What an extraordinary night for America! Here’s a brief dispatch from the streets of Washington, D.C., before getting to today’s column: The U Street neighborhood was known as “Black Broadway” in the 1920s–Duke Ellington grew up nearby, jazz clubs thrived, theaters were built and a black-middle class grew there for years. It remained the cultural hub of black D.C. until 1968, when it was all but burned down after the assassination of Martin Luther King. After a period of blight, U Street was reborn as a vibrant neighborhoo in the 1990s, as restaurants, clubs and condos sprung up. Last night, it was the site of a spontaneous street party, with blacks and whites, mostly young people, hugging one another, celebrating the election of Barack Obama. Can anyone doubt, after this election, that dramatic change can happen in America, and in a hurry, too?
Which brings me to today’s Sustainability column, a look at the prospects for clean technology. I’ve recently spoken with several venture capitalists who are optimistic — despite the credit crunch, despite the recession, despite declining oil prices — about the business of producing clean energy and creating a more sustainability economy. Here’s how the column begins:
Some people are saying that the clean energy revolution is over, before it has even begun. “Alternative energy suddenly faces headwinds,” declared The New York Times. “Winds shift for renewable energy as oil price sinks, money gets tight,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “Will the Economic Crash Take Down Our Hopes for Clean Energy?” asks Alternet.
There’s no doubt that recent developments cast a cloud over the renewable energy business. The capital markets have turned risk-averse, making financing for alternative energy hard to come by. Declining oil prices make it harder for cleaner transportation fuels to compete with gasoline. In a slumping economy, the government will be reluctant to pass climate change legislation that will raise gas and electricity rates.
Never mind – there are compelling reasons, even now, to believe that the U.S. is on the verge of a dramatic shift, away from a economy dependent on cheap fossil fuels and towards cleaner, greener, more efficient ways of doing business.
Recently, I spoke with three leading venture capitalists who focus on clean tech: William E. “Wilber” James of Rockport Capital, Alan Salzman of VantagePoint Venture Partners, and Paul Maeder of Highland Capital Partners. Needless to say, they are biased – they are invested, personally and professionally, in renewable energy and other clean technologies.
But they all see powerful forces driving the U.S. economy towards a more sustainable way of doing business in the long run.
Obama’s election will bring new energy to the environmental movement. McCain would have been a welcome change, too, but the environmentalists and business people I’ve talked to today seem jazzed by the election of Obama. (I’ve spoken to quite a few people, because I’m at Business for Social Responsibility’s annual conference in New York) . They understand that government policy matters enormously to the environmental movement.
As Frances Beinecke of NRDC wrote in a email this morning:
Barack Obama’s election is a huge win for everyone exhausted from playing defense. Count us among them. It rekindles our hope that environmental protection may be restored to its rightful place as a treasured American value.
On the most important issues of the day — from global warming controls to clean energy solutions to wilderness preservation — President-elect Obama campaigned on behalf of far-sighted policies that NRDC has championed for years.
You can read the rest of my clean tech column here.