The bottom line and planet earth don’t often see eye to eye, especially not in the U.S. This week’s Great Lakes Symposium on Smart Grid and the New Energy Economy being held at the Illinois Institute of Technology exhibited a bit of difficulty linking the new energy and best practices for the continuation of life as we know it on our third rock from the sun. Let me state right here this is a great conference! Rock stars in science, technology, utility management, academia and business are rubbing elbows with a delegation from South Africa’s UNISA (the largest university in South Africa) and a group from the U.S. Virgin Islands including the Honorable Craig W. Barshinger, Senator at Large. If you are lamenting your electric bill, take heart that we here in Chicago are not facing the nearly $0.70/KWh that plagues the Virgin Islands. In South Africa power outages are running up bills amounting to 5% of the GDP. It’s not hard to understand the emphasis to improve delivery and bring downs costs.
When Charles Sutton got up to ask the question of a panel composed of representatives from Ameren, Willdan Energy Solutions, S&C Electric, City of Chicago, Illinois Science and Technology Coalition and the Energy Foundry where was the consideration of climate change and CO2in this discussion there was a long pause. Most of what was on the table during the panel was the usual bottom line, money. The first response came from a panelist who also teaches at the University of Chicago. I can’t quote him directly because I wasn’t running my recorder but what it amounted to was that U of C students he taught didn’t seem to care about the consequences of CO2, they were focused on costs and profit margins. I didn’t find this particularly unusual for U of C. Milton Friedman economic theories emanated from those ivy covered halls and influenced the likes of Greenspan, total and utter deregulation and economic catastrophe that is still costing tax payers loads of cash. I won’t digress into my feelings about all the bankers and Wall Street scions who continue to roam the earth freely in yachts.
Other members of the panel expressed real concern over the lack of consideration for climate change and the consequences but….the consensus was you have to sell the companies on making money. I’ll buy that even though I don’t like it. As Charles Sutton put it, “there is an 800lb. gorilla in the room” and it didn’t go away just because corporations need to make money. The earth is at risk. Perhaps the Obama announcement regarding CO2 emissions reductions will help big utility get on board. After all they will have to reduce their contributions to pollution. In order to really accomplish this everyone is going to need to add more renewable energy sources to their portfolios. There are many reasons why this is problematic to large scale utility companies but that is for a later blog.
On a similar note of corporate responsibility there was an interesting article this morning in the Guardian about McDonald’s corporation purchasing fair trade coffee for their lattes and using sustainably sourced fish. According to Mickey D they are educating consumers about sustainability. The product may cost a little more but what the heck; it’s the responsible thing to do. Wow, I never thought I would laud the golden arches about anything. Wait, stop the press. The next article I spied was about hospitals kicking the golden arches from their premises. I wonder if this new concern for healthy foods, fair trade and sustainably resourced fish has anything to do with all those leases being terminated?