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Main article: Greenhouse gas

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Impossible adds ‘ground pork’ and ‘sausages’ to its lineup of plant-based foods

04:13 | 8 January

Impossible Foods made huge waves in the food industry when it came up with a way of isolating and using “heme” molecules from plants to mimic the blood found in animal meat (also comprised of heme), bringing a new depth of flavor to its vegetarian burger.

This week at CES, the company is presenting the next act in its mission to get the average consumer to switch to more sustainable, plant-based proteins: it unveiled its version of pork — specifically ground pork, which will be sold as a basic building block for cooking as well as in sausage form. It’s a critical step, given that pork is the most-eaten animal product in the world.

Impossible has set up shop in CES’s outdoor area, situated near a line of food trucks, and it will be cooking food for whoever wants to come by. (I tasted a selection of items made from the new product — a steamed bun, a meatball, some noodles and a lettuce wrap — and the resemblance is uncanny, and not bad at all.) And after today, the new product will be making its way first to selected Burger King restaurants in the US before appearing elsewhere.

It may sound a little far-fetched to see a food startup exhibiting and launching new products at a consumer electronics show, attended by 200,000 visitors who will likely by outnumbered by the number of TVs, computers, phones, and other electronic devices on display. Indeed, Impossible is the only food exhibitor this year.

But if you ask Pat Brown, the CEO and founder of Impossible Foods (pictured right, at the sunny CES stand in the cold wearing a hat), the company is in precisely the right place.

“To me it’s very natural to be at CES,” he said in an interview this week at the show. “The food system is the most important technology on earth. It is absolutely a technology, and an incredibly important one, even if it doesn’t get recognised as such. The use of animals as a food technology is the most destructive on earth. And when Impossible was founded, it was to address that issue. We recognised it as a technology problem.”

That is also how Impossible has positioned itself as a startup. Its emergence (it was founded 2011) dovetailed with an interesting shift in the world of tech. The number of startups were booming, fuelled by VC money and a boom in smartphones and broadband. At the same time, we were starting to see a new kind of startup emerging built on technology but disrupting a wide range of areas not traditionally associated with technology. Technology VCs, looking for more opportunities (and needing to invest increasingly larger funds), were opening themselves up to consider more of the latter opportunities.

Impossible has seized the moment. It has raised around $777 million to date from a list of investors more commonly associated with tech companies — they include Khosla, Temasek, Horizons Ventures, GV, and a host of celebrities — and Impossible is now estimated to be valued at around $4 billion. Brown told me it is currently more than doubling revenues annually.  

With his roots in academia, the idea of Brown (who has also done groundbreaking work in HIV research) founding and running a business is perhaps as left-field a development as a food company making the leap from commodity or packaged good business to tech. Before Impossible, Brown said that he had “zero interest” in becoming an entrepreneur: the bug that has bitten so many others at Stanford (where he was working prior to founding Impossible) had not bitten him.

“I had an awesome job where I followed my curiosity, working on problems that I found interesting and important with great colleagues,” he said.

That changed when he began to realise the scale of the problem resulting from the meat industry, which has led to a well-catalogued list of health, economic and environmental impacts (including increased greenhouse gas emissions and the removal of natural ecosystems to make way for farming land. “It is the most important and consequential issue for the future of the world, and so the solution has to be market-based,” he said. “The only way we can replace themes that are this destructive is by coming up with a better technology and competing.”

Pork is a necessary step in that strategy to compete. America, it seems, is all about beef and chicken when it comes to eating animals. But pigs and pork take the cake when you consider meat consumption globally, accounting for 38% of all meat production, with 47 pigs killed on average every second of every day. Asia, and specifically China, figure strongly in that demand. Consumption of pork in China has increased 140% since 1990, Impossible notes.

Pigs’ collective footprint in the world is also huge: there are 1.44 billion of them, and their collective biomass totals 175 kg, twice as much as the biomass of all wild terrestrial vertebrates, Impossible says.

Whether Impossible’s version of pork will be enough or just an incremental step is another question. Ground meat is not the same as creating structured proteins that mimic the whole-cuts that are common (probably more common) when it comes to how pork is typically cooked (ditto for chicken and beef and other meats).

That might likely require more capital and time to develop.

For now, Impossible is focused on building out its business on its own steam: it’s not entertaining any thoughts of selling up, or even of licensing out its IP for isolating and using soy leghemoglobin — the essential “blood” that sets its veggie proteins apart from other things on the market. (I think of licensing out that IP, as the equivalent of how a tech company might white label or create APIs for third parties to integrate its cool stuff into their services.)

That means there will be inevitable questions down the line about how Impossible will capitalise to meet demand for its products. Brown said that for now there are no plans for IPOs or to raise more externally, but pointed out that it would have no problem doing either.

Indeed, the company has built up an impressive bench of executives and other talent to meet those future scenarios. Earlier this year, Impossible hired Dennis Woodside — the former Dropbox, Google and Motorola star– as its first president. And its CFO, David Lee, joined from Zynga back in 2015, with a stint also in the mass-market food industry, having been at Del Monte prior to that.

Lee told me that the company has essentially been running itself as a public company internally in preparation for a time when it might follow in the footsteps of its biggest competitor, Beyond Meat, and go public.

“From a tech standpoint I’m absolutely confident that we can outperform what we get from animals in affordability, nutrition and deliciousness,” said Brown. “This entire industry is most destructive by far and has major responsibility in terms of climate and biodiversity, but it going to be history and we are going to replace it.”

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

 


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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.

 


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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.”

 


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Dutch startup Meatable is developing lab-grown pork and has $10 million in new financing to do it

20:22 | 6 December

Meatable, the Dutch startup developing cruelty-free technologies for manufacturing cultured meat, is pivoting to pork production as a swine flu epidemic ravages one quarter of the world’s pork supply — and has raised $10 million in financing to support its new direction.

When the company unveiled its technology last year, it was one of several companies working on the production of meat derived from animal cells — a method of meat production that theoretically has a far smaller carbon emissions footprint and is better for the environment than traditional animal farming.

At the time, it was one of several companies including Memphis Meats, Future Meat Technologies, Aleph Farms, HigherSteaks, and many, many pursuing technologies to bring cultured beef to market. Now, as pork prices rise globally, Meatable becomes one of the first companies to publicly shift gears and turn its attention to the other white meat.

That’s not the only way that the company is setting itself apart from its peers in the market. Meatable is also  an early claimant to a commercially viable, patented process for manufacturing meat cells without the need to kill an animal as a prerequisite for cell differentiation and growth.

Other companies have relied on fetal bovine serum or chinese hamster ovaries to stimulate cell division and production, but Meatable says it has developed a process where it can sample tissue from an animal, revert that tissue to a pluripotent stem cell, and then culture that cell sample into muscle and fat to produce the pork products that palates around the world crave.

We know which DNA sequence is responsible for moving an early stage cell to a muscle cell,” says Meatable chief executive Krijn De Nood. 

To pursue its new path the company has raised $7 million from a slew of angel and institutional investors and a $3 million grant from the European Commission . Angel investors include Taavet Hinrikus, the chief executive and co-founder of TransferWise and Albert Wenger, a managing partner at the New York-based venture firm, Union Square Ventures.

Meatable’s De Nood says that the new cash will be used to accelerate the development of its prototype. The small scale bioreactor which the company had initially targeted for development in 2021 will now be ready by 2020 and the company is hoping to have an industry scale plant online manufacturing thousands of kilograms of meat by 2025, according to De Nood.

Industrial farming is responsible for between 14% and 18% of the greenhouse gas emissions linked to global climate change and Meatable argues that cultured (lab-grown) meat has the potential to use 96% less water and 99% less land than industrial farming. Powering facilities using renewable energy could further . reduce . emissions associated with meat production, according to Meatable.

 


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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.”

 

 


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Heliogen’s new tech could unlock renewable energy for industrial manufacturing

14:01 | 19 November

Last Monday a group of millionaires and billionaires took a trip to an industrial site in Lancaster, Calif. to witness the achievement of what could represent a giant leap forward in the effort to decarbonize some of the world’s most carbon intensive industries.

For Bill Gross, the founder of Idealab and brains behind the excursion, the unveiling was simply the latest in a string of demonstrations for new technologies commercialized by his nearly three-decade old startup company incubator. However, it may be the most significant.

What Gross is pursuing with his new company, Heliogen, offers a way forward for renewable energy to be applied to manufacturing processes for cement, lime, coke, and steel — some of the most energy intensive and polluting industries that exist in the world today.

“Today, industrial processes like those used to make cement, steel, and other materials are responsible for more than a fifth of all emissions,” said Bill Gates, a Heliogen backer who has committed millions of dollars to the development of new renewable energy technologies. “These materials are everywhere in our lives but we don’t have any proven breakthroughs that will give us affordable, zero-carbon versions of them. If we’re going to get to zero carbon emissions overall, we have a lot of inventing to do. I’m pleased to have been an early backer of Bill Gross’s novel solar concentration technology. Its capacity to achieve the high temperatures required for these processes is a promising development in the quest to one day replace fossil fuel.”

According to Gross, Kittu Kollaru, an investor in Heliogen who is also backing another of Idealab’s incubated companies working on developing an energy storage technology, Energy Vault, said after seeing the demonstration, “Bill… this is even bigger.”

At its core, Heliogen is taking a well-known technology called concentrated solar power, and improving its ability to generate heat with new computer vision, sensing and control technologies, says Gross. \

Four high resolution cameras capture real time video of a field of mirrors that are controlled by sensors to focus the sun’s energy on a particular spot. That spot, either at a transmission pipe used to transport gas, or a tower, is heated to over 1,000 degrees Celsius. Previous commercial concentrating solar thermal systems could only reach temperatures of 565 degrees Celsius, the company said. That’s useful for generating power, but can’t meet the needs of industrial processes. 

Achieving temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius gives manufacturing facilities the opportunity to replace the use of fossil fuels in a significant portion of their operations.

A facility hoping to install Heliogen’s technology (Image courtesy of Heliogen)

“They already have a power source/burner that is variable, based on the flow rate of materials, and is servo controlled to have the correct air flow exit temperature,” says Gross of many existing industrial operations. “So when we add heat (when the sun is out) the fossil fuel burner just automatically gets scaled back like a thermostat on a room heater (albeit at much higher temperature).  So it’s a seamless control integration.”

A plant could still operate on a 24-hour production schedule, and could still use fossil fuels, says Gross. But by deploying the Heliogen system, companies could reduce their fossil fuel consumption by up to 60%, according to the serial entrepreneur and investor. Gross believes that Heliogen’s systems will pay for themselves in a two-to-three year timeframe if companies buy the system outright, or Heliogen could manage the installation for a manufacturer and just charge them for the cost of the power.

Gross has been testing smaller versions of Heliogen’s industrial heating technology at a field with an array of 70 mirrors to prove that the super-concentrating technology could work. A full scale facility covers roughly two acres of land with mirrors and a tower where the rays are concentrated. “It’s like a death ray,” Gross said of the concentrated solar beams.

While initial applications for Heliogen’s technology will concentrate on industrial applications, longer term, Gross sees an opportunity to drive down the cost of Hydrogen production at an industrial scale. Long believed to be one of the keys to global decarbonization, Hydrogen’s use as a fuel source has been limited because it’s difficult to make without using fossil fuels.

Hydrogen’s importance to a carbon-free energy future can’t be overstated, according to energy advocates and longtime renewable energy entrepreneurs and investors like Jigar Shah. The founder and former chief executive of solar installation company, SunRun, Shah now invests in renewabel energy projects.

“As we move closer to 100% clean electricity grids, it will be necessary to not just store excess electricity production from the spring and fall, but to turn all of this excess electricity to valuable commodities that can help decarbonize other sectors outside of electricity — transportation, industrial heat, and chemicals,” Shah wrote in an article on LinkedIn. “That’s where hydrogen comes into play.”

Investors in Heliogen include venture capital firm Neotribe and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire Los Angeles-based investor and entrepreneur, who owns the Los Angeles Times and an investment conglomerate. THe investmente was made through Dr. Soon-Shiong’s investment firm, Nant Capital.

“For the sake of our future generations we must address the existential danger of climate change with an extreme sense of urgency,” said Dr. Soon-Shiong, in a statement. “I am committed to using my resources to invest in innovative technologies that harness the power of nature and the sun. By significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and generating a pure source of energy, Heliogen’s brilliant technology will help us achieve this mission and also meaningfully improve the world we leave our children.”

 


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To curb lobbying power, Elizabeth Warren wants to reinstate the Office of Technology Assessment

16:02 | 27 September

In a move to correct the imbalance of power between technologically sophisticated corporations and the lawmakers who regulate them, presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren is proposing that Congress reinstate the Office of Technology Assessment.

It’s a move that gets deep into the weeds of how policy making in Washington works, but it’s something that Warren sees as essential to leveling the playing field between well-paid corporate lobbyists who are experts in their fields and over-worked under-staffed congressional members who lack independent analysts to explain highly technical issues.

“Lobbyists are filling in the gaps in congressional resources and expertise by providing Congress information from the perspective of their paying corporate clients. So let’s fix it,” writes Warren.

It’s one of the key planks in Warren’s latest policy proposal and an attempt to tip the scales against corporations and their lobbyists. With the move Warren clearly has her eye on technology companies and their representatives, who often are the very people Congressional lawmakers rely on to explain how rule-making would impact their industries.

“[Members] of Congress aren’t just dependent on corporate lobbyist propaganda because they’re bought and paid for. It’s also because of a successful, decades-long campaign to starve Congress of the resources and expertise needed to independently evaluate complex public policy questions,” Warren writes.

“For every bad faith actor in Congress bought off by the big banks, there are others who are genuinely trying to grapple with the technical aspects of financial reform. But as the issues facing Congress have grown more complex, resources to objectively and independently analyze them have been slashed. Republicans eliminated an independent office of experts dedicated to advising Congress on technical and scientific information,” the Senator says.

The lack of independent analysis stymies Congressional oversight in areas from banking and finance reform, to the oversight of technology companies, to the potential to effectively pass laws that will respond to the threat of climate change. Committees that oversee science and technology have seen their staff levels fall by over 40 percent in the past decade, according to Warren and staff salaries have failed to keep up with inflation, meaning that policymakers in Washington can’t compete for the same level of talent that private companies and lobbyists can afford several times over.

Sen. Warren saw this firsthand when she worked at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau .

“Financial reform was complicated, and the bank lobbyists used a clever technique: They bombarded the members of Congress with complex arguments filled with obscure terms. Whenever a congressman pushed back on an idea, the lobbyists would explain that although the congressman seemed to be making a good point, he didn’t really understand the complex financial system,” she writes. “And keep in mind, the lobbyists would tell the congressman, that if you get this wrong, you will bring down the global economy.”

The inability of lawmakers to understand basic facts about the technologies they’re tasked with regulating was on full display during the Senate hearings into the role technology companies played in the Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Issues from net neutrality to end-to-end encryption, or online advertising to the reduction of carbon emissions all rely on Congress having a sound understanding of those issues and how regulation may change an industry.

Right now, it’s case of which multi-billion dollar company can buy the best lobbyists — as is the case with Alphabet and Yelp or Facebook and Snap.

Under the auspices of Warren’s anti-corruption plan, the Senator is calling for the reinstatement and modernization of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, a significant increase to salaries for congressional staffers and stronger funding for agencies that support congressional lawmaking.

The OTA was created in the seventies to help members of Congress understand science and technology issues that they’d be regulating. Over the tenure of the agency, it created over 750 reports — including two landmark studies on the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming in the 90s, which brought it to the attention of conservative lawmakers that defunded it in 1995.

At the time, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said the agency was “used by liberals to cover up political ideology.”

Under Warren’s plan the OTA would be lead by an independent director to avoid partisan manipulation. The newly re-formed agency would have the power to commission its own reports and respond to requests from lawmakers to weigh in on rule-making, help congressional legislators prepare for hearings, and write regulatory letters.

Warren also calls for funding to be increased for the other congressional support agencies — the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Government Accountability Office. Combined these agencies have lost half of their staff.

Money for the increased activities of the agencies would come from a tax on “excessive lobbying”. The . goal would be “to reverse these cuts and further strengthen support agencies that members of Congress rely on for independent information,” according to the Warren plan.

“These reforms are vital parts of my plan to free our government from the grip of lobbyists – and restore the public’s trust in its government in the process,” Warren writes.

 


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Amazon’s “climate pledge” commits to net zero carbon emissions by 2040 and 100% renewables by 2030

19:30 | 19 September

In Washington today, Amazon announced a series of initiatives and issued call for companies to reduce their carbon emissions ten years ahead of the goals set forth in the Paris Agreement as part of sweeping effort to reduce its own environmental footprint.

“We’re done being in the middle of the herd on this issue—we’ve decided to use our size and scale to make a difference,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and chief executive, in a statement. “If a company with as much physical infrastructure as Amazon—which delivers more than 10 billion items a year—can meet the Paris Agreement 10 years early, then any company can.”

Bezos’ statement comes as employees at his own company and others across the tech industry plan for a walkout on Friday to protest inaction on climate change from their employers.

Amazon’s initiatives include an order for 100,000 delivery vehicles to Rivian, a company in which Amazon has previously invested $440 million.

Electric vans will appear on roads by 2021 and Amazon expects to have 10,000 of the new electric vehicles on the road by 2022 and 100,000 by 2030. The fleet is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 4 million metric tons per year by 2030, the company said.

In addition, Amazon said it would commit another $100 million to reforestation projects through the Right Now Climate Fund in partnership with The Nature Conservancy. That fund will invest in the protection of forests, wetlands and peatlands that now serve as carbon sinks which remove millions of metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere.

Finally, the . company said it will speed up its adoption of renewable energy with the goal of converting 80 percent of the company’s energy sources to renewable energy by 2024, with the goal of reaching 100% renewable energy use by 2030.

Amazon has already initiated 15 utility-scale wind and solar renewable energy projects that will generate 1.3 gigawatts of renewable capacity and deliver some 3.8 million megawatt hours of clean energy, according to the company.

All of these efforts will be backstopped by a new sustainability reporting initiative, which will be housed on a new website monitoring and tracking the company’s progress toward its sustainability goals, the company said.

These steps are part of a push from Amazon to get other companies to sign on to a global non-binding agreement . to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy and the reduction of carbon emissions.

Companies that sign on to Amazon-inspired “Climate Pledge” agree to measure and report greenhouse gas emissions regularly; implement decarbonization strategies on a timeline that matches the Paris Agreement; and neutralize remaining emissions with quantifiable and permanent offsets to achieve net zero annual carbon emissions by 2040.

“I’ve been talking with other CEOs of global companies, and I’m finding a lot of interest in joining the pledge. Large companies signing The Climate Pledge will send an important signal to the market that it’s time to invest in the products and services the signatories will need to meet their commitments,” Bezos said in a statement.

The initiative is backed by international political luminaries like Christiana Figueres, the former climate change chief and founding partner of Amazon’s collaborator on the Climate Pledge, Global Optimism.

“Bold steps by big companies will make a huge difference in the development of new technologies and industries to support a low carbon economy,” said Figueres, in a statement. “With this step, Amazon also helps many other companies to accelerate their own decarbonization. If Amazon can set ambitious goals like this and make significant changes at their scale, we think many more companies should be able to do the same and will accept the challenge. We are excited to have others join.”

 


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Tesla’s new V3 Supercharger can charge up to 1,500 electric vehicles a day

05:02 | 19 July

Tesla has opened a massive next-generation electric vehicle charging station in Las Vegas that combines the company’s core products into one sustainable energy ecosystem, fulfilling a vision CEO Elon Musk laid out nearly three years ago.

The new V3 Supercharger, which supports a peak rate of up to 250 kilowatts, is designed to dramatically cut charging times for its electric vehicles. Tesla unveiled its first V3 Supercharger in March at its Fremont, Calif. factory. A second V3 Supercharger is located in Hawthorne, Calif., near the Tesla Design Studio. Both of these locations, which were initially used as test sites, lack two key Tesla products.

This new location in Las Vegas is considered the first V3 Supercharger. It’s notable, and not just because of the size — there are 39 total chargers in all. This V3 Supercharger also uses Tesla solar panels and its Powerpack batteries to generate and store the power needed to operate the chargers. The result is a complete system that generates its own energy and passes it along to thousands of Tesla vehicles.

The new Supercharger, located off the Las Vegas Strip, below the High Roller on the LINQ promenade, was built on Caesars Entertainment property. The site is part of Caesars Entertainment’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2025.

There are caveats to the capabilities of this Supercharger station. Only one Tesla vehicle — the Model 3 Long Range iteration — can charge at the peak rate of 250 kW. The 250 kW results in up to 180 miles of range added to the battery in 15 minutes on a Model 3 Long Range.

The company’s new Model S and Model X vehicles can charge up to a 200 kW rate.

However, even older Model S and X vehicles and more basic versions of the Model 3 will experience faster charging rates at this location because there is no power sharing, a standard practice at Tesla’s other charging stations.

Improvements to charging times are critical for the company as it sells more Model 3 vehicles, its highest volume car. Wait times at some popular Supercharger stations can be lengthy. Early adopters might have been content to wait, but as new Tesla customers come online that patience could dwindle. And as more of these V3 Superchargers come online, potential customers might be encouraged to buy the pricier long range version Model 3.

Tesla has said in the past that these improvements will allow the Supercharger network to serve more than twice as many vehicles per day at the end of 2019 compared with today.

The V3 is not a retrofit of the company’s previous generations. It’s an architecture shift that includes a new 1 MW power cabinet, similar to the company’s utility-scale products, and a liquid-cooled cable design, which enables charge rates of up to 1,000 miles per hour. Tesla uses air-cooled cables on V2 Superchargers.

 


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Y Combinator-backed Project Wren is aiming to make carbon offsets more consumer friendly

22:09 | 7 July

When Landon Brand and Benjamin Stansfield graduated from the University of Southern California this year, they already had the plans for Project Wren, their service for selling carbon offsets to a new generation of conscious consumers.

Along with fellow co-founder Mimi Tran Zambetti (who’s still attending USC), Brand and Stansfield aim to make carbon offsets more accessible to people who may feel like there’s nothing they can do on a personal level to reduce their carbon footprint or support projects that reduce carbon emissions. 

It’s not a novel concept. In 2004, TerraPass launched its service to provide carbon offsets for consumers. The company was acquired in 2014 and now operates as a subsidiary of the publicly traded Canadian retail energy company, Just Energy.

Since TerraPass, other organizations have come in with services to offset consumer and corporate carbon emissions. The Swiss non-profit MyClimate is another organization working on offsets for corporations and individuals (as is the German non-profit, Atmosfair) and the North American public benefit corporation, NativeEnergy also has both a retail and corporate offset program.

Project Wren sources its offset investments from Project Drawdown and is trying to choose the projects that the company’s founders consider “most additional”, according to Brand.

Brand, Stansfield and Tran Zambetti met at USC while pursuing a bachelor of science degree in USC’s new Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy. The two men are the co-founders of Beats, which sold to Apple for roughly $3 billion, but perhaps are more famous for their work in the music business as the co-founder of Interscope records and the rapper and producer known as Dr. Dre.

From the outset the three students worked together on side projects and in student organizations, and decided last year to launch a sustainable business that could impact consumers in a positive way. The first idea, and the one that was initially incorporated as Project Wren, was to develop an algorithmically enhanced software service to promote diversity and inclusion in companies.

“The idea was promising, but it’s a hard product to sell. Companies aren’t used to leveraging software to help build their culture,” Brand wrote in an email. “Trying to get people to use the product made us realize how difficult it is to build something that’s useful and good for the world. If we were going to build a company around doing good, it would take a decade or more.”

The group convened earlier this year and decided, after spending a year working on their idea, that the over ten years it would take to build a successful business was too long for them to see the impact they wanted to make in the world. “We felt like the mission of making companies a better place to work was important, but not urgent,” Brand wrote to me in an email. “Climate change is urgent. It’s the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. That’s why we decided to pivot.”

The group then decided that they would pool their resources on another project — a vegan cloud kitchen that could potentially become a franchise or chain.

“Meat production is responsible for as much as 20% of greenhouse gas emissions,” Brand wrote. “If we could make eating vegan food easier than eating meat, we would have a huge impact.”

The group ran a cloud kitchen out of Brand’s apartment for two weeks before deciding that, too, ultimately was a wash for the three young co-founders.

With that idea behind them, the three began researching carbon offsets, which led them to Project Drawdown, which led them to build their current website and, ultimately, Y Combinator .

Customers who buy offsets using Wren will support projects that the company has selected for their additionality (meaning the projects would not have been done without the support of organizations like Wren). Once the offsets are purchased Project Wren retires them from circulation so they can’t be traded on any exchange after their creation.

The company makes money by taking a 20% commission above the price of the project for operating expenses and marketing, says Brand.

What Brand sees as the young company’s competitive advantage is its ability to communicate more directly with a new audience of offset acquirers — engaging them more in the process by providing updates on the project.

“Photos, and stories too, from people on the ground will add a more human, real, touch,” to the projects and their reporting back to carbon offset buyers, according to Brand. “We just talk to a bunch of potential partners and see which partners would be able to give unique compelling updates to our users.”

 


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