1. What has become of business journalism?

    This excellent New Yorker article explores the failure of business journalists to serve as objective observers in recent years.  It echoes some of the discussion I laid out in my recent piece “Separating Fact from Fiction:  A Challenge for the Media.”

    Here are a few key intro paragraphs:

    In January of 2008, Jim Cramer, in a video at TheStreet.com, recommended that readers buy shares of Bear Stearns. Two months later, he bellowed on his CNBC show, “Mad Money,” that “Bear Stearns is fine!” and “Bear Stearns is not in trouble.” Within days, the bank was nearly insolvent and had been acquired by JPMorgan Chase.

    Cramer is well known for his hysterical boosterism of the stocks he likes, but enthusiasm for well-performing companies isn’t unique in business journalism. In 2003, Kimberly Allers, writing in Fortune, described Washington Mutual as “a banking powerhouse” with an “unorthodox retail approach.” In 2006, Fortune headlined an article about Lehman Brothers’s C.E.O., Dick Fuld, “The Improbable Power Broker,” with the subtitle “How Dick Fuld transformed Lehman from Wall Street also-ran to Super-Hot Machine.” In 2007, Neil Weinberg, of Forbes, observed that “Goldman [Sachs] has to stay out ahead of its rivals in trying daring and innovative approaches that push the outer edge of the boundary between what is okay and what may not be.”

    Business reporters are supposed to make the complex worlds of finance and commerce intelligible to non-experts. But business journalism generally failed to predict the looming credit collapse, although a few reporters warned of its arrival. Critical stories by Michael Hudson, of the Roanoke Times and the Wall Street Journal, and Gillian Tett, of theFinancial Times, drowned in a vat of glimmering C.E.O. profiles and analyst chatter. Business reporters missed opportunities to investigate abusive lending, negligent rating agencies, and dodgy derivatives trading. To critics, they were complicit in the financial crisis and the recession that followed.

    Read more…

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  3. An excellent discussion of externalities associated with rail transport of oil

    Meridith Fowlie, writing for the Energy Institute at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, lays out the economic case for better data collection and policy changes to internalize the externalities of rail transport.  Here are a few key intro paragraphs:

    Railways and the problem of social cost

    Almost a century ago, trains throwing sparks into neighboring fields and forests helped ignite a canonical debate in economics. These railroad sparks sometimes set fire to farms and woodlands.  Writing in 1920, Alfred Pigou observed that if the railroads fail to account for these damages, profit maximizing operating decisions would not be socially optimal. He proposed taxation as a means of aligning private and social interests.

    In 1960, Ronald Coase revisited this example in a famous paper titled The Problem of Social Cost. He observed that if property rights are well defined and costless to enforce, private bargaining between railroads and landowners should result in a socially efficient outcome. (Interested readers should see Severin’s post celebrating Coase’s influential insights).

    Current debates about transporting oil by rail bring us back to the question of how to internalize this canonical social cost.

    Read more…

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  5. Carbon is a wondrous thing, especially in the form of graphene

    The NY Times has an article today describing recent developments in graphene, which is a carbon based material with amazing properties.  Carbon is of course the basis for life on earth and when emitted into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide it warms the earth (as do other greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide and methane).   Graphene is strong, conductive, flexible, and transparent, which gives it many advantages over conventional materials.  

    Here are a few key paragraphs from the NY Times article:

    While the material was discovered a decade ago, it started to gain attention in 2010 when two physicists at the University of Manchester were awarded the Nobel Prize for their experiments with it. More recently, researchers have zeroed in on how to commercially produce graphene.

    The American Chemical Society said in 2012 that graphene was discovered to be 200 times stronger than steel and so thin that a single ounce of it could cover 28 football fields. Chinese scientists have created a graphene aerogel, an ultralight material derived from a gel, that is one-seventh the weight of air. A cubic inch of the material could balance on one blade of grass.

    “Graphene is one of the few materials in the world that is transparent, conductive and flexible — all at the same time,” saidDr. Aravind Vijayaraghavan, a lecturer at the University of Manchester. “All of these properties together are extremely rare to find in one material.”

    We’re still far from widespread commercial appellation of graphene, but I wanted to point readers to the three best scientific articles of which I’m aware that demonstrate the use of graphene for sensors and super capacitors (energy storage).

    Bogue, Robert. 2012. “Environmental sensing and recent developments in graphene.”  Sensor Review.  vol. 32, no. 1. 

    Liu, Chenguang, Zhenning Yu, David Neff, Aruna Zhamu, and Bor Z. Jang. 2010. “Graphene-Based Supercapacitor with an Ultrahigh Energy Density.”  Nano Letters.  vol. 10, no. 12. 2010/12/08. pp. 4863-4868. [http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/nl102661q]

    Liu, Chang-Hua, You-Chia Chang, Theodore B. Norris, and Zhaohui Zhong. 2014. “Graphene photodetectors with ultra-broadband and high responsivity at room temperature.”  Nat Nano.  vol. advance online publication, 03/16/online. [http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2014.31]

    One of my colleagues at Stanford was skeptical of using graphene and carbon nanotubes in microprocessors, but he thought the other applications were quite exciting.  This material, when combined with recent developments in energy harvesting, will likely accelerate the advent of “Smart Everything”, as we discussed in our recent article in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources.

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  7. Chris Calwell’s experience driving from Colorado to California in his Model S electric vehicle

    For those interested in a real world account of using Tesla’s supercharging network to drive long distances, check out my friend Chris Calwell’s blog posts here, here, and here. The superchargers worked well, and as they become more common, it will get even easier.  I suspect strongly (though have no inside information about this) that once the network is fully built out Tesla will consider licensing the use of it to other automakers, but this will probably have to wait until Tesla makes its electric car “for the rest of us” in a few years.

    The picture above shows Chris Calwell (right) with his Model S at the Tesla  Factory in Fremont, CA, on February 6, 2014.  Dave Houghton and Gregg Hardy are at left and center, respectively.

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  9. A wonderful quote from Elon Musk about integrated whole systems design

    As I wrote in Cold Cash, Cool Climate, one of the most important ways to achieve breakthrough innovation is through integrated whole systems design.  That means not settling for incremental change, but redesigning devices as whole systems to help them accomplish tasks as well as any human or machine could with current technology. 

    Amory Lovins, who is the most prominent proponent of this design approach, says wisely that “optimizing parts of a system will pessimize the whole system”.  Rocky Mountain Institute has compiled recommendations about integrated design here and here.

    I had the pleasure of doing a tour of the Tesla factory in Fremont, CA on February 6, 2014, and I saw this inspirational quotation from Elon Musk about whole systems design and the Tesla Model S.  I wasn’t allowed to take a picture of the wall on which it was printed, but I remembered it so vividly that I had my friend Chris Calwell (who drove to California from Colorado using the supercharger network) get back in touch with the person at Tesla who set up the tour to get the exact quote.  It’s wonderful!

    With the Model S, our goal was to create the first ‘true’ electric car. By this, I mean the first electric vehicle where every element was considered anew in light of the fundamental change in technology and then designed and engineered as an integrated system. The result is a car that is beyond what people believe a car can be.”

    Elon Musk – CEO and Co-founder

    It is this spirit of redesigning from the bottom up that all entrepreneurs should embrace.  We need innovations that are so much better than what they replace that people will be happy to scrap their old technology to capture those benefits, because that’s the only way we’ll achieve the rate and scope of change we need to truly face the climate challenge.  Whole systems integrated design is the way to do just that.

    I wrote about integrated design in my GigaOm essay titled “7 ways to unleash game-changing green tech innovation" back in 2012.  There’s also a book on the topic, titled Whole System Design: An Integrated Approach to Sustainable Engineering, which I’ve browsed, although I haven’t reviewed it carefully.

    Here’s a picture of me at the wheel of Calwell’s Model S after the tour, thankfully driving at a reasonable speed according to the speedometer.  It’s a terrific car.  Now that innovation needs to trickle down to cars that ordinary folks can afford!

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  11. Clean Tech Open events in the East Bay

    I had the honor of speaking at a Clean Tech Open event in San Francisco two days ago, which was a terrific event focused on Climate and Clean Tech.   There were more than 60 eager and interested folks in attendance, and there were lots of great questions from the audience.  It was great to reconnect with that group–I was an advisor to the founders of the Clean Tech open in the very beginning, and served as a judge and a mentor for one year.

    My friend Ken Lee is arranging a series of interesting Clean Tech Open events in the East Bay.  See list below:

    Entrepreneurship and Energy – Assorted Tales from the Entrepreneurs

    CITRIS Foundry, Berkeley, April 8, 2014

    Cleantech Open Biofuel Briefing at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

    Emeryville, April 15, 2014

    Clean Manufacturing, Maker Communities, Green Buildings and the Rise of the Smart City

    Zero Net Energy Center, City of San Leandro, April 16, 2014

    2014: The Year of the Battery – Taking Battery Storage from Bottleneck to Breakthrough

    WorkSpace Fremont, April 23, 2014

    Solidifying Solar’s Place in Distributed Energy

    SfunCube, Oakland, April 24, 2014

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  13. Three Mile Island 35th Anniversary Symposium: The Past, Present, and Future of Nuclear Energy

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    Last Friday March 28th, 2014 saw an event commemorating the 35th Anniversary of Three Mile Island at Dartmouth, sponsored by  

              The Thayer School of Engineering

              The John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding

              The Steyer‐Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at      Stanford

    The video for the entire event is now posted (tip of the hat to Dan Reicher at Stanford, who was one of the co-sponsors).  Apparently the back and forth between Amory Lovins and Armond Cohen was quite spirited. Amory’s keynote lecture is at 6 hours 20 minutes in.

    PS.  For those who still think that Three Mile Island was the primary reason for nuclear power’s decline in the US, please email me to get a copy of our Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article addressing this widely believed but incorrect idea.

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  15. I’m appearing on a panel Thursday evening April 3rd, 2014 on the Commonwealth Club’s Climate One program: “Nuclear power: Meltdown or revival?”

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    I’m appearing on a panel Thursday evening April 3rd, 2014 on the Commonwealth Club’s Climate One program: “Nuclear power:  Meltdown or revival?”   It’s open to the public, so please join us.

    Here’s the program description, which can be found at the event page at http://www.climate-one.org/upcoming-events/nuclear-power-meltdown-or-revival

    Program description:

    Three years after Fukushima is nuclear power dead in the water? Or is it poised for revival due to the world’s desperate need for carbon-free energy? Two U.S. nuclear plants are being shut down but dozens of others have received a new lease on life from regulators who approved letting them run another decade or two. Nuclear’s biggest challenge comes from the glut of natural gas which is undercutting both clean and dirty sources of electricity.

    Nuclear advocates say new technologies can deliver safe atomic power at competitive prices. Detractors say nuclear is propped up by a liability shield subsidized by taxpayers and that Fukushima proves it has unacceptable health and environmental risks.

    Jon Koomey, Research Fellow, Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, Stanford University

    Dave Lochbaum, Director, Nuclear Safety Project, Union of Concerned Scientists

    Per Peterson, Member, Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future; Professor of Nuclear Engineering, UC Berkeley

    Date: Thursday, April 3, 2014

    Location: The Commonwealth Club, SF Club Office, 595 Market Street, Second Floor, San Francisco

    Time: 6:00 p.m. check-in, 6:30 p.m. program, 7:30 p.m. networking reception

    Cost: $20 non-member, $12 members, $7 students  

    Also know: The speakers and audience will be videotaped for future broadcast on the Climate One TV show on KRCB TV 22 on Comcast and DirecTV.

    Audience members will receive a free copy of my latest book, Cold Cash, Cool Climate:  Science-based Advice for Ecological Entrepreneurs

    Hope to see you there!

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  17. An invitation: I’m headlining at a Clean Tech Open event on Clean Energy and Climate in San Francisco on Wednesday evening, April 2nd, 2014

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    Here are the details on the April 2nd, 2014 event:

    Clean Energy and Climate Change, a Cleantech Open business briefing at Impact Hub in SF

    Wednesday, April 2, 2014 from 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM (PDT)

    Location:  Impact Hub San Francisco


                      925 Mission St


                      San Francisco, CA 94103


    Here’s the short URL to link to the event:

    http://tinyurl.com/osdjg6z

    There’s also a discount code for my guests, which is “ctokoomey2014”.  Using this code will save you $5 off the $15 admission price.

    Attendees will also get a free copy of my latest book, Cold Cash, Cool Climate:  Science-based Advice for Ecological Entrepreneurs.

    Please spread the word!

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  19. My interview today on Bloomberg West about making data centers more efficient

    I had a wonderful interview today about data center efficiency on Bloomberg West today, which you can watch here.

    The focus was on our case study of eBay’s management practices, which came out last September.  The interviewers were really prepared which is always gratifying.  Let me know what you think!

    Here’s one screen grab from the interview.

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Blog Archive
Stock1

I research, consult, and lecture about climate solutions, critical thinking skills, and the environmental effects of information technology.

Partial Client List

  • AMD
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  • Global Business Network
  • Hewlett Packard
  • IBM
  • Intel
  • Microsoft
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Rocky Mountain Institute
  • Samsung
  • Sony
  • Sun Microsystems
  • The Uptime Institute