In California, we are one week away from a vote that threatens to stunt innovation, kill thousands of jobs, reject billions of investment dollars, and paralyze the eighth largest economy in the world in its attempt to shift to clean energy.
Yet, Silicon Valley companies haven’t really picked up the fight.
When California’s global warming law (AB32) was signed in 2006, it sparked a clean tech boom across the state as investors and innovators geared up for a clean energy transformation. California's nonpartisan State Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that the state now stands to lose $10 billion in private investments in clean energy businesses and 500,000 jobs if Proposition 23, a ballot initiative intended to cripple AB32, passes on November 2.
The proposition, which bears the deceiving title of California Jobs Initiative, would suspend AB32 until the state’s unemployment rate falls below 5.5 percent for a full year. California’s current unemployment is at 12.3 percent, and the likelihood of it descending to 5.5 percent in a timeframe necessary to address global warming effectively makes Prop 23 a repeal of California’s climate plan, not a suspension.
Time to Mess With Texas
Follow the money behind Prop 23 and you’ll discover that Valero and Tesoro, both Texas oil companies, are intent on highjacking the IT sector’s clean tech business potential by obstructing California’s ability to regulate its emissions and grow a much needed new market, essential to the state’s long-term economic development.
So, why aren’t the largest Silicon Valley brands, with the seeds of a fertile new market for technological innovation already beginning to germinate, fighting as hard to save AB32 as their well-funded opponents are fighting to overturn it?
What we should be seeing is a showdown between the IT companies, which have a profitable opportunity to become the guardians of a clean energy economy, and the oil companies, which hope to stall an energy transformation for as long as possible.
The IT companies seem more like sideline cheerleaders than players, which is particularly wimpy given that IT companies have the home-field advantage. The proposition has been most aggressively challenged by venture capitalists and other technorati defending their clean tech investments, but few IT companies are running their own offense.
Credit is due to Google and Cisco, which have stepped off the sidelines to argue against the law’s suspension. Google publicly stated the importance of AB32 for job growth and California’s clean tech market at an event held on the company’s campus in August. Cisco published two opinion blogs last week, one of which sends a clear message that the company “urges Californians to vote No on Prop 23.”
Google and Cisco need some company out on the field. Newsweek just awarded eight of its top ten U.S. Green Rankings to Information and Communication Technology companies. But where are Dell, HP, Intel, Yahoo! and the other “green” leaders in this critical environmental battle? Why aren’t they speaking out to protect their interests and the future of California’s clean tech industry?
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group also put out a statement naming member companies Google, Cisco, Apple, HP, Intel, and eBay as supporters of AB32 back in February. It would be more effective for them speak out under their own brands, make use of the bully pulpit, and capitalize on the public persona of their CEOs rather than band together under the less recognizable banner of a trade association.
The World Is Run by Those Who Show Up
While California is the battleground for the current debate over climate and energy policy, the ramifications of Prop 23‘s passing will be globally felt. California has the most clean tech business in the U.S. and leads the country in renewable energy deployment. If climate policy fails in the trailblazing state of California, it’s a bad omen for other states or the likelihood of federal action.
In the absence of clear policy signals to investors, they will pick up and move elsewhere. That’s bad for California. But losing California’s innovative engine and climate solutions to date is bad for the world at large if we hope to address climate change in the waning timeframe scientists say remains.
Fortunately, recent polling shows a decline in the proposition’s popularity, but in reality this vote shouldn’t even be close. To kill Prop 23 and any suggestion that AB32 be suspended, IT companies need to project the ‘No on 23’ message loudly and clearly to the ultimate decision-makers: California voters.
No on Proposition 23: http://www.stopdirtyenergyprop.com/