Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., worries about traffic gridlock on a global basis.
Zhengrong Shi, chairman and chief executive of China’s Suntech Power Holdings, one of the world’s largest solar panel companies, wonders whether “perhaps there’s too much democracy” in the U.S., making it difficult for the nation to adopt a coherent and consistent industrial policy.
“There are no decisions being made,” he said. “It’s like in a company. Sometimes you hear all the voices. The CEO knows what the right decision is and sometimes they just want to bang the table and say, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Some lamented the lack of notable ‘home run’ technological breakthroughs in renewable energy and related science. Other cautioned patience, saying the technological progress has been remarkable and the overall task enormous.
Cost remains a major issue for alternative energy and green transportation, though as oil and gasoline prices skyrocket because of upheaval inthe Middle East perhaps the overall market is again ready to shift.
“Scale and incremental improvement have won the day,” said Mark Pinto, eexecutive vice president at Applied Materials. Nowehere is that manufacturing scale more evident than in China.
Such is just a small sampling of the diversity of informed opinion expressed at the just-concluded Wall Street Journal conference called ECO:nomics, Creating Environmental Capital. There’s a section of today’s Journal devoted to coverage of the conference.
To a layman observer, the whole field still feels wide open, changeable in the case of a big scientific advance, and exciting.
Vinod Khosla, managing partner at a venture capital firm bearing his name (Khosla Ventures), lameneted what he called the “incumbency capitalism” that exists in the U.S., where Washington tax and other business policies are influenced by those in existing industries. “We don’t support innovative capitalism,” he said.
When Bill Ford talked about his company’s strategies, he said Ford has made “a big bet on electric,” but has to stay nimble because there’s no good way now to gauge ultimate consumer desires and technological change.
(Interesting factoid from Bill Ford: before the advent of Ford’s Model T, one-third of American cars in those early days were electric.)
On the coming global gridlock as car buying takes off in large emerging nations, most notably China, Bill Ford foresees a ”fundamental economic growth issue” and “ultimately a human rights issue.”
His important rhetoric questions linger. In an urbanizing and gridlocked world, “How do you move food? How do you move health care?”
Food was also on the agenda, as there’s increased worry about global supply. So was wind power, solar, nuclear, coal and natural gas.
“I really think the diet we’re eating in America is killing us,” said John Mackey, co-chief executive of Whole Foods Market. Americans will have to change their diets if we are to solve the health care cost crisis. There are too many “lifestyle” diseases, said Mackey, including heart disease and stroke.
Haley Barbour, the Republican governor from Mississippi, who some think will be a candidate for his party’s 2012 presidential nomination, talked about the fruits of state government incentives for getting businesses to locate and create jobs. Green companies don’t get an advantage over others, and Barbour stood against what he called government “picking winners and losers.”
Asked if incentives put the state taxpayers at risk, Barbour acknowledged there was some but defended a track record he said resulted in a significant increase in the per capita standard of living in his state. At some point, he said, you have to put on “your big boy britches” and make a decision.