Taking the Pledge
Week 30, 2021
Welcome to this week’s edition of Appropriate Future, a weekly review of the convergence of sustainability, innovation, technology and public policy in the news.
Pumping misinformation through social media is a gigantic topic these days. The biggest at the moment is its contribution to the spread of the Delta variant in the willfully unvaccinated (looking at you, Mercola). But social media, where grassroots user-driven content is easily astroturfed via paid advertising channels, is now corporatized as the most modern version of what we once quaintly called “public relations”.
Multiple states and municipalities have sued fossil fuel companies over their contribution to and deception about the dangers of global warming. [Maxine Joselow in E&E News]
“When fossil fuel companies run ads telling New York City consumers and residents about their commitment to clean energy, but then tell their investors that they plan to substantially increase fossil fuel production over 10, 20, or 30 years, that’s greenwashing. That kind of behavior violates New York City’s Consumer Protection Law, and that’s why we’re asking the court to hold these companies accountable.”
Hilary Meltzer, chief of the Environmental Law Division of the New York City Law Department
Meanwhile, many corporations are embracing a climate pledge, with over half the Fortune 500 having already announced emissions targets, which makes for splashy opportunities in the press. [Jocelyn Timperly in The Guardian]
Corporations are losing the ability to merely issue feel-good statements and not deliver results. An MSCI analysis found that many corporations are still on course to exceed the total amount of emissions they can release and still keep in line with 1.5C of warming within the next six years. Hopefully, investor and consumer attention will not wane, and we can all collectively “keep the heat on” (so to speak) corporations to follow through. [MSCI Net Zero Tracker]
On to the links and news.
· Oceans must be recognized for their important role in limiting climate change, scientists say. Up to 200 million metric tons of CO2 could be captured annually by mangroves, seagrasses, salt marshes and kelp forests. [Sara Schonhardt in Scientific American]
· Wildfires in Oregon and Washington are burning through acres of forest that were used as carbon storage to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. [Debra Kahn, Lorraine Woellert and Catherine Boudreau,in Politico]
· What will it take to create the first net-zero city? [Open Access Government]
· Rethinking plastic waste to curb CO2, with a focus on building circular economies for cement, aluminum, steel, plastics and food. [Jill Martin in Sustainable Brands]
· Recommendations on how to burnish the eco-credentials for your brand. [Rosie Murray-West in METRO]
· The Indiana Department of Transportation and Purdue University wants to build a stretch of highway that would charge electric cars as they drive with magnetic concrete. [Rebecca Thiele in WFYI]
· Microsoft India to deploy new AI model for predicting urban heatwave risks in India. An earlier model was successfully tested for cyclones and floods in disaster prone coastal areas in the country. [Economic Times]
· Navigator CO2 Ventures and other propose building pipelines from North Dakota to Illinois to capture carbon dioxide at ethanol refineries and transport to sites where it could be buried thousands of feet underground. [Stephen Groves, AP]
· Cleantech in Israel is flourishing. [Dmytro Spilka in The Times of Israel]
Tech + Policy meet at the continued fallout from the NSO/Pegasus project revelations [overview via The Verge]:
Amnesty International calls for a moratorium on the sale and use of surveillance technology. Government use of Israeli malware to spy on journalists, activists and heads of state have “exposed a global human rights crisis” [Al Jazeera]
“The law of the jungle cannot prevail any longer. The Pegasus affair must serve as the trigger for adopting a general moratorium on the surveillance technology exports and for starting work on an international regulation worthy of the name.” [Iris de Villars, Reporters Without Borders]
But, we’ve known about Pegasus and NSO for years [see VICE article from 2018, or NYT Opinion in 2019]. What’s changed? The exposure that customers are not just using it to track criminals, but to instead track political rivals — instead of a way to protect people, it’s being used to protect people in power.
NSO’s statement: “Millions of people around the world are sleeping well at night, and safely walking in the streets, thanks to Pegasus and similar technologies which help intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies around the world to prevent and investigate crime, terrorism, and paedophilia rings that are hiding under the umbrella of end-to-end encryption apps.” [Business Standard]
How to secure your phone. [The Intercept]
· Worried about your increased use of Netflix and Zoom on your carbon footprint? Reducing your app, thus data center power usage, at an individual level isn’t going to save the planet. [Sara Kiley Watson in PopSci]
· That’s not to say data centers are like a neighborhood lemonade stand in the scheme of things: the data center industry consumes 200 TWh of electricity (that’s a lot) and growing. They also use a lot of water to keep buildings cool, and burn diesel onsite for supplemental power. Companies need a solid sustainability strategy at work in their data centers. [Chris Pennington in Data Center Dynamics]
· And that’s also not to say that the footprint of streaming your favorite show isn’t without a massive long tail that contributes mightily to emissions: from mining the minerals needed to build your phone, to the economies that provide the labor to assemble them, all the way through the labyrinth of math that powers the you-might-also-like recommendations. It might seem like ephemeral pixels on a screen, but there’s a supply chain that is more reality than virtual. [Definitely check out from 2018, Crawford & Joler, Anatomy of an AI System]
· The people of Appalachia need to be at the table, and not on the menu, when it comes to a clean energy transformation. [Ted Boettner in Clean Technica]
· The Russian government adopts its first-ever greenhouse gas law as a part of a national climate package, which also includes the possible participation of Russian companies in international carbon trading under the Paris Climate Agreement. [Global Compliance]
· Ramping up investment in policies and technologies to tackle climate change could play a significant role in the global economy’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. “Effectively by 2030 the cost of renewable electricity is going to be half that of coal and gas sourced electricity,” Charles Dumas, chief economist at U.K.-based investment research firm TS Lombard. [Jonathan Keane in CNBC]
· The German National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) targets ~40% of the funds on fostering zero-emissions mobility, developing hydrogen capabilities and enabling climate-friendly construction and renovation. [Christoph P. Kiefer in Eurasia Review]
And, lastly, the Good Link of the Week: