Climate

The IPCC to humanity: We can’t wait for carbon dioxide removal to save us

The latest climate report, dubbed an “atlas of human suffering,” also warns that we need to cut carbon with the tools we have rather than waiting for a silver bullet.

Sign that says "There is no Planet B"

The IPCC's report shows we need to act right now.

Photo: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

Do you like having a habitable climate? If so, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has a few tips on how to keep it that way.

The world’s leading body of climate scientists dropped its latest report on Monday. There’s no shortage of bad news in it, including the fact that current climate policies could still result in up to nearly 30% of all species being wiped off the face of the Earth, and up to $12.7 trillion (yes, that’s a T) in coastal assets is at risk of inundation by the end of this century under a middle-of-the-road scenario. As your friendly climate correspondent, I would normally keep going down that road. But not today, Satan.

Instead, I want to talk about the good parts of the IPCC. Well, “good.” The report shows that we still have a choice to address climate change. Importantly, it lays out that we also have the technology needed right now — and that if we wait for some silver bullet that venture capital is increasingly investing in, we could face serious harm.

This iteration of the IPCC focuses on how to adapt our entire world for a new climate. That includes the energy system. It finds that we can not just reduce the impacts of climate change by investing in renewable and decentralized energy systems by cutting carbon pollution, but we can also reduce society’s vulnerability to climate change.

There are already myriad examples to point to, from Puerto Ricans with rooftop solar who had power after Hurricane Maria to some Tesla owners using their cars to stay warm during last year’s Texas blackouts. (Both those disasters also show the vulnerabilities of a fossil fuel-powered grid.) These types of distributed power systems are just the tip of the iceberg. The IPCC also references microgrids, basically self-contained grids that can power neighborhoods, as another tool that can keep the lights on and reduce air pollution, particularly in disadvantaged communities.

These are not exactly splashy solutions, though no shade to solar panels. Instead, we’ve seen an increasing interest, particularly among venture capitalists, in carbon dioxide removal. The full 3,675-page report notes that all the scenarios the IPCC runs where we limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — a target that’s crucial to the continued existence of small island states and millions of other people around the world — require some form of carbon dioxide removal to stabilize the climate. However, the report warns of “trade-offs” and the risk of maladaptation if we put too many eggs in the carbon removal basket.

There are lots of ways to suck carbon dioxide from the sky. Planting trees and growing kelp are some of the more natural ways to do it. Other options focus on new, unproven technologies that pull the climate pollutant from the air. While we need to figure out how to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at scale, the report shows there are a few pitfalls.

Marc Benioff has pushed the idea of planting 1 trillion trees. I love forests as much as the next person — I was a freaking park ranger — but figuring out where to put those trees is a whole other story. Tree planting at the scale needed to reduce carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere could mean turning farmland into forests, which would have an impact on food security. If the past is any prologue, it’s not like the world has a great track record of ensuring burdens are shouldered equitably, meaning that a tree-planting program could fall on the Global South.

There are also questions on what exactly all those trees would look like; would it be a monocrop focused solely on sucking up carbon dioxide that kills local biodiversity? Would local communities get a say in what gets planted? These are big questions, ones the world needs to collectively answer before pursuing what’s essentially a planetary terraforming experiment.

Any kind of solution like that is years — if not decades — away. The report also shows we need to act right now, and that doing so with the technology we have will pay dividends by reducing the effects of climate change and improving resilience to the more violent weather already in the pipeline.

The real world offers a similar lesson. Oil and gas have become a central discussion as the world grapples with the Russian war against Ukraine. Europe is hooked on Russian gas, and sanctions against the petrostate have so far skirted the industry. Reducing dependence on fossil fuels isn’t just good for the climate; it can also help improve resiliency and curtail the power of Russia and other authoritarian states that have oil-dependent economies. As if we needed another reason to kick fossil fuels to the curb.

Entertainment

To clear the FTC, Microsoft’s Activision deal might require compromise

The FTC is in the process of reviewing the biggest-ever gaming acquisition. Here’s how it could change the Xbox business.

Will the Microsoft acquisition of Activision get through the FTC?

Image: Microsoft; Protocol

Microsoft’s planned acquisition of Activision Blizzard is the largest-ever deal in the video game market by a mile. With a sale price of $68.7 billion, the deal is nearly 450% larger than Grand Theft Auto publisher Take-Two Interactive’s acquisition of Zynga in January, the next-largest game acquisition ever recorded.

The eye-popping price underlines the scale and scope of Microsoft’s ambitions for its gaming business: If the deal is approved, Microsoft would own — alongside its current major properties, such as Halo and Minecraft — Warcraft, Overwatch and Call of Duty, to name just a few. In turn, the deal has invited a rare level of scrutiny and attention from lawmakers and policy professionals now turning their sights on an industry that’s flown under the regulatory radar for the last several decades of its existence.

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Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

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Why the digital transformation of industries is creating a more sustainable future

Qualcomm’s chief sustainability officer Angela Baker on how companies can view going “digital” as a way not only toward growth, as laid out in a recent report, but also toward establishing and meeting environmental, social and governance goals.

Three letters dominate business practice at present: ESG, or environmental, social and governance goals. The number of mentions of the environment in financial earnings has doubled in the last five years, according to GlobalData: 600,000 companies mentioned the term in their annual or quarterly results last year.

But meeting those ESG goals can be a challenge — one that businesses can’t and shouldn’t take lightly. Ahead of an exclusive fireside chat at Davos, Angela Baker, chief sustainability officer at Qualcomm, sat down with Protocol to speak about how best to achieve those targets and how Qualcomm thinks about its own sustainability strategy, net zero commitment, other ESG targets and more.

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Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.

Enterprise

Okta CEO: 'We should have done a better job' with the Lapsus$ breach

In an interview with Protocol, Okta CEO Todd McKinnon said the cybersecurity firm could’ve done a lot of things better after the Lapsus$ breach of a third-party support provider earlier this year.

From talking to hundreds of customers, “I've had a good sense of the sentiment and the frustrations,” McKinnon said.

Photo: David Paul Morris via Getty Images

Okta co-founder and CEO Todd McKinnon agrees with you: Disclosing a breach that impacts customer data should not take months.

“If that happens in January, customers can't be finding out about it in March,” McKinnon said in an interview with Protocol.

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Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at kalspach@procotol.com.

Policy

Ethereum's co-founder thinks the blockchain can fix social media

But before the blockchain can fix social media, someone has to fix the blockchain. Frank McCourt, who’s put serious money behind his vision of a decentralized social media future, thinks Gavin Wood may be the key.

Gavin Wood, co-founder of Ethereum and creator of Polkadot, is helping Frank McCourt's decentralized social media initiative.

Photo: Jason Crowley

Frank McCourt, the billionaire mogul who is donating $100 million to help build decentralized alternatives to the social media giants, has picked a partner to make the blockchain work at Facebook scale: Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood.

McCourt’s Project Liberty will work with the Web3 Foundation’s Polkadot project, it said Tuesday. Wood launched Polkadot in 2020 after leaving Ethereum. Project Liberty has a technical proposal to allow users to retain their data on a blockchain as they move among future social media services. Wood’s involvement is to give the idea a shot at actually working at the size and speed of a popular social network.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Fintech

Gensler: Bitcoin may be a commodity

The SEC has been vague about crypto. But Gensler said bitcoin is a commodity, “maybe.” It’s the clearest glimpse of his views on digital assets yet.

“Bitcoin — maybe that’s a commodity token. That has a big market value, but that goes over there,” Gensler said, referring to another regulator, the CFTC.

Photoillustration: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Protocol

SEC Chair Gary Gensler has long argued that many cryptocurrencies are subject to regulation as securities.

But he recently clarified that this view wouldn’t apply to the best-known cryptocurrency, bitcoin.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

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