June 7, 2022
Photo: Zhai Huiyong/VCG via Getty Images
A happy Tuesday to you, Protocol Climate friends. It’s a big week for executive climate action: The Biden administration is trying to speed up climate innovation and not slow down solar. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Innovation alone isn’t going to solve the climate crisis. But it sure could help. And the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is trying to ensure it happens at a faster clip.
The government is fast-tracking patents that protect the climate. President Joe Biden promised an “all-of-government approach” to climate change, and the USPTO is taking that to heart.
But it’s not clear this will work as intended. Joshua Sarnoff, an IP expert at DePaul University, told me that it’s ““highly uncertain” whether a program like this can meaningfully help get climate tech to market. “Filing a patent application doesn’t delay any inventor from manufacturing and selling products before a patent issues,” He said.
The program may appeal to the venture capital ecosystem. For startups seeking funding, a patent is a way to entice VCs to invest. But that alone doesn’t mean the pilot will be effective. If the Biden administration wants to turn its all-of-government approach to climate innovation, it could start with analyzing the best use of federal resources to develop and deploy carbon-cutting technology.
Sadly, the climate doesn’t really care about those fiefdoms.
The hottest solar tariff drama in all the land came to a head Monday when President Biden announced he would offer a two-year tariff reprieve on solar panels made in Southeast Asia. (OK, this is the only solar tariff drama in all the land right now, but it’s still a big deal.)
This tariff reprieve has been months in the making. The fight over Southeast Asian solar panels began in March when the Commerce Department began investigating the region’s solar suppliers over alleged ties to China.
Would-be Southeast Asian solar panel buyers can now breathe easier. The two-year tariff exemption allows the Commerce Department investigation to go on, but it means there’s no risk of retroactive tariffs dinging buyers.
There’s still a long ways to go for the U.S. to get on track to reduce overall carbon emissions at least 50% by 2030 — something Biden committed the U.S. to under the Paris Agreement — and decarbonize the grid completely by 2035. But the clean energy industry is at least slightly less of a mess than it was last week.—Hirsh Chitkara (email | twitter)
At the same time that the pandemic demonstrated all that is possible in an interconnected world, we saw in new and increasingly stark ways how certain communities continue to be marginalized and harmed by a persistent digital divide and how effectively that divide exacerbates our society’s other inequities.
Three months ago, climate activist and writer Bill McKibben started agitating for #heatpumpsforpeace in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The idea? Get President Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act for heat pumps, a move that would help spur job growth, clean up buildings’ carbon footprints and reduce European demand for Russian gas.
Fast forward to this week, and Biden did just that. It’s a huge triple win, though it lost a bit of the spotlight to the solar tariff holiday. Still, McKibben’s tweet about the move should get you thinking. For one, it’s a reminder we have a ton of climate tech just laying around, and smart policies can get it deployed faster.
Clearly Bill McKibben’s Twitter account and Substack can help move the needle. No offense to Bill and his great ideas, but relying on that mechanism isn’t exactly the best recipe for getting the technology we need to reduce carbon emissions out to the masses. But imagine a world where that fantasy Department of Innovation isn’t only funneling money into research and innovation, but also helping identify policy levers to pull that could get that tech deployed at the scale necessary to meet the moment. Like I said, it’s a tweet to make you think.
— Brian Kahn
Lithium-ion batteries are so last decade. Solid-state batteries could unlock a future free of range anxiety, and a growing number of startups are working on developing them. (Sounds like a case for some fast-tracking by the USPTO!)
Ford lights up Tesla. Literally. The F-150 Lightning comes with an adapter to provide juice to stranded Teslas, which is either really sweet of Ford or an incredibly sick burn. Either way, I respect it immensely.
Climate negotiators are back in the pool. Figuratively. The United Nations has convened the world’s climate diplomats in Bonn, Germany, as prep for November’s big confab in Egypt.
Great, even mining waste isn’t safe from climate change. That’s going to be an increasingly major problem as the world ramps up the search for critical minerals that will speed the clean energy transition.
So much for ESG. BlackRock has already said it will vote against most climate-related shareholder resolutions. Now, CEO Larry Fink has said he doesn’t want to be the “environmental police.” Relatable, though I personally don’t manage nearly $10 trillion in assets, so the stakes are a little lower.
New York passed right-to-repair, and the climate wins. Less e-waste is a good thing since more than two-thirds of electronics’ carbon footprint comes from production!
— Brian Kahn
There is so much more we need to do to make sure our future is more equitable and inclusive and maximizes America’s potential. It is not enough just to ensure everyone is connected. We also need to extend the full scope of digital opportunity to the people, the communities, and the institutions.
Thanks for reading! As ever, you can send any and all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. See you Thursday!