A major CBS 60 Minutes story on the clean tech sector has been picked apart mercilessly for playing fast and loose with the facts about public and private investment in new energy technology since it first aired on January 5. If you’ve been following along you may already be very familiar with most of the rebuttals, but it’s still well worth reading an open letter to CBS written by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, which he posted on the Khosla Ventures website on January 14.
Aside from rebutting the distortions, misrepresentations and errors in the 60 Minutes story point by point, Khosla’s letter provides a concise rundown of the the state of clean tech investment today, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about clean tech investment in the coming months.
Clean tech investment: the global picture
Clean tech investment is going to be making more news this year partly because the green investor organization Ceres just launched a major new clean energy investment campaign called the Clean Trillion Campaign, at its biannual Investor Summit on Climate Risk on January 15 at the United Nations.
Clean Trillion refers to closing the gap between where we are now and the estimated $36 trillion needed in new clean energy investment, that will enable the transition of the global economy out of fossil fuels and into a more sustainable energy platform.
Vinod Khosla: just the facts
The script for the 60 minutes story, The CleanTech Crash, is available on the CBS website if you’d like to follow along with Khosla’s letter. He comes out swinging at the beginning:
The pontificators at 60 Minutes, with their agenda-driven bastardization of news reporting, failed to do the most elementary fact checking and source qualification, as was the case with your Benghazi reporting. No wonder one major media outlet wrote that you have been “widely criticized for leaving out crucial information about the state of the clean tech sector.” Is this the new CBS standard?
Having said that, Khosla proceeds to correct 60 Minutes on a wide range of details (did they get anything right?), including numerous errors in their characterization of the Department of Energy loan program.
Khosla also raises key points about the subsidies enjoyed by the domestic fossil fuel industry, which he puts at $502 billion in 2011 alone. That figure includes tax breaks and the failure to price in externalities – a timely reminder in light of last week’s West Virginia chemical spill, in which a coal-washing chemical entered the entire water system over a nine-county area.
Another one of those externalities is the cost of protecting oil shipping lanes by the US Navy. Khosla totals up the figure to $7 trillion, with $80 billion spent last year in the Arabian Gulf alone.
In that regard, although Khosla does not bring up the Iraq war, you can factor that in, too. As early as 2006, then-President George Bush affirmed that oil was the motivator for launching an unprovoked attack on the country. The Iraq war-oil connection has also been voiced by other members of his administration as well as leading Republican pundits.
It’s rather difficult to imagine wars being fought over wind and sunlight. As for the argument that the unpredictable global market for rare earths and precious metals plays a key role in the clean tech sector, the Obama Administration has been aggressively pursuing research initiatives to develop domestic substitutes and sources.
We really encourage you to go ahead and read Khosla’s letter, but if you don’t have time for the full version linked above, here’s a link to the abridged version at khoslaventures.com.
[Image: CBS logo by swanksalot]