopher Gasson’s (Editor-in-Chief of Global Water Intelligence) introductory remarks before he moderated GoingGreen’s water panel. And here are Gasson’s seven areas of innovation in water that investors should be interested in funding – if you’re still with me, courtesy of a blogger who saw some of GoingGreen’s technological content, rather than framing the ideological context, and furthered a conversation worth having:

Christopher Gasson’s Seven Water Innovations 2008
1 Scalable solar desalination
2 Cheap clean water for agriculture
3 Lower energy salt separation
4 Value In Wastewater
5 Sludge Management
6 Real-time water quality monitoring
7 Distribution solutions for drinking and wastewater

(Pavo cristatus)

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