Al Gore: Tech Has Big Role in Reducing Emissions

Former Vice President Al Gore says products that compete with innovative technology shouldn't receive tax incentives.

Orlando, Fla.-Technology has a role to play in helping to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming, and it's about more than just making hardware more energy efficient.

That was the message that former Vice President Al Gore delivered to VoiceCon attendees and other participants during a Cisco Telepresence video conference in which he participated on March 19.

Gore, along with Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers, said collaboration technologies like Cisco's Telepresence can be used to reduce the amount of carbon polluting the atmosphere.

Speaking from Nashville, Gore said businesses are "way ahead of political leaders" in looking at how they can help reduce CO2 emissions-primarily by reducing the amount of travel their employees do.

"People have been waiting for a new video conferencing option to come along that's realistic enough to substitute for the in-person meetings that have people flying all over the planet. I don't own any Cisco stock. I'm here because I'm very impressed with this system. I think this is most realistic effort I've see thus far. This is one option I think will play a big role," said Gore.

Chambers said he believes Web 2.0 and social networking can have the biggest impact on fighting climate change. "The second wave of the Internet will be built on collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 tools, including Telepresence. When you catch these market transitions we can dramatically reduce emissions around the world and have productivity growth of four to five percent," he said.

Cisco is eating its own dog food when it comes to using its Telepresence collaboration tool. "Once we were challenged on the economic and emissions front, within two years by using collaboration among groups we cut emissions per employee by 10 percent," said Chambers.

Cisco to date has installed 185 Telepresence systems deployed across the company. It has already done 100,000 hours of TelePresence meetings and "saved the company $100 million in travel and reduced 15 million cubic tons of carbon emissions," said Sue Bostrom, Cisco's chief marketing officer. "We're replacing physical parking lots and airports with virtual networking," she added.

Cisco also used its Telepresence system to bring the mayors of several major cities, including Seoul, Amsterdam and San Francisco together to collaborate on green initiatives, said Chambers. "Now we have green busses in San Francisco and we have technology in Amsterdam for remote working. It's about unified communications changing the world productivity-wise, healthcare-wise and the environment," he said.

But innovation only goes so far, Gore said. "I'm a big fan of innovation. I think it will probably play the key role. But we need regulatory and policy changes and treaties to establish rules of the road that are fair to the innovators. They need a market that doesn't shut them out by massively subsidizing older polluting technologies that continue to add to the problem."

Gore gave the example of how the government of India subsidizes the purchase of kerosene for lighting and cooking, while innovators strive to market solar lanterns and stoves. "If government policy is to subsidize the dirtiest fuel, innovators have a hard time breaking into the market. Here in the US we also subsidize carbon-based fuels. Attractive new technologies bear heavy front-end R&D costs. Tax credit for those really makes a lot of sense as a policy," he said.