The Truth About Green Politics

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Hello from The Atlantic's Green Intelligence Forum. I've been interviewing and moderating, so I haven't had a chance to write much about the proceedings. Stay tuned for a couple of quick posts.

During Megan MacArdle's "What Green Means to Industry" panel, Harvard Business School professor Forest Reinhardt said something very smart about the nature of green politics.

There is this infatuation with win-win solutions. If we think we're going to get where we want to go through a series of win-wins, we're kidding ourselves.

And he's right on both counts. Because support for green positions has always been broad but shallow, there has been a tendency to look for areas that were perceived to be easy wins, like, say energy efficient refrigerators. But what we're talking about when we're talking about "green" is the reinvention of an energy system that's been in existence for over a hundred years. The real solutions are going to be of a different type, not just a different scale.

Think of the dislocations and creativity in the media industry over the last 20 years in response to the rise of "new media" (among other things). It seems likely to me that if we're going to really change the energy system, we can expect to see at least that amount of confusion and innovation.

It's not going to be easy -- and some companies will be negatively affected. That doesn't mean that there aren't great or greater gains to be made in new industries, businesses, and products, but some entrenched interests will have to lose something.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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