May 9, 2011

Who controls the Social Media conversation?

In a clarion call for more proactive thinking Abraham Lincoln said, "The best way to predict your future is to create it." Something must have been lost in translation in the last 35 years because the U.S. energy policy has been anything but proactive.

In comparison, the digital media industry has been the beneficiary of the best and the brightest minds during this period. Its exponential expansion results from its remaining highly competitive and incredibly proactive. From 3 channels of TV in the 70's we now have hundreds of video channels to choose from, cell technology girds the earth in transmission connections, and the internet enables virtually unrestrained interactivity between users and content.

The accelerating shifts in communications has delivered the social media explosion. Now every user is their own channel opting-in and -out of connections on the fly. We don't need to go to the polling booth anymore - we vote and buy with each click to decide what's relevant and what isn't.

That begs the question "is bioenergy relevant?" Apparently this is a regional question. Dr. Bruce Dale reintroduced the term of "syllogism" to explain the following:

"House Speaker Tip O'Neill is famous for having asserted that all politics is local. Every farmer, rancher, and forester knows that all biomass is local. The syllogism is that all biomass is political!"

If you live in California you would be led to believe that bioenergy is not relevant. Greentech (photosynthesis) has been superceded with Cleantech (photovoltaics, geothermal, and wind). The Natural Resources Committees of the State Legislature votes down every regulatory change that would enable bioenergy projects to sprout. The California Air Resources Board seemed to go out of its way to de-certify corn ethanol as a low carbon fuel - affixing an unsubstantiated factor to indirect land use change that barely disqualified the fuel. Once challenged, they discounted the factor.

Why are they so obstinate? They'll insist that it is because of science but it is really the opposite of science. Science leads to more understanding and change. California, the most bio-diverse state in the union, could easily develop best practices to provide ag and forestry residues for biofuels while helping the proper funding of forest, farm, and ranch management. It's R&D centers can improve on developing conversion technologies.

It's all about local pressure engendered by social consensus building in the heart of California's liberal academia heartland. The inverted justice of guilty until proven innocent (of indirect land use change, toxic emissions, etc.) prevails. And you can't build anything until it is proven innocent. How else does one explain a regulatory standard that insists that a conversion technology cannot be permitted if it has ANY emissions?

Silicon Valley giants including Google, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn have built the swords of social media and they are available to all interest groups in this country. Unless bioenergy enterprises, associations, and leaders start employing these tools, the debate will be dictated by those resistant to change and those with deep pockets who favor the status quo.

One egregious example is the European "Stop Bad Biofuels" Facebook page which features a animated YouTube treatment to simplistically educate followers about indirect land use change. The info page asserts "For most current biofuels, the effect is to wipeout any benefits for climate change - making them worse even than fossil fuels."

The consequence of this video's "Joe Camel" treatment of speculative iLUC theory is more status quo monopolization of unsustainable fossil choices at the pump - harmful to future generations. Either we research, develop and deploy more biofuels technologies now or suffer more oil addiction later.

technorati , , , , ,

1 comment:

C. Scott Miller said...

Maurzio Cocchi (@maurizio_cocchi on Twitter) asked me to upload this comment:

"Congrats for this post Scott, wish I could have listened to your speech in St. Louis last week.

Unlike other renewables, bioenergy can be obtained by a multitude of different feedstock through a lot of different conversion pathways. Biomass and biofuels can be used here and now in all energy sectors, power generation, heating and transports.

This complex nature of bioenergy is difficult to explain to the general public and the media so far have often failed to address this complexity in an appropriate way, focusing more on threats rather than on opportunities.

This week an important report by the IPCC about the role of renewables in fighting climate change was published ( By accident one of the most interesting statements I found there seems to me like an appropriate response to the simplistic explanation of ILUC in this video: "Changes in land and forest use or management that, according to a considerable number of studies, could be brought about directly or indirectly by biomass production for use as fuels, power or heat, can decrease OR INCREASE terrestrial carbon stocks. The SAME studies also show that indirect changes in terrestrial carbon stocks have considerable uncertainties, are not directly observable, are complex to model and difficult to attribute to a single cause".

Maybe things are not so easy to explain as just Peter liking potatoes and Jane loving sunflowers."