Green Tech Guru’s Apostasy
JAN. 25, 2011
By WAYNE LUSVARDI
A Green Tech Martin Luther may have emerged in California, but the state is unlikely to convert to his brand of economic religion.
On Oct. 31, 1517, the Catholic monk Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the All Saints Catholic Church in Wittenberg, Germany, thus triggering the Reformation and the separation of church and state. The basis of Luther’s protest was the church’s sale of indulgences and emphasis on monetary donations for building large churches as a way to earn one’s way into heaven.
On Jan. 20, 2011, in Palm Springs, T.J. Rodgers, a top green technology industrialist and de facto high priest, told 500 participants at the 7th Annual Green Tech Summit that they should reject government green energy subsidies, “run like hell” from selling or buying cap and trade pollution credits, and reject the notion that 95 percent of climatologists agree on global warming. The true believers of green religion in the audience received Rodger’s address about as well as the indulgence salesman of 1517 who burned Luther’s 95 theses. According to one reporter, there were outspoken uncomplimentary remarks made by the crowd after Rodger’s speech.
Parallels can be made between Luther and Rodgers.
Martin Luther held a doctorate in theology and taught at the University of Wittenberg. Luther’s father was a smelter who used carbon to extract iron and copper from raw ore. Green technology such as windmills became prevalent in the Netherlands when it was still part of the Holy Roman Empire during the medieval period.
T.J. Rodgers is no outsider to the green tech industry. He became wealthy converting sand into silicon computer chips. He is described as a Republican of libertarian persuasion, with a PhD in electrical engineering from Stanford, the inventor of VMOS transistor technology, licensor of American Microsystems, and founder of Cypress Semiconductor that made computer chips from silicon. Rodgers was an equity investor in Sun Power Solar where he made a return 24 times his initial $750,000 investment, partly due to government subsidies. He was for Prop 23 in California on the November 2010 ballot that would have suspended the state’s mandate for green power until the economy improved.
At the Palm Springs Green Tech Summit, T.J. Rodgers’ pointed out that California is unlikely to see any significant boom in green jobs: “Green jobs are almost all offshore – you ain’t gonna make them in Fremont (California), just ask Solyndra.”
Solyndra is a solar panel company that closed its California plant in November 2010 after receiving $535 million in Federal subsidies to build its factory. Solyndra was held up by President Obama as a model of home grown green tech industry. Solyndra’s green tech jobs are reportedly now being outsourced to China.
Rodgers talk included criticism of Al Gore and his global warming theory and such environmental alarmists as Paul Ehrlich, both now residing in California and respectively the symbolic Pope and archbishop of modern environmentalism.
Rodgers’ blunt talk comes at a time when the green energy industry is facing a new Republican-controlled House of Representatives that is likely to be hostile to continuing green subsidies given Federal and state budget deficits. The U.S. House is expected to reverse the EPA’s E-15 gasoline blend (15 percent ethanol, 85 percent gasoline) despite its subsidy to farmers. And by curtailing wind power the U.S. may push back China’s control of the rare earth elements market needed for wind turbines.
In July 2010, even the Obama-controlled Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied then-California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s appeal for Feed-In Tariffs (FITS) that would have shifted the high cost of green power development to electricity ratepayers. But Gov. Jerry Brown is in the process of stacking the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) with euphemistic “consumerists” in a possible attempt to save the state’s green power initiative by tacking the high cost of green power onto the backs of ratepayers. Modern-day indulgences will be mandated by the regulatory state.
As pointed out long ago by California longshoreman and philosopher Eric Hoffer, environmentalism is a secularized religious movement “that starts out idealistic, then becomes a corporation, and eventually becomes a racket.”
From Silicon chips to cognitive bargaining chips
The question arises whether T.J. Rodgers message will result in a reformation in the green tech industry and the religious-like green environmental ideology that pervades every part of American culture.
A cultural clue to what direction that green technology might take is a sign hanging over T.J. Rodger’s office desk from noted economist Milton Friedman that reads: “Get everything they (shareholders) are legally entitled to and still argue for an end to government subsidies.”
The obvious contradiction of the above quotation underscores what is called “cognitive dissonance” – the psychological conflict of holding of two contradictory beliefs at the same time (George Orwell’s “doublethink”). Just as Luther didn’t totally reject Catholicism, T.J. Rodgers does not reject green startup subsidies but says long-term subsidies should be refused. In other words, green tech ideology should now be open to compromise and accommodation with the wider political culture shift from government to the private sector.
The very existence of a green tech occupational subculture necessitates a process of cognitive bargaining with the new emerging “Tea Party” political culture outside California (“OK, we’ll agree to accept start-up subsidies but not operational subsidies”).
In his book The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion versus Environmental Religion (2009), Robert H. Nelson argues that religion is still a powerful force in economic life even if unrecognized by the media and academia. The dominant cultural forces are secularized versions of Catholicism (socialism and cap and trade indulgences and medieval wind mills) and Protestantism (capitalism and the Protestant work and savings ethic and natural gas fracking technology). Oddly, green technologies and cap and trade do not offer a cleaner environment because wind and solar power merely clean the air in California’s deserts not in its urban smog traps.
T.J. Rodger’s is a missionary trying to convert the Green Tech industry to symbolically bargain even to the point of abandoning its dogmatic quasi-religious global warming ideology. But the majority of California voters and the Green Tech industry are not buying the appeal for religious conversion. Culture and religion, not merely taxes, are crucial to any economic renaissance in California. In short, California may not have the cultural capital for an economic recovery as does Middle America and the South.
Look for California to continue its counter cultural religious resistance to any shift from environmental religion back to economic religion, as it continues to embrace an Old World form of religious economy and medieval energy technologies such as windmills using such double think terms as Progressivism and Environmentalism. California’s public religion of environmentalism is still unwilling to separate from the state. Any softening or abandoning of such resistance would require a broader cultural religious reformation and conversion as pointed out by green industrialist T.J. Rodgers.
May 25, 2013