How to Wake the Frog: Tom Rand’s Showcase Keynote

Guest Contributor Kristin Brown, Master’s of Public Administration student, University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy and Government

During the 2018 CleanTech Innovation Showcase lunch, several hundred people were enthralled by speaker Tom Rand, managing partner at ArcTern Ventures and well-known cleantech investor, advisor, and entrepreneur. During his presentation, Rand primarily discussed his book “Waking the Frog: Solutions for Climate Change Paralysis,” which provides a real world business approach to solving large, philosophical problems like climate change.

Rand began by describing the audience as “techno-optimists” — people who believe in the disruptive potential of technology to fight climate change, but lamented that not everyone is on board. Despite overwhelming evidence that the climate is warming at an unprecedented pace due to man-made activities, many political figures have not been responding in a timely and effective manner. He suggests the problem is not due to shortage of conversation around the issue, but rather that people have become desensitized and unresponsive.

Much like the metaphor of the frog in the boiling water, where the frog is slowly killed because the increasing heat is too incremental for it to notice, Rand’s message was that we need to wake up and act. Engaging in head-to-head argument with those who are unconvinced of the problem is not working — we won’t “wake the frog” with statistics and data. Rand argued that by telling stories of clean energy abundance, new hiring and sustained jobs we can better engage people on an emotional, human level. To get there he said we need to shape the market and economic forces, primarily through pricing carbon.

According to Rand, putting a price on carbon pollution is simply the most effective tool we have with a modern view of the economy. Opponents to pricing carbon, often called “free-market fundamentalists,” don’t want government intervention that could alter the markets. But Rand wants to see the free market shaped and tapped through a sufficiently large price on carbon. Doing so, he argued, will unleash the market’s creative forces and mobilize the technology and resources needed to solve the problem. When that happens, markets will accelerate, and create space for the next generation of clean energy technologies.

Rand concludes that ingenuity, technology, capital, and policy can work together to “turn down the heat” — and at the same time enable the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century. This opportunity – or disruption – could be exactly what we need to wake the frog to jump into action.