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Solutions - Aug 13

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Tories plan radical green transport tax

Patrick Hennessy, The Telegraph
The Conservatives are drawing up plans for steep rises in taxes on air travel and gas-guzzling cars, it emerged last night, writes Patrick Hennessy.

The increases could be offset by deep cuts in council tax, VAT and National Insurance contributions, according to proposals being hammered out by the party's transport policy review group.

Steven Norris, the Tories' former London mayoral candidate who heads the group, said climate change was the "most important challenge to the planet". He thought the public was ready for a radical change in its behaviour.
(13 Aug 2006)


The Greenback Pack

Severin Carrell and Francis Elliott, The Independent
They are immensely rich (hence the nickname) but they're out to save the planet. Meet the new greens, with solar-panelled rucksacks, powerful friends and piles of cash.
----
As Tony Blair and Arnold Schwarzenegger launched their new pact on global warming in Los Angeles last week, they were watched by a young man in a grey T-shirt with a solar-panelled rucksack at his feet.

Instead of being collared by secret service agents as an eco-protester, he was invited on-stage for a photo-call. But then this was Sergey Brin, the Russian-born entrepreneur and co-founder of Google who has made $11bn (£5.8bn) from the internet search engine. The rucksack that powers his phone and MP3 player is just one of his latest investments.

Brin, 32, is typical of the new breed of wealthy, powerful tycoons piling into environmental issues - including media moguls, nightclub owners, hoteliers and property barons. The dollars they have in vast quantities are known to Americans as greenbacks. That's why the new rich greens are being called the Greenback Pack.

Perhaps the most quietly influential member of this set is James Murdoch, 33, the son of the global media magnate Rupert Murdoch and the chief executive of satellite broadcaster BSkyB. He has made Sky "carbon neutral" by using renewable energy for its power, cutting electricity use and air travel, and rewarding staff who switch to bicycles, buy green "hybrid" cars and install low-energy bulbs at home. It is a message, claim Sky executives, that he wants to spread to Sky's eight million subscribers.

Ten days ago, he persuaded his father to screen Al Gore's acclaimed film on climate change to News Corporation executives at their annual summit in Pebble Beach, California. Sources present say the environment was a key topic, and its impact was very quickly felt throughout the Murdoch empire.

Last week, The Sun newspaper announced its conversion to the green cause with two dramatic pieces warning about climate change. On Friday, the paper's 8.5 million readers were urged to watch Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, which one writer branded "more hair-raising than any Hollywood horror".

Tony Juniper, the director of Friends of the Earth, said this marked a "high-water mark" for the green movement. "I've lived and worked through several green waves, and these things do come and go. But this time it's a bit different with the depth and seriousness of the things now going on."
(6 Aug 2006)


Green tech's growth

Matt Marshall, San Jose Mercury News
Marauding venture capitalists in Silicon Valley regularly anoint a new hot technology, and this year the winner is without a doubt clean, or ``green,'' technology.

As oil prices skyrocketed over the past year, early-stage investors nearly quadrupled their bets on alternative energy after mostly shunning it for the past decade. Fifteen green tech companies got $239.1 million in backing during the second quarter, a 290 percent increase from the same quarter a year ago, according to data provided by research group VentureOne.

The amount is still a pittance compared with the billions of dollars invested in health care and software, but it is clearly one of the fastest-growing areas.

``There are small, seed-stage companies all over the place,'' said Raj Atluru, venture capitalist with Draper Fisher Jurvetson in Menlo Park, a firm that's investing in several such firms. DFJ has kicked off what could become a new trend in Silicon Valley. In June, it unveiled a record-breaking $285 million venture ``affiliate'' fund to pour into clean technology.

Two of the largest venture capital deals during the second quarter were alternative energy investments: a $75 million round in solar company Nanosolar of Palo Alto, and a $50 million first round in Altra, a biofuel company in Los Angeles. General energy investments -- a category that includes companies that drive energy efficiency -- reached a record $354.4 million invested in 25 deals, according to VentureOne.

A number of factors are fueling the excitement around clean technology, some of which intensified this summer: War in the oil-rich Middle East has put upward pressure on gasoline prices, already above $3 per gallon. National security, endangered by dependence on the region's oil, remains a top concern.
(6 Aug 2006)


What’s a Clean Earth Worth?

Joel Makower, The Oil Drum
What's a clean earth worth to your company's bottom line?

That seemingly academic question was addressed in large part last year by the United Nation's Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a four-year international scientific assessment of the condition of earth's ecosystems. It concluded that that 15 out of 24 of the ecosystem services it studied are being degraded or used unsustainably, while only three of the ecosystem services have been enhanced in the past 50 years.

The significance of this to the private sector is nontrivial. Natural systems provide a wealth of tangible and intangible services to business -- some $33 trillion worth of "free" deliverables a year, say experts. Those services include fertile soil, fresh water, breathable air, pollination, species habitat, soil formation, pest control, a livable climate, and a host of other things most of us take for granted. And none of which appear on companies' balance sheets.

The ecosystem trends of particular concern to businesses reads like a litany of well-covered topics: climate change, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, invasive species, overexploitation of oceans, nutrient overloading into water systems, and so on. Each has specific implications for business operations, from reduced access to raw materials to increased regulation to heightened awareness by customers and communities.

Now comes a new report, from a group whose corporate members are as varied as Chevron, Chiquita, and Cisco, saying that businesses need to pay closer attention to the natural systems on which they rely. According to Environmental Markets: Opportunities and Risks for Business (PDF), published this week by Business for Social Responsibility, the role of such services in business "can no longer be taken for granted."

Moreover, says BSR, "It is likely that in the foreseeable future, attention to these services will become similar to the attention companies give to other corporate assets, such as infrastructure. In this case, the 'infrastructure' is the environmental services upon which the company relies."
(13 Aug 2006)

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