Capitalizing on science - Page 2

Who's really sponsoring the California Academy of Sciences opening — PG&E or the public?
The California Academy of Science's
living roof

rex reminds us that mass extinctions have happened and we're in a mass extinction right now."

Yet as she discussed the academy's climate change research and advocacy role on the issue, she also noted the important involvement of Bay Area universities, Silicon Valley technology innovators, and PG&E, which contributed some clean technology gizmos to the exhibit.

Next, journalists were ushered into Morrison Planetarium for the debut of "Fragile Planet," an academy-produced show that lets viewers tour the cosmos and includes scary information about global warming and the need to aggressively address the problem by turning our expansive scientific inquiries inward toward saving the planet.

Afterward, journalists were offered a question-and-answer session with a panel of experts that included Farrington; the academy's chief of public programs, Chris Andrews; architect Kang Kiang; Peter Lassetter, a principal with Arup, which did engineering work on the building; and, incongruously, Hal LaFlash, the director of emerging clean technology policy at PG&E.

I asked about the academy's new focus on climate change and why the venerable institution had allowed PG&E to play such a central role. I got a nonresponsive answer from Farrington, who said, "PG&E sells power because we all want power" and "The most important wells in the future aren't going to be oil wells, but wells of the mind."

LaFlash insisted that PG&E is one of the greenest utility companies in the country, an early sponsor of the landmark climate change legislation Assembly Bill 32, and that the utility is currently working on wind and solar projects throughout California. I noted that PG&E is also currently building four new fossil-fuel-powered plants in California, but then decided to avoid turning the session into an argument about PG&E.

Wasserman pointed out that PG&E now gets less than 1 percent of its power from solar and 2 percent from wind, and that the company's involvement with AB 32 helped water down the bill and protect PG&E's heavy investment in nuclear power. She also noted that PG&E is failing to meet state mandates of 20 percent renewable power by 2010.

By contrast, the Clean Energy Act would mandate a more rapid switch to renewable energy sources, calling for 51 percent of the energy powering San Francisco to come from renewable sources by 2017 and 100 percent by 2040. PG&E is aggressively opposing the measure, focusing on its call for a study of public power.

Academy spokesperson Blair Shane sought to minimize PG&E's role when I asked her about how the institution seemed to be helping the utility greenwash its image, saying the company was simply playing a role in the opening festivities and not influencing content at the museum: "We feel really good that our content is being driven by the scientists."


Since its founding back in 1853, the California Academy of Sciences has been a respected research institution, a popular museum, and a political player in the community.