March 24, 2022
Photo: William DeHoogh/Unsplash
Hello, fellow planeteers! With your powers combined, we are Protocol Climate. We’re here today to explore what net zero is, actually. It’s probably not what you think, but that’s mostly because nobody can really agree on what it means. We’ll also dive 20,000 leagues under the sea in search of minerals. Sustainably, of course.
We’re devoting these early newsletters to making sure we’re all on the same page when it comes to major themes that will come up again and again in tech companies’ climate strategies (Tuesday’s entry notwithstanding, but hey, that’s the news game). Today’s entry: disambiguating “net zero” and what on Earth it means for our ability to keep the planet habitable.
“Net zero” doesn’t mean zero carbon emissions. In fact, the concept implies by its very definition that emissions will continue.
Pledges to get to net zero are everywhere — but they’re of varying quality.
Net zero pledges have made the market for carbon offsets boom. But that market is also a minefield! Stay tuned for a future newsletter that tackles offsets in much more detail, but for now, it is important to note that not all carbon offset options are created equally; some can even harm the climate in the long term by providing a false sense of security. Many net zero plans are a sham because they rely too heavily on offsets.
Though it’s a messy concept, net zero is still fixable. It just means getting our priorities straight, starting with getting carbon emissions as close to true zero as humanly possible.
A famous crustacean once sang, “The human world, it's a mess. Life under the sea is better than anything they got up there.” Apologies to Sebastian and the cast of “The Little Mermaid,” but the human world is poised to come to you.
This week, the United Nations is convening talks on deep-sea mining regulations. The International Seabed Authority has brought together 167 nations in Jamaica to hammer out an agreement on what to do about all the minerals sitting on the seafloor. The meeting comes as the world loses its collective mind over nickel, cobalt and lithium, all minerals that are essential to making the batteries that will keep our electrified future charged up. The seafloor is full of just those things, often found in deposits of the delightfully named polymetallic nodules.
The negotiations have a sense of urgency because the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru triggered a clause known as the “two-year rule” last year. If the ISA fails to set rules, then mining contractors can go to town on the seafloor, governed only by whatever regulations are in place at the time.
Nauru, you will be shocked to learn, is ready to mine the deep sea. But other nations, including fellow Pacific islands like Fiji, and a host of scientists want to tap the brakes on deep-sea mining for a few reasons. One, we don’t know a ton about the ecological impacts of scouring the seafloor for minerals. I’m not a scientist but … seems bad. (Actual scientists are concerned, and research shows it can take decades for the seafloor to recover.) The other reason is the world may not actually need to mine the seafloor in the first place. That’s also according to science.
Mining the seafloor could be an economic lifeline to small nations with limited land resources, like Nauru. But maybe the world could collectively figure out a way to help those countries without destroying fragile ecosystems on the bottom of the sea we don’t know much about.
Market economies being what they are, we’re probably going to end up mining the deep sea anyway. So the countries meeting in Jamaica better make sure the regulations have strong enforcement and oversight mechanisms.
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Span, a company focused on the oft-ignored electricity panel, just scored $90 million in series B funding. The company is run by the former head of Products for Tesla, so it probably knows a thing or two about electrification.
Beep makes cute autonomous EVs, and it just got another $25 million in series A-1 funding to help bring them to the masses.
BP — yes, that BP — has invested roughly $4 million in Flylogix, a drone company, after a successful test run of its drones in the North Sea. The plan is to use its drones to help hunt for methane emissions, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, tied with oil and gas production.
Stellantis has joined LG in investing more than $4.1 billion in a 45 gigawatt-hour electric vehicle battery plant in Canada. The plant will produce batteries for Stellantis’ auto assembly plants across North America.
— Brian Kahn
Tesla has a new type of battery— manganese-based cathode, in case you’re curious — in the works, according to Elon.
Roughly $64 million is heading to electric vehicle products, courtesy of earmarks (remember those?) in the $1.5 trillion spending package that Biden signed last week.
Nuclear fusion has never been hotter, at least in the eyes of VCs. And that’s saying a lot.
More bad cyber news for the energy sector: The FBI says Russian hackers are already probing at least five U.S. energy companies.
Did Occidental have an epiphany? The oil and gas producer is developing the world’s largest direct air capture facility, an effort that will surely cost a boatload of cash but is being helped along by a federal tax credit. But it’s still no substitute for not producing more oil and gas.
Speaking of, new research shows rich countries need to stop producing fossil fuelsby 2034. Maybe Occidental should look into that?
— Lisa Martine Jenkins
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Thanks for reading! As ever, you can send any and all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be back in your inboxes next week!
Correction: This newsletter was updated on March 24, 2022 to clarify the carbon neutrality of Google's operations, not Google overall.