“Cool It” Redux

It is worth seeing the commercial version of “Cool It.”  Hurry, though, since I don’t think 4 people in an audience at each showing will be commercially viable.  Ondi Timoner must have gotten more control over the final product than I thought she would.  The commercial version is quite balanced.  There are some fairly sharp digs at Al Gore and “An Inconvenient Truth,” but a recognition that Gore brought the topic of Global Warming to the forefront. Let me get some of the critiques out of the way:  There’s a little too much of “We’ve only seen a one foot rise in sea levels in the last century,” “… life is good with standards of living having risen substantially,” etc. In other words,  “We’ve jumped off the 50-story building and as we pass the 25th floor things actually look okay.”  Bjorn Lomborg points out that there is a bell curve of potential global warming outcomes and the alarmists only use the low odds extreme possibilities to make their case for immediate action and large expenditures.  However, he turns around and uses the least possible impact of the current actions on temperature change and sea level rise to make his case for diverting resources away from climate change toward other pressing needs.  He is right regarding the need to address other issues, poverty, health, housing, etc., but, as Ned Babbitt points out in a comment below, Lomborg doesn’t provide a lot of documentation for the expenditure levels he calls for.  Those may exist in his book of the same name.  I could go on, but these are all just nits. Go see the movie!

Lomborg goes out of his way to affirm that he is a true believer in global warming, that man is the big contributor to the path we are on, and that we need to do something about it. However, he believes that the solutions being implemented, cap and trade, electric vehicles, windmills, solar PV are just not adequate today to deal with the problem and much of the dollars being invested could be put to better use. I have to agree except in the case of the transportation industry, where I believe the solutions are there—they just haven’t been implemented. Elsewhere, the technologies we are using today are just not adequate to solve the problems in an economic fashion without an explicit price on carbon. The documentary spends a fair amount of time on geo-engineering, which Lomborg thinks may be necessary as stop gaps because we won’t have developed the economic solutions that can move us away from a carbon-based energy system in the right time frame.  His call is for spending more of the money on new technologies and innovation and less on today’s implementation, and in the process freeing up capital to deal with the other needs of the global society. The documentary supports the case by taking us on a whirlwind tour of some of the new technologies in the developed world that could get us to the right solutions. Whether it is Nathan Myhrvold’s work on 4th generation nuclear technologies, Stephen Salter’s work on wave energy or cloud whitening, or Hashem Akbari’s work on mitigating the urban heat effect, the journey through the new technologies is exciting and encouraging.  The solutions are there, in the lab, in prototypes or in a scientist’s head.

Unfortunately, most of the solutions don’t fit today’s venture capital model of low investment and quick return, which is still available in various aspects of the internet space.  The work that is being done is occurring in university labs based on government grants and other non-profit funding with the exception of the Myhrvolds of the world who are recycling the capital from earlier software/internet ventures into this new and exciting field. The other small exception is in those few cases where adaptation, primarily to rising water levels is already a requirement. The Dutch cannot really afford to take the chance that the low end of the distribution curve of climate change will be the end result. I don’t think the rest of the world can either.

We have to create the financing models that allow these innovations to progress to the next levels. Whoever does will own these technologies and the fruits of their implementation for their own geographies and certainly for the benefit of their own economies.  Lomborg’s whirlwind tour doesn’t get outside the developed world, but the innovation and implementation are occurring in the developing world at a startling pace as well. Go get excited by the view of what can happen as presented in “Cool It,”  and put some thought as to what needs to be done to move these innovations and others toward practical reality.

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About Jack Rivkin

Jack Rivkin retired in 2008 as EVP, CIO, Head of Private Asset Management of Neuberger Berman(NB) and from NB's Executive Management Committee. He was also on the Lehman(LB) Council on Climate Change(CC) and the NB CC Fund Advisory Board. He has been engaged with the United Nations and other entities on policy issues related to Private Capital and CC. He is an Associate Fellow of the Asia Society. He has continued on the NB Mutual Fund Board and with his CC responsibilities. He began his investment career in 68 as an analyst at Mitchell Hutchins(MH), and became Director of Research(DOR) there. After Paine Webber(PW) acquired MH, he served as DOR; CFO of PW; CEO of PWMH-the equity trading and investment arm of PW; Chmn of MH Asset Management and President of PW Capital. 87-92 he was DOR and, subsequently, Head of the Worldwide Equities Division of LB. 93-95, he served as a Vice Chairman and DOR at Smith Barney (now Citigroup). He was an EVP with Citigroup Investments 94-01, responsible for private equity investments. He was also an adjunct professor at Columbia University teaching a course in Security Analysis. He joined NB in 2002. He is the co-author of “Risk & Reward—Venture Capital and the Making of America’s Great Industries,” Random House, 1987. He is a regular guest on various media. He is the principal subject in a series of Harvard Business School cases describing his experience as DOR and Equity Head at LB. He has served as a director of a number of private companies and the NYSSA. He is currently a director of Idealab, Dale Carnegie, Operative, World Policy Institute and other private companies. He is a member of the Economic Club of NY, the Anglers Club, Theodore Gordon Fly Fishers, and a lifetime member of Trout Unlimited. He continues to be an active private equity investor when he isn’t fly fishing. Mr. Rivkin earned his Professional Engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines and his MBA from the Harvard Business School

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