John Doerr is a White House advisor, prominent billionaire, and Silicon Valley household name—at least among yuppie Valley households who care. Six years ago, he famously stepped back and forth across a TED Talk stage cheerleading "green tech," warning of global environmental disaster, and breaking into tears at the prospect. Today, he's bankrolling Mark Zuckerberg's dirty fuel campaign. What the hell happened?
The TED Talk, like all TED Talks, was brimming with sentimentality: "John Doerr sees salvation and profit in greentech." Salvation! Doerr took it one step further, indulging in a good cry on stage before hugging another guest and concluding the talk. He owed his daughter a better Earth. We all did.
But it wasn't just a display of Doerr's moral commitment—he was backing up the TED tears with his checkbook.
Big fish like Twitter were always the venture feather in the cap of Kleiner Perkins, the powerful VC firm where Doerr serves as general partner. But green tech—solar panels, biofuel, wind turbines—were investments that set Doerr apart. At least according to Doerr. Green energy would be, he told audiences, the "biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century," as well as a chance to save the world. Doerr often quoted his daughter, who blamed old people for dooming the young. Pumping millions into alternative energy startups, Doerr postured, would absolve his generation of climate guilt, avoid environmental catastrophe, and potentially make a lot of people employed and/or rich.
It seemed like a pretty good offer, and certainly more appealing than channeling money into another useless website. Compassionate investing.
Then something changed. Doerr's alternative energy investments largely faltered, and now he's emerged as a marquee member of FWD.us, Zuckerberg's lobbying dream team—a Harlem Globetrotters of geeky Congressional influence with an agenda that has been revealed as decidedly un-green. Brown, even. Zuck's plump new lobbying arm, with its shiny website and benevolent messaging, is quietly backing dirty energy candidates who also support the immigration reform technologists favor. FWD.us pays for TV ads that call for Alaskan drilling and pipeline construction, aiming to reelect friendly pols with nasty environmental records. The entire thing tilts heavily against John Doerr's platform as an eco-friendly moneymaker and genuine environmentalist, and yet, there he is on FWD's "Supporters" page, staring resolutely. At a wind turbine? Or at a pack of cheap foreign coders that FWD.us is hoping to reap in exchange for loosening environmental standards? In 2013, it looks like Doerr's found a better buy than green tech, and his eyes seem dry.
John Doerr declined to comment.