Venture capital legend John Doerr believes he has solutions for the climate crisis that could be as profitable for the tech industry and its investors as the internet boom.
“This is the largest economic opportunity of the 21st Century,” Doerr told MarketWatch in a Zoom call promoting his new book, “Speed & Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now,” that he says offers innovative solutions.
For starters, “we can create 25 million jobs” in a clean-energy economy, he predicts.
“Speed & Scale” sifts through enormous amounts of fact. Sprinkled throughout Doerr’s breezy narrative are interviews and mini profiles with a Greek chorus of business all-stars who offer solutions in their respective fields.
“‘I believe Apple will eventually make a vehicle, and a clean vehicle.’”
— John Doerr
General Motors Co. GM CEO Mary Barra discusses electric vehicles for zero-emissions autonomous ride sharing. Beyond Meat Inc. BYND CEO Ethan Brown is there, talking about reinventing the burger with plant-based meat. Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai weighs in on the largest sustainability bond in corporate history, $5.75 billion in green project financing. Amazon.com Inc. AMZN co-founder Jeff Bezos repeats his company’s pledge to power operations with 100% renewable energy by 2030.
Doerr is convinced big and small tech will break out green economies as profitable business divisions. “I believe Apple will eventually make a vehicle, and a clean vehicle,” he said.
Wait, there’s more, Doerr adds. Last month, Larry Fink, chief executive of investment management giant Blackrock Inc.
predicted more than 1,000 climate unicorns over the next few years developing green hydrogen, green agriculture, green steel and green cement.
Doerr, a Silicon Valley billionaire who was an early backer of then-Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc.
and Compaq Computer Corp., has the bona fides to envision the financial windfall.
An early advocate of clean energy, Doerr, 70, credits his daughter Mary for challenging his generation to fix a problem it is largely responsible for. She laid down the ultimatum as a then-15-year-old in 2006, during a dinner Doerr hosted after a screening of former Vice President Al Gore’s Academy Award-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”.
“The problem is accelerating faster than anyone forecast,” said Doerr, who serves on the boards of Google, the Obama Foundation and ONE.org. “This is the critical moment. We are fast running out of time.”
The consequences could hardly be more crucial: Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry are expected to rise 4.9% in 2021 as the global economy gets back up and running and COVID-19 lockdowns ease, according to the Global Carbon Project. Last year, emissions plunged 5.4%, the largest one-year drop on record.
A First Movers Coalition of more than 30 companies including Apple
Amazon, Delta Air Lines Inc.
and Salesforce.com Inc.
announced by President Joe Biden last week, is committed to “pushing for commercially viable alternatives to decarbonize the industrial cities, industrial sectors and more,” Biden said.
To get there, Doerr’s book lays out an action plan of six objectives — electrify transportation, decarbonize the grid, fix food, protect nature, clean up industry and remove carbon — to cut emissions in half by 2030, cut that in half again in 2040, and eliminate them altogether by 2050.
“Except for [during the economic slowdown brought on by] COVID, we have never decreased carbon emissions,” Doerr said. But, employing a comparison to World War II and a national campaign to shutter auto and appliance production to create aircraft and battleships, the U.S. can do the same in reducing atmospheric-poisoning carbon emissions, he asserts.
Unfortunately, the devil as always is in the details. For example, Apple says it is forging ahead to be fully carbon neutral by 2030, but admits that getting there will take a lot of work. Meanwhile, the Biden Administration’s $1.85 trillion social safety net measure that includes provisions for clean energy remains in limbo, with fears it will continue to be whittled and compromised to be passed.
It’s those actions by the current administration that give Doerr hope that the goals outlined in his immaculately researched, eminently readable meditation can be achieved.
“I said it years ago: The internet was under-hyped for its potential societal importance and economic impact, and it over-delivered,” Doerr says. “The same holds true for the clean economy, maybe even more. All I can say is stay tuned.”