HP, Intel, Greenpeace and Saving the Planet

Tuesday Sep 22nd 2009 by Rob Enderle

The technology industry and environmentalists don’t always see eye to eye on all issues.

The concept of green flows through much of what we do right now because we can see the ice caps melting, the pollution growing, and our energy prices starting to overtake our incomes.

There are three kinds of green efforts: the first is focused on assuring a clean environment and has recycling at its core; the second is focused on conservation (generally energy related); and the third, and newest, is intelligent management which should help us get the greatest financial and environmental return from our green efforts.

Last week at an Intel Alumni event, Andy Grove and a large number of ex and current Intel executives spoke on the need to respond to a Chinese effort to corner the market on both oil and solar technology by around 2020. This effort, if successful, would turn most of the rest of the world, especially the US, into a dependent of China. Something that, ironically, it doesn’t appear that China really wants.

This week HP was ranked by Newsweek #1 for their green efforts – a few weeks after Greenpeace vandalized their offices. The organization increasingly looks to be more interested in getting publicity than in focusing on actually improving the world. This Greenpeace stuff seems incredibly irresponsible to me because it could have caused HP to reduce the strongest green effort in the US and turned it into a program like Apple’s which is simply designed to keep Greenpeace happy while not truly making the same kind of important difference. (The Apple ranking in Newsweek was 133.)

This week, let’s talk about Green and saving the human race.

Becoming Energy Slaves

Boy if you want to have someone scare the living daylights out of you, listen to Andy Grove’s stump speech on energy.

As you would expect given he is one of the most well known engineers in the world, his talk was full of well researched numbers and the ones that most stuck out was how China is in the process of purchasing most of the world’s oil production output, effectively turning that country not only into a mega-consumer of oil larger than the US, but one that controls vastly more of the world’s oil reserves than the US by the end of next decade.

This becomes a big problem for the US as soon as 2013.

Additional charts by both Grove and other executives pointed to the fact that China is not only starting to outspend us on solar research but, unlike other Chinese investments like this, they aren’t trying to be the low cost low technology provider in this market. They’re moving to be the low cost technology leader in the solar market.

If successful, the result would be that they would not only have the oil we need to operate the country in a few years but they will have replaced our own solar industry with theirs. Meaning, they would be the only real source for a strong alternative for electricity production (they largely use coal for electricity and we use oil). Effectively, if we wanted to drive or turn our lights on, it would be at the discretion of the Chinese political leaders and not our own.

The irony in this is that, after listening to a specialist on Chinese Government, this result is likely as much to do with that Government’s inability to execute as it does the US’s. They don’t appear to want to be in this position. But the reasoning behind their action appears to be their inability to convert their own country to solar power quickly enough – coupled with the need to make sure their population doesn’t become too dissatisfied and revolt – topped with a government structure that allows them to respond to threats more quickly than the US.

You see, unlike the US, if the people in a state like China want to throw the bums out they tend to revolt and those in power often don’t survive the path to retirement. This motivates them much more aggressively to make sure folks aren’t unhappy and being without enough energy is likely a politician hunting season waiting to happen.

In the end, I think the big message is that given Oil is funding the other side of the wars we are involved in, its cost is a major portion of why we both have an economic problem and can’t afford adequate healthcare. Additionally, it is sourced as the major ecological problem to solve, and it will likely eventually either result in a war or the US becoming a Chinese dependent (worse than we now are). Fixing this should have the highest priority.

Either that or learning “yes boss” in Chinese (and I’ll bet you can guess my choice).

Greenpeace and William Shatner

As I mentioned above, a few weeks ago Greenpeace vandalized an HP building and had William Shatner robo call a huge number of HP employees to embarrass HP because they were deferring some self-imposed goal to remove two chemicals from their PCs.

Now are we talking about cyanide, mercury, or some other incredibly dangerous chemical found in lots of electronics? No, we’re talking about PVC, which is found in water pipes, and BFR (Brominated Flame Retardant), which is commonly used in power cords, clothing, and furniture to keep them from catching on fire (there is evidently no good replacement for it yet).

It appears that BFR is very effective at keeping you, your children, and home from bursting into flames. The US produced 34 metric tons of BFR in 1999 for the single purpose of keeping the US citizens alive.

This reminds me of a show that runs on Showtime hosted by Penn and Teller called Bullshit! (it’s the name of the show). In one segment the hosts showed up in this video at a Green rally and had folks sign a petition to block the sale of Di-Hydrogen Monoxide because it was put into lots of things without proper disclosure like drinks, baby food, and pesticides. They got hundreds of signatures; the formula for Hydrogen Di-Oxide is H2O, or water.

This is what Green efforts increasingly seem to degrade into. It’s more about the publicity (this link is worth reading) , attacking corporations, and getting donations (and having parties) than about actually saving the human race. The problem is you end up appearing to make unreasonable demands and companies who have major green efforts like HP can lose heart and instead focus their efforts on what Greenpeace wants instead of what the world needs.

Wrapping up: Being Smart

I think it important to try to save the human race but if we don’t move intelligently the very efforts we make to save the race could eventually doom it. For instance, if you look at the massive battle on Healthcare and realize it is taking focus from more important topics like eliminating our addiction to oil and actually lowering the number of things that make us sick and kill us, you realize this isn’t about hot topics but survival. In this case our survival – something I find rather important.

While I’m often fascinated about how easily we’re fooled, if there was ever an area we should strive to study and understand it would be here. Because if we don’t learn to be intelligent and focus on what is important as a race, we’re done and we won’t be given a second chance to get it right.

Watch that Penn and Teller video and try not to be one of the folks they are making fun of, our lives and the future of the race depend on it. In the end, eliminating our oil addiction is likely the one thing that could truly save our race if not our own lives. HP and the ex-Intel executives are doing their jobs, how about you?

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