The Largest Planet-Wide Business Opportunity….Ever

Global warming may be a difficult problem, but it’s also a huge source of revenue.


Last week was the official start of the largest planet-wide business opportunity for semiconductors…ever. The world’s largest economy has decided that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that will be regulated. Direct action has started. In a few years every new car will be a hybrid, renewable power generation will be the norm, and every new house will have solar panels.

To my mind this has been one of the most interesting weeks in the saga of our response to climate change. The Obama Administration announced significant goals for the reduction of power generation carbon emissions. In the same week, the Neil Degrasse Tyson-led Cosmos update series, which is being broadcast on Fox, had a show dedicated to climate change that was watched by 3 million to 4 million people. In addition, some high-profile leaders have changed from “climate change is bunk” to “I’m not qualified to judge.” I do not think the events are linked or that Cosmos will change many minds. However, the events are a bellwether in how we view climate change.

Tyson’s excellent Cosmos series continues to contain all sorts of interesting perspectives and nuggets of history. For me there were several last week. The idea that carbon dioxide could cause ice sheets to melt was first proposed in 1895, before the invention of the airplane. So the physics of the issue has been understood for 110 years! The second gem was that a solar-powered steam generation plant for irrigation was demonstrated before World War I. The third gem was that Carl Sagan, the original Cosmos presenter, obtained his Ph.D. in modeling the runaway global warming on Venus. The forth was that the Soviets landed on Venus and got pictures.

Austin TX after runaway global warming…..just kidding !….. Photograph of surface of Venus just before the electronics fried.

The only other popular science of this quality has been the Nova series on PBS. The Cosmos series has been a tour-de-force in illustrating how the scientific process has illuminated our understanding of the natural world, and by inference the good and bad in technological development.

A much trickier question is how to muster the will to do something about the problem. We have had hearings, numerous international consensus reports, International accords at Kyoto that seem to have ended in a polite, “After you…no, after you” stalemate, and proposed carbon taxes that seemed to have bipartisan support. Now this administration’s strategy seems to be that science says carbon dioxide is a pollutant, so let’s use existing authority to control pollutants, a remarkably rational and straightforward position.

So now the issue will become, “Okay, but it’s too late, too difficult, and will cost too much,” which I often hear from friends. There are all sorts of models that are confusing. The only answer that I can come up with is the following;

My grandmother was born in 1875 in very poor working-class Birmingham and died in 1975 in middle-class Coventry. She nursed three brothers as they died of TB, witnessed the elimination of polio, and heart transplants. She saw the invention of the car, plane, and pictures of a man walking on the moon. She lived through two world wars, and the atom bomb – extinction events for 5% of the warring population.

If that happened in her lifetime, is it really unrealistic to eliminate a problem that we have understood for 110 years, using technology that exists today without any invention required ? And, by the way, solving this problem is one of the greatest planet wide business opportunities that that has ever existed.