August 9, 2022
Happy Tuesday from Protocol Climate. Today, we’re examining the great tech worker reshuffling to focus on climate. We’re also double dipping on Inflation Reduction Act news from a stealth campaign targeting AOC and Ilhan Omar voters and the heated carbon capture and storage discussion. In the words of the immortal Beyoncé, “I gotta fan myself off.”
Move over, Silicon Valley. Engineers eager for purpose and impact are quitting their jobs to battle the climate crisis.
“I think every generation has a zeitgeist,” Strauss said. For Gen X, that mission imprint was the internet, but for today’s generation, he believes it’s increasingly the climate.
These climate startup missions aren’t just inspiring. They’re also usually aligned with the financial incentives of the company.
— Michelle Ma
Historic climate legislation made it through the Senate this weekend. Now, all that stands between it and being signed into law is a House vote. One dark money group is pursuing a, shall we call it, novel approach to tank it.
Over the last few weeks, United for Clean Power has targeted progressive voters on social media, telling them to urge their Democratic representatives to vote against the Inflation Reduction Act. The group appears to be aligned with the GOP, and its strategy is trying to play up all that was lost between the Inflation Reduction and Build Back Better Acts in an effort to stoke divisions.
The blitz started in late July, shortly after Sen. Joe Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that they had arrived at a deal for the reconciliation bill. The newsletter FWIW first identified the campaign, which has been using techniques including social media advertising and direct text messages to voters, with a focus on those in districts represented by progressive House members.
United for Clean Power is buying up ads on Google and Facebook as well as newsletters and websites. Since July 30, the group has spent nearly $400,000 on the campaign, if not more.
The group is incorporated as a “social welfare” organization known as a 501(c)(4) in IRS-speak. But Anna Massoglia, editorial and investigations manager for OpenSecrets, said 501(c)(4) organizations are often used as vehicles for dark money operations.
The campaign seems likely to fail, given that the bill has already made it through the Senate and the Democrats have a larger margin in the House.
— Lisa Martine Jenkins
They created Digital People. Now they've made celebrities available as Digital Twins: Soul Machines co-founder and CEO Greg Cross and his co-founder Mark Sagar, Ph.D., FRSNZ are leading their Auckland and San Francisco-based teams to create AI-enabled Digital People to populate the internet, at first, and soon the metaverse.
The Inflation Reduction Act uses a lot of carrots — and not a lot of sticks — when it comes to cutting carbon pollution. Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising incentives are for carbon capture and storage, which has a fairly checkered track record when it comes to actually working.
An analysis from Princeton’s Repeat Project shows that by 2030, the CCS incentives could lead to 200 million tons of carbon being stashed away annually, thanks in part to changes to the 45Q tax credit making it more generous per ton of carbon stored and easier for projects to qualify. That growth is literally an order of magnitude greater than the present. Previous work by the Princeton group modeling a net zero pathway for the U.S. also shows a much slower ramp up. What gives?
Jesse Jenkins, head of the group, tweeted that modeling an industry this young comes with a “heck of a lot of uncertainty in projecting growth.” Indeed, it’s not clear what exactly is about to happen to the industry, assuming the IRA passes the House with the new incentives intact.
“We don't know how people are going to take advantage of these tax credits, we don't know which projects are going to choose which pathways just yet,” Danny Cullenward, the policy director at CarbonPlan, a climate research nonprofit, told me. “We’re going to learn a lot about the technology.”
Concerns that the credits in the bill for captured carbon could help the fossil fuel industry use said carbon to dredge up more oil, a process known as enhanced oil recovery, are real. So, too, are the prospects that the credits could be used to ramp up corn ethanol production. Cullenward said a corn ethanol plant is perhaps “the cheapest place you can do CCS.” Additionally, California offers a “stackable” tax credit through its Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Those credits can pay as much as $200 per ton to makers of lower-carbon-intensity fuels. Add on the 45Q’s $85-per-ton incentive, and you’ve got, in Cullenward’s words, a “gold rush” for CCS and biofuels.
The bill is a lot more than just CCS, of course. But with CCS garnering so much attention, we’ll have to grapple with exactly what shape it takes in the years to come. Given the tech industry’s intense interest in carbon dioxide removal, Cullenward said, “tech leaders should be thinking really carefully, and engaging with the thoughtful view about how to do this right in the long run, and not just how to make money in the short term.”— Brian Kahn
Window heat pumps for environmental justice? A landmark program in New York could bring window heat pump units to public housing — and bring down costs for everyone. Renters rejoice!
Nuclear fusion is getting a boost. Big companies are pouring major money into the technology, even though it has yet to generate net energy.
The blackout outlook looks bleak. Energy regulators in the Midwest are looking into whether the region’s grid is prepared for potential electricity shortfalls in the coming months.
The Inflation Reduction Act took five decades to get here. No, the Senate floor debate wasn’t that long. Rather, the historic climate investment comes after more than 50 years of roadblocks to legislation to address the crisis.
The Chips Act could unleash hidden harms. The $52 billion investment is into an industry that uses abundant energy — and produces abundant waste.The (offshore) wind is picking up. Regulators approved yet another offshore wind farm in the Atlantic, this time off the coast of Virginia Beach.
They created Digital People. Now they've made celebrities available as Digital Twins: Soul Machines is at the cutting edge of AGI research with its unique Digital Brain, based on the latest neuroscience and developmental psychology research.
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