Wall Street Journal’s ECO-nomics Conference, Workshop

The Monday, March 24 issue of The Wall Street Journal provides a fresh perspective on how seriously parts of big business may be taking public concerns about climate change. It appears from the report that a driving concern for these big business participants may be citizens’ reactions to the issue more so than the science behind the climate change in the first place.

In its weekly section, “The Journal Report,” the paper reviewed a conference on the business of the environment it sponsored March 12-14 at a coastal resort in Santa Barbara, California, “ECO-nomics.” The 18-page section excerpted interviews and presentations.

General Electric CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt, who has been involved in a corporate group that has asked for a government cap on emissions, said he’s not pushing for clean energy and regulation because of anything he believes himself – rather, it’s because his investors care about emissions and clean energy. “I don’t believe in hobbies,” he said. “This is not personal.”

A compilation of quotations on the greenhouse effect and climate change gave voice to 13 warnings and seven denials going back almost three decades. “Global Warming: Who Said What – and When” began with a slightly naïve introduction by compiler Beckey Bright, who wrote, “It turns out Al Gore was hardly the first one to sound the alarm. Looking back nearly three decades, you can find prominent people warning the public about the danger of rising temperatures. But there have also been a number of skeptics.” There is no mention that the newspaper’s own editorial pages are a mainstay for the views and opinions of the climate skeptics community, nor was there any mention of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.

The warnings printed as part of the conference proceedings came from, for example, the Department of Energy (1979), James E. Hansen of NASA (1988), the Union of Concerned Scientists (1998), and Stephen Hawking (2006). The skeptics perspectives came from the late Frederick Seitz, a former president of the National Academy of Sciences (1998); then-ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond (2002), the somewhat notorious botanist David Bellamy (2004), and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (“Carbon dioxide: They call it pollution; we call it life,” from a 2006 advertisement).

Elsewhere in the Journal report is an interview with Wal-Mart CEO and President H. Lee Scott Jr., who talks about the companyís goal to eliminate waste, likening it to using fewer resources and, therefore, helping people living paycheck to paycheck live more sustainably.

In an interview, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “change creates an extra economy.” Daimler AT Chairman Dieter Zetsche and General Motors Corp. Vice Chairman Robert A. Lutz talked with Journal reporter Jeffrey Ball about ways to cut gasoline use. Zetsche said the demand for the “Smart car” in Europe had exceeded expectations, and Lutz said there is no reason to believe that small cars are less safe than large ones.

In another interview, venture capitalist John Doerr (of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers) told Ball that solar photovoltaics hold more promise than many now think.

Other interviews cover the viability of cellulosic ethanol, the renewable power industry, recycling hazardous waste, and trash-to-energy plants.

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