The Viridian Design Movement


Viridian Note 00490: Peter Schwartz at Davos

Key concepts:
World Economic Forum, Peter Schwartz, Monitor Group, futurists, Corporate Green, climate policy,, various Davos celebrities
Attention Conservation Notice:
You're basically at this guy's elbow as he goes to Davos to network with the Great and the Good. There's a great deal of discussion there about the climate crisis and what to do about carbon. Davos is the watering hole of the global plutocracy, so if you're interested in the tides and currents of planetary development, you're a lot better off reading this stuff than you are wasting your time on political blogs.

Links: The Third Culture seethes at, a site that's always worth several long looks.

Wow, METROPOLIS is doing podcasts about green building. That's kinda happening.

Designboom's contest results for their "Radical Radiators of the Future."

"Scientists to microchip fish to track movements." I'm getting more interested in developments of this kind. Green is mainstreaming fast, while this stuff doesn't even have proper nouns and verbs for it yet.

Mary Kaldor was a judge in a Viridian Design Contest once. Mary says some very unusual things about global security issues and global civil society. Notice how this sound very much like global Davos rhetoric, only upside down and backward.

Wind and solar for African cellphone stations.


(((Note: Peter Schwarz's Davos blogging has been severely edited for Viridian relevance, and yet it still rumbles on at awesome length, anyhow.)))

"PETER SCHWARTZ is cofounder and chairman of Global Business Network (GBN), now part of the Monitor Group. From 1982 to 1986, Schwartz headed scenario planning for the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies in London. Before joining Royal Dutch/Shell, he directed the Strategic Environment Center at SRI International. He is the author of Inevitable Surprises, and The Art of the Long View, and co-author of The Long Boom, When Good Companies Do Bad Things, and China's Futures."

Day 1. Tuesday 1-23-07
The Set Up

What is Davos and how does it work? Officially the meeting is called the World Economic Forum. This is their annual meeting, but there are many other meetings during the year held around the world, but this is their big event they are known for.

It was founded and run by Klaus Schwab in the early eighties as mostly a European event, but has grown huge and global with about 2000 participants from all over the world.

The participants range from corporate CEOs, heads of state, cabinet ministers, politicians, intellectuals, journalists, scientists, academics, celebrities and many hangers on. I have been coming to Davos off and on for a little over 20 years. The Monitor Group is represented here by Mark Fuller and me.

The meeting is organized around three kinds of sessions. In the main Kongress Hall are major speeches (e.g. Tony Blair on Saturday) and high level panels (I will be moderating the one on WEB 2.0 on Saturday with Bill Gates, the head of Nike, and the founder of YouTube, which directly proceeds Blair's talk, meaning we will have a very large audience trying to make sure they have seats). (((Yes, it was Web 2.0 year at Davos, which proves that particular little surge has been smoothly mainstreamed.)))

The second kinds of session are panels on a large variety of topics in the smaller meeting rooms. Finally there are the breakfasts, lunches and dinners at the local hotels on a great many subjects.

I will be going to one Wed evening on climate change and national security hosted by Global Business Network (GBN) network member John Holdren and another on future IT hosted by another network member Paul Saffo.

Around all the sessions is non stop talking in the many lounges and sitting areas of the Kongress Centre. Not surprisingly these are among the most interesting parts of being here. The day begins with early meetings and goes very late.

Before and after the dinners are many receptions, cocktail parties sponsored by companies and governments. The India one always has the best food, but the Accel/Google party has among the most interesting people. And there is, of course, the NERDS dinners on Saturday evening.

Today is mostly registration an early dinner and meeting up with a few friends. My first panel as a participant will be Wed afternoon on the main theme of the conference, "The Shifting Power Equation: Technology and Society". (((Guess which side is winning.)))

Day 2. Wednesday 1-24-07
First Sessions

Began the morning with coffee with Geoffrey Moore, Shai Agassi, Orville Schell and Baifang Liu, who brought along the former Chinese ambassador to China, and then John Holdren joined us.

I am currently in a fairly large session on Making Green Pay. It is a televised debate on CNN on several environmental and energy issues. (It will be broadcast at 6 EST on Jan 28.) The first proposition was in favor of nuclear and clean coal. (((Peter Schwartz is quite the New Nuclear enthusiast.))) Link:

The affirmative was presented by Jim Rodgers, CEO of Duke and old friend (we chatted before the session.) and the negative by Vinod Khosla, a VC. (((The increasingly ubiquitous Vinod Khosla, representing the cellulosic ethanol contingent.)))

At this session we get to vote electronically on the propositions. The audience was asked to vote and the nukes and coal lost by 3-1, much to my surprise. Of course my friends Orville Schell and Baifang Liu, sitting next to me voted the wrong way. (((No, he's not surprised, this is wry Peter Schwartz humor here.)))

Dan Yergin is speaking now in favor of the second proposition on markets vs regulation. The Chinese ambassador has just weighed in on the government side. (One of the speakers just cited The Long Tail as an argument in favor of markets.) The audience voted 3-1 against markets, but Jim Rodgers just weighed in against the either or nature of the propositions. (((Daniel Yergin, petro-politics wonk. "The epic quest for oil, money and power." Well, it's not anywhere near so epic as it's gonna get.)))

((("The Long Tail," for those who haven't yet heard of it. It's the number-one non-fiction book in China.)))

And the third proposition is on a global carbon tax now being argued against by Jose Goldemberg because setting the tax rate is very hard and would produce serious inequities around the world. He is in favor carbon caps and trading and efficiency regulation. He is not surprisingly, as a Brazilian, for a strategy similar to what they did with respect to biofuels.

(((Prime Minister of Brazil to dress-down US President over global warming. That had to happen. Brazilians are shipping more biofuel than anybody in the world and if they get cellulosic they'll ship even more. 'Brazil has the political and moral authority to demand that rich countries uphold their obligation to reduce world pollution, instead of creating protocols they don't sign," Lula said in his regular address on state radio.)))


Nicholas Stern is now arguing in favor of the carbon tax because of the scale and urgency of the risk.

(((Stern Report. At last, economists figure out that it costs business more to ruin a planet than it does to maintain one. Man, economics is a brilliant science, isn't it?))) Link:

There appears to be some degree of consensus on the need to set a price for carbon, John Holdren and Lester Brown ended up on opposite sides.

(((John Holdren, enviro-science wonk from Harvard, got the BULLETIN OF THE ATOMIC SCIENTISTS to finally figure out that the climate crisis is scarier than nukes.)))

(((Lester Brown, indefatigable WORLDWATCH guy, finally shocked American business senseless by pointing out that China will soon be out-polluting them, which, hey, changes everything.)))

"The carbon tax won 2-1. It was a surprisingly good debate, though made a bit artificial by the extreme nature of the propositions.

The next couple of hours were spent in the large buffet lunch in which one talks buts eats little in a multilevel hall packed with a couple thousand people all with the same objectives, talk to the people you want to, avoid the people you want to and maybe get a bite to eat. (((I know this is getting a tad wordy for Viridian List, but you've gotta like these little human-interest details.)))

A number of interesting conversations in which energy and climate change figured large. More with Jim Rodgers (one of the ten US CEOs who came out for carbon caps last week) on how to bring the country around on nuclear power. (((Jim Rodgers of Duke Energy, not always beloved of the deep-green contingent, but coming round on carbon anyhow.))) Link:

(((At Davos, CEOs actually do sit around discussing how nations should be "brought around." Pretty much like Exxon-Mobil did years ago when they "brought around" the US Senate to rejecting Kyoto. Sure, certain people and interests can "bring countries around." Happens every day, folks.)))

Coincidentally followed by a conversation with an old friend whom I had not seen in years, Prof Robert Socolow of Princeton. He is the recent author of a seminal paper on how to deal with climate change, in which he thoughtfully considered nuclear and how Al Gore had used his ideas but avoided the nuclear dimension. (((Like Al Gore is gonna carry Peter Schwartz's nuclear water for him? Sure, maybe someday, when no one else remembers the term "Three Mile Island.")))

Link: Robert Socolow

Just as I finally made it to the buffet table Richard Quest of CNN the moderator of the next panel of which I am a member to join him and the others in the preparations. Our topic was the technological and societal dimensions of the major power shifts now going on, with the focus on things like virtual communities, the rise of the download generation and the increasing youthful elderly. (((Good clean fun, especially if you're a youthfully elderly downloading virtual-community guy.)))

The others on the panel included Shai Agassi of SAP, Bill Mitchell the CEO of Arrow electronics, (visual note: if anyone wants a visual model of what a fantasy CEO and his wife look like, Bill Mitchell and his wife are it.) (((I'm not buying this, unless the Mitchell wife looks incredible.))) Link:

and David Rothkopf of the Harvard negotiation project.

David Rothkopf, author of "Running the World: the Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power."

There was some whining about people losing authentic contact with each other because of new media and e-mail, etc., but I was the strongest advocate that far more had been gained in extending the breadth and depth of our communications and knowledge access. Not surprisingly I also argued for the growing power of the youthful elderly.

(. . .)

In parallel to our session were several others structured similarly on economics, geopolitics and business. At the end the rapporteurs came to the big hall to report to all the delegates on the panels and their audiences' views. We were to vote on the most important issues and the ones we were least prepared for.

After much discussion, some of it quite good, a member of the audience said "but what about climate change?" And then we voted and climate change wiped out everything else, fundamentally undermining the process the Davos organizers had so carefully put together to create a neat web of interconnected issues. (((Just like climate change is poised to fundamentally wipe out everything else.)))

But Ged Davis manfully came up at the end and gracefully recovered the conclusions from the panels that such phenomena as the emergence of China and India and the return of Russia to the world stage might also be very important, and the huge generational transformations that are underway also might be consequential. But climate change remains the topic everyone keeps coming back to. (((Because they have to. Because it's getting worse fast. Furthermore, Davos will lack snow.)))


(. . .) At the Yale reception spoke with Zedillo about the impact of the biofuels industry in the US on Mexico, pricing corn out of the tortilla market for the poor of Mexico. They may have to break NAFTA to survive the US move in ethanol. (((That won't do. Corn ethanol is crazy, unless you're Archer Daniels Midland.)))

On to dinner on climate change and national security chaired by John Holdren. The highlights happened to be two Brits, Sir Nicholas Stern and James Cameron, the young new head of the Conservative Party. Sir Nicholas basically summarized his now very influential report arguing strongly that the cost of doing little was far more costly in the long run than taking strong action today. But it was Cameron who really surprised me. He wholeheartedly supported Sterns conclusions, (Stern is Labour) and then went on to argue that we need an international emissions authority, a kind of global EPA. Not at all Tory like. (((Imagine what happens if we actually get one of these master agencies of global enviro might, and, for excellent reasons, it loathes and seeks to punish the USA.)))

A Pakistani general described the horror of his work in relief in a 1971 Tsunami that killed nearly 2 million people in Bangladesh as the waves washed over them. It was the future he feared from climate change. (((Yeah, except this time, they're Cajuns.)))

And Nick Kristoff, the NYT columnist, chimed in with the idea that maybe the WEB 2.0 phenomenon of bottoms up action might become a novel means of environmental enforcement, creating a kind of global ecological transparency. (((Sure, just imagine WORLDCHANGING with a billion dollars.)))

At my table were two‰ amazing young woman, a member of the Brazilian Congress and one of a small group fighting hard on environmental issues in Brazil and a Lebanese educator and mother who is trying to preserve some hope for the future for her kids and students while trying to teach them something about the interconnected world of ecosystems in the midst of a dreadful conflict. (((The "ecosystem" will continue to be there no matter how many people kill each other.)))

Day 3. Thursday 1-25-07

Thursday Morning
The morning began at 7 with a breakfast conversation with David Cameron, the Tory leader. (((One of the things I like best about not being a Type A global overachiever is that I don't have to get up and dress before 7 AM.))) He joined me because of a comment I had made at the dinner the evening before.

I must say I continued to be surprised by him. He intends to really lead on environmental issues in Britain. He said, "After all shouldn't a conservative be for conservation?" That was followed by an interview with the Dutch Financial Times on my views of the issues here at Davos. Then ran into Jim Rodgers again along with Tom Stewart the editor of HBR (((Harvard Business Review))) and Jim and I agreed to do an article for HBR on how a CEO addresses anticipatory investments in light of long term issues like climate change.

Then along came Paul Saffo to enrich the conversation.


Paul Saffo, another Davos futurist blogger. Paul Saffo: "There is no debate about global climate change here because everyone accepts it as a fact; all the conversation is about how to respond. And there is also a clear consensus that the nation-state order is on the wane, and thus the discussion is all about what institutions will fill the void." (((The answer? Corporate Green.)))

(. . .)

Now in a session on local energy solutions with people like Amory Lovins, Tim Wirth, David Victor, Angela Belcher from MIT, Bunker Roy from India and Bill McDonough. (((Swarms of green wonks.))) At the session with me are Bill Gross and Marcia Goodstein from Idea Labs, and sitting next to me is Orville Schell. Amory is now speaking and reminding everyone on how much is actually already underway all over the world. Angela Belcher spoke on the major leaps now underway in advanced materials that will enable new solar technologies.

A Chinese delegate, CS Kiang argued that China can do a great deal because they are so inefficient, a lot of "low hanging grapes" as he said. He'll be in Berkeley in a few weeks and we will meet.

An Ecuadorian Rose grower just spoke about how they are becoming carbon neutral.

The Chief Investment Officer of Citibank and interested in how energy investing can represent a major new opportunity.

Early afternoon, just had lunch with Laura Tyson, discussing the upcoming Presidential election. She is hoping for another Clinton White House with her in the cabinet. In any event she has returned to Berkeley from London and I am hoping she will do a bit with us. Toward the end we were joined by Sergey Brin and Larry Page and the conversation went Google. (((Only at Davos, folks.)))

Also spent a bit of time with Kishore Mahbubani the Dean of the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore talking Asian Geopolitics. And with Bob Friedman from Fortune, who is doing a special Green Issue of Fortune (((that ought to prove memorable, if only for the screams of green leftists losing their clothes))) and would like me to do an article on our EPA work.

Just finished three conversations: First was Richard Cooper of Harvard and former head of the NIC. The main subject was Niall Ferguson of whom Richard had a mixed opinion, loved some things, e.g. arguments around. But thought Ferguson was on weaker ground when he dealt with economics. While talking with Richard, a hand from behind reached out and it was Tom Friedman. We went off to discuss his next column which will be about George Bush cleaning out his desk now that he has been fired last November. And that the Democrats ought to put strong climate change bill and an Iraq bill on his desk, inviting a veto. (((They'll get vetoes, but Bush is yesterday's man. In fact, he's made his country into yesterday's country, which is incredible, given the fantastic geopolitical advantages that he squandered.)))

Then it was Baroness Susan Greenfield, a British biologist with whom I discussed the future of human biology for my upcoming Nature article. She believes the next great leap will be a deep understanding of how the brain generates consciousness. (((The brain clearly does that through breathing oxygen, so let's home there's some left in the atmosphere.)))

Then it was off to China. Cheng Siwei Vice Chairman of the People's Congress emphasized the commonalities that China had with all other nations. (((Like, for instance, a penchant for exporting its oligarchs to Davos. These people are supposed to be Communists, for Christ's sake. We're about one good bird-flu sneeze away from a globo-capitalist coup de'etat here – why do these people even NEED national governments? They just suck up air-time and get in the way!)))

Pei Minxin of the Carnegie Endowment asked whether China knows what it really wants. Kishore Mahbubani raised whether the competing global visions would shape China. He made the argument that others echoed that China has become a status quo power with a deep investment in the current order. (((China doesn't need a nuclear arms race, it can wreck global civilization with coal-fumes alone.)))

Bob Zoelleck enmphasized China's participation in international institutions. Wang Jianshou the head of China Mobile made a surprising point to emphasize the scale. When he started the company, there were less than three million phone subscribers in all of China. Today China mobile has over 300 million customers. (. . .)

Then went to a session on petropolitics moderated by Tom Friedman with Rex Tillerson the CEO of Exxon, Jeroen VanderVeer, CEO of Shell (and an old friend), Sam Bodman US Energy Secretary, and a few more. It was content free. They all avoided Tom's questions and the audiences. . . not a great performance.

What would a green Exxon-Mobil look like?

(. . .)
After dinner it was off to another climate change event. This time it was the Young Global Leaders of Tomorrow (YGLs) who were organizing the event. This is a group of young future leaders (mostly 20 - 30 year olds) had decided to take on climate change as an issue last year and this year they were launching a campaign that they had worked on for the last year.

The project looks hopeful. It is an effort to tie highly valued brands to climate action. But it was an all star event. At one point a photographer captured Claudia Schiffer, Hakken the studly young Crown Prince of Norway and I all in conversation.

Shimon Peres also spoke and he is always remarkable and inspiring. And it appears he will be named President of Israel in the next few days. By the way the Prince and I will be together most of next week at an energy meeting in Norway.

Day 4. Friday 1-26-07

My lunch event was on extending human lifespan. In the end there was a lot of agreement on the technology potential but the real issue they focused on was cost and associated inequities. If we can't all live longer should anyone? (((This question sounds especially lame and silly in the context of Davos. If it cost 200 million dollars to buy yourself another 20 years of life, who would spend that kind of money? Well, just look around Davos. That's who.)))

The afternoon session was "The Next Limits of Growth".

Martin Wolf the moderator and said that Malthus was wrong for 200 years because of innovation and the availability of fossil fuels leading to rising agricultural productivity. Brabeck-Letmathe CEO of Nestle argued that innovation will continue unabated and that there really no are limits, if markets work (right price matters.) His big issue was water because markets don't work in water.

Sam DiPiazza, CEO of PWC also said no limits and reported on their current survey of 1000 CEOS. They are optimistic about growth (90%) but energy is a concern, along with climate change and resource scarcity. Isdell, CEO of Coke also said no limits.

The biggest threat is that we lose confidence in the growth oriented system as a result of income gaps, and job insecurity, Kindle of ABB also said no limits but the necessary energy substitution would lead to much higher costs. Chukwuma Soludo the head of the Nigerian Central Bank and also quite impressive said most of Africa's limits were internal limits. Water kept coming up as perhaps the greatest constraint. (((Even Davos is gonna suffer for water if there's no snow, guys.)))

Soludo, when the population issue came up, suggested open the borders and let population poor countries absorb some of the excess from the population rich countries. You can imagine how the Europeans reacted to the suggestion of vast numbers of Nigerians arriving on their shores seeking work.

The politics of water and immigration, not technology are the real constraints to solutions, they all seemed to agree. Van Jones of Oakland expressed a great deal of skepticism at the panels relative optimism and spoke for many others in the room.

As I was leaving for dinner, for the first time, ran into Gavin Newsom who promised to come by our new office to officially "bless" it. The mayor, as always, was in great form. (((Used to be the greenest mayor in the USA, now has swarms of competition.)))

(.. .)

Then it was on to a Davos dinner which for me was a real treat. The main guest, who was at my table, was Mike Griffin, the Director of NASA. The other guests were the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister of Japan and an old friend the cosmologist Lord (Martin) Rees, Master of Trinity College and President of the Royal Society. Griffin was astonishing, candid, insightful, imaginative, open minded, (a bit arrogant), though willing to listen, and willing to admit that he got something wrong. And not at all like a typical bureaucrat. His vision is one of a space faring civilization and he doesn't mean the US, he means humankind. (((He'd better, because everybody's got a space program all of a sudden and the US is hard put to launch shuttles.)))

He loves the idea of space based solar power, Stewart Brand will be pleased to hear. He has funded some of the best innovative rocket technology like Elon Musk's Space X. So for me this was a really exciting evening.

As it happens sitting next to me was another space buff, Abdullatif Al-Othman, the CFO of Saudi Aramco, someone I have worked with before. He was an excited fan too, but he also had very kind words about the impact we have had on Aramco and invited us back. Then things got weird . . .

(. . .)

At the end of the session my Arabian friend salvaged his evening when I introduced him to Joe Stiglitz and he got to ask Joe about the future of oil and he replied:"biofuels!" And as it happened I had just introduced him to Jay Kiesling, one of the leaders in synthetic biology whose new start up company will soon be focusing on bacteria to produce biofuels. He immediately asked Kiesling if he could invest as this is obviously the future. (. . .)

Day 5. Saturday 1-27-07
Saturday, The Final Day

(. . .)

This morning Tom Friedman quoted me in his column on what Bush should be doing on energy and the environment. As a result as the day went on many of the participants came up to comment, agree or disagree and it became one of the background notes of the day.

The afternoon for me was dominated by the panel I moderated in the main hall on WEB 2.0, with Bill Gates, Mark Parker, CEO of Nike , the founders of YouTube and Flickr, Chad Hurley and Caterina Fake, and Viviane Reding the Information commissioner of the EU, with a challenge from Dennis Kneale of Forbes. The panel went well, everyone played by the rules and it really became a conversation about the empowerment of the individual by the new technology.

I began with the "Benjamin effect." The reason I got onto this early was not brilliance on my part. It was watching my son Ben uploading light saber fighting movies he had made for a competition with dozens of other kids and downloading original Lego designs from other Lego maniacs. Gates really was quite good with a detailed and imaginative vision of how people were going to use technology, a picture of rich and dense ubiquitous mobile access.

The next major event was Tony Blair's valedictory address. It was insightful, articulate, witty, bold and even controversial. He had a wonderful self deprecating sense of humor. He had, for example, recently been at a signing of a bilateral climate agreement with the state of California where he had been standing next to our Gov. Schwarzenegger and said "it was the first time I had ever experienced body envy of another politician." He addressed three major challenges, climate change, trade and security. (((Do you know how incredibly freaky it is that Great Britain is signing bilateral agreements with the State of California?)))

Blair argued that China, India and the United States needed to accept binding CO2 agreements. He went on to say that there was an opportunity for business to find an alignment between their sense of moral purpose and their business strategy in dealing with climate change and poverty. His really bold strokes came in arguing for a new framework of international institutions and instruments of shared action in several areas.

Blair argued for the reinvention of the Security Council, new peacekeeping tools, new international means of nation building and a G8+5. The head of the WEF asked me to throw out the first question which I did. How was Blair going to convince the Greens of Britain about his new positive position on nuclear power? And he gave a highly informed and nuanced answer. . . but it was basically that we can't reduce greenhouse gases enough without nukes.

John McCain was on the closing panel and made one very important point: that Congress would pass a strong climate change bill and that Bush would sign it. You can imagine that was well received especially coming from him. (. . .)

Sunday 1-28-07

Mid day, Another Davos Moment, The Airport Lounge (. . .)

Looking back over the week it feels like there was little sense of urgency in the world. There was a lot of discussion of the big problems: climate change, water, trade, economic imbalances, the dollar, religious and ethnic conflicts, rising China and India, extreme poverty and many more.

But in the background was a global economy that felt fairly robust and from a business perspective times are good and no big threats appear imminent. You might call the mood complacent. There were no obvious big surprises or unanticipated crises.

The upside of that complacency was a sense that first of all the problems are well recognized and that we can even imagine how most, if not all can be addressed. There was, for example, a broad consensus that climate change was an urgent issue but the only real question was what was the mix of solutions.

I can't help wonder, as a result, if we are not missing something.

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