Should the climate change agenda influence our thinking?

by admin on June 9, 2009

in Marketing

climate1Over the weekend I wrote a piece on ZD Net that asks whether IT investments should be influenced by the popular CO2 theories of climate change. I wrote the piece because I had seen alternative theories that suggest the science underpinning the CO2 argument is flawed. There then followed a lively Twitter stream (see example pic below) conversation followed by a good flow of comments to the original piece.

Comments fell into two camps. Those who are interested in supporting the end buyer in acquiring cost effective solutions thought the piece was ‘thoughtful.’ That’s always nice to hear. Those who have a stake in the game chose to variously accuse me of setting back the climate agenda 10 years, page view baiting or otherwise denying the CO2 argument. Unfortunately what this latter group failed to understand is that all of those accusations are untrue.

As I said on the original piece:

On one side of the debate CO2 emissions are causing global warming, that is generally bad and we need to do something about it. On the other side, CO2 is an effect, not a cause of global warming and that there is more likelihood that natural activity by the sun is causing climate change. The economic consequences are fundamentally different, depending on which side of the divide you choose to camp.

What I did NOT say is that climate change is not happening. I also said:

If our ‘green’ lobbyists were capable of seeing another side to the argument then we might be looking at this topic through a different lens…

That’s an excellent argument for investing in alternatives. But it has nothing to do with climate change or CO2 emissions. It’s also an excellent argument for reviewing how our data centers consume power, pushing forward with investments in smart grids and all that goes with it. It is to the green side of the house’s credit that it has made us think hard about energy consumption and spawned ideas like Home Camp. But it is not necessarily a good argument for CO2 reductions.

If you take the alternative view that the lynchpin for alternative energy is not CO2 but an economic reality then we can have a very different discussion…

There are plenty of things we are doing that are harmful to the environment. As James Farrar frequently and eloquently discusses, we are not good at acting in sustainable ways. But let’s at least have a better understanding of what we’re really looking at on this CO2 thing and then make IT investments accordingly. Let’s not be frightened into making the wrong choices using science that could turn out to be bad.

climate2In other words while I may have questions about the causes of climate change I still think that change is important and should be encouraged. But, it is important to ensure these things are put in perspective and argued for the right reasons. That way, companies make investments fully aware of the context in which they’re investing.

My colleague and friend Vinnie Mirchandani put it this way:

I asked a similar question couple of weeks ago – are we headed towards a green Y2K?

I was at Gartner then and we were warning the world about Y2K. The bigger the total remediation cost we projected the more it got reported. The more it got reported, the more opportunistic vendors got. Some companies had spectacular IT project overruns. Others, particularly in their ERP areas, are still suffering from overpriced solutions bought during that mania.

Regardless of which side of the fence you sit, there is a debate to be had which has a knock on effect into decision making.

One comment that particularly caught my attention. James Farrar is concerned that my originating argument is obfuscating by political motivated argument. Let’s be clear – the climate change debate IS political at many levels. However, we should all be careful not to obscure the marketing effects of different positions.

Those of us who advise on these issues will be keenly aware that pressure to buy can come from many sources. Climate change is but the latest wrinkle on selling strategies.

For an alternative view on my position check this link which discusses the sceptic’s argument.

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James Farrar June 9, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Dennis — to put my comments in proper context let me quote your blog post:

'We know that recent media reporting has been skewed firmly in favor of the green lobbyists. …..If our ‘green’ lobbyists were capable of seeing another side to the argument then we might be looking at this topic through a different lens.

On twitter you suggested the green lobby was dominating the public debate and the other side was not funded.

Now I suggest when we are in the realms of discussing lobby positions we are far into the political arena and we are not discussing science any longer. I'm personally not comfortable for the debate to be politicised and that is the point I was making. I note I asked you for the reference links to spend curves you mentioned but you have not yet posted them.

I'll leave you to this debate as its entered an emotive zone that I'm not awfully comfortable to be in though I respect your point of view greatly.

Dennis Howlett June 13, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Check out 'Charges of Bias' here:…

Neal H. Levin June 10, 2009 at 4:05 am

Dennis, I very much like your approach to this topic. You could have gone hard right on this though you left some of the left still on their feet.

There are some very thoughtful points within the post and the comments that follow (contrasted, of course, with a few slaps in the face). What surfaces for me, though, is best put in the form of a question: What does climate change have to do with sustainability? Or, more specifically: Must we accept climate change and then its cause in order to justify being more sustainable? If so, then I believe that we've lost touch with the definition of sustainability — though not surprising; just look at what we did with the word "green."

Quite obvious to me is the fact that you agree with a mission of sustainability in response to the blatant abuses to the planet, regardless of whether the abuses are the cause of climate change. I applaud this view and wrote a rather ideological piece on it back in Jan of '08:

That leaves us then only with the "urgency" component. You profess the slower, hang on the beach with a cold drink, path. I also agree that we should not rush to "solve" climate change or any other crises as we've proven to ourselves over and over again that when we rush, we fail (read: ethanol, e.g.).

However, I believe that there actually is a sense of urgency to adopt sustainability, if not to embrace climate change. It's centered on none other than the economy. As you've duly pointed out, true sustainability has the intended net (and long term) effect of improving the bottom line, assuming, of course, we embrace sustainability for what it is (a core principal, part of the company fabric, a commitment to the business process and everything it impacts, a filter through which all C level decision are passed, etc.) and avoid what it isn't (something manufactured, fast food, a marketing and sales tool — though if genuine, it can certainly help the latter).

So let's use the economy as our excuse to quickly develop innovative new business processes, including Green IT, that reduce costs, improve efficiency and productivity, minimize impact, drive value to our customer's customers, embrace social justice and make for one very compelling story that may in fact drive additional value through the front door.

We lost touch with truly sustainable business practices many years ago. The economy and the failure of what we thought were invincible companies, banks and investments (Mr. Madoff), if not climate change, should drive us back.

hapa June 11, 2009 at 4:24 pm

well, hey, it's not everybody who can get away with comparing an established scientific field with the old catholic church. hats off to you.

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