Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Usefulness of Data Bits in Addressing Climate Change

Robin Chase founded ZipCar and blogs.

I'm talking on the same topic but with a different bent. It's more specific and less specific simultaneously. When I think about this, I tend to think about history. This is Anne Frank's hiding place. Would I have had the courage to do what they did? This is another picture more recently. This is Elizabeth Eckford, who's desegregating the Little Rock, Arkansas, high school. She's 17. She's one of five people. Look at those angry white faces. Would I have been a heroic person?

The question is, what kind of person am I? And what kind of person are you? We have the chance to determine who we are. It's because of climate change. There are those among you who are believers. There are those of you who are not. I'm not a climatologist. I'm just channeling the two best climatologists in the U.S.

What's a catastrophic effect? It's a 50% drop in species. It's a 25% drop in wheat despite doubling population. John Holdren is director of the Woods Hole Institute. In September he had a presentation to the UN. If US CO2 emissions peak in 2015, we have a 50% chance of averting catastrophic climate change. If we continue the status quo for 10 years, we have 0% chance. What are we working with?

We're working with the next 2-3 years. We're all like little ostriches. We hear about 2015, 2020, and we put our heads in the sand. Cap and trade will do nothing in 2-3 years. We have to work with behavior, marketing that affects behavior, and a carbon tax, which really affects behavior.

This 2-3 year timeframe is upon us. We need to do all of these things to get the effects, but we need to keep track of the fact that we need to get emissions down in the next 2-3 years.

The power use of technology is the 2% piece that was talked about. We can address this by machine and chip design, reducing the number of devices, cloud computing, and deistributed data centers selling heat byproducts. I'm a strong believer in low-cost, ubiquitous data bits as a tool for behavor change. We can have efficient use of resources, customization, group intelligence, and quick access to expert intelligence.

My realm is transportation. We think about cars. 20% of our CO2 emissions is our personal cars. Filling them with motor fuel is another 9%. A lot of people talk about lightbulbs. That drives me out of my mind. The largest part of what you control at home is your electricity bill. Residential electricity produces 17% of CO2 in the US.

I run a company called ZipCar. 25-50 people are car-satisfied with one vehicle. 10-20 cars are off the road for each ZipCar. The quality of life improves for all. The parking paradigm changes. Because we pay for your car by the hour, the lump and sunk charges change dramatically. People choose to use their car correctly relative to their other transportation options. We have 80,000 people driving 5,000 cars. From an environmental perspective, people drive about 90% less than if they owned their own car.

And it's 100% technology enabled. The 80,000 people have each bought a fraction of a car. As a person, I have 5,000 cars at my beck and call across the geographies. We've been able to make this expensive asset more efficiently used.

My more recent company is GoLoco. We're trying to do with ride sharing what we did with car sharing. It's your car, your friends, your trips, your money creating your own transportation network. It’s the long tail of transportation. We combine social networking and alerts from your friends traveling places, as well as the money management online without anyone having to worry about it. GoLoco can solve the transformation ills of people who aren't anywhere near transit statins.

I also like the shared bike network in Velib, France. And this is another favorite: the Interstate Wireless Mesh System. We're testing congestion pricing, which is a trial for road pricing, in which you'd pay by the mile as well as by your type of car. How will we build out this infrastructure? I'm trying to get our government to open excess capacity to abutters.

I'm a two-trick donkey, and I'm sharing these tricks with you because I think we can get this stuff done. We can improve the efficiency of expensive resources that were previously privately held. And people create the infrastructure using Web 2.0, infrastructure, and financing 2.0. We don't have to have someone spending billions and billions of dollars. Each of us can take just a small bite.

As congestion pricing is to pricing, so too can we do with our use of electricity. Don't turn on your dishwasher in August at noon when everyone's running their air conditioners. Do it at midnight. We can all be superheroes.

1 comment:

Russ Nelson said...

Whenever somebody says that we have to do something immediately, and there isn't time to talk about it, I reach for my wallet.