September 27, 2022
Hey, hello, good day and all that. Your Protocol Climate team is happy to have you here. We have sufficiently recovered from Climate Week and are excited to bring you this week’s climate news. (Something, something, live every week like it’s Climate Week.) Today, we’re talking about Microsoft’s new climate policy position, the academic exodus to climate startups, and refrigerants to power the next wave of cooling tech.
Big Tech sure loves its big climate goals, but they’re pretty useless in a vacuum without policies that support a faster transition to decarbonizing the economy. While some companies have come out backing specific legislation and set broad policy principles, few have laid out a plan as detailed as the ones Microsoft dropped recently.
The company published two briefs — one on carbon and one on electricity — that include specific types of policies it will support in the U.S. and around the world. The briefs will offer a measuring stick to determine if Microsoft is living up to its ideals.
Microsoft already has one of tech’s most aggressive climate plans. The company wants to go carbon negative by 2030. Yet its carbon emissions rose last year by 21.5%, owing to the uptick in data center construction and customers using its products — and the fact that the grid is largely fossil-fueled. The policies it says it will advocate for could help turn the tide, though.
The company would like to see a cleaner grid. Which, hey, join the club. But with vast lobbying resources and a considerably bigger public profile than some guy who runs a newsletter, Microsoft could make a greater difference.
Carbon removal is also front and center. Big Tech’s favorite climate solution gets a whole section in the carbon policy brief. Citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Microsoft laid out the need to pull 10 billion tons of carbon from the sky per year.
There are a few carveouts that could limit Microsoft’s effectiveness. The company will advocate for sound climate policies, yes. But there are a few ways it may end up working against itself.
But while other tech companies have stated climate policy stances, Microsoft’s are now among the most detailed. “It is great to see clearly articulated support for a wider range of climate policies, and a much clearer sense of urgency,” Bill Weihl, the founder and director of ClimateVoice, told Protocol. “I hope many other companies will follow their lead and speak up loudly in favor of a broad suite of policies in every city, state, and country where they operate.”
— Brian Kahn
Earlier this month, carbon removal startup Watershed made headlines when it nabbed University of California, Irvine professor Steve Davis as its new head of climate science.
Davis is hardly a solo defector, though. In fact, a growing number of academics and scientists are leaving for the climate tech sector. I spoke to a few of them this week about why.
In short, the timing is right. Money is flowing toward climate tech and a number of startups are ready to start scaling their solutions. “This wasn’t really an opportunity before now, and all of a sudden companies actually want climate science in-house,” Davis told me. “And I think it’s really kind of a neat turn of events for me and my students and postdocs.”
Other academics considering the move need to keep a few things in mind. There’s a cultural difference — and tension — between the tenure track and startup world.
Academics answering the call say we’re past the point of talking about solutions. We need to be implementing them with rigor.
“I think everybody is feeling an acute sense of urgency tackling the climate crisis,” Lammers told me. “We feel the fire, breathe the smoke, feel the heat.”
Read the full story.
— Michelle Ma
Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.
Join Protocol Climate editor Brian Kahn and a panel of climate leaders and tech executives to recap the biggest developments at UNGA 2022 and preview the trends and events that will shape the future of climate tech and the planet. RSVP here.
In a rare display of bipartisan climate action, the Senate ratified the Kigali Amendment last week. That makes the U.S. the 138th country to sign on to phasing down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are coolants used in refrigeration and air conditioning. They’re also super-polluting greenhouse gases: We’re talking about a global warming potential, or GWP, 1,000 times that of carbon dioxide.
There are a number of non-planet-frying alternatives, though each has its pluses and minuses. So, what does the future of cooling look like? We posed the question to a panel of experts. Here’s what they told us (edited for brevity and clarity). For more, read the full story.
Previously, hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) were the big hope for a refrigerant with low GWP to replace chlorofluorocarbons [or CFCs, which were initially phased out by the Montreal Protocol because they depleted the ozone layer]. But that’s not the case anymore; a recent German Environment Agency report shows that HFOs break down into trifluoroacetic acid in the atmosphere, then trickle down and end up in water. This acid is toxic to marine life, can be hazardous to human health, and can’t be removed using traditional desalination techniques.
At Gradient we believe that natural refrigerants like propane (specifically propane R290) would be a very efficient and environmentally friendly solution.
The attributes of different refrigerants — such as GWP, flammability, toxicity, operating pressure, and energy efficiency — have to be matched to the profile of the application. For example, refrigerant leaks are more prominent in the automotive AC sector, so low GWP and low toxicity are the most critical attributes to consider. The bottom line is that today there is a refrigerant with a GWP below 150 for every application and we do not need to wait for the discovery of an "ultimate" coolant in order to make the transition to dramatically more sustainable coolants.
While the fluorochemical industry may have clear financial benefit in making incremental changes in the GWP of next-gen coolants, this planned obsolescence has come at a great cost to our planet and we can no longer afford it. The coolant of the future needs to be a part of the solution to the climate crisis, rather than exacerbate it like the majority of synthetic options do today.
Policymakers and tech leaders need to not just reduce environmental and climate destruction by adopting natural refrigerants and more efficient products, but also by fundamentally lowering our cooling and heating needs in the first place and then fulfilling the remaining needs with coolants that have the lowest cradle-to-grave impact on the planet.
— Lisa Martine Jenkins
Electric vehicle adoption is soaring, even as other metrics of the energy transition are lagging, according to a new IEA progress report.
Artificial intelligence arrives on the farm. Breeders are increasingly using AI to zero in on the genetic traits most likely to make crops drought resistant, which could come in handy in a warming world.
One week post-Fiona, much of Puerto Rico is still without power. However, the island’s few residents who have their own solar panels and battery storage systems are among the lucky exceptions.
How much range is enough? A new survey found that very few U.S. drivers would buy an EV that gets less than 200 miles of range per charge, even though the vast majority of car trips in the country are 30 miles or less.The Department of Energy is funding fusion. The agency is committing $50 million towards private fusion companies in public-private partnerships, the first time the government has funded for-profit fusion at scale.
If we want our nation’s rich history of innovation to continue, experts say, we must create an IP protection ecosystem that helps ensure that tech innovation will thrive.
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