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Green Guru Blasts Green Prescriptions

Vinod Khosla is a renowned investor in green tech and a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, one of the most successful technology companies in the world. Yet he thinks environmentalists are “chasing the wrong answers” and calls the Prius a “greenwashing”. In an interview with the Atlantic, Khosla explains that the answer to saving the planet lies in business, and why he’s not afraid of failure.

Environmentalists get in the way. They often ask the right questions, but they’re chasing the wrong answers, often hypothetical or uneconomic solutions. Venture-capital firms invest in trends by projecting returns.

The Prius, says Khosla, is a “greenwashing”:

Their carbon emissions can be worse than gasoline-powered cars. And today the Prius has a very expensive battery. Real change needs to meet the ‘Chindia price.’ That’s the price at which people in India and China will use your product without subsidies.

He’s right. Environmentalists often chase impossible answers to poorly-defined problems. Technology that makes sense economically is the only way to save the planet. Instead of protesting oil pipelines or whining about how global warming is causing environmental disasters (that was Al Gore two weeks ago, by the way), greens could better spend their time coming up with intelligent, environmentally friendly business plans that would receive funding from Mr. Khosla.

Successful investments in green tech are out there, and Mr. Khosla is a prime example. He takes risks on bold ideas. Many fail. Others do not: his biofuel investment fund has generated $1 billion in profits.

Companies like Mr. Khosla’s will do more for the environment than all the green NGOs on the planet. Intelligent investments, green technology, sound business in a changing world: these are much more powerful green tools than scare tactics and global economic treaties.

Government can help; support for basic scientific research can provide the ideas and the foundation of the technologies that entrepreneurs and investors can turn into products and processes.  But if government is good at supporting deep research precisely because such research does not attempt to solve immediate problems, it is bad at picking winners.

For young people who care about making the world a greener and more sustainable environment, my advice is to pay more attention to people who develop products or invest in industries that move the global economy onto a more sustainable path, and less attention to people who drive motorboats around whale ships.

The world has plenty of hactivists; it can never have too many creators, inventors and entrepreneurs.

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  • daninkansas

    You mention Mr. Khosla’s 1 billion dollar profit in biofuels in the context of “green business ventures” that make economic sense. Biofuels are heavily subsidized, hence more like Solyndra in that respect, and they are far from green is so many ways that are seldom discussed.

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