Update, Feb. 9: Here's the video of Mr. Rodgers' presentation.

Palm Springs, California Jan 21 -- T.J. Rodgers is the Founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, a force in Silicon Valley, an early equity investor in SunPower and a vintner. He spoke on Thursday morning at the CleanEdge/IBF cleantech investor forum and was introduced as "an unabashed free-market capitalist."

Rodgers is a wry, in-your-face speaker.  He walked into the lions' den of green investors and environmentalists at this event to debunk the "religion of climate change" and warn the crowd to not get too reliant on government subsidy programs.

He does not accept human-induced global warming as reality nor the data of global warming adherents.

"Run like hell when you hear 'carbon tax'"

Rodgers acknowledges that he has a conflict of interests in discouraging dependence on subsidies -- solar subsidies have allowed SunPower to provide a 22.4 to-1 ROI for Cypress' investors.  More subsidies mean more money for SunPower and its investors.  That said, he provided the audience with some advice:

  • Do not rely (for long) on government funding or subsidies.
  • Be a global warming skeptic (Rodgers most certainly is).
  • "Run like hell" when you hear the terms "green jobs, green economy, double bottom line or carbon tax."
  • Believe in the free market and freedom of the individual.
  • Believe in the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and the Tenth Amendment.

Hanging over Rodger's office desk is a letter from Milton Friedman who also advised Rodgers, "Get everything they [shareholders] are legally entitled to and still argue for an end to government subsidies."

The SunPower Story

We take a break from politics and religion to briefly cover Rodgers' role in the SunPower story.

Rodgers knew SunPower's CEO Dick Swanson in the 1970s -- they were in the same PhD program at Stanford University.

Rodgers recognized the value of Dick Swanson's high efficiency solar cells early on.  Despite carpeting the roof of Cypress with 14 percent efficient BP solar panels in 2000, the roof only provided 33 percent of the building's electricity. The 50 percent efficiency improvement promised by Swanson's back-contact silicon cells would have provided 50 percent of the building's power.

But the Cypress board of directors was not interested in funding Swanson's struggling SunPower, so Rodgers wrote a personal check -- the "best check he's ever written," for $750,000. As mentioned, that check yielded a huge return on investment and created one of the larger solar firms, now competing in the global market.

Rodgers made the important point that, "This is not the semiconductor industry."  Solar "is on a big scale with tons of silicon a day coming through the front door," adding, "It's not people in bunny suits -- it's a ton of silicon on a forklift."   

He said that solar requires "an order of magnitude improvement in price and throughput compared to semiconductors," and that "We can't afford any semi equipment -- we use upgraded PCB equipment."

As for the concept of green jobs, Rodgers insisted that "green jobs are almost all offshore -- you ain't gonna make them in Fremont, just ask Solyndra."

He questioned the sense of Germany installing solar panels, considering their solar resource, but was happy to have Germany as a SunPower customer.

Rodgers On Global Warming

And now back to religion.

Rodgers cited surveys that indicate that the average consumer does not care about global warming.  He railed against environmentalists converging on the climate talks in private jets and limousines, calling environmentalism "a secular religion, a non-god-based religion." He also chastised the press, saying, "The press is uncritically on their side."

Rodgers said, "Attacks on free markets are not new." He quoted from Paul Ehrlich's book The Population Bomb, with its doomsday scenarios that could only be remedied by a "coercive utopia" with "socialism replacing free markets," and "altruism replacing individuality even in family matters."  Ehrlich's predictions concerning global starvation, over-population and escalating commodity prices have turned out to have been patently wrong and cannot survive critical inspection.

Rodgers spent a considerable portion of his presentation examining and in some cases debunking the data from Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and the data from the IPCC, The International Panel on Climate Change.  Here are some of his points.  [I will try to post his presentation shortly.]

  • "Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth was politics, not science"; Rodgers challenged the facts and interpretations of the movie at length.
  • He noted the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere but challenged the causality of temperature rise and increase in CO2.  He suggested that the rise in CO2, in some cases, lagged temperature rise.
  • Rodgers suggests, "It is not clear that 380 ppm of CO2 is bad," adding, "Why would you pick 280 ppm as the correct number?" He also asked audience members to ponder whether the world in a high ppm environment might actually fare better.
  • He pointed out that IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) data was less than rigorously vetted and, in some cases, crucial trends such as the medieval warming period were either glossed over or ignored.
  • Hurricanes and extreme weather are not increasing.
  • Antarctic ice is getting thicker, not thinner.
  • There is a growing body of scientists questioning the evidence of global warming.

Mr. Rodgers' incendiary talk was ill-received by many in the large, green-leaning crowd -- there was some less-than-complimentary post-speech chatter.  I'm reasonably sure that Rodgers doesn't care about the critique from these "higher life forms" as he referred to people with elitist world views. Rodgers also quoted H.L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore, which warms my heart.

I am not able to do full justice to Rodger's logic and rhetorical style in the confines of the article but will look to obtain the presentation from him and post it online.