March 31, 2022
Photo: Cristian Palmer/Unsplash
Good day, good people. The Protocol Climate team is reporting for duty. We’re here today to dive into deep-sea mining. After resurfacing, we’ll take you for a spin in an EV delivery van designed to make the last mile pollution-free. Don’t worry, we’ll get you home before midnight. (Unless you want to keep cruising, of course.)
The deep sea feels far away. And, well, it is. It’s the bottom of the damn ocean, a place few have ventured. But it could get a lot busier soon depending on how things go in Jamaica this week.
There, an obscure international body is in the process of setting regulations for deep-sea mining. Digging up minerals on the ocean floor is an entirely speculative venture at this point, but one that could decide the clean-energy future — or turn the seafloor into a wasteland, much like we’re doing to the terrestrial world.
Meet the International Seabed Authority. It doesn’t have the cache of other United Nations bodies that convene governments or spit out major reports. But the little-known body, headquartered in Jamaica, will decide the fate of the deep sea.
Polymetallic nodules are very hot right now. It may sound like a medical condition, but polymetallic nodules are at the center of the deep-sea mining push. The potato-sized hunks of minerals are a big deal for a few reasons.
Mining the sea comes with a catch, too. While solving the climate crisis with a couple of ships equipped with industrial vacuums sure sounds nice and easy, the reality is anything but. That’s because there’s a lot that could go wrong.
The risk with deep-sea mining isn’t what we know. It’s what we don’t. Deploying mining equipment to the middle of the ocean and then lowering it to the seafloor sounds pretty destructive. Still, humans do destructive things all the time — I once ate a whole bag of tortilla chips in one sitting — and deep-sea mining is being pitched in part as a solution to the battery supply chain crunch. The problem with deep-sea mining, though, is that we don’t know just how bad it could be for ecosystems or the people who rely on them.
Miners wanna mine; most everyone else wants a moratorium. The oft-misattributed quote “today's solutions are tomorrow's problems” really rings true here. The world needs to decarbonize rapidly, full stop. But going ham on the seafloor also risks recreating the same problems with onshore mining today, just in the middle of the ocean.
This is all a complicated balancing act, which requires weighing opportunity against harm. “We must accelerate the transition to renewable energy — yet we must do so without creating new sacrifice zones whether on land or seabed, and without replacing dirty fossil fuels with irresponsible mining,” Payal Sampat, the mining program director at Earthworks, told Protocol in an email.
Just out for a spin.
Photo: Lisa Jenkins
I’ve begun to notice with some alarm the ever-increasing number of idling delivery vehicles as drivers run packages from truck to mailbox. The emissions, the exhaust, the obstacles they pose to the bicyclists braving my busy road: The machinations of modern deliveries can be fraught.
This week, I got a firsthand look at — and feel for — one of the many companies trying to electrify freight and deliveries in the U.S. BrightDrop is a relative newcomer with a focus on precisely the part of the delivery landscape that is most visible to the public: the “last mile.”
While the company, which launched in January 2021 as an EV-only subsidiary of GM, is still in early stages, it already has contracts with both FedEx and Walmart. BrightDrop delivered five EV600s — its flagship van — to FedEx last December, and more have quietly joined its fleet in the months since. The company’s rapid progress to this point accounts for the fastest-ever development-to-production process in GM’s history.
I got to take an in-person look at an EV600 and even put my foot to the pedal this week to see if it, well, delivers.
The EV600 is big, but also sleek. There is no space wasted, and everything was designed with the input of delivery drivers who step in and out of these trucks dozens of times per day.
And then: I got behind the wheel. I’m not a car person, let alone a delivery van person, so maybe take this with a grain of salt. But! There are a number of newfangled features that make driving the EV600 both easier and more fun than the 1999 station wagon I learned on.
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There’s a new climate-focused VC fund in town. Known as Regeneration, the $45 million fund is backed by actor Leonardo DiCaprio and aims to decarbonize consumer materials like leather and plastic. Very on brand for Leo.
The retail electricity provider David Energy closed its series A round with $20.5 million in funding.
The oil field services company Nabors Industries made a venture investment in a geothermal startup called GA Drillingto the tune of $8 million.
United Airlines’ VC fund announced an initial $5 million investment in Cemvita Factory, a startup looking into more efficient ways of producing sustainable aviation fuel. (This tracks with United’s past investments.)
Treeswift, a startup aimed at forest monitoring via drone (no relationship with T. Swift, I checked), raised $4.8 million in seed funding led by the venture capital firm Pathbreaker Ventures.
The climate tech startup RenewaFi, which wants to be the middleman helping companies buy and sell renewable energy via an online marketplace, raised $3 million in seed funding.
It seems drones are even hotter than I had realized: Lord of the Trees (I cross-my-heart-hope-to-die promise this is really what the company is called. Apparently Ents was taken?) is yet another startup focusing on using drones, in this case for restoring damaged ecosystems with engineered seed pods. The company raised $1.25 million in pre-seed funding.— Lisa Martine Jenkins
Protocol Climate’s fearless leader took a trip upstate to capture a showdown between bitcoin miners and the local community, and you simply must hear about it (and, crucially, see the photos). [Editor’s note: I do not make Lisa address me this way. Just Brian is fine, and now I am blushing!]
A rare glimmer of good climate news: The growth rate for solar and wind power is now increasing fast enough to potentially limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius above a pre-industrial baseline. What is this feeling?
Access to renewable energy, however, is still a relative luxurywhen we take a look at the industry on a global scale.
Tesla isn’t unionizing just yet. The chief of the United Auto Workers union said he is not in talks with Elon about unionizing the electric car company, despite Elon’s invitation to hold a union vote.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Facebook’s algorithm fuels misinformation on climate change.
New efficiency requirements, incoming: The Energy Department proposed new standards for air conditioners and swimming pool heaters.
Hoping desalination will save us? Maybe lower those expectations a smidge.
— Lisa Martine Jenkins
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Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend! As ever, you can send any and all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next week!