The Super Bowl has gone carbon-neutral. Wal-Mart has "seen the
light" - and it shines from a compact fluorescent bulb. Even
President Bush now feels the need to at least talk about the human
contribution of greenhouse gases.
Seemingly all at once, the politics of climate change have
shifted - and the free market smells profits. There's talk of a
greenhouse-gas "rush," with literally billions to be made in
lessening the eco-impact of our insatiable appetite for energy.
Pundits are heralding a new era of technological innovation, new
business models, and radical changes in our consumer behavior and
It's the kind of hype that calls to mind the broken promises and
unimagined positive outcomes of the dotcom era's adolescence a
decade ago. Many fundamentals of the dotcom era are different from
those of the current era of "climate change chic" - and the stakes
are much higher. But one common warning applies: Whatever is said
and believed can overwhelm actual achievements. That's why it's
important to bear these dotcom lessons in mind:
* Tax-incentive training wheels. One of the first major Internet
policy dust-ups dealt with e-commerce taxation. "New economy" gurus,
worried that adding sales tax to our Amazon.com orders would snuff
out innovation and entrepreneurship, helped keep e-commerce largely
tax-free for years.
Likewise, today, enemies of fossil fuels will continue efforts to
assign a tax to these energy sources commensurate with their tax on
our planet; and eco-entrepreneurs will rely on various incentives to
develop alternative energy sources.
That can work for a while, but market safety nets won't nourish
the long-term health of a green economy. That's why new technologies
and delivery systems must demonstrate a specific path to remove
their tax-incentive training wheels and allow real competition.
* It's all about the network. Construction of the information
superhighway arguably began in the 1960s with the Pentagon's
ARPANET, but even until the 1980s, it was like one straight route
from point A to point B without any exits or onramps. The Internet
didn't become a network until the 1990s, when the "last miles" were
added: personal AOL accounts and T1 lines that helped millions
connect to the Internet highway - and to one another.
Today, any low-carbon energy source must be able to quickly find
and flow along the "first mile" that leads onto America's 100-year-
old power grid, with all its vastness, complexity, and occasional