In my last blog, I mentioned the class I am teaching at in Climate Change Law at the University of Texas Law School. One of my classes I mentioned consisted of inviting several companies and the leader of the UT Clean Energy Incubator to speak to my class and to people in the university community and local community. The title of the program was Environmental Entrepreneurs: Local Companies Leading the Way to a Low-Carbon Economy. (Video) This program may seem odd, and some in the audience thought it was odd to have such speakers at a law school. However, the crux of my class was that the concerns raised by the national academies of science and climate scientists and merely reported on by the International Panel on Climate Chance (IPCC) requires the invention of new technologies. Current technology is not sufficient. Thus, as we study law and policy, we have to think about how law and policy cannot only get out of the way of such invention, but actually promote the innovation and investment necessary to address climate concerns.
But why “Primordial Soup”? First, let’s define the concept. “Primordial Soup” is a concept that began with a Russian biologist Alexander Oparin, who, in 1924, proposed that life begin in a combination of organic chemicals in ocean water that somehow combined to form the earliest life forms. The mixture of water and organic chemicals was thus this “primordial soup” that spawned life. Later theories have been proposed, which come up with different explanations, but for purposes of our discussion, let’s focus on the primordial soup.
In studying ecology and evolution in my early days of education, I, as any student in this sphere became enthralled as to how nature through innovation and adaptation leads to new or modified species in response to changes in the environment. The concept of primordial soup from which life emerges is a fascinating thought.
In my own practice and study of energy and environmental law, I’ve read about and have known and worked with start up companies with many new and potentially transformational technologies. Many of which can reduce energy use, significantly increase energy efficiency, or produce energy in new or more efficient ways.
Thus, the adaptation and evolution I studied in biology and ecology classes many years ago, is occurring now in an economic setting as opposed to an ecological setting as there is significant focus on clean energy, clean tech, and ways of doing other types of energy and industrial activities in ways that have much less impact on the environment.
Getting back to my class, we had several companies speak at our class that are engaged in new technologies, most seeking early stage capital to try to develop the technology and hopefully reach commercialization.
The reason for this harks back to another class in which we reviewed the California or AB 32, by its original bill name in the California legislature. California is seeking to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050. A Berkley National Laboratories analysis concluded that without new technologies, the state could not achieve such reductions. Thus, I wanted to introduce my students to some of the local companies that are working on technologies that may lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
The speakers and their companies were as follows:
Mitch Jacobson, UT Clean Energy Incubator
Barry McConachie, CEO, Incenergy
Lu Yan, CEO, Yan Engines, Inc.
F. Todd Davidson, CEO, nCarbon
Panos Adamopoulos, Founder, Seismos
Yetkin Yildirim, Co-Founder, Terra Pave International, Inc.
These companies in many ways are working on low carbon technologies, and are a very small subset of companies across the United States, and the world for that matter, developing potentially commercial technologies that can in numerous ways lead to a lower carbon economy.
Just in Texas, in the Austin area, another company, Skyonic, is working on a technology to capture CO2 from smokestacks and use it to produce carbonates and other products, so pollution control becomes a for profit business. The first deployment is at a cement plant near San Antonio.
With the large installed base of fossil fuel power plants, our global fleet of fossil-fueled vehicles, pipelines, refineries, etc. we have to find technologies to use fossil fuels in way that reduce emissions. Too much infrastructure and investment in that infrastructure to expect it to go away any time soon. I don’t expect that to occur in my lifetime.
After the class and meeting, I had dinner with one of the company CEOs and several attendees. We talked about many things and one of which was carbon trading law, as one of the people mentioned I had written a book on the subject. In our discussion, I made the point that the exact nature of carbon trading programs was not to regulate the greenhouse gases out of existence or have a perfect system, but to have enough of a carbon price that substantial investment was made in hundreds if not thousands of technologies and services such that out of the “primordial soup” would emerge technologies that would transform our energy use.
So as I had thought about “cap and trade” it was not to solve the problem through the regulatory system as such, but to create the economy or market place that drives sufficient research and development and investment to come up with low cost innovative technologies. I said this doe not comport with environmentalists, who simply want to phase out fossil fuels, with an idealistic view that this can be done without great economic loss and job loss, and frankly that it is even possible le with today’s technology.
The renewable energy they promote depends on natural gas plants to balance the grid so our lights will stay on—yes, renewable energy is dependant on fossil-fuel produced energy.
To ignore the issues is unrealistic as well as the overwhelming science on climate change and its causes will put pressure on governments and policy makers and publicly traded companies, particularly those that produce, use, or are otherwise dependent on fossil fuels, which are most of the publicly traded companies.
Thus, we need a policy and regulatory system that promotes the type of technological research and innovation and creates enough profit for angel and venture capitalists to invest in companies developing these technologies. My point at the dinner was that a perfect system is not needed, or possible, but enough of a system that provides sufficient incentives to create the primordial soup.
Thus, perhaps a long winded way of answering the question posed. To find the solutions you need the primordial soup of inventors, investors, and entrepreneurs to form the marketplace that will lead to climate change solutions.
The program was made possible through the University of Texas Law School