Week 29, 2021
Welcome to this week’s edition of AppropriateFuture, a weekly review of the convergence of technology, sustainability, innovation, and public policy in the news.
Sometimes topics expand in a given week, as the idiom goes, to suck all the air out of the room. In this case it’s the dominance of direct air carbon capture — literally sucking the carbon out of the atmosphere — that is getting press, investment, and criticism:
The noise, news and hype are feeding a perception that carbon removal will be cheap, simple, scalable, and reliable—none of which we can count on.
The carbon-capture chemistry we have today is too expensive. It works, and it makes economic sense in a few settings. But to meet the global-consensus goal of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 and dodge the worst consequences of climate change, we need to deploy more than 150 times as much carbon-capture capacity as we have now. That means reducing costs and making more options available for a wide range of CO2 emission sources.
The main criticism is that betting on carbon capture, at this point, is too risky to bet the planet on. But it is undoubtedly true that carbon capture in some form will be a big and profitable market — thus investment has exploded (see below for $$ on VC in Clean Tech, too), a sampling of investment announced this week:
Storrega Geotechnologies has raised funds to design and built it’s flagship Acorn project, to collect carbon dioxide emissions from industries across Scotland for storage in depleted North Sea reservoirs. [Mark Williamson in The Glasgow Herald]
Black & Veatch receives $2.5 million in federal funding to advance direct air capture (DAC) technology. [Yahoo Finance]
Bill Gates’ clean energy advocacy group Breakthrough Energy, has launched a new finance vehicle to support long-duration storage capable of storing energy for months at a time, sustainable aviation fuels, direct air capture of carbon dioxide and making green hydrogen much cheaper than the alternative. [Renewables Now]
Good news: Last year, the world’s renewable electricity generation capacity grew at a record pace, with 358 TWh of capacity added, and demand for fossil-fuel-fired electricity generation has peaked across developing nations. Also, El Salvador’s first major wind project began operating at a commercial scale. [Sustainability Success Stories of The Week in Edie; also from the NRDC]
Virgin Money's Clydesdale Bank has invested £6 million to acquire Richard Maxwell Limited, and accelerate supply of renewable heating to bespoke poultry sheds by replacing fossil fuel heating with either wood chip or pellet systems. [Gordon Davidson in The Scottish Farmer]
Blyth, a former industrial port and coal town which is now home to some of the first offshore wind farms in the UK, is hosting an art exhibition which aims to foster discussion about the changes, and encourage reflection on renewable energy. [Laureen Fagan in Sustainability Times]
Innovation and 💰
Investors have already closed as many climate-focused funds as were raised during the previous five years combined. In the first half of 2021 VC-backed climate tech companies have raised more than $14.2 billion worldwide— almost 90% of the total for all of 2020. [Priyamvada Mathur in Pitchbook]
Ubuntoo, raises a $3.3M seed round to build a marketplace between those working on sustainability goals at large corporations, government bureaus, etc., with startups and researchers who are coming up with new and novel ways to make the world more sustainable. [Maija Ehlinger in Hypepotamus]
For the past decade clean tech startups, especially due to the 2011 failure of Solyndra, have been struggling to raise the funds needed for takeoff. But a new flood of cash is helping startups get from laboratory to market. [Scott Patterson in the WSJ]
Three big stories this week out of the crossing point of Big Tech and Everyone is Just A Data Source:
First off: Facebook is “killing people”with vaccine disinformation Cat Zakrzewski in the Washington Post
But Facebook still isn’t sharing a key statistic: how many people have seen vaccine misinformation on the platform. It's part of a broader pattern of little transparency from the company, which has sought to downplay its role in spreading vaccine misinformation amid growing pressure from the White House and the surgeon general. Independent researchers and journalists have pressed the company for years to make more data available so they can study the impact of Facebook on society.
But then, (#2):
News about the Pegasus data leak, powered by software from the Israeli firm NSO Group, which can enable keystroke monitoring (i.e. email, text, passwords), tracking phone calls and location, and hijacking the microphone and camera. Governments used its software to target journalists, dissidents and opposition politicians. [Ronen Bergman and Patrick Kingsley in the NYT]
The UN human rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said the use of spying software targeted at journalists and politicians was “extremely alarming” and confirmed “some of the worst fears” surrounding the misuse of such technology. If recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are even partly true, she maintained that the “red line has been crossed again and again with total impunity”. [The United Nations News]
But, you don’t need to be an evil government to spy on people. You can just buy private phone tracking data extracted from mobile ad systems (#3):
Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill was ousted as general secretary of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops when de-anonymized mobile phone location data was publicly reported, revealing sensitive and previously private details about his life.
Burrill’s case is “hugely significant,” said Alan Butler, executive director of the Electronic Information Privacy Center: “It’s a clear and prominent example of the exact problem that folks in my world, privacy advocates and experts, have been screaming from the rooftops for years, which is that uniquely identifiable data is not anonymous.” [The Pillar]
Advocates are disappointed with Senate Democrats' $3.5 trillion budget resolution. They say it doesn't do enough to tackle global warming. [Rachel Frazin in The Hill]
Critics accuse Shell and other major oil firms of funding tens of millions of dollars to the American Petroleum Institute as cover for the industry, who lobbies behind the scenes in Congress to stall or weaken environmental legislation. [Chris McGreal in The Guardian’s Climate Crime]
Renewed federal focus on ESG issues will bolster the SEC’s effort to create new rules, such as: firms that want to go public may have to seriously consider board diversity or environmental reporting in conjunction with — or well in advance of — their debuts. [Anthony Cimino in Techcrunch]
“Now we’ve entered into this new paradigm where the environment is changing fast, and our infrastructure is not designed to change quickly.”: Urban centers are more prone to flooding than other areas because streets, parking lots, and buildings don’t allow water to seep into the ground the way it would in a forest or grassland. Stormwater infrastructure around the country is aging, and many governments have resorted to piecemeal solutions, as proper modernization would cost in the billions. [Casey Crownhart in MIT Tech Review]
And Finally, The Good Link: Via the venerable BoingBoing