Bob Metcalfe is a friendly, handsome, easy-going sort, and he sported a bit of Saturday stubble when we spoke over a Thai lunch in Boston a few weeks back. Bob, an MIT grad who wears the school ring, is also the founder of 3-Com and the interim CEO of a biofuel startup, GreenFuel. Over lunch I did not learn much more about GreenFuel than is available on the company’s website, nor more than is available on xconomy.com. Xconomy.com has been goading the company, and back in July 2007 published Bob’s five-point plan to rejuvenate it and the technology.
Which is fascinating: high yield algae farms recycle carbon dioxide from flue gases to produce biofuels and feed. Algae’s ’bout as green as it gets, and the GreenFuel process has biomimicry going for it: “Why expensively sequester CO2 when it can be profitably recycled?” However, growing algae, the kind needed for GreenFuel, isn’t as easy as it would seem, thus the five-point fix-it plan.
I wanted to ask Bob, “you’re a wealthy guy; you don’t need the money; so why do you invest in this greentech stuff?” … but instead peeled back a suggestion of an answer from the table banter. He invests in non-cleantech ventures as well as cleantech, would love to get into nuclear…and he is impressed with McCain and Romney, presidential candidates with same-old-oil-and-coal-box energy ideas that nod to cap-and-trade. What I surmised chatting with Bob is that his world view is one of business and technology and finance; solutions to problems aren’t found in government, and GreenFuel is a business venture.
It’s a world view with its own language, and it reminds me of heady days in 1980s-New York, dating investment bankers whose European and Asian compatriots oriented to the oppulence of Hotel Plaza Athenee — an airy space floating out of touch with the masses, delivered by private car with driver. I heard the language and the world view again on E&E TV as Monica Trauzzi interviewed Michael Liebreich, CEO and founder of New Energy Finance, a London-based company that specializes in research of clean energy and carbon markets. He was talking about game theory in negotiations around climate change: nice, retaliating, forgiving, clear. The Liebreich interview is a fun, intellectual ride, but within it, like conversations I have with engineers and financiers, some critical link to success is missing…people and their own motivations to buy what engineers and financiers are selling.
Bob Metcalfe and I first met on the plaza outside of the Christian Science Mother Church, so it was curious when a September 2006 issue of the Church’s publication, Sentinel, Exploring the World of Spirituality and Healing, recently crossed my desk. In an article, “Love Enough to Change the Climate,” the editors wrote:
“[There isn’t] much doubt that the primary cause of climate change is rooted in human behavior, and especially in the world’s accelerating deforestation and the consumption of fossil fuels.” Asking how to respond and adjust, the editors wrote, “We don’t know how to ‘engineer’ attitudinal and social change. But we do know something about change at the level of individual experience–at the mental, moral, and spiritual levels. The one thing we are sure of is that lasting and universally beneficial change comes through spiritual transformation. We know, too, the importance of understanding what it is that actually needs changing, what produces the alterative effect, and how change for the better can come about in a systematic and dependable way. All of these steps are essentials in healing spiritually. And ultimately, the solution to every challenge is spiritual–it lies in the human mentality yielding to divine intelligence and thereby being reborn, or re-formed…Transformation of human character and behavior does not happen solely by national leaders signing treaties, by legislatures passing laws, by government agencies making policy or regulatory enforcement changes. Public attitudes change one heart at a time…Just as our bodily health mirrors the quality and tendencies of our thoughts, our states of collective social well-being and environmental health reflect humanity’s mental state.”
The article delves really deep into CS-speak which I find hard to comprehend, and ends: “Cannot we, as a global family, love enough to change the mental climate for the better? Can’t we love Earth and those living on it it enough to commit to a Year of Thinking Differently. God’s gift is the space to do just that.”
This past week, I heard Elton John on the radio for the hundredth time, but the words of “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” meant something for the first time. With the launch of Focus the Nation, a national student teach-in on global warming solutions for America, I reflected on the need to heal the planet, but in the context of markets and the global financiers, the venturers and the angels, the rounds and flights, as money in Silicon Valley and New York rushes to cleantech:
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light
I can’t help but wonder, can Focus the Nation transform the consciousness of the sons of bankers and the sons of lawyers? Will global financiers respond to a transformed and healing world view or are these world views forever disconnected?
One day, I’ll ask Bob a clearer question: for you, as an individual, what is the connection between markets, your companies and healing the planet?
Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, is a consultant in cleantech market management and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she began renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.