“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Clean Tech

Last Saturday morning I hopped in my Piper Saratoga and flew it from Long Beach, CA to Houston, TX to attend a conference called "Clean Tech." This was, of course, ironic at best and hypocritical at worst, given that the theme of the conference was renewable energy, clean technologies, etc. But it was a nice flight. In any case, I got plenty of material for multiple posts, which is a good thing, since the well had run a bit dry.

Today, the keynote address was given by James Woolsey, former head of the CIA and currently a Senior Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton and a venture partner at VantagePoint Venture Partners. I found him to be entertaining, well-versed, and engaging. He's a long-time advocate of strong steps to ween ourselves from our security threatening dependence on oil and is quite aware of the issues surrounding peak oil.

I had a chance to speak with Mr. Woolsey for a few minutes after the session. He had advocated taking a series of steps that would result in drastically reducing the role of oil in our society. He drew an analogy with salt in the pre-refrigeration days, when it was the only method of preserving meat. Wars were fought over salt, over trade in salt, etc. He pointed out that technology enabled us to move past the point where salt was anything but a commodity, and outlined his vision for doing the same with oil.

I don't think it will be so easy, but my question related to the effect such a development would have on the political stability in Saudi Arabia, who has already warned us not to be hasty about moving to reduce our dependence on their oil. His position is "better now than later, when they are a nuclear power," certainly a point well taken.

We also spoke briefly about what it takes to get things done in the United States. I suggested that we have developed and refined a nearly flawless system for preventing significant programs from being implemented. Mr. Woolsey pointed out that World War 2 was a counterexample, recalling how the Detroit auto industry turned on a dime to the manufacture of war materials. My regular readers (are you there dear?) will remember that I've pointed out on multiple occasions that the single-minded, goal oriented, "we're all in this together" environment of that time is exactly what is needed and what is missing as we suffocate in our current miasma.

I suggested that the incredible accomplishments of that period couldn't have been made had the political and social environment then been similar to what it is now. He conceded that it will be difficult but stressed that that makes it even more important that we do whatever it takes to achieve consensus around a demand for action.

All in all, I found Mr. Woolsey to be optimistic and determined. It could be argued that he has a dog in the fight financially (several dogs, actually) but I play a lot of poker, and I don't think he's bluffing. It's heartening that people with knowledge, access to capital, and political connections are moving in the right direction.

Credit to Brian at The Goleta Air and Space Museum, an online aeronautical photo and video collection, for the picture of my Saratoga.


Anonymous said...

Wow, to speak with athe CIA head is preety cool. Would like to spend a day with him and pick his brain. But I am sure it has been trained to be locked and selective in regards to the way if the USA.

-Jeff W.

King of the Road said...

Yes, he responded to one question with "I could tell you, but then the guys with the sunglasses and lumps under their jacket would have to kill you."

No, he didn't really. But I couldn't help thinking of it that way. He's really a very down to earth, personable guy, albeit one with a whole lot of specialized knowledge.