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Powering the Dream

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Green technology's time has come, keynote speaker Alexis Madrigal told an audience of more than 300 energy entrepreneurs Monday at E3 2011: The Latest in Renewable Energy Innovation, a daylong conference hosted by IonE's Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment. And he should know: as senior editor at The Atlantic and author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology, Madrigal has a unique perspective on green tech's past, present and future.

A big part of today's push for innovation is that the politics of climate change are changing as weather extremes disrupt lives and citizens turn to government for solutions, Madrigal said.

"Climate change is not actually an environmental problem," he said. "It's a human infrastructure problem. We created it, and we're going to solve it." And that means turning not to the stereotypical environmental activists, but to entrepreneurs.

One challenge to making that conceptual shift is that while environmentalism has iconic heroes like Henry David Thoreau and Rachel Carson, green tech doesn't.

Or at least not yet. Madrigal had several to propose: John Etzler a 19th century German utopian who had visions of running the nascent industrial economy on wind, solar and water power. The visionaries who built Lowell, Mass., around water power rather than dirty coal. The imaginarians of the Great Plains, who invented any number of windmill designs to draw groundwater to the surface and slake the thirst of their crops. The people who built our current energy infrastructure. And, most recently, the design-savvy innovators who used the magic of Apple to develop Nest, an intelligent plug-in thermostat with every bit the cool-tech appeal (well, almost) of an iPad.

These heroes set the bar high. But if today's green tech leaders can meet them, we will be well on our way to realizing a truly green economy.

"Energy entrepreneurs, remember: What you do is going to pay off," Madrigal said. "You're on the right side of history."

Check the E3 2011 recap page for more information on E3 2011 and on IREE-supported green energy innovations.

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