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Main article: Climate change

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 48

What is our meaning in life in a world of technology?

19:22 | 29 January

The informal TechCrunch book club is now venturing into the short story Exhalation, the second piece in Ted Chiang’s eponymous collection.

Today’s story gets at the meaning of existence, climate change, community, and connection all within a beautifully intricate story that runs for just a few handfuls of pages. I was hooked, and so let’s talk about some of the messages Chiang wants to send as part of the piece.

Some quick notes:

  • Want to join the conversation? Feel free to email me your thoughts at danny+bookclub@techcrunch.com or join some of the discussions on Reddit or Twitter.
  • Follow these informal book club articles here: https://techcrunch.com/book-review/. That page also has a built-in RSS feed for posts exclusively in the Book Review category, which is very low volume.
  • Feel free to add your comments in our TechCrunch comments section below this post.

Thoughts on Exhalation

Chiang has constructed a magnificent story around the most basic and forgettable of substances: air. He starts the story with what otherwise appears to be a normal day in the life of an everyday human, but within a few paragraphs, we learn that the narrator is “going to the filling stations” and it slowly dawns on us that the narrator — and all the people that populate this imaginative world — are actually some form of cybernetic beings, dependent on a mechanical supply of air for their machined bodies.

We learn that these filling stations where people pick up their air supply aren’t just refueling utilities, but are key community outposts where connections are formed between people. “For the filling stations are the primary venue for social conversation, the places from which we draw emotional sustenance as well as physical.” But that’s not all, Chiang writes. “… there is camaraderie derived from the awareness that all our air comes from the same source…”

As we learn as the story progresses, air isn’t just present in this universe — it is fundamentally the connective substance not only between every individual, but also the past and the future. Memories held in the brains of these individuals aren’t inscribed, but are rather reconfigured as air passes through them. Therefore, what is memorable — what is most visible — is ultimately a function of what is not even seen. The narrator describes this discovery as he investigates his own brain in an experiment:

Watching the oscillations of these flakes of gold, I saw that air does not, as we had always assumed, simply provide power to the engine that realizes our thoughts. Air is in fact the very medium of our thoughts. All that we are is a pattern of air flow.

What’s incredible about this story is that Chiang pushes this metaphor another layer deeper. The narrator learns that the world relies on the pressure difference between the air in the atmosphere and the air in each individual’s body, and that this difference is decreasing. Suddenly, the fate of the entire universe has become clear: there may well be air everywhere, but it’s the differential that matters, and that differential is slowly receding with every breath, every twitch of a limb and stray thought. Equilibrium — and therefore death — is just around the corner. Gloriously, Chiang describes the dawn of time:

The universe began as an enormous breath being held. Who knows why, but whatever the reason, I am glad that it did, because I owe my existence to that fact. All my desires and ruminations are no more and no less than eddy currents generated by the gradual exhalation of our universe. And until this great exhalation is finished, my thoughts live on.

This is an ambitious leap and one that springs beautifully from the page. We have gone from air as individual sustenance, to air as community resource and connective tissue, to air as the very meaning of existence, tied into a fate where we already know how the final chapter will be written. Here is the substance we never think about, and instead of being nothing it is actually everything we care about.

There is a parallel here of course to our own world. In much the way the everyday actions of the individuals in this short story deplete the pressure difference of their world and ultimately make it uninhabitable, there is clearly a connection to our own present crisis regarding climate change. How should we handle the fatalism of those climate trendlines that show Earth eventually dying off sometime in the future?

The story doesn’t try to minimize that fatalism. In fact, it actively diminishes the idea that there are technical solutions to these problems. Our narrator describes a sect known as the “Reversalists” who attempt to build a machine that can increase the difference in air pressure in the universe. But our narrator isn’t optimistic, and essentially argues that such a machine is impossible to design.

Instead, the story exhorts us to instead revel in the limited time we have in this universe, even knowing that the world is going to come to an inevitable end. “Because even if a universe’s life span is calculable, the variety of life that is generated within it is not.” Rather than spending our limited time trying to push back the end (of the universe or of our own demise), we should instead ignore that fatal ending and focus on the present, and the wonders that we get to experience while the world is alive for us.

I can go on and on about air here, and indeed, multiple re-readings of this chapter have revealed new connections and symbols that are absolutely fascinating. But I want to move on to two other points that I think this short story wants to tell.

In the story, our narrator is an anatomist, who learns about a strange set of facts — that clocks appear to be changing speed in multiple districts in this universe. They learn about these facts, but unlike anyone else, they seem willing to ask more fundamental and deeper questions about why basic mechanics of the universe aren’t what they seem:

Most people suspected fraud, a practical joke perpetrated by mischief-makers. I had a different suspicion, a darker one that I dared not voice, but it decided my course of action; I would proceed with my experiment.

Our narrator explains that there is a reigning theory about the workings of the brain called the inscription hypothesis, which they reject. By the end of the story though, we see how our narrator’s experiment of opening their own brain and investigating its workings eventually overturned that hypothesis.

It’s not only a commentary on the scientific method, but I also feel that there is a point here about asking even the hardest questions about the data that we are seeing in our universe. We talk about this all the time in the startup world, but here we have in clear relief a person who didn’t just accept the prevailing theory of how something worked, or ignored the facts and data from their universe, or avoided approaching the hardest questions they stumbled upon.

Instead, they confronted them, and also did so individually, without the consent or approval of others. That’s a reminder that sometimes, when we are on the frontiers of science, that the hardest questions sometimes can’t be answered in collaboration with others — that the air that connects us breaks down here.

The other symbol I loved here is around the “experiment” itself. Our narrator builds a machine that allows them to dissect their own brain, and in the process allows them to see the true meaning of the universe. Chiang spends a sizable part of the story building up the dissection, going through with it, and discussing its implications, and it isn’t hard to see why.

The brain dissection is a beautiful metaphor for literally “opening our minds” to new experiences and ideas. Our narrator carefully prepares to open their mind, splaying their brain out in a painstaking and careful order to understand its inner workings. As they do this though, they discover who they really are, and also the fate of the universe along the way.

It’s a gorgeous symbol, and like so much of this story, a layered opinion about what it means to be an individual and how we relate to each other. As Chiang closes out, “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so. I feel I have the right to tell you this because, as I am inscribing these words, I am doing the same.”

Some questions for What’s Expected of Us

Next week, we will read the ultra short story (four pages!), the third part of Exhalation the collection. It’s an interesting meditation on free will versus destiny, and asks a lot of questions in a taut story. Have comments on what you read? Send them to me at danny+bookclub@techcrunch.com

 


0

Investors and utilities are seeding carbon markets with new startups

23:02 | 7 January

While most of the world agrees that carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are creating a climate crisis, there’s little consensus regarding how to address it.

One of the solutions that’s both the most obvious and, seemingly, the most difficult for the international community to agree on is establishing a market that would put a price on carbon emissions. Making the cost of emissions palpable for industries would encourage companies to curb their polluting activities or pay to offset them.

The holy grail of a global carbon market — or a collection of regional ones — has been on the agenda for climate activists and regulators since the Kyoto Protocols were ratified in 1997, but enacting the policy has proven elusive.

Now, as the results of climate inaction become more apparent, there appears to be some movement on the regulatory front and concurrent activity from early-stage technology investors to make carbon offsets more of a reality.

It’s still early days, but startups like Project Wren, Pachama and Cloverly prove that investors and utilities are willing to take a flyer on companies that are trying to enable carbon offsets for consumers and corporations alike.

These small bets for investors are complemented by the potential for outsized returns given the size and scope that’s possible should these markets actually develop.

After years of languishing in relative obscurity, global carbon markets rebounded with vigor in 2017 and into 2018, according to data from the World Bank.

Countries raised about $44 billion in revenues from carbon pricing in 2018, an increase of $11 billion, with more than half coming from carbon taxes. In 2017, the $33 billion raised by governments from carbon pricing was an increase of 50% over 2016 numbers.

However large that number may seem, it’s dwarfed by the figure required to make any real changes in industry emissions, according to the World Bank. The current pricing schemes that exist cover a small percentage of global emissions at a cost that’s consistent with achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, the latest international treaty around climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. Prices need to rise to between $40 per ton of carbon dioxide and $80 per ton by 2020 and between $50 per ton and $100 per ton by 2030.

 


0

Pachama launches to support global reforestation through carbon markets

00:20 | 4 January

The world’s forests are ablaze, under threat from illegal logging, and disappearing due to the less dramatic environmental degradation wrought by drought and other signs of climate change.

It’s part of the negative feedback loop that seems to be accelerating climate change as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, but one startup company is trying to facilitate reforestation by supporting carbon offsets that specifically target the world’s flora.

Pachama has raised $4.1 million to create a marketplace where companies can support carbon offset projects. The company is backed by some big names in tech investment like former Uber executive Ryan Graves, through his private investment firm, Saltwater, and Chris Sacca, a prominent early investor in Uber, through his Lowercase Capital firm.

Founded by Diego Saez Gil, a serial entrepreneur whose last company was a startup selling a “smart-suitcase”, Pachama is aiming to bring reforestation projects to the carbon markets whose impacts can be independently verified by the company’s monitoring software to ensure their ability to offset emissions.

“We were making a smart connected suitcase which got banned,” says Saez-Gil. “After that I decided to take some time off and I was quite burnt out. I wanted to do some soul searching and tried to decide what i wanted to put my efforts.” 

He traveled to South America and did a trip through Amazon rainforest in Peru. It was there that Saez-Gil saw the effects of deforestation in an area that represents a huge carbon dioxide offset for the planet.

“There are about 1 billion hectares on the planet that could be reforested,” says Saez Gil.

That opportunity — to contribute to the perpetuation of independently validated carbon markets around the world is what convinced investors like Paul Graham, Justin Kan and Daniel Kan, Gustaf Alströmer, Peter Reinhardt, Jason Jacobs, Chris Sacca from Lowercase Capital, as well as funds such as Social+Capital, Global Founders Capital, and Atomico to contribute to the company’s $4.1 million funding.

It’s a pretty big consortium to finance what amounts to a small capital commitment (given the size of the funds under management that these investors have at their disposal), but investors are right to be a little wary.

Carbon markets are driven by policy and policymakers have been reluctant to draft legislation that would put a high enough price on carbon emissions to make those markets viable.

“Pachama’s carbon credit marketplace is launching at a pivotal moment when awareness of the climate crisis is reaching an all-time high, and businesses are increasingly looking to become carbon neutral,” said Ryan Graves, Pachama’s lead investor and new director said in a statement. “What attracted me to Pachama was the company’s use of technology to bring trust to an industry that desperately needs it, and gives the verifiable results to the purchasers of carbon credits.”

Awareness doesn’t equal political action however, and Pachama needs the political will of both governments and consumers to move the needle on creating viable carbon trading markets.

Pachama’s business becomes profitable only when the price of carbon moves beyond $15 per-ton of carbon dioxide (or similar emissions) offset. Currently, there are only two markets in the world where that threshold has been reached — the California market and Europe, according to Saez-Gil.

For Pachama’s founder, forest preservation and reforestation projects can have outsized benefits. “There are only 500 forest projects that are certified today… we need tens of thousands,” says Saez-Gil. “There are one billion hectares on the planet is available for reforestation without competing with agriculture.”

The restoration of native forests can contribute to replenishing global biodiversity and captures more carbon than cultivating forests for industrial use, but both are better than destruction to grow row crops or support animal husbandry, Saez-Gil says.  

Pachama sources projects that are approved by existing certification bodies, but offers its customers monitoring and management services through access to satellite imagery and sensors that provide information on emissions and carbon capture on reforested land.

It’s a potential solution to the problem of deforestation that’s plaguing countries like Brazil. “The government in Brazil they want to generate income for the country,” says Saez-Gil. If carbon markets paid as much as ranching, it would reduce the need for animal husbandry and plantation farming in Brazil, Indonesia, or place like Peru. 

Today, most investments in reforestation projects are done through middlemen, which increases opacity and the chance that projects are being double-counted or sold, according to Saez-Gil. Pachama has a person who is contacting forest project developers so that they can list the projects independently. Then the company verifies the offsets with satellite imaging systems.

The company currently has 23 forest projects — three in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and Peru and projects in the U.S. in California, Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maine .

Saez-Gil has high hopes for the future of carbon markets based on demand coming, in part, from new regulations like those imposed on the airline industry.

“Airlines will have to offset part of their emissions as part of CORSIA,”  says Saez-il. That’s an offset of 160 million tons of emission per year. “There is all this demand coming for different offsets for different  markets that will make the price go up.”

 


0

Tesla’s record stock price shows its investment in energy storage is finally paying off

16:40 | 19 December

A little over a year after sparking a legal firestorm for musing that he would take Tesla private for $420, Elon Musk is likely glad he didn’t.

Tesla’s stock just hit a record high yesterday, brushing close to $400 per share and putting the company within striking distance of that $420 figure that cost Musk $20 million in fines with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Since Tesla announced a surprise profit in the third quarter of the year the stock has been on a tear, recovering from its year-long tumble wrought by Musk’s Twitter tirades and extracurricular shenanigans.

The company’s core business is looking very strong, thanks in part to a weak performance by rival automakers electric vehicle offerings and the seemingly successful ramp up of manufacturing and sales in China.

There’s also another tailwind at the back of Tesla’s business and that’s in its far smaller (for now) energy business.

Lost in the hubbub over the decisions to slash costs of its Chinese manufactured vehicles by 20%; the success of the new gigafactory in the country; and the beginnings of a new gigafactory in Berlin was the news that the company had sold its first Megapack — a massive lithium ion battery installation — to a utility in Alaska.

 


0

Carbon dioxide emissions are set to hit a record high this year (it’s not fine, but not hopeless)

06:21 | 4 December

Carbon dioxide emissions, one of the main contributors to the climate changes bringing extreme weather, rising oceans, and more frequent fires that have killed hundreds of Americans and cost the U.S. billions of dollars, are set to reach another record high in 2019.

That’s the word from the Global Carbon Project, an initiative of researchers around the world led by Stanford University scientist Rob Jackson.

The new projections from the Global Carbon Project are set out in a trio of papers published in “Earth System Science Data“, “Environmental Research Letters“, and “Nature Climate Change“.

That’s the bad news. The good news (if you want to take a glass half-full view) is that the rate of growth has slowed dramatically from the previous two years. However, researchers are warning that emissions could keep increasing for another decade unless nations around the globe take dramatic action to change their approach to energy, transportation and industry, according to a statement from Jackson.

“When the good news is that emissions growth is slower than last year, we need help,” said Jackson, a professor of Earth system science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth), in a statement. “When will emissions start to drop?”

Globally, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel sources (which are over 90 percent of all emissions) are expected to grow 0.6 percent over the 2018 emissions. In 2018 that figure was 2.1 percent above the 2017 figure, which was, itself, a 1.5 percent increase over 2016 emissions figures.

Even as the use of coal is in drastic decline around the world, natural gas and oil use is climbing, according to researchers, and stubbornly high per capita emissions in affluent countries mean that reductions won’t be enough to offset the emissions from developing countries as they turn to natural gas and gasoline for their energy and transportation needs.

“Emissions cuts in wealthier nations must outpace increases in poorer countries where access to energy is still needed,” said Pierre Friedlingstein, a mathematics professor at the University of Exeter and lead author of the Global Carbon Budget paper in Earth System Science Data, in a statement.

Some countries are making progress. Both the UK and Denmark have managed to achieve economic growth while simultaneously reducing their carbon emissions. In the third quarter of the year, renewable power supplied more energy to homes and businesses in the United Kingdom than fossil fuels for the first time in the nation’s history, according to a report cited by “The Economist”.

Costs of wind and solar power are declining so dramatically that they are cost competitive with natural gas in many parts of the wealthy world and cheaper than coal, according to a study earlier in the year from the International Monetary Fund.

Still, the U.S., the European Union and China account for more than half of all carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. did decrease year-on-year — projected to decline by 1.7 percent — but it’s not enough to counteract the rising demand from countries like China, where carbon dioxide emissions are expected to rise by 2.6 percent.

And the U.S. has yet to find a way to wean itself off of its addiction to cheap gasoline and big cars. It hasn’t helped that the country is throwing out emissions requirements for passenger vehicles that would have helped to reduce its contribution to climate change even further. Even so, at current ownership rates, there’s a need to radically reinvent transportation given what U.S. car ownership rates mean for the world.

U.S. oil consumption per person is 16 times greater than in India and six times greater than in China, according to the reports. And the United States has roughly one car per-person while those numbers are roughly one for every 40 people in India and one for every 6 in China. If ownership rates in either country were to rise to similar levels as the U.S. that would put 1 billion cars on the road in either country.

About 40 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions were attributable to coal use, 34 percent from oil, 20 percent from natural gas, and the remaining 6 percent from cement production and other sources, according to a Stanford University statement on the Global Carbon Project report.

“Declining coal use in the U.S. and Europe is reducing emissions, creating jobs and saving lives through cleaner air,” said Jackson, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy, in a statement. “More consumers are demanding cheaper alternatives such as solar and wind power.”

There’s hope that a combination of policy, technology and changing social habits can still work to reverse course. The adoption of new low-emission vehicles, the development of new energy storage technologies, continued advancements in energy efficiency, and renewable power generation in a variety of new applications holds some promise. As does the social adoption of alternatives to emissions intensive animal farming and crop cultivation.

“We need every arrow in our climate quiver,” Jackson said, in a statement. “That means stricter fuel efficiency standards, stronger policy incentives for renewables, even dietary changes and carbon capture and storage technologies.”

 

 


0

Earth is headed for its second warmest year in recorded history (the record was three years ago)

05:02 | 19 November

Data from the U.S. government sure seems to indicate that the Earth is warming (despite what the current leadership may say).

Apparently, the globe just experienced the second-hottest October ever recorded and is on track for the second-hottest year to date on record, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Not only are we experiencing a run of hot Octobers (this is the tenth year that temperatures have hit recorded-history highs since 2003 and all five of the highest temperature years were in the past five years), but arctic ice has also shrunk to its lowest extent since satellite records began in 1979.

Even as the Trump Administration enacts policies to reverse course on curbing the emissions that seem to be leading to a changing global climate, federal agencies like the NOAA keep releasing reports that reveal exactly how much the planet is changing.

Earlier this month Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began the process of formally withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change. As with most momentous events of the Administration, the world was notified via Twitter.

While Secretary Pompeo was praising the nation’s approach to “reducing all emissions”, Europe, Africa, Oceania, the Caribbean and Hawaiian Islands hit historic record-setting temperatures and the world’s average sea surface temperature hit its second-warmest ever-recorded temperature.

Meanwhile, new projections are revising the risk that cities face from rising sea levels that are caused by melting glaciers due to warmer temperatures.

Maps created by the research organization Climate Central, and published in the journal Nature Communications indicate that rising seas could flood land that’s currently home to some 150 million people at high-tide by 2050, if steps aren’t taken to improve the resiliency of cities to flooding or reverse course on climate.

Even the Federal Reserve is waking up to climate change risks. The regulator responsible for U.S. monetary policy convened an event earlier this month to focus on the financial impacts of climate change.

“By participating more actively in climate-related research and practice, the Federal Reserve can be more effective in supporting a strong economy and a stable financial system,” Lael Brainard, a member of the Fed’s board in Washington, said in prepared remarks at the same event, according to a report in The New York Times. 

 


0

Cervest raises £3.7M for Earth Science AI platform to predict climate effects

19:33 | 1 November

Climate risk including extreme events and the related pressures our environment are fundamentally affecting the way business and governments operate – both tactically and strategically. Increasing climate volatility is causing food supply disruptions, and increasing pressure on Enterprises (including financial institutions, insurers, producers) to disclose what’s going on.

The trouble is, while there is a lot of data about all this, its complexity, incompleteness and sheer volume is too vast for humans to process with the tools available today. So just as the climate changes, we are faced with ‘data chaos’. Equally, other parts of the world suffer from data scarcity, making it much harder to provide useful and timely analysis.

So the challenge is to address these issues simultaneously. So a new startup, Cervest, has created an AI-driven platform designed to inform the decision-making capabilities of businesses, governments and growers in the face of increasing climate volatility.

Cervest, has now closed a £3.7m investment round to fund the launch of its real-time, climate forecasting platform.

The round was led by deep-tech investor Future Positive Capital, with co-investor Astanor Ventures . The seed-stage funding round brings the company’s total funding to more than £4.5m.

Built on three years of research and development by a team of scientists, mathematicians, developers and engineers, Cervest says its Earth Science AI platform can analyze billions of data points to forecast how changes in the climate will impact the future of entire countries right down to individual landscapes.

It does this by combining research and modeling techniques taken from proven Earth sciences – including atmospheric science, meteorology, hydrology and agronomy – with artificial intelligence, imaging, machine learning and Bayesian statistics.

Using large collections of satellite imagery and probability theory, the platform can identify signals, or early-warning signs, of extreme events such as floods, fires, and strong winds. It can also spot changes in soil health, and identify water risk.

Cervest says the platform could do such things as reveal to a multinational the optimum location to build a new factory; warn a wheat grower that their crop yield isn’t expected to meet its targets; or used by insurers to help them set premiums for the next 12 months.

The team comes from a network of more than 30 universities, including Imperial College, The Alan Turing Institute, Cambridge, UCL, Harvard and Oxford, and has published more than 60 peer-reviewed scientific papers.

A beta version of the platform is due to launch in Q1 2020.

Iggy Bassi, Founder & CEO, Cervest said: “Our goal is to empower everyone to make informed decisions that improve the long-term resilience of our planet. Today decision-makers are struggling with climate uncertainty and extreme events and how they are affecting their business operations, assets, investments, or policy choices.”

Sofia Hmich, Founder, Future Positive Capital said: “With reports suggesting we have fewer than 60 years of farming left unless drastic action is taken, the need for science-backed decisions could not be greater. Businesses and policymakers hold the key to change and with access to Cervest’s proprietary AI technology they can start to make that change a reality at low cost – before it’s too late.”

Bassi previously ran the impact-led agribusiness, GADCO, which was supported by Acumen Fund, Soros, Gates Foundation, World Bank, and Syngenta . Its impact featured in UNDP, World Economic Forum, FT, Guardian and Huff Post. He previously built a software company focused on data analytics.

Cervest was inspired by Bassi’s experience building a farm-to-market agribusiness whilst confronting first-hand the impacts of climate and natural resource volatilities.

The Cervest team includes 8 scientists and 4 PhDs. Between them, they have published more than 60 peer-reviewed scientific papers with more than 3000 citations in high-profile titles including Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and The Royal Statistical Society.

 


0

UK police arrest a number of climate activists planning Heathrow drone protest

12:30 | 13 September

UK police have arrested a number of environmental activists affiliated with a group which announced  last month that it would use drones to try to ground flights at the country’s busiest airport.

The group, which calls itself Heathrow Pause, is protesting against the government decision to green light a third runway at the airport.

In a press release published today about an operation at Heathrow Airport, London’s Met Police said it has arrested nine people since yesterday in relation to the planned drone protest which had been due to commence early this morning.

Heathrow Pause suggested it had up to 200 people willing to volunteer to fly toy drones a few feet off the ground within a 5km drone ‘no fly’ zone around the airport — an act that would technically be in breach of UK laws on drone flights, although the group said it would only use small drones, flown at head height and not within flight paths. It also clearly communicated its intentions to the police and airport well in advance of the protest.

“Three women and six men aged between their 20s and the 60s have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance,” the Met Police said today.

“Four of the men and the three women were arrested yesterday, Thursday, 12 September, in Bethnal Green, Haringey and Wandsworth, in response to proposed plans for illegal drone use near Heathrow Airport.

“They were taken into custody at a London police station.”

The statement says a further two men were arrested this morning within the perimeter of Heathrow Airport on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance — though it’s not clear whether they are affiliated with Heathrow Pause.

Videos of confirmed members of the group being arrested by police prior to the planned Heathrow Pause action have been circulating on social media.

In an update on its Twitter feed this morning Heathrow Pause says there have been 10 arrests so far.

It also claims to have made one successful flight, and says two earlier drone flight attempts were thwarted by signal jamming technology.

More flights are planned today, it adds.

A spokeswoman for Heathrow told us there has been no disruption to flights so far today.

In a statement the airport said: “Heathrow’s runways and taxiways remain open and fully operational despite attempts to disrupt the airport through the illegal use of drones in protest nearby. We will continue to work with the authorities to carry out dynamic risk assessment programmes and keep our passengers flying safely on their journeys today.”

“We agree with the need for climate change action but illegal protest activity designed with the intention of disrupting thousands of people, is not the answer. The answer to climate change is in constructive engagement and working together to address the issue, something that Heathrow remains strongly committed to do,” it added.

We’ve asked the airport to confirm whether signal jamming counter-drone technology is being used to try to prevent the protest.

The Met Police said a dispersal order under Section 34 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 has been implemented in the area surrounding Heathrow Airport today.

“It will be in place for approximately 48 hours, commencing at 04:30hrs on Friday, 13 September,” it writes. “The order has been implemented to prevent criminal activity which poses a significant safety and security risk to the airport.”

 


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Climate activists plan to use drones to shut down Heathrow Airport next month

15:00 | 29 August

A UK group of climate activists is planning to fly drones close to Heathrow Airport next month in a direct action they hope will shut down the country’s largest airport for days or even longer.

The planned action is in protest at the government’s decision to green-light a third runway at Heathrow.

They plan to use small, lightweight “toy” drones, flown at head high (6ft) within a 5km drone ‘no fly’ zone around the airport — but not within flight paths. The illegal drone flights will also be made in the early morning at a time when there would not be any scheduled flights in the air space to avoid any risk of posing a threat to aircraft.

The activists point out that the government recently declared a climate emergency — when it also pledged to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 — arguing there is no chance of meeting that target if the UK expands current airport capacity.

A press spokesman for the group, which is calling itself Heathrow Pause, told TechCrunch: “Over a thousand child are dying as a result of climate change and ecological collapse — already, every single day. That figure is set to significantly worsen. The government has committed to not just reducing carbon emissions but reducing them to net zero — that is clearly empirically impossible if they build another runway.”

The type of drones they plan to use for the protest are budget models which they say can be bought cheaply at UK retailer Argos — which, for example, sells the Sky Viper Stunt Drone for £30; the Revell GO! Stunt Quadcopter Drone for £40; and the Revell Spot 2.0 Quadcopter (which comes with a HD camera) for £50.

The aim for the protest is to exploit what the group dubs a loophole in Heathrow’s health and safety protocol around nearby drone flights to force it to close down runways and ground flights.

Late last year a spate of drone sightings near the UK’s second busiest airport, Gatwick, led to massive disruption for travellers just before Christmas after the airport responded by grounding flights.

At the time, the government was sharply criticized for having failed to foresee weaknesses in the regulatory framework around drone flights near sensitive sites like airports.

In the following months it responded by beefing up what was then a 1km airport exclusion zone to 5km — with that expanded ‘no fly’ zone coming into force in March. However a wider government plan to table a comprehensive drones bill has faced a number of delays.

It’s the larger 5km ‘no fly’ zone that the Heathrow Pause activists are targeting in a way they hope will safely trigger the airport’s health & safety protocol and shut down the airspace and business as usual.

Whether the strategy to use drones as a protest tool to force the closure of the UK’s largest airport will fly remains to be seen.

A spokeswoman for Heathrow airport told us it’s confident it has “robust plans” in place to ensure the group’s protest does not result in any disruption to flights. However she would not provide any details on the steps it will take to avoid having to close runways and ground flights, per its safety protocol.

When we put the airport’s claim of zero disruption from intended action back to Heathrow Pause, its spokesman told us: “Our understanding is that the airport’s own health and safety protocols dictate that they have to ground airplanes if there are any drones of any size flying at any height anywhere within 5km of the airport.

“Our position would be that it’s entirely up to them what they do. That the action that we’re taking does not pose a threat to anybody and that’s very deliberately the case. Having said that I’d be surprised to hear that they’re going to disregard their own protocols even if those are — in our view — excessive. It would still come as a surprise if they weren’t going to follow them.”

“We won’t be grounding any flights in any circumstances,” he added. “It’s not within our power to do so. All of the actions that have been planned have been meticulously planned so as not to pose any threat to anybody. We don’t actually see that there need to be flights grounded either. Having said that clearly it would be great if Heathrow decided to ground flights. Every flight that’s grounded is that much less greenhouse gas pumped into the atmosphere. And it directly saves lives.

“The fewer flights there are the better. But if there are no flights cancelled we’d still consider the action to be an enormous success — purely upon the basis of people being arrested.”

The current plan for the protest is to start illegally flying drones near Heathrow on September 13 — and continue for what the spokesman said could be as long as “weeks”, depending on how many volunteer pilots it can sign up. He says they “anticipate” having between 50 to 200 people willing to risk arrest by breaching drone flight law.

The intention is to keep flying drones for as long as people are willing to join the protest. “We are hoping to go for over a week,” he told us.

Given the plan has been directly communicated to police the spokesman conceded there is a possibility that the activists could face arrest before they are able to carry out the protest — which he suggested might be what Heathrow is banking on.

Anyone who flies a drone in an airport’s ‘no fly’ zone is certainly risking arrest and prosecution under UK law. Penalties for the offence range from fines to life imprisonment if a drone is intentionally used to cause violence. But the group is clearly taking pains to avoid accusations the protest poses a safety risk or threatens violence — including by publishing extensive details of their plan online, as well as communicating it to police and airport authorities.

A detailed protocol on their website sets out the various safety measures and conditions the activists are attaching to the drone action — “to ensure no living being is harmed”. Such as only using drones lighter than 7kg, and giving the airport an hour’s advance notice ahead of each drone flight.

They also say they have a protocol to shut down the protest in the event of an emergency — and will have a dedicated line of communication open to Heathrow for this purposes.

Some of the activists are scheduled to meet with police and airport authorities  tomorrow, face to face, at a London police station to discuss the planned action.

The group says it will only call off the action if the Heathrow third runway expansion is cancelled.

In an emailed statement in response to the protest, Heathrow Airport told us:

We agree with the need to act on climate change. This is a global issue that requires constructive engagement and action. Committing criminal offences and disrupting passengers is counterproductive.

Flying of any form of drone near Heathrow is illegal and any persons found doing so will be subject to the full force of the law. We are working closely with the Met Police and will use our own drone detection capability to mitigate the operational impact of any illegal use of drones near the airport.

Asked why the environmental activists have selected drones as their tool of choice for this protest, rather than deploying more traditional peaceful direct action strategies, such as trespassing on airport grounds or chaining themselves to fixed infrastructure, the Heathrow Pause spokesman told us: “Those kind of actions have been done in the past and they tend to result in very short duration of time during which very few flights are cancelled. What we are seeking to do is unprecedented in terms of the duration and the extent of the disruption that we would hope to cause.

“The reason for drones is in order to exploit this loophole in the health and safety protocols that have been presented to us — that it’s possible for a person with a toy drone that you can purchase for a couple of quid, miles away from any planes, to cause an entire airport to stop having flights. It is quite an amazing situation — and once it became apparent that that was really a possibility it almost seemed criminal not to do it.”

He added that drone technology, and the current law in the UK around how drones can be legally used, present an opportunity for activists to level up their environmental protest — “to cause so much disruption with so few people and so little effort” — that it’s simply “a no brainer”.

During last year’s Gatwick drone debacle the spokesman said he received many enquiries from journalists asking if the group was responsible for that. They weren’t — but the mass chaos caused by the spectre of a few drones being flown near Gatwick provided inspiration for using drone technology for an environmental protest.

The group’s website is hosting video interviews with some of the volunteer drone pilots who are willing to risk arrest to protest against the expansion of Heathrow Airport on environmental grounds.

In a statement there, one of them, a 64-year-old writer called Valerie Milner-Brown, said: “We are in the middle of a climate and ecological emergency. I am a law-abiding citizen — a mother and a grandmother too. I don’t want to break the law, I don’t want to go to prison, but right now we, as a species, are walking off the edge of a cliff. Life on Earth is dying. Fires are ravaging the Amazon. Our planet’s lungs are quite literally on fire. Hundreds of species are going extinct every day. We are experiencing hottest day after hottest day, and the Arctic is melting faster than scientists’ worst predictions.

“All of this means that we have to cut emissions right now, or face widespread catastrophe on an increasingly uninhabitable planet. Heathrow Airport emits 18 million tons of CO2 a year. That’s more than most countries. A third runway will produce a further 7.3 million tons of CO2. For all Life — now and in the future — we have to take action. I’m terrified but if this is what it will take to make politicians, business leaders and the media wake up, then I’m prepared to take this action and to face the consequences.”

 


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How Carl Pope helped drive a $500 million pledge to push the U.S. “Beyond Carbon” (Part 2)

22:53 | 18 July

Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg recently pledged to rapidly spend $500 million in a bid to push the U.S. “Beyond Carbon,” aiming to end this country’s use of coal and natural gas power in a generation or less.

In another recent piece, I featured an in-depth interview with Carl Pope, the veteran environmental leader who has essentially been the inspirational force behind Bloomberg’s evolution. The former New York City Mayor had never given a major gift to environmental causes as of a decade or so ago, until Pope “convinced” him to get involved.

Carl Mike Option 1

My previous piece was an attempt to understand the ethical vision influencing Bloomberg’s work, by looking at Pope’s personal story and the history of the environmental movement he has helped to shape. Below, Pope joins me again to look at the details of Bloomberg’s “Beyond Carbon” plan, including how he was able to persuade Bloomberg to take it on, and some areas of controversy that could arise as the $500 million is distributed.

Greg Epstein: You and Michael Bloomberg met around a decade ago or so, right?

Carl Pope: About 12 years ago, actually. 2007.

Epstein: Bloomberg had never given a major gift to an environmental group before he met you, and, as he writes in the book, you “convinced him” to get massively involved, to the tune now of many hundreds of millions of dollars. What do you think it is about you, the way that you approach things, or the work you do that made the two of you, in this relatively unlikely partnership, work so well?

Pope: We both like big ideas, and we both like to pursue them very pragmatically. We set very high expectations for what we want to get, and we’re willing to take necessarily small steps to get there. That’s one thing.

The second thing is, my original environmental frame was air pollution, [which] I worked on the first seven or eight years I was an environmentalist. Mike is a big public health advocate. So the fact that I was talking about saving people’s lives made a lot of sense to him.

Epstein: He talked about how you ‘showed him the numbers,’ back in 2011, on just how deadly coal actually is.

Pope: Yeah, that was the deal sealer.

Epstein: Interpersonally, what the interactions between you and him like?

Pope: We’re both public figures who are actually somewhat introspective, and so it works.

Epstein: I’ve read the “Beyond Carbon” plans as they’re presented by the Bloomberg organization. They do seem quite promising as far as broad, sweeping PR statements go.

But whether or not they will work is all in the details, right? You’re a detail-oriented person, as you just mentioned, so, what are some of the practical steps the plan calls for that you think deserve the most attention, beyond the headlines?

Pope: In A Climate of Hope, Mike and I articulated an approach to climate in which we gave our reasons for thinking that most climate leadership is going to come not from national governments but from businesses, cities, provinces, civic organizations, from the bottom up.

 


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