How to protect species and save the planet—at the same time

How to protect species and save the planet—at the same time

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Humanity is struggling to contain two compounding crises: skyrocketing global temperatures and plummeting biodiversity. But people tend to tackle each problem on its own, for instance by deploying green energies and carbon-eating machines while roping off ecosystems to preserve them. But in a new report, 50 scientists from around the world argue that treating each crisis in isolation means missing out on two-fer solutions that resolve both. Humanity can’t solve one without also solving the other.

The report is the product of a four-day virtual workshop attended by researchers of all stripes and is a collaboration between the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In light of the Paris Agreement, it’s meant to provide guidance on how campaigns that address biodiversity might also address climate change, and vice versa.

The plain-language report should prove to be hugely influential not only among governmental policymakers and conservation groups, but also among corporations, says Betsy Beymer-Farris, a sustainability scientist at the University of Kentucky, who wasn’t involved in the report but did peer review it. “It’s hard for companies or even nation states to really distill academic literature,” Beymer-Farris says. The report both lays out the climate and biodiversity science and the social science of how to effect change with the help of the people who actually rely on the land for farming and grazing. “I definitely got excited when I reviewed the report,” Beymer-Farris adds. “I thought: OK, this is definitely different from what I’ve seen before because it’s a conscious and serious engagement with a more equitable and just way forward.”

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#biodiversity, #climate-change, #ecosystems, #policy, #science

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Keystone XL pipeline canceled after Biden scraps US permit

Opponents of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines hold a rally as they protest US President Donald Trump's executive orders advancing their construction, at Columbus Circle in New York on January 24, 2017.

Enlarge / Opponents of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines hold a rally as they protest US President Donald Trump’s executive orders advancing their construction, at Columbus Circle in New York on January 24, 2017. (credit: AFP | Getty)

Construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline was officially terminated on Wednesday, handing a big victory to environmentalists who fought the project for more than a decade as they intensified their battles against other fossil fuel development.

The decision by TC Energy and the government of Alberta to pull the plug on the $8 billion pipeline had been widely expected after Joe Biden scrapped the permit to build its US leg in one of his first acts as president.

“We remain disappointed and frustrated with the circumstances surrounding the Keystone XL project, including the cancellation of the presidential permit for the pipeline’s border crossing,” said Jason Kenney, Alberta premier.

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#alberta, #canada, #climate-change, #energy-policy, #keystone-xl, #oil-sands, #pipelines, #policy, #science

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Terraformation gets $30M to fight climate change with rapid reforesting

Every startup is trying to fix something but Terraformation is tackling the only problem that must matter to all of us: Climate change.

This is why it’s in such a big huge hurry. Its mission — as a ‘forest tech’ startup — is to accelerate tree planting by applying a startup-y operational philosophy of scalability to the pressing task of rapidly, sustainably reforesting denuded landscapes — bringing back native trees species to revive former wastelands and shrinking our carbon emissions in the process.

Forests are natural carbon sinks. The problem is we just don’t have enough trees with roots in the ground to offset our emissions. So that at least means the mission is simple: Plant more trees, and plant more trees fast.

Terraformation’s goal is to restore three billion acres of global native forest ecosystems by scaling tree replanting projects in parallel, scaling the use of existing techniques, and working with all the partners it can. (For a little context, the U.S. contains some 2.27BN acres of total land area, per Wikipedia).

So far it says it’s planted “thousands” of trees — with live projects in North America, South America, Africa and Europe which it hopes will yield up to 20,000 replanted acres. It’s also in talks with partners about more projects that could clad hundreds of thousands of acres with carbon-consuming (and biodiversity-prompting) trees, if they come to full fruition.

That’s still a long way off the 3BN-acre-wooded moonshot, of course. But Terraformation claims it’s been able to achieve a forestry restoration work-rate that’s 5x the average already. And that’s definitely the kind of ‘gas stepping’ that climate change needs.

Its elevator pitch is also punchy: “Our mission is explicitly to solve climate change through mass reforestation,” says founder Yishan Wong — whose name may be familiar as the ex-Reddit CEO (and also a former early-stage engineer at PayPal/Facebook). So it’s getting trees in the ground and getting faster at getting trees in the ground.”

It’s not going it alone, either. It’s just announced a first closing of a $30 million Series A funding round, led by Sam & Max Altman at Apollo Projects, the brothers’ ‘moonshot’ fund; plus several high-profile institutional investors (whose names aren’t being disclosed); along with nearly 100 angel investors, including Sundeep Ahuja, Lachy Groom, Sahil Lavingia, Joe Lonsdale, Susan Wu, and OVN Cap.

“The [Series A] was a bit larger than we anticipated and the idea is to get us to the next stage of planting orders of magnitude more trees every year,” says Wong. “So it’ll be used both for supporting forestry projects directly, as well as for the development and deployment of forestry acceleration products and technology.”

“The very, very nice thing about mass reforestation or mass restoration as a solution to climate change is that it’s extremely parallelizable,” he adds. “You can plant any tree at the same time as your planting some other tree. This is the primary reason why this solution can potentially be implemented within the timetable that we have left. But in order to do so we have to start and drive an enormous, decentralized reforestation campaign across multiple continents and countries.”

The funding follows a $5M seed last year, as the young startup worked to hone its approach.

Terraformation is targeting the main barriers to successful reforesting: Through early research and pilots it says it’s identified three key bottlenecks to large-scale forest restoration — namely, land availability, freshwater, and seed. It then seeks to address each of these pinch-points to viable reforesting — identifying and fashioning modular, sharable solutions (tools, techniques, training etc) that can help shave off friction and build leafy, branching success.

These products include a seed bank unit it’s devised, housed in a standard shipping container and kitted out with all the equipment (plus solar off-grip capability, if required) to take care of on-site storage for the thousands of native seeds each projects needs to replant a whole forest.

It also offers a nursery kit which also ships in a shipping container — a flat-packed greenhouse that it says a couple of people can put together, and where thousands of seedlings can then be tended and irrigated in pots until they’re ready to plant out.

A third support it offers to the replanting projects it wants to work with is expertise in building solar-powered desalination rigs so young trees can be supplied with adequate water to survive in locations where poor land management may have made conditions for growth difficult and harsh.

It goes without saying that planted trees which fail because of poor processes won’t help cut carbon emissions. Badly managed replanting is at best wasteful — and may be closer to cynical greenwashing in some cases. (Poor quality projects can be a known problem where claims of corporate carbon offsetting are being made, for example.)

Terraformation is thus zeroing in on repeatable ways to scale and accelerate the successful planting and nurturing of trees, from seed to sapling and beyond, to accelerate sustainable reforesting.

Ultimately, it’s the only kind of tree planting that will really count in the fight against climate change.

Its first pilot restoration projects begun in Hawai’i in 2019 — where it’s been able to plant thousands of trees at a site called Pacific Flight, reviving a native tropical sandalwood forest that had been logged unsustainably. To enable the young trees to grow in land which had also become arid as a result of cattle grazing, the team built the world’s largest fully off-grid, solar-powered desalination system to supply sustainable freshwater to the baby forest.

“The arid environment, high winds, and degraded soils meant that if a team could restore a forest there, they could do it anywhere,” is the pitch on its website.

The Series A will go toward spinning up lots more such native species forest restoration projects — working via partnerships, with organizations such as Environmental Defenders in Uganda, and other groups in Ecuador, Haiti and Tanzania — as well as on more R&D (additional products are in the pipeline, we’re told); and on expanding headcount so its team has the legs to run faster.

Interestingly, for a startup with Silicon Valley engineering pedigree at its core, the team’s approach is intentionally light on technology — leaning only on vital tech (like solar and desalination), rather than experimental bells and whistles (drones, robotics etc) to ensure the processes it’s packaging up for massive replanting parallelism remain as simple, accessible and reliable as possible. So they are able to scale all over the globe.

It’s clear that sci-fi robotic gadgetry isn’t the answer here. It’s sweating toil plus tried and tested horticulture processes, done systematically and repeatedly, in mass parallelism all over the world that’s required, argues Wong, whose years in tech have given him a healthy scepticism on the issue of over-engineering. (“The biggest lesson I learned was, you want to solve a big problem? You want to use as little technology as possible… Technology’s always breaking, it’s always got flaws. The biggest problem with technology is technology.”)

“I would say that the key contribution that ‘tech’ — if you think of a monolith or a culture or whatever — will make to climate change, is not in fact some new invention or some gadget or some sort of special magical technology… I think it really is the practice of scalability,” he goes on. “Which is an organizational end. A management way of thinking. Because that is actually something that has been carefully and painfully developed… over the past 20 years in Silicon Valley. How to take small working solutions, how to solve very big problems, how to scale them. And it isn’t a very glamorous thing — which is why I think it’s one of the more pure disciplines.

“It just has been less corrupt… Scalability is just people thinking hard and grinding it out to address really hard big problems. And I think that practice and all the little tips and rules that we have to doing that is the real contribution that tech is going to make — with one of those principles being use as little tech as you can.”

Terraformation is building software tools too — such as a mobile app to help with cataloguing and monitoring seeds. But the really critical technologies involved, solar and desalination, are very much at the ‘tried and tested’ end of the tech scale (“very, very reliable and refined”.).

Wong points out that a key development for solar and desalination is related to the unit economics — with falling costs allowing for scalability and thus speed.

Asked whether Terraformation is a business in the typical startup sense, Wong says it’s been set up in a familiar way — as a Delaware C Corp — but purely because he says that’s just the quickest way to be able to operate. Doing stuff as a non-profit would be way too slow, he says, describing it thusly as a “non non-profit” (rather than a business with a for-profit mission).

Aka: “It’s a corporate with investors but primarily the aim is to solve climate change.”

Startup investors are of course often betting their money on the chance of a quick and meaty return. But not here, confirms Wong. “When we raised funding all of our investors invested primarily because they wanted to see climate change solved,” he tells TechCrunch. “To many of them this was the first time that a plausible, full-scale solution to solving climate change had been presented.

“It’s still very, very hard. It’s very, very large. It’s really daunting. But it’s the first time someone has mapped out a path that could actually get us there. And so all of our investors invested because they want to see that happen.”

So how will a ‘non non-profit’ startup (even with $30M just banked) get its hands on enough land to plant enough trees? A variety of ways, per Wong. (Perhaps even, in some instances, landowners could end up paying it to turn their dirt into beautiful woodland.)

“The short answer is anywhere we can!” he adds. “The solution is structured to give us maximum flexibility, given that we can use a large variety of land. We don’t want to count on any particular land owning entity — and I use that very broad term to mean like people, communities, governments, municipalities — we don’t want to rely on any one particular land-owning entity wanting to work with us or allowing us to reforest the land, because you can’t guarantee that.”

He also notes that Terraformation’s plan to fix climate change is based on “worse case scenarios” — where “no one who owns any land that gets enough natural rainfall for forest restoration will allow it to reforest it”. “We use the least valuable land — basically desertified, degraded land,” he adds. “Is there enough of that? And it turns out there is.”

Even though personal financial upside clearly isn’t front of mind for Terraformation’s investors, Wong still believes there’s plenty of ‘value’ to be unlocked as a byproduct of spreading leafy-green goodness all over the planet vs funding more extractive exploitation.

“It turns out that solving climate change is actually a huge value creating act,” he argues. “My experience in Silicon Valley is if you have people who believe in you and believe in the thing that you’re creating is ultimately value-creating then it’s actually also wealth creating. If you do something that is fundamentally very, very valuable and you’re right next to it, you will be able to monetize it in some way. You will capture some of that value for your shareholders. So it’s a bet that if you really can solve climate change, that’s super valuable, both for the world and to the entity that’s [investing].”

Of course climate change is more than just a problem; it’s an existential threat to all life on Earth — one which affect humans and every other living creature and thing on the planet.

Given such terminal stakes, reversing climate change should be the highest global priority. Instead, humans have procrastinated — putting dealing with rises in atmospheric CO2 on the back-burner and worse (cutting down existing forests like the Amazon Rainforest, for one).

Set against that backdrop, Terraformation’s answer to humanity’s greatest crisis looks compellingly simple. Its bet is that climate change can be fixed by scaling the most proven technology possible (trees) to capture carbon emissions. Who can argue with that? 

But it does also seem clear that reforesting will need to go hand in hand with a mainstreaming of conservation, as a prevailing societal attitude, if the mission is to be pulled off — otherwise all these beautiful baby trees could just meet the same sad fate as all the Earth’s already lost forests.

Nonetheless, conservation is something Wong’s team is deliberately not focusing on.

Not because they don’t care. Rather their hope is that by building the baby forests, the protective partners will come — to watch over and get value from the trees as they grow. 

“I don’t want to make it seem like we don’t care about [forestry conservation] but one of the things that I try to do is figure out where people are already doing work and things are already moving in the right direction — and then go work on the thing that other people are not working on,” he says when we ask about this. “When I talk to people in the forestry world many, many people are working on avoiding deforestation, helping solve the broader socioeconomic issues that result in deforestation. And so I feel like there is momentum moving in that direction — so we have to work on this other issue that other people aren’t working on.”

Wong also argues that forests are naturally more valuable than the denuded waste/scrub ground they’re replanting — implying that pure economic interest should help these baby forests survive and thrive far into the future.

However the history of humanity shows that unequal wealth distribution can wreak all sorts of havoc on a resource-rich natural environment. And people who live in poverty may well be disproportionately more likely to like in a rural location, on or near land that Terraformation hopes to target for replanting. So if these forests can’t provide — in crude terms — ‘value’ for their local communities the risk is the same cycle of short-term economic harm will rip all this hard work (and hope) out of the ground once again.

Wealth inequality lies at the core of much of humanity’s counterproductive destruction of the environment. So, seen from that angle, reforesting the planet may require just as much effort toward tackling — root and branch — the wider socioeconomic fault-lines of our world, as it will washing, sorting and storing seed, watering seedlings and nurturing and planting saplings.

And that further dials up an already massive climate challenge. But, again, Wong is quietly hopeful.

“People aren’t cutting down trees because they’re evil, they’re cutting down trees because they need to make a living. So we have to provide them with ways to make a living that is more valuable than cutting down the trees. I think that recognition is moving in the correct direction — so I’m hopeful there,” he says.

Asked what keeps him up at night, he also has a straightforward answer to hand — one we’ve heard many times already from a new generation of climate campaigners, like Greta Thunberg, whose futures will be irrevocably stamped by the effects of climate change: Humanity simply isn’t moving fast enough.

“In order to do this we have to make order of magnitude improvements in both speed and scale — which is technically a thing that we know how to do but is among the most daunting things that you ever try to undertake. So… are we moving fast enough? Are we doing enough? Because time is running out,” warns Wong.

“The timeframe that we have left is very small when compared to the planetary scale of the problem. And so I think the only way that we’re going to get there is with proven solutions, moving, growing at exponential speed.”

“I am [hopeful],” he adds. “I’m a big fan of humans working together. People can really do it. I’m very I guess what you’d call pro-human. We have a lot of flaws, we fight amongst ourselves a lot, but I really think that when people work together they can really do amazing, amazing things… Trees gave us life and so now it’s our time to repay that debt.”

 

#carbon-offset, #climate-change, #forestry, #greentech, #joe-lonsdale, #lachy-groom, #paypal, #recent-funding, #reforesting, #sahil-lavingia, #scalability, #startups, #tanzania, #tc, #terraformation, #uganda, #yishan-wong

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Reducing poverty can actually lower energy demand, finds research

Ethiopians carrying jerrycans of water.

Ethiopians carrying jerrycans of water. (credit: UNICEF Ethiopia/2011/Lemma)

As people around the world escape poverty, you might expect their energy use to increase. But my research in Nepal, Vietnam, and Zambia found the opposite: lower levels of deprivation were linked to lower levels of energy demand. What is behind this counter-intuitive finding?

After all, the prevailing strategy to end extreme poverty relies on the belief that we need to grow the economic “pie,” so we can produce more goods and services, at the same time as households and government spending capacity increases to consume those goods and services. And so, when poverty is “diagnosed” by income, the “remedy” is said to be economic growth.

However with widening inequalities and an acute sanitation crisis in much of the world, many still evade the promised benefits of economic growth. It turns out that poverty is not only about income: it consists of multiple deprivations.

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#climate-change, #science

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Ancient cemetery tells a tale of constant, low level warfare

Ancient cemetery tells a tale of constant, low level warfare

Enlarge (credit: Crevecoeur and Antoine 2021)

When archaeologists in the 1960s unearthed a 13,400-year-old cemetery at Jebel Sahaba in Sudan, it looked like they’d stumbled across the aftermath of a large-scale battle fought during the Pleistocene. At least half the people buried at the site, which straddles the banks of the Upper Nile, bore the marks of violence: broken skulls, arrow and spear tracks gouged in bones, and stone projectiles still embedded in their bodies.

The site now lies at the bottom of the human-made Lake Nasser, created by the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s. But the remains now reside in the British Museum’s collection (for better or worse), and anthropologists Isabelle Crevecoeur of the University of Bordeaux and Daniel Antoine of the British Museum recently re-examined the skeletons. With more modern microscope technology, the anthropologists noticed some skeletal trauma that the original archaeologists had missed. It turned out that about two thirds of the population of the ancient cemetery had bones damaged by either blunt-force trauma or—most often—by projectiles like spears and arrows. That included three out of four adults and roughly half the children.

Since the 1960s, archaeologists have thought of Jebel Sahaba as the earliest example of large-scale warfare between groups of people. But despite all the evidence of violence, the bones of the 13,000-year-old dead don’t actually seem to tell the story of a pitched battle with massive casualties. Instead, it looks like people along the Upper Nile Valley at the end of the Pleistocene lived with the constant threat of smaller-scale fighting, which affected men, women, and children alike. If you’re a gamer, think of it as living in a PvP zone in the midst of an environmental crisis.

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#ancient-africa, #ancient-warfare, #ancient-weapons, #anthropology, #archaeology, #aswan-high-dam, #biological-anthropology, #climate-change, #forensic-anthropology, #nile, #pleistocene, #projectile-points, #science, #skeletons, #stone-tools, #sudan, #trauma

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Big Oil finds it hard to ignore pollution amid investor, court pressure

What comes up might go back down.

What comes up might go back down. (credit: Pete Markham)

Yesterday was a bad day to be an oil company.

First, a court in the Netherlands ruled that Royal Dutch Shell needs to slash its emissions more than it had planned in order to meet Paris Agreement targets. The court ordered the oil supermajor to cut carbon pollution by 45 percent by the end of the decade.

Next, shareholders of ExxonMobil elected at least two board candidates—and possibly a third—put forth by activist investors who want the company to rein in its sprawling oil and gas operations and invest more in clean energy.

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#carbon-emissions, #climate-change, #fossil-fuels, #oil-and-gas, #policy

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A zombie-fire outbreak may be growing in the north

White smoke rising from the tundra in front of the Baird Mountains.

Enlarge / White smoke rising from the tundra in front of the Baird Mountains. (credit: Western Arctic National Parklands (CC BY 2.0))

Each winter, as snow blankets Alaska and northern Canada, the wildfires of the summer extinguish, and calm prevails—at least on the surface. Beneath all that white serenity, some of those fires actually continue smoldering underground, chewing through carbon-rich peat, biding their time. When spring arrives and the chilly landscape defrosts, these “overwintering” fires pop up from below—that’s why scientists call them zombie fires.

Now, a new analysis in the journal Nature quantifies their extent for the first time, and shows what conditions are most likely to make the fires reanimate. Using satellite data and reports from the ground, researchers developed an algorithm that could detect where over a decade’s worth of fires—dozens in total—burned in Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territories, snowed over, and ignited again in the spring. Basically, they correlated burn scars with nearby areas where a new fire ignited later on. (They ruled out cases that could have coincided with a lightning storm, as well as ones close enough to people to have been caused by an accidental ignition.) They calculated that between 2002 and 2018, overwintering fires were responsible for 0.8 percent of the total burned area in these lands. That sounds small, but one year stood out: 2008, when a single zombie fire was actually responsible for charring 38 percent of the total burned area.

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#arctic, #climate-change, #science, #wildfires

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The Ferrari Portofino M, reviewed

You might associate the Florida Keys with Crimson Jihad, but this red is actually called Rosso Portofino.

Enlarge / You might associate the Florida Keys with Crimson Jihad, but this red is actually called Rosso Portofino. (credit: Elle Cayabyab Gitlin)

A couple of years ago, Ars got to spend a rather enjoyable morning with a Ferrari Portofino on a very deserted, very twisty Californian road. It was revelatory, demonstrating that this entry level Ferrari—sometimes unfairly maligned because it has back seats and a retractable hardtop—was capable of delivering the goods in terms of driver engagement. That’s good; you’d hope that even Ferrari’s most affordable road car would be fun to drive.

Now there’s an uprated version, called the Portofino M (for Modificata). This gets a small bump in power and a brand-new eight-speed dual clutch transmission. There’s now a more permissive race mode, too, and that retunes the onboard electronic systems that both flatter and protect the driver. But the Portofino is also supposed to be one of Ferrari’s most versatile vehicles, thanks to those (admittedly rudimentary) back seats and folding hard top. And so the Portofino M—base price $226,000—gains some extra convenience features, including a suite of advanced driver assistance systems and the option to have ventilated seats.

I concluded my 2019 Portofino review praising its handling on that sinuous ribbon of asphalt, but I left my time with the car none the wiser with regards to its ability at more mundane tasks. After all, this is the closest thing Ferrari builds to a daily driver. And evidently, this practicality was on Ferrari’s mind again when it organized the first US drive of the Portofino M. There were no winding mountain roads this time, nor a race track upon which to really push the Modificata to the limite.

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#cars, #climate-change, #features, #ferrari, #ferrari-portofino-m, #florida-keys, #grand-tourer, #hemingway, #polydactyl-cat

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Climate change is erasing humanity’s oldest art

color photo of archaeologists examining rock art in a dark cave

Enlarge / Detailed rock-art recording by ARKENAS archaeologist in Maros-Pangkep. (credit: Adhi Agus Oktaviana)

The limestone caves and rock shelters of Indonesia’s southern Sulawesi island hold the oldest traces of human art and storytelling, dating back more than 40,000 years. Paintings adorn the walls of at least 300 sites in the karst hills of Maros-Pangkep, with more almost certainly waiting to be rediscovered. But archaeologists say humanity’s oldest art is crumbling before their very eyes.

“We have recorded rapid loss of hand-sized spall flakes from these ancient art panels over a single season (less than five months),” said archaeologist Rustan Lebe of Makassar’s culture heritage department.

Erasing history

The culprit is salt. As water flows through a limestone cave system, it carries minerals from the local bedrock, which eventually end up in the limestone. At the limestone’s surface, those minerals oxidize into a case-hardened rocky crust. Nearly all of oldest rock art in Maros-Pangkep—like the oldest drawing in the world that actually depicts an actual object—is painted in red or mulberry-purple pigment on that hard outer layer. It’s resistant to most weathering, providing a durable canvas for humanity’s oldest artwork.

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#aquaculture, #archaeology, #cave-art, #cave-painting, #climate-change, #conservation, #cultural-heritage, #indonesia, #pleistocene, #rock-art, #science, #sulawesi

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All fossil fuel exploration needs to end this year, IEA says

Silhouette Oil Pumps On Field Against Cloudy Sky During Sunset

Enlarge (credit: Jose Luis Stephens | Getty Images)

To limit global warming to 1.5˚C by the end of the century, the world has to deploy clean technologies en masse while slashing investment in new oil, gas, and coal supplies, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency.

Getting to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 will require a historic deployment of widespread renewable power, electric vehicles, and new technologies, many of which are only now in the prototype stage. To get a jump-start, we’ll need to double our investments in clean technologies to $4 trillion by the end of the decade.

“The pathway to net zero by 2050 is narrow but still achievable if governments act now,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a tweet. Most of the reductions in CO2 emissions through 2030 come from technologies already on the market. But in 2050, almost half come from technologies that, while known, are still in development now.

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#climate-change, #energy-transition, #fossil-fuels, #iea, #policy, #renewable-energy, #science

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Private-equity firm revives zombie fossil-fuel power plant to mine bitcoin

Private-equity firm revives zombie fossil-fuel power plant to mine bitcoin

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

Few bitcoin projects illustrate the cryptocurrency’s enormous climate impact better than the Greenidge power plant in upstate New York. The once-abandoned power plant was bought by private equity firm Atlas Holdings and retasked. A significant portion of Greenidge’s electricity no longer powers nearby homes or businesses; rather, the plant’s smokestacks are increasingly pouring pollutants into the atmosphere in the service of mining bitcoin.

Now, Greenidge is on the verge of ramping up its bitcoin ambitions. By the end of this year, it plans to have 18,000 specialized machines mining bitcoin, and with the recent approval of its data center expansion plans, it will add 10,500 more. When the project is complete, the miners will be using 79 percent of the power plant’s capacity, or 85 MW. 

“No direct competitor currently owns and operates its own power plant for the purpose of bitcoin mining,” the company wrote in its recent S-4 filing with the SEC. “No other bitcoin-mining operation of this scale in the United States currently uses power generated from its own power plant.” The filings came as a result of Greenidge’s recent merger with Support.com.

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#bitcoin, #bitcoin-mining, #climate-change, #cryptocurrency, #fossil-fuels, #policy, #power-plant

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China’s carbon pollution now surpasses all developed countries combined

China’s carbon pollution now surpasses all developed countries combined

Enlarge (credit: Getty | AFP)

Carbon pollution from China’s bustling, coal-intensive economy last year outstripped the carbon pollution of the US, the EU, and other developed nations combined, making up a whopping 27 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

As China’s economy has grown in the last 30 years, so too have its emissions. While pollution from developed countries has largely been flat since 1990, it has more than tripled in China. The country’s soaring emissions and stable population mean that its per capita emissions have grown quickly, too. At 10.1 tons per person, emissions are just below the 10.5 ton average of the 37-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.

The US still leads the world in per capita emissions, at 17.6 tons per person, according to Rhodium Group’s numbers, though President Joe Biden has pledged that the US will halve emissions by 2030. The other developed countries in the report include all 27 current EU member states: the UK, Australia, Canada, Chile, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and Turkey.

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#carbon-emissions, #china, #climate-change, #coal, #policy, #science

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The new abnormal is warming up the US government’s new climate norms

Map of the US, largely shaded in red.

Enlarge / What a difference a decade makes. Even though 2/3 of the data in the new normals is present in the previous ones, the last decade’s still been hot enough to drag the temperatures upwards. (credit: NOAA)

On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a set of data it terms the “US Climate Normals.” Updated once a decade, the figures contained in the report are based on the past 30 years of weather records, and they provide a sense of what the typical weather is on a given day of the year in each of the US’s states and territories.

As you might imagine, given the recent global temperature records, these figures show widespread warming compared to the normals of even a decade ago. They also reveal that while much of the US is getting wetter with the changing climate, California and the Southwest are in the midst of a dramatic drying trend.

What’s normal, anyway?

As NOAA puts it, you’re most likely to come across its climate normals on a weather forecast when the projected conditions are compared to the ones typical for that location and time of year. The normals provide information on what’s typical.

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#climate, #climate-change, #noaa, #science, #weather

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EPA to eliminate climate “super pollutants” from refrigerators, air conditioners

EPA to eliminate climate “super pollutants” from refrigerators, air conditioners

Enlarge (credit: Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine/Flickr)

The US Environmental Protection Agency announced a rule Monday that would phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the potent greenhouse gases that are widely used as refrigerants.

Though HFCs aren’t intentionally emitted in the regular use of refrigerators and air conditioners, they often leak out at various phases in an appliance’s life cycle, from manufacturing through disposal. One of the most widely used HFCs, R-134a, causes 1,430 times more warming than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide over 100 years. Another that is commonly used in supermarkets, R-404A, has a global warming potential of 3,900. Eliminating the use of HFCs worldwide would reduce emissions enough to avoid up to 0.5˚C (0.9˚F) of warming by 2100.

HFCs were first introduced in the mid-1990s as replacements for chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were the previous standard for refrigerants. CFCs deplete the ozone layer that protects the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation, and decades of use led to a massive hole, discovered in 1974, in the atmosphere above Antarctica. As concern over the ozone hole grew, countries from around the world signed onto the Montreal Protocol, which called for the phaseout of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances. Finalized in 1987 and ratified by the US Senate the following year, the treaty is widely seen as a success—as CFC use has dwindled, the ozone layer has begun to repair itself, and by 2040, experts believe the hole will begin to steadily close.

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#climate-change, #epa, #greenhouse-gases-emissions, #policy, #pollution, #refrigeration, #science

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Climate law jeopardizes freedoms, German court rules—but not how you think

Wind turbines near a coal plant.

Enlarge / Wind turbines spin as steam rises from the cooling towers of the Jäenschwalde coal-fired power plant in the distance. (credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Germany’s top court struck down part of the nation’s sweeping climate law, saying it violates people’s freedoms. 

By many standards, the law is aggressive, requiring the country to slash emissions 55 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. The country has already trimmed 35 percent of its carbon pollution, leaving just another 20 percent to be cut over the next nine years. And that’s where the court found fault with the law, saying that it left too much of the burden to future generations.

“The regulations irreversibly postpone high emission reduction burdens until periods after 2030,” the Constitutional Court wrote in a release explaining the ruling. 

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#climate-change, #climate-lawsuit, #emissions-reductions, #germany, #policy, #science

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Conservative versus liberal: A knock-down, drag-out climate policy fight

Conservative versus liberal: A knock-down, drag-out climate policy fight

(credit: tanith k)

While the United States debates whether or not to put a price on carbon emissions, Canada is getting into the nitty-gritty of how best to do it. The country’s ruling Liberal Party enacted its carbon tax back in 2016 to much controversy. Former Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leader Andrew Scheer decried the tax and suggested it was a blow to national unity within Canada. A few provinces with conservative governments—notably Ford Nation (Ontario) and oil-rich Alberta—took legal action against the tax, claiming that it wasn’t constitutional.

Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that the tax was constitutional.

The CPC—which still retains ties with its provincial counterparts despite having a different name—has now proposed its own carbon-pricing scheme. Its strategy is a different beast from the Liberals’ existing policy. This is likely in no small part because the CPC’s relationship with the climate has long (but not always) been strained.

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#carbon-tax, #climate-change, #climate-policy, #policy, #science

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Missing Arctic ice fueled the “Beast of the East” winter storm

Image of clouds streaming over the ocean.

Enlarge / Picking up moisture from the ice-free sea, a storm builds and heads towards Europe. (credit: NASA)

Extreme weather has become the new normal—whether it’s precipitation, drought, wind, heat, or cold. The question of how the ever-shrinking layer of Arctic sea ice has contributed to any of these changes has prompted some lively discussion over the past few years. Researchers have proposed that a weakened jet stream driven by vanishing Arctic sea ice might play a large role in extreme winter events like the descending polar vortex that struck North America earlier this year. But the idea hasn’t held up well in light of more recent evidence.

But now, researchers have identified a direct link between extreme winter weather and sea ice loss. The 2018 “Beast of the East” winter storm hit Europe with record-breaking snowfall and low temperatures. And potentially as much as 88 percent of that snowfall originated from increased evaporation of the Barents Sea.

The working hypothesis is that Arctic sea ice acts as a cap for Arctic waters, limiting evaporation. Less sea ice and warmer Arctic temperatures mean more evaporation, potentially explaining the increased severity of winter storms like the Beast of the East. Until now, it’s been tough to measure direct evidence linking sea ice loss to extreme European winters, but recent advances in technology are making this a little less challenging.

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#airport-extreme, #climate-change, #science, #sea-ice, #weather

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The humble shrub that’s predicting a terrible fire season

A shrub-covered hillside.

Enlarge (credit: Bryant Baker, Los Padres ForestWatch)

If you’re kind of judgmental when it comes to plants, you might describe the chamise plant as “meh.” Technically it’s a shrub, which in the hierarchy of plant types barely outranks a weed. Chamise grows up to a dozen feet tall and sprouts needle-like leaves less than a half-inch long, making it look like overgrown rosemary. Only it doesn’t really smell, even though it’s a member of the rose family.

Appearances and scents aside, chamise turns out to be a fascinating plant, one critical not only to the California landscape but to the safety of its human residents. When fire scientists want to know how flammable the state’s vegetation might be, they don’t rely on some newfangled gadget. They rely on chamise. “It’s a really pretty and kind of understated shrub,” says Bryant Baker, conservation director of the Los Padres ForestWatch, which advocates for the protection of California’s habitats. “And I think because it’s so common, it’s often taken for granted.”

But Californians ignore it at their peril, because it is an excellent indicator of how dry the whole landscape is getting. Chamise dominates native chaparral ecosystems up and down the state, dense shrublands that are too arid for trees. (This is a Mediterranean climate, after all, in which rain stops in the spring and doesn’t restart until autumn.) But the chamise is beautifully adapted to ride out the baking heat: those tiny, leathery leaves have far less surface area than a broadleaf, so they don’t lose as much moisture. “These plants are adapted to go for many months without a single drop of water, which is pretty amazing,” says Baker. “You don’t usually find that outside of desert areas.”

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#california, #climate-change, #science, #wildfires

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Bezos says Amazon should “do a better job for our employees” after union vote

A man in a suit gestures during a presentation.

Enlarge (credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos used his final letter to Amazon shareholders to focus on employee well-being and the company’s significant carbon footprint.

Bezos’ new emphasis on employee well-being comes on the heels of a contentious unionization vote at one of its warehouses in Bessemer, Alabama. Though Amazon won, with 1,798 employees voting against unionizing out of 3,041 total ballots cast, participation was low, with just over half of eligible voters participating. Labor organizers have made it clear that even if unionization votes continue to go against them, they’ll keep pressuring Amazon through other means.

That strategy may be working. Bezos dedicates a significant portion of his letter to both the unionization vote and to employee well-being. Whereas Bezos wrote a single paragraph about a tuition reimbursement program three years ago, he wrote nearly 1,200 words about pay rates, employee satisfaction, and workplace safety this year.

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#amazon, #climate-change, #jeff-bezos, #policy, #unionization

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France bans air travel that could be done by train in under 2.5 hours

A <em>Train Grand Vitesse</em>.

Enlarge / A Train Grand Vitesse. (credit: Michael Dunning/Getty Images)

On Sunday, the French National Assembly voted to ban some short-haul flights in favor of train travel. If the measure is formally approved, it would mean the end to domestic flights on routes where the journey could also be completed by train in 2.5 hours or less.

It’s the kind of news that will have some cheering in delight as one of the world’s richest nations makes a strong statement about the need to cut carbon emissions. However, there will probably be less impact than you might first expect. For one thing, connecting flights won’t be affected, so international travelers won’t have to worry about having to navigate the train system from Charles De Gaulle International airport.

In fact, French lawmakers are only proposing to cancel five routes in total. Yes, just five: Paris Orly to Bordeaux, Paris Orly to Lyon, Paris Orly to Nantes, Paris Orly to Rennes, and Lyon to Marseille. And while France has a high-speed train network that we in America can only look at with envy, the French government is just as happy to provide state support for its airlines as trains—last week it announced it would invest $4.8 billion (€4 billion) in Air France to help that airline as it weathers the pandemic.

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#air-travel, #cars, #climate-change, #france, #train-travel

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More lightning in the Arctic is bad news for the planet

Lightning strikes in the far north of Canada.

Enlarge / Lightning strikes in the far north of Canada. (credit: Sandra Angers-Blondin)

The Arctic isn’t doing so hot. That’s because it is, in fact, too hot. It’s warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the planet, which is setting off vicious feedback loops that accelerate change. Ice, for instance, is more reflective than soil, so when it melts, the region absorbs more solar energy. More dark vegetation is growing in northern lands, absorbing still more of the sun’s heat. And when permafrost thaws, it releases gobs of greenhouse gases, which further warm the climate.

The Arctic has gone so bizarro that lightning—a warm-weather phenomenon most common in the tropics—is now striking near the North Pole. And according to new modeling, the electrical bombardment of the region will only get worse. By the end of the century, the number of lightning strikes across the Arctic could more than double, which may initiate a shocking cascade of knock-on effects—namely, more wildfires and more warming. “The Arctic is a rapidly changing place, and this is an aspect of the transformation that I’m not sure has gotten a whole lot of attention, but it’s actually really consequential,” says UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, who wasn’t involved in the research.

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#arctic, #climate-change, #global-warming, #lightning, #permafrost, #science

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“Offsetting is a cop-out”: Polestar plans truly carbon-neutral car

By 2030, Polestar wants to build truly carbon-neutral cars.

Enlarge / By 2030, Polestar wants to build truly carbon-neutral cars. (credit: Polestar)

The Swedish electric vehicle startup Polestar says it wants to build truly carbon-neutral vehicles within the next decade. Announced on Wednesday as part of the company’s first sustainability report, the ambitious goal will require new car-building methods because, in the words of Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath, “offsetting is a cop-out.”

“By pushing ourselves to create a completely climate-neutral car, we are forced to reach beyond what is possible today. We will have to question everything, innovate, and look to exponential technologies as we design toward zero,” Ingenlath said.

Specifically, Polestar says the target will only involve the carbon emissions it can directly control, which means everything from emissions from its supply chain and from raw materials, to completed cars leaving its factory.

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#car-manufacturing, #carbon-dioxide, #carbon-neutral, #cars, #climate-change, #electric-cars, #life-cycle, #polestar

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Sand, sun, and electric off-road SUVs: Extreme E holds its first race

Traveling to threatened environments in order to have a race to raise awareness about the threats to those environments might seem a little counterintuitive at first glance. But that’s the concept behind Extreme E, a new racing series for electric off-road SUVs, created by some of the people who gave us Formula E.

When Extreme E was launched, it promised challenging racing against a backdrop of spectacular (spectator-free) scenery in remote locations, with participants traveling by ecologically aware boat, not fleets of jumbo jets. And the first X Prix, held this past weekend in Saudi Arabia, certainly delivered in that regard, with action reminiscent of a Tatooine pod race.

The fledgling sport has already attracted some of the biggest names in racing. Formula 1 world champions Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, and Jenson Button are each fielding a team, and Button is also donning his nomex as one of the drivers. As are rally legends Sebastian Loeb and Carlos Sainz, and Laia Sanz, one of the most successful Trials riders and a distinguished Dakar competitor. Even GMC Hummer is taking part now that it has found a new lease on life as an EV brand.

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#alejandro-agag, #carlos-sainz, #cars, #climate-change, #electric-suv, #extreme-e, #formula-e, #jenson-button, #lewis-hamilton, #nico-rosberg, #off-road-racing, #racing, #sebastian-loeb

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Narwhal tusks tell a troubling tale

Narwhal tusks tell a troubling tale

Enlarge (credit: Science & Society Picture Library | Getty Images)

Researchers have long debated what the 10-foot-long tooth that erupts from a narwhal’s head is actually for. Perhaps it has something to do with sexual selection, and males with longer horns attract more females. Or maybe the things sense salinity. Or perhaps a narwhal uses its tusk to flush out prey on the ocean bottom.

Whatever the purpose, scientists know this for certain: the Arctic region, which the narwhals call home, is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, and by analyzing these tusks, researchers can glean surprisingly detailed insights into how the animals are dealing with catastrophic change. It’s not looking good.

Writing in March in the journal Current Biology, scientists described what they found in 10 tusks collected from animals in northwest Greenland. Because a tusk grows continuously over the many decades of a narwhal’s life, the researchers could read the outsized teeth like the rings of a tree. They found that between 1962 and 2000, the mercury in the tusks increased by an average of 0.3 percent a year, but between 2000 and 2010 it increased by 1.9 percent per year. This is consistent with increased mercury discovered in the bodies of other top predators in several regions across the Arctic, possibly due to air pollution blowing in from the south.

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#arctic, #biology, #climate-change, #narwhal, #science

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Nuclear should be considered part of clean energy standard, White House says

Image of two power plant cooling towers.

Enlarge (credit: US DOE)

More details have emerged about the climate and energy priorities of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, and they include support for nuclear power and carbon capture with sequestration (CCS).

In a press conference yesterday with reporters, White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy said the administration would seek to implement a clean energy standard that would encourage utilities to use greener power sources. She added that both nuclear and CCS would be included in the administration’s desired portfolio. The clean energy standard adds a climate dimension to the Biden administration’s recently announced infrastructure plan, seeking to put the US on a path to eliminating carbon pollution.

“We think a CES is appropriate and advisable, and we think the industry itself sees it as one of the most flexible and most effective tools,” McCarthy told reporters. “The CES is going to be fairly robust and it is going to be inclusive.”

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#biden-administration, #climate-change, #green-energy, #policy, #science, #white-house

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Sweeping climate law zeroes out carbon pollution for Massachusetts

(credit: MIT News)

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law late last week one of the nation’s most sweeping climate bills, putting the state on a path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

The law sets emissions limits of 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 75 percent cuts by 2040 with interim limits every five years. To achieve those goals, the Bay State will add gigawatts of offshore wind power, spur cities and towns to adopt a net-zero building code, and set targets for electric vehicles, charging stations, and energy storage. 

The state expects that it will be able to fully eliminate 85 percent of all carbon emissions by 2050. For the remaining 15 percent, it will have to find other options, including tree planting or direct air capture of carbon dioxide. The net-zero target of 2050 is encouraged by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to avoid warming of greater than 1.5˚ C.

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#climate, #climate-change, #climate-policy, #energy, #energy-policy, #massachusetts, #policy, #science

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Building electronics that can survive under Greenland’s ice sheet

Sensors, support electronics, and a transmitter are all encased in a pressure-proof shell.

Enlarge / Sensors, support electronics, and a transmitter are all encased in a pressure-proof shell. (credit: Michael Prior-Jones)

Through the GRACE satellite program, researchers have shown that Greenland’s ice sheet has been losing about 280 billion tons of ice each year—the equivalent of close to 1.5 million Olympic swimming pools. For glaciers like those in Greenland and Antarctica, most of this meltwater ends up in the ocean—with already noticeable consequences for rising sea levels.

Better predictions of future sea level rise will require us to understand what meltwater is doing inside—and especially underneath—glaciers. But to do this, researchers need to take measurements through a glacier. Earlier this month, electrical engineer and glaciologist Dr. Michael Prior-Jones and his collaborators in the UK, Switzerland, Denmark, and Canada published their redesigned version of a wireless subglacial probe—the Cryoegg—to help study the inner “plumbing” of glaciers.

Glacial obstacles

The meltwater flowing through and underneath glaciers can end up in small pockets, large lakes, or fast-moving rivers—each of which destabilizes the overlying glacier to different degrees. Subglacial lakes can cause entire sections of the glacier to shift. By contrast, subglacial rivers channel meltwater into a smaller area, causing comparatively less glacial movement.

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#climate-change, #earth-sciences, #electronics, #glaciers, #glaciology, #science

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Could we fuel our jets using our sewage?

Image of food waste at a trash can in a park.

Enlarge / A future green jet fuel? (credit: Picture Alliance/Getty Images)

For many applications, liquid fuels remain the most practical energy supply—applications like aircraft and large ships being obvious examples. It’s possible to avoid using fossil fuels for these applications, since there are many ways to produce biofuels. But we can’t produce biofuels at a competitive price, leaving fossil fuels as the dominant option.

A group of US-based researchers has therefore looked into the prospect of converting food waste into jet fuel. Chemically, the results are excellent, producing material that can be blended with a bit of standard jet fuel to meet all regulatory standards. Economically, the situation is not nearly so great, only working at prices that were prevalent over five years ago. But the fact that the waste would otherwise put methane in the atmosphere as it decays more than offsets the carbon dioxide produced by the jet fuel in the blend. So a price on carbon could change the equation.

Food (and other stuff) to fuel

The work here is focused on what are called “wet wastes,” which include things like food waste, animal manure, and sewage. As you might expect, we produce a lot of this stuff, with the authors estimating that its total energy content is roughly equivalent to 10 billion gallons of jet fuel every year. Due to the amount of water present, it’s extremely energy-intensive to directly convert this waste to any sort of fuel, since the water has to be discarded. It is, however, possible to put the waste in an oxygen-free environment and have bacteria convert it to methane.

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#biofuel, #chemistry, #climate-change, #economics, #green, #jet-fuel, #science

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Shell’s Gamechanger Accelerator selects three companies for its energy transition accelerator

Yesterday, the European oil and gas major producer Shell announced the latest cohort selected to participate in its Shell GameChanger Accelerator (GCxN), focused on supporting companies developing tech for the transition away from fossil fuels.

The three companies will have access to technical resources through Shell that can serve to aid in their commercialization.

“GCxN’s fourth cohort will help prove that electrochemistry technologies can replace carbon-intensive legacy processes. As renewable energy costs continue to drop, cross-industry initiatives and partnerships will prove that it’s possible to cost-effectively scale these technology applications and achieve real-world impact,” said Haibin Xu, Shell’s GCxN program manager.

Shell’s acceleartor provides startups selected for the program with up to $250,000 in non-dilutive financing. Participants are nominated by network partners coming from incubators, accelerators, and universities and then are subjected to a screening process by Shell and NREL. 

Graduates of the program have raised $52 million in the three prevoius batches and have added 51 new jobs to the green economy, according to a statement.

Each of the new companies in the cohort are focused on creating ways to reduce carbon emissions in sectors that are carbon intensive and hard to transition to more sustainable practices, according to a statement. 

So without further ado, here’s the latest batch of startups backed by Shell:

  • Air Company — This Brooklyn-based business is turning carbon dioxide into alcohols, spirits, fragrances, sanitizers and products for consumer industries. It eventually wants to get into the synthetic fuel business. 
  • Ionomr Innovations — Green hydrogen production, hydrogen fuel cells and carbon capture technologies require ion-exchange membranes and polymers, and this Vancouver-based company wants to make those components cheaper and more environmentally friendly.  
  • Versogen Hailing from President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware, the company formerly known as W7 energy is producing high performance hydroxide exchange membranes to drive down the cost of fuel cells. 

“Almost every aspect of our modern lives depends on certain materials and fuels, but with great consequence. For example, the American manufacturing industry is on-track to become the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions within the next ten years,” said Katie Richardson, GCxN program manager at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in a statement. “The selected GCxN startups are restructuring essential building blocks to reduce the carbon impact of essential goods and services.” 


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#articles, #brooklyn, #climate-change, #delaware, #energy, #fuel-cell, #fuel-cells, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #hydrogen-fuel, #joe-biden, #oil-and-gas, #president, #shell, #shells, #tc, #u-s-department-of-energy, #vancouver

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Regenerative agriculture is the next great ally in fight against climate change

It seems that every week a new agribusiness, consumer packaged goods company, bank, technology corporation, celebrity or Facebook friend announces support for regenerative agriculture.

For those of us who have been working on climate and/or agriculture solutions for the last couple of decades, this is both exciting and worrisome.

With the rush to be a part of something so important, the details and hard work, the incremental advancements and wins, as well as the big, hairy problems that remain can be overlooked or forgotten. When so many are swinging for the fences, it’s easy to forget that singles and doubles usually win the game.

As a managing partner and founder of DBL Partners, I have specifically sought out companies to invest in that not only have winning business models but also solve the planet’s biggest problems. I believe that agriculture can be a leading climate solution while feeding a growing population.

At the same time, I want to temper the hype, refocus the conversation, and use the example of agriculture to forge a productive template for all business sectors with carbon habits to fight climate change.

First, let’s define regenerative agriculture: It encompasses practices such as cover cropping and conservation tillage that, among other things, build soil health, enhance water retention, and sequester and abate carbon.

The broad excitement around regenerative agriculture is tied to its potential to mitigate climate impact at scale. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine estimates that soil sequestration has the potential to eliminate over 250 million metric tons of CO2 per year, equivalent to 5 percent of U.S. emissions.

It is important to remember that regenerative practices are not new. Conservationists have advocated for cover cropping and reduced tillage for decades, and farmers have led the charge.

The reason these practices are newly revered today is that, when executed at scale, with the heft of new technology and innovation, they have demonstrated agriculture’s potential to lead the fight against climate change.

So how do we empower farmers in this carbon fight?

Today, offset markets get the majority of the attention. Multiple private, voluntary markets for soil carbon have appeared in the last couple of years, mostly supported by corporations driven by carbon neutrality commitments to offset their carbon emissions with credit purchases.

Offset markets are a key step toward making agriculture a catalyst for a large-scale climate solution; organizations that support private carbon markets build capacity and the economic incentive to reduce emissions.

“Farming carbon” will drive demand for regenerative finance mechanisms, data analytics tools, and new technology like nitrogen-fixing biologicals – all imperatives to maximize the adoption and impact of regenerative practices and spur innovation and entrepreneurship.

It’s these advancements, and not the carbon credit offsets themselves, that will permanently reduce agriculture emissions.

Offsets are a start, but they are only part of the solution. Whether generated by forestry, renewable energy, transportation or agriculture, offsets must be purchased by organizations year after year, and do not necessarily reduce a buyer’s footprint.

Inevitably, each business sector needs to decarbonize its footprint directly or create “insets” by lowering the emissions within its supply chain. The challenge is, this is not yet economically viable or logistically feasible for every organization.

For organizations that purchase and process agricultural products – from food companies to renewable fuel producers – soil carbon offsets can indirectly reduce emissions immediately while also funding strategies that directly reduce emissions permanently, starting at the farm.

DBL invests in ag companies that work on both sides of this coin: facilitating soil carbon offset generation and establishing a credit market while also building fundamentally more efficient and less carbon-intensive agribusiness supply chains.

This approach is a smart investment for agriculture players looking to reduce their climate impact. The business model also creates demand for environmental services from farmers with real staying power.

Way back in 2006, when DBL first invested in Tesla, we had no idea we would be helping to create a worldwide movement to unhinge transportation from fossil fuels.

Now, it’s agriculture’s turn. Backed by innovations in science, big data, financing and farmer networking, investing in regenerative agriculture promises to slash farming’s carbon footprint while rewarding farmers for their stewardship.

Future generations will reap the benefits of this transition, all the while asking, “What took so long?”

#carbon-footprint, #climate-change, #column, #food, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greentech, #renewable-energy, #startups, #technology, #venture-capital

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The Department of Defense is establishing a working group to focus on climate change

The U.S. Department of Defense is setting up a working group to focus on climate change.

The new group will be led by Joe Bryan, who was appointed as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense focused on climate earlier this year.

The move is one of several steps that the Biden administration has taken to push an agenda that looks to address the dangers posed by global climate change.

Bryan, who previously served as Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy for Energy under the Obama administration, will oversee a group intended to coordinate the Department’s responses to Biden’s recent executive order and subsequent climate and energy-related directives and track implementation of climate and energy-related actions and progress, according to a statement.

The Department of Defense controls the purse strings for hundreds of billions of dollars in government spending and is a huge consumer of electricity, oil and gas, and industrial materials. Any steps it takes to improve the efficiency of its supply chain, reduce the emissions profile of its fleet of vehicles, and use renewable energy to power operations could make a huge contribution to the commercialization of renewable and sustainable technologies and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Pentagon is already including security implications of climate change in its risk analyses, strategy development and planning guidance, according to the statement, and is including those risk analyses in its intallation planning, modeling, simulation and war gaming, and the National Defense Strategy.

“Whether it is increasing platform efficiency to improve freedom of action in contested logistics environments, or deploying new energy solutions to strengthen resilience of key capabilities at installations, our mission objectives are well aligned with our climate goals,” wrote Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a statement. “The Department will leverage that alignment to modernize the force, strengthen our supply chains, identify opportunities to work closely with allies and partners, and compete with China for the energy technologies that are essential to our future success.”

#articles, #biden, #biden-administration, #china, #climate-change, #electricity, #energy, #executive, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #navy, #oil-and-gas, #pentagon, #renewable-energy, #secretary, #simulation, #supply-chain, #tc

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As a crop, cannabis has enormous carbon emissions

Image of a large room filled with cannabis plants.

Enlarge / All those lights take energy. (credit: DEA)

Back in the pre-legalization days, cannabis production meant finding a rarely visited patch of land and growing outside, or it meant taking cultivation indoors—typically to a basement where your product wouldn’t be visible from the outside world. But the power use involved in lighting a basement growing space was legendary.

With legalization, it’s really only the scale that has changed. Most legal marijuana is grown indoors, with some pretty hefty electrical use to match. Now, researchers have attempted to quantify the greenhouse gasses emitted, and they came up with some impressive figures. Based on their calculations, cannabis production results in over 2,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide emitted for every kilogram of product (defined as dried flowers), and its legalization has had a measurable effect on Colorado’s greenhouse gas output.

Why indoors?

In many locations that have legalized cannabis production, a lot of factors make indoor growth a reasonable option, including simplifying security, enabling year-round production, and simply the experience that comes from now-professional growers having years of practice as amateurs. But Colorado—one of the first states to legalize the wacky tabacky—added what is presumably an accidental inducement by requiring that the majority of the cannabis put up for sale has to be grown on the site where it is sold. You can either use good agricultural land to grow it, or you can sell it near the urban centers and campuses where demand i higher—but not both.

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#agriculture, #cannabis, #carbon-emissions, #climate-change, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #science

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Biden administration puts a price on carbon

Image of exhaust from power plants.

Enlarge (credit: Picture Alliance / Getty Images)

On Friday, the Biden administration announced it had fulfilled the requirements of one of the executive orders issued on the very first day of his presidency: determining what’s called the “social cost of carbon.” This figure tries to capture the cumulative economic value achieved by investing in limiting carbon emissions now. As such, carbon’s social cost plays a key role in informing the cost/benefit analysis of any government policy or regulation that influences carbon emissions.

The government is required to attach a value to the social cost of carbon, which typically requires the consideration of extensive economic and climate research. But the Trump administration had ended the process of updating the value after having chosen an artificially low one. Given a 30-day deadline to come up with a new one, the Biden administration has chosen to adjust the last pre-Trump value for inflation and use that until it can do a more detailed analysis of how the research landscape has changed over the last four years.

The net result is a dramatically higher price on carbon that will enable far more aggressive regulatory action for at least the next four years.

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#biden, #climate-change, #energy-policy, #policy, #science, #social-cost-of-carbon

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Blaming a wiggly jet stream on climate change? Not so fast

The weather map on February 15.

Enlarge / The weather map on February 15. (credit: NASA EO)

Some songs are earworms—catchy whether you like them or not. (I won’t infect the rest of your day with an example.) Some explanations in science seem to be the earworm equivalent: inherently intuitive, making them stick readily in the mind. That’s obviously the case for the hypothesis that a warming Arctic leads to a wigglier jet stream, producing weather extremes in the mid-latitudes like the recent epic cold snap in the central US.

The cold arrived after the spinning “polar vortex” in the upper atmosphere above the Arctic was disturbed in January, unleashing its contents southward as the jet stream detoured from its usual commute. Could this behavior actually be a consequence of global warming? The suggestion has appeared in news articles and Twitter threads across the land. But the idea is stickier than the science says it should be.

Jet setting

Although the specifics vary, the general idea is based on the fact that the Arctic is warming faster than the mid-latitudes. As a result, the temperature difference between them is getting a little smaller. The jet stream forms at the boundary between the Arctic and mid-latitude air, so a smaller temperature difference would weaken the jet stream. And a weaker jet stream is more prone to great, wiggling meanders that can bring you cold air from the north or warm air from the south.

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#climate-change, #jet-stream, #science

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Yard Stick provides measurement technology to combat climate change

The solution to the world’s climate change problems could be under our feet, as soil has the potential to store more than three times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere But about 45% of the Earth’s soil is used for agriculture, and most farmland has lost up to 30% of its carbon from unsustainable land management practices.

To turn agricultural land into a thriving carbon sink, farmers need to be able to manage it by shifting to regenerative agriculture practices like reducing tillage, planting cover crops and increasing crop rotations and biodiversity. But you can’t manage something until you can measure it, and that’s where Yard Stick comes in. 

“Soil sequestration can be a really powerful carbon removal technology,” said Chris Tolles, CEO of Yard Stick. “But only if we’ve got really high-quality science and technology helping us measure it.”

Quantifying regenerative agriculture is a challenge, and measuring soil carbon is no exception. The traditional method, dry combustion, requires a lot of leg work. Scientists trudge across acres of land digging up soil samples and mail them thousands of miles to a lab where another scientist burns the soil to calculate the carbon. 

“That is not scalable for obvious reasons,” Tolles said. “We need a measurement technology that can release that bottleneck.” 

Yard Stick hopes to be that technology — a hand-held soil probe to measure carbon soil levels onsite. The Massachusetts-based startup was founded out of the Soil Health Institute using a $3.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program. This funding exists to specifically help pro-social technology solutions come to market.   

Four soil experts — Dr. Christine Morgan, chief scientific officer of the Soil Health Institute; engineer Kevin Meissner, associate professor at the University of Nebraska; Yufeng Ge; and Alex McBratney from the University of Sydney — combined their research and expertise to create a probe that uses spectral analysis, resistance sensors, machine learning and agricultural statistics to measure and calculate the amount of carbon in an area of soil. Tolles is tasked with bringing the product out of the academic world and into the commercial market. 

The probe is attached to a hand-held drill. The small camera on its tip is tuned to capture the specific wavelengths reflected off of organic carbon using VisNIR spectrometry. Resistance sensors use the force needed to drill the probe into the ground to calculate the density of the soil. With those two inputs, plus a few complicated algorithms and statistical analyses, Yard Stick can calculate the amount of carbon in the ground without ever digging up a sample and mailing it to a lab to be burned.

Soil measurement tool by Yard stick lying on ground

Image Credits: Yard Stick

“One, we can take samples way faster. Number two, the cost is dramatically lower,” Tolles said. “And what that means, three, you’ll get a more accurate measurement of your carbon stock because our technology is so much cheaper and easier, that you can dramatically increase your sampling density.”

Yard Stick is currently working with a few large food companies engaged in regenerative agriculture pilot programs with farms across the United States. Yard Stick doesn’t plan to sell directly to farms. Instead, it works with project developers like these companies. Yard Stick is using these connections to verify its probe is as reliable as the traditional gold standard of carbon soil measuring and to introduce its product and service to farmers. Yard Stick plans to sell a data measurement service, not the hardware itself. 

“None of our customers want to own a spectrometer,” Tolles said. “They don’t know what to do with one even if we made it idiot simple.” 

Yard Stick sends its people out to take the measurements and then provides reports to farmers and other stakeholders that put the data in context, charging per acre. At some point Tolles hopes the device will be simple enough that anyone with a bit of training can use the probe so the number of Yard Stick employees isn’t a rate-limiting factor.

By 2022, Yard Stick hopes to be measuring 200,000 acres using a few thousand probes.

With more data and just as importantly more data sharing, we can begin to turn the ship around on climate change. But data is a sensitive business to be in. 

“We want to acknowledge the limitations of late-stage capitalist worldviews, which don’t often incentivize sharing,” Tolles said. “There’s a real tragic risk here that the information is so valuable that everybody wants to keep it to themselves and the benefits of soil carbon marketplaces only accrue to the same giant industrial agricultural corporations that have had it for so long.”

A few other early-stage companies are also trying to bust open the market for soil carbon, including LaserAg, which works in laboratories instead of in the fields, and CloudAgronomics, which uses satellites for remote measurement of soil health. But Yard Stick’s main competitor is every farm out there that isn’t measuring and managing their carbon stores, which, according to Tolles, is 99.9% of farms.

“Our mission is to avoid catastrophic climate change,” Tolles said. “So I think we’re inclined to be very pro-competitor.” 

 

#carbon-sequestration, #climate-change, #column, #tc, #yard-stick

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European VC funds are building community around ESG initiatives

In general, ESG stands for “environment-social-governance” and comprises a set of principles that touches on issues from diversity and board structures to labor relations, supply chain, data ethics, environmental impact and legal requirements.

Unlike impact investing, which is squarely focused on the (external) effects of a business, ESG concerns mostly internal practices and processes that could support both a fund and its portfolio companies to make them more sustainable.

While other asset classes from buyout funds to public equities have seen a big push toward ESG ratings and initiatives, venture capital has been lagging behind. What has changed recently?

Over the last several months, quite a few mostly European funds have stepped forward with initiatives to tackle ESG. Balderton, for instance, announced its Sustainable Future Goals with a bang at the startup event Slush in early December 2020. Their efforts are focused both internally on the fund and externally on investment decisions and portfolio support. I asked Colin Hanna, one of the leaders of the development internally and a principal at the firm, how this initiative came about:

While our efforts on this front preceded COVID, this year we saw that a real impact was possible on climate-change-related goals […] we have become accustomed to doing virtual board meetings, cutting down on travel; the challenge will be to continue those efforts going forward and rolling them out to our portfolio companies even as the world returns to normal. Having a framework helps us do that.

This rationale also recently brought a group of about 25 VCs to form a community around ESG for VC for the first time. The initiative is led by GMG Ventures and Houghton Street Venture, a new firm affiliated with the London School of Economics that met for the first time in December with representatives from LocalGlobe and Latitude, Kindred Capital, Balderton, the Westly Group and Blisce. The group’s stated goal is to share expertise from the bottom up and fill the gap where existing frameworks don’t quite work.

This is direly needed right now, says Sophia Bendz, partner at Berlin-based firm Cherry Ventures:

Beginning with topics around DEI and climate issues, we are really keen on upping our ESG game. ESG involves such important issues and we have to dedicate the time to learn more to ultimately do more on these fronts now. Yet, I also believe that true impact doesn’t result from knowledge silos. It’s great that we are learning from and supporting each other to have more societal impacts in our day-to-day roles. I am really passionate about this.

What are the main drivers for this push? 

I asked Susan Winterberg, an ESG consultant who recently finished a two-year fellowship at Harvard producing a groundbreaking report on the subject of ESG for VCs specifically about the “why now”:

There are broadly two sets of reasons why investors and company leaders adopt ESG. The first set relates to increased awareness of how their activities impact external events happening in the world such as climate change and social justice. The second relates to increased awareness of how adopting ESG can advance specific business goals they have such as increasing sales, attracting top talent, and reducing operating risks.”

Obviously, 2020 was a watershed year to drive change based on both of these sets of rationales. Social justice issues — from Black Lives Matter and racial equity, COVID-19 and healthcare to freedom of expression and democracy — were prevalent across the spectrum. Startup leaders and investors were influenced by these societal movements as much as by new research helping them understand how ESG can help advance business objectives in venture capital. The two reports published by CDC/FMO and the Belfer Center are only two examples of this evidence.

What do VCs say, how has change happened for them? Hana told me that at Balderton a combination of factors mentioned by Winterberg above, worked together to start the process:

It was both a push and a pull within Balderton. Our investors and the leaders at the top of our firm were proponents of this change but the efforts were also driven by the younger generation within the firm; they felt it was important. Overall, we were silent about climate change and sustainability for a long time, which was not really an option anymore.

For Martin Weber, founding partner at HV Capital that’s working with the St. Gallen-based ESG initiative ROSE, the conversation really started with Leaders for Climate Action. Weber admits: “We didn’t think about ESG enough […] beyond our own horizon really […] sometimes you really need a kick in the butt, that’s what Leaders for Climate Action did for us; a small change started our awareness and commitment to ESG.”

ESG concerns mostly internal practices and processes that could support both a fund and its portfolio companies to make them more sustainable.

For HV Capital but also some funds in the U.S. such as the Westly Group a specific ESG vector started the journey — that could be the E as in environment but also DEI as part of the S and G of ESG.

I also spoke to several LPs recently among others moderating a panel at the U.K.-based Allocate conference; the atmosphere seems to be shifting more drastically toward “doing business better” among the asset owners, too. Particularly family offices managing their own money are outspoken already, but big asset owners are becoming aware (and active) as well.

Michael Cappucci, managing director of Compliance and Sustainable Investing at the Harvard Management Company — Harvard’s endowment — thinks that “we are long past the time to ‘wait and see’ if ESG integration is a worthwhile undertaking for investors” (see the UNPRI report for more context).

The movement here seems to be coming even stronger from Europe again, however. As a result, the same group around Houghton Street Ventures and GMG Ventures pushing ESG for VCs is also in the process to get more LPs on board with a special workshop in February, as I learned. The tempo on the LP front is increasing as we speak.

What is still missing?

While lots of progress has been made on the level of individual funds, individual LPs and in baby steps toward a more general industry-wide push, there are still some core elements that are not in place. I believe the five key gaps concern a clear differentiation of ESG from impact, finding the right language, establishing a common framework, agreeing on metrics and real LP commitment.

  1. Know what ESG is: Many investors (and LPs) I speak with still don’t really know the difference between impact and ESG. In very simple terms, ESG principles are about the (internal) processes (of a fund, portfolio company, etc.) while impact investing is about outcomes (sometimes operationalized through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)). While impact will likely remain a niche asset class for the foreseeable future, ESG principles should inform the practices of all investors in one way or the other.
  2. Find the right language: On a related note, finding the right language to talk about what ESG (versus impact) is, might help us to differentiate better. As Sarah Drinkwater of Omidyar Network made very clear in her post from September last year, we simply don’t have a good word to describe (and own) what ESG expresses in the world of venture capital and technology — principled, progressive, equitable? Possibly, “setting a standard” can help with this issue, too.
  3. Somebody, set a standard: ESG (and impact) frameworks developed and deployed slowly in the venture industry are still all over the place; they are influenced by all kinds of other frameworks (from other asset classes and related activities, such as impact) and mostly made up by individual funds themselves. There is certainly a risk of green washing if it stays that way; (self-proclaimed and reported) marketing is one thing but if we really want to change the industry, an authoritative body will have to step forward. What the biggest European anchor investor — the European Investment Fund — has done on that front so far with a very high-level questionnaire is not enough. How about, for instance, the UNPRI descends from the plane of high level down to individual industry principles?
  4. What isn’t measured: One part of what could really lead to an industry standard is a set of widely accepted and benchmarkable metrics; what are the most important measurements across early-stage and late-stage VC portfolio companies? The group of funds in London has for good reason announced that this particularly question will be one of the focus points they are working on next. But how will this again be adopted and spread industrywide? Another set of players might get involved in that again: LPs. If they make their GPs report on ESG on an annual basis, this will surely shift the industry as a whole and make the next generation of startups more equitable, responsible and stakeholder-focused.
  5. LPs really need to bite: So far, we are still missing real LP commitments when it comes to ESG. On the one hand, many GPs I spoke with that have recently been fundraising reported that LPs in general still don’t ask about ESG. In fact, some LPs particularly in the U.S. believe ESG might be a distraction from generating returns. In any case, ESG still has not become a must-have but is merely regarded a nice-to-do. The ESG questionnaires that do exist — like the EIF framework — are so far really high level and unspecific. When big anchor LPs like the EIF and BBB in Europe or big foundations and university endowments ask about it in their due diligence meetings, GPs will have to comply — all of them. Their influence as agenda setters might in the medium term be the biggest driving factor toward making ESG for VC the normal way of doing business. Given that there is state-money, all of our money, involved here, it seems an absolute no-brainer to take that step.

#climate-change, #column, #diversity, #esg, #impact-investing, #opinion, #tc, #venture-capital

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Will Ferrell and GM want to prank Norway with pizza, but why?

GM and Will Ferrell took a Cadillac Lyriq EV to Sweden to highlight the fact that Norway buys more electric vehicles per capita than the US.

Enlarge / GM and Will Ferrell took a Cadillac Lyriq EV to Sweden to highlight the fact that Norway buys more electric vehicles per capita than the US. (credit: General Motors)

Although a bunch of automakers chose to sit out 2021, General Motors still saw value in advertising during this year’s Super Bowl. The automaker used the event to promote its electric vehicle aspirations, which include plans to have an all-electric lineup by 2035.

This project will be propelled by a new platform called Ultium and will start with next year’s Cadillac Lyriq and GMC Hummer EV. But you wouldn’t know that from the ad campaign—at least not at first. Instead, we learn that Will Ferrell is really angry with Norway, and he wants to prank the nation of more than five million by sending them all anchovy pizzas.

The cause of this rage? Norway is doing better at EV adoption than the US. Much better, in fact, as 54 percent of all new vehicles sold in the Scandinavian country in 2020 were electric. Here in the US, plug-in vehicles accounted for a mere 2.2 percent of the 14.6 million new cars and trucks sold last year (although in absolute numbers, the US still bought about three times as many EVs as Norway).

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#audi, #cars, #climate-change, #electric-vehicles, #evs, #ford, #general-motors, #norway, #plug-ins, #super-bowl

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Amazon begins delivering packages with prototype electric trucks

An Amazon-branded truck drives down a street lined with palm trees.

Enlarge / A prototype Amazon delivery truck in the Los Angeles area. (credit: Amazon)

A year and a half after Amazon announced that it would buy 100,000 electric trucks to reduce its carbon footprint, Amazon says it has begun using prototype vehicles for real-world deliveries in Los Angeles. Amazon expects to spend a few more months testing the vehicles before the start of mass production later this year.

Amazon placed the massive order with Rivian, a startup that has raised billions of dollars to build electric trucks. Amazon is a Rivian investor.

Rivian has designed a “skateboard” electric truck platform that can be used to build a wide variety of vehicles. Rivian is aiming to begin deliveries of its flagship pickup truck, the R1T, and the R1S SUV later this year.

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#amazon, #cars, #climate-change, #evs, #rivian

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New study: A zero-emissions US is now pretty cheap

Image of a wind farm.

Enlarge (credit: Picture Alliance / Getty Images)

In many areas of the United States, installing a wind or solar farm is now cheaper than simply buying fuel for an existing fossil fuel-based generator. And that’s dramatically changing the electricity market in the US and requiring a lot of people to update prior predictions. That’s motivated a group of researchers to take a new look at the costs and challenges of getting the entire US to carbon neutrality.

By building a model of the energy market for the entire US, the researchers explored what it will take to get the country to the point where its energy use had no net emissions in 2050—and they even looked at a scenario where emissions are negative. They found that, as you’d expect, the costs drop dramatically—to less than 1 percent of the GDP, even before counting the costs avoided by preventing the worst impacts of climate change. And, as an added bonus, we would pay less for our power.

But the modeling also suggests that this end result will have some rather unusual features; we’ll need carbon capture, but it won’t be attached to power plants, for one example.

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#carbon-emissions, #climate-change, #energy, #renewable-energy, #science

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GM says no more tailpipe emissions by 2035, carbon neutrality by 2040

The GM logo has been superimposed over verdant leaves.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Around the world, governments are starting to discuss, or even schedule, banning the sale of new vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. Here in the United States, as is often the case, we may have to wait for private industry to move first, thanks to the sclerotic nature of US politics, particularly when it comes to climate change. This week, such a move happened, and it came from an unlikely source.

On Thursday, General Motors Chairwoman and CEO Mary Barra announced a new climate pledge. The nation’s largest automaker says it will become carbon neutral across its global operations by 2040, which it will achieve through “science-based targets.” GM has also now signed a pledge by businesses to try to keep global warming to 1.5˚C. That’s a remarkable change for an automaker that, until very recently, supported the previous administration’s plan to make US market cars less fuel efficient.

Making this happen will require GM to transition its vehicle portfolio to battery electric vehicles, as well as other hydrogen fuel cell EVs. In fact, the company says it has “an aspiration to eliminate tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035.”

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#cars, #climate-change, #electric-vehicles, #general-motors

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Biden’s approach to climate: Calling it a crisis and treating it that way

A woman speaks while a man stands behind her.

Enlarge / National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry answer questions during a press briefing at the White House. (credit: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Yesterday, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order entitled Putting the Climate Crisis at the Center of United States Foreign Policy and National Security. The document is sweeping, laying out a climate-focused agenda for the new administration and redirecting nearly every area of government to rethink its operations to bring them in line with that agenda. Targeted areas of government include everything from US diplomacy to the buildings that the government owns.

It’s difficult to overstate how large a difference this represents not only from the Trump administration, which treated climate change as if it didn’t exist, but even the Obama administration, which didn’t even attempt to tackle the climate until partway through its second term. Biden referred to the climate as a crisis during his campaign, and this document indicates his planned policies will actually reflect that language.

Foreign and domestic

Executive orders are limited in what they can do, in that they are limited by what’s allowed under existing laws; they can’t simply create new powers that don’t exist. There’s a considerable flexibility, however, in how existing laws are interpreted or which aspects of administration are emphasized. And this is perhaps truest in the area of diplomacy, where, outside of treaties and sanctions, the government has extensive flexibility in terms of how it manages its relationships with other nations.

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#biden, #climate-change, #energy, #executive-order, #jobs, #policy, #science

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Zero, a plastic-free grocery-delivery startup, to launch in LA

Plastic-free grocery-delivery startup Zero is gearing up to launch in Los Angeles on February 10, after solely operating in the San Francisco Bay Area. Zero works directly with suppliers to sell food and other household items in jars, boxes and other types of sustainable packaging, and offers next-day delivery.

Zero works with both big-name brands like Sightglass Coffee, Annie’s and Newman’s Own, as well as emerging vendors that are focused on sustainability, like Planet FWD, founded by Zume co-founder Julia Collins.

Zero members pay $25 per month to access discounted prices on food along with free deliveries. Zero is also available without a subscription, but prices on individual items cost a bit more, and delivery costs $7.99.

I’ve used Zero a couple of times and overall had a pleasant experience. The selection of food is pretty good, but I wasn’t able to find certain types of items like tortilla chips and mandarin oranges. On the plus side, Zero sells my favorite candy of all-time, Tony’s Chocolonely.

In total, Zero founder and CEO Zuleyka Strasner says there are just over 1,100 different items available in the store.

That’s partly because of the leg work that’s required to ensure the food manufactures are meeting Zero’s internal standards for packaging. In the case of chicken, Zero has worked directly with butchers to ensure they package it in compostable paper, which then goes into a compostable resealable bag, Strasner said. That took a lot of time, effort, energy and technology, she said.

Zero does allow plastic at some point in the supply chain process but ensures that plastic is not passed on to consumers. Using chicken as an example again, the chicken starts at the farm and then must travel to one of Zero’s butcher networks and then to a facility to get packaged and processed.

“So those farms and those parts of that transportation process do oftentimes involve plastic in there,” Strasner said. “And as the company grows, we get involved more and more and more into changing more and more of the processes and removing more and more of the plastic for each of our new manufacturing suppliers. So it’s always a journey for each farm, to start with that product going out to the customer plastic-free and then working backwards backwards backwards to removing more and more and more plastics.”

While it would be ideal for all of Zero’s partners to operate fully plastic-free, Strasner said it was important to make it as easy as possible for farms, suppliers and other stakeholders to get on board, “rather than setting up a set of rules and regulations that say either you’re plastic-free from the minute the chicken gets slaughtered all the way to getting it to the customer,” she said.

“That would not create the shift in the industry that we’re looking to create.”

The idea for Zero started to come into fruition for Strasner during her honeymoon in the Corn Islands in Nicaragua. During her trip, she was shocked at how much single-use plastic washed up on the shore, she told TechCrunch. Meanwhile, she had seen the zero-waste, anti-plastic movement growing and began to wonder what would happen if she went plastic-free. Going plastic-free made her think more about the supply chain and how foods are packed in the country, she said.

Given her background in technology, she began to think about how technology could be applied to the problem of plastic waste, “which must be solved within the next seven to 10 years,” she said. “Time is truly finite here and that’s the mission I decided to undertake.”

Zero began testing in 2018 and officially launched in November 2019. The majority of Zero’s customers are members and, overall, the company has “many, many thousands of customers,” Strasner said.

To date, Zero has raised $4.7 million in funding from investors like Precursor Ventures, Backstage Capital, 1984 and others.

“We aim to be and we will be the largest sustainability platform in this country,” Strasner said. “So whatever you need and desire — food, homewares or otherwise, certainly plastic-free but also just sustainable in general — you would come to us. Zero really is a movement beyond just food.”

 

#climate-change, #food, #tc, #techcrunch-include-company, #zero

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One of Biden’s first climate actions looks at fuel efficiency rollback

US President Joe Biden sits in the Oval Office as he signs a series of orders at the White House in Washington, DC, after being sworn in at the US Capitol on January 20, 2021.

Enlarge / US President Joe Biden sits in the Oval Office as he signs a series of orders at the White House in Washington, DC, after being sworn in at the US Capitol on January 20, 2021. (credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

One of the first official actions taken by President Joe Biden after his inauguration on January 20 means the almost-certain demise of a Trump-era plan to weaken future fuel efficiency regulations. Among Biden’s instructions to federal agencies was an “Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.”

This executive order tells federal agencies that environmental justice is a priority—one that will now be guided by scientific evidence. Additionally, the heads of each agency will have to review any regulations, policies, or other actions taken between January 20, 2017 and January 20, 2021 that are inconsistent with that goal. And there’s a particular call-out for the US Environmental Protection Agency’s recent actions to weaken US fuel efficiency standards over the coming few years, as well as the agency’s attempt to neuter California’s power to regulate air pollution.

The previous administration’s attack on clean air and fuel efficiency began almost immediately and culminated with a pair of actions over the past 16 months. In September 2019 the EPA announced that it was revoking a waiver that has allowed California to set and enforce its own tougher air pollution standards within the state’s borders. Then in March 2020 the EPA published a new fuel efficiency rule for passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2021-2026 that significantly weakened fleet efficiency targets mandated by the Obama administration.

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#california-air-resources-board, #cars, #climate-change, #environmental-protection-agency, #fuel-economy, #fuel-efficiency, #president-joseph-biden, #us-epa

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