"It was so easy," says Oliver Morton, news editor at Nature magazine. "Coal and oil." He's speaking about the old-school line concerning energy sources. We saw energy as "stuff in the ground, fossil fuels. Now that we understand the world better, we understand we're running out of fossil fuels, and we see how much damage they do. We've grown up enough to embrace the flow of solar energy."
Morton, a 43-year-old Brit and author of Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet, will be giving the keynote speech at the Fourth Conference on Clean Energy at the Hynes Convention Center, November 18 and 19, sponsored by the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center. About 50 companies will have exhibits there, 27 will present investor pitches, and about 600 people are expected to attend. Governor Deval Patrick is slated to give the welcoming speech Tuesday. (Morton speaks Wednesday.)
"The idea is to bring people together," says Morton, "talk to investors, have a community talk to itself, and see what directions we want to go in. My role as keynote speaker is to provide the context."
The crux of that context: "The amount of energy that flows through the biosphere is 10 times the amount that humans use. That's solar energy. You have to look at energy as constantly flowing, and we're endlessly in the middle of a flow. That's the big psychological change clean tech will allow us to see."
Morton doesn't consider solar-energy use to be a controversial issue, but says, "I think it's not perceived in depth yet." Many people "don't get the sense that energy is flowing around us and easily obtained." As to companies publicizing how green they are, Morton says, "There's some greenwashing, but at all levels there is genuine interest in clean technology, especially at small start-up levels. Most companies do it because they believe in it. Anyone who stops to think knows we can do it. And people know they can make money at it. We have every hope that the Obama administration can put money and thought into energy issues."
So, there's reason for optimism? "I'm by nature not that optimistic," admits Morton, "but at the same time, I am optimistic about this. Intellectually, the case is pretty good. You have a duty to be optimistic. It's not in my temperament, but nor it is fake. If you don't think you can change the future, it's like you're not showing up."
For additional information, see mattcenter.org or greenovationconference.com.