March 15, 2022
Image: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images
Good morning, and welcome to the first Protocol Climate newsletter! It’s great to have you. Today, we’re diving into how to read a tech company’s climate plan. I’m Brian Kahn, and I’ll be your guide into the climate wilderness, along with our new climate reporter Lisa Martine Jenkins. (Don’t worry, we can hold hands if you need to.) But first, a few words about what to expect around these parts each week.
The climate crisis is the biggest existential threat facing humanity. And as the world’s most powerful industry, tech has a huge role to play in solving the problem. Protocol Climate will explore how new technologies are being used to tackle climate change — and how the tech industry is reckoning with its own environmental impact.
To address the climate crisis and avert the worst impacts, everything about the world as we know it will have to transform. The world will need to untether the economy from fossil fuels, new markets for carbon will need to spring up and some businesses may cease to exist in a carbon-constrained world. No big deal, right?
We’ll be looking at how the tech industry has to change, and how it could change society. That means exploring the technologies that promise to help reduce carbon pollution, how the tech industry is reckoning with its own environmental impact and the policies that could speed up the deployment of the technology we need to avert catastrophe. We’ll tell those stories on the Protocol site, in live and virtual events and, of course, they’ll be delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday.
It’s now or never for those seeking to stabilize the climate, and we’re glad to have you with us as we explore what that looks like for the tech industry. Now, on with the news!
Seemingly every day, a new tech company drops a climate plan or updates an existing one. They’re among the most important sustainability documents a company can produce, but you'd be forgiven for thinking that many have a whiff of, well, bullshit about them. That’s not to say they’re all terrible or in bad faith, of course.
There's just a tangled web of motivations at play behind all these climate plans.
Adding to the confusion: Climate plans can be really hard to decode, which makes working out which commitments are real and which ones are PR fluff a painful task. But don’t worry, friend. Protocol Climate is here to help. Like any topic, climate change is one full of buzzwords, which means step one is understanding what, exactly, those buzzwords mean. Let’s take a quick tour of some of the key concepts:
That’s just emissions, though. Climate plans can also include a host of other metrics, including commitments to putting pressure on suppliers to clean up their act; planning for how to adapt to climate change in the pipeline; and financial planning.
So how do you tell the good from the bad? The fact that there are no globally unified climate reporting requirements means that companies can get away with saying basically anything they want in the plan. Luckily, there are a few key things that can help us tell which companies are real on climate.
Protocol Climate hosted a launch dinner at the Goals House at SXSW on Monday night. Your diligent climate editor couldn’t just sit down and relax at dinner, though. (OK, I did do that eventually.) To kick off the gathering, I sat down with Austin Mayor Steve Adler to talk about the city’s climate plan and how Texas’ tech hub is cleaning up its carbon pollution. Below are some of the highlights of our chat.
Look out for a longer version of this conversation with Adler that we’ll publish on protocol.com later today.
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I’m a former park ranger, so I feel the urge to protect beautiful things from development in my bones. (Seriously, it’s a job requirement.) But the climate change era requires a different calculus.
Opposition suits the environmental movement precisely because it was built on stopping the destruction of the natural world, which meant halting things like cutting down forests for timber or strip mining for coal. It essentially meant putting a protective barrier around the things that matter. That paradigm still matters, even when it comes to climate-friendly technologies like solar farms or lithium mines, which can cause local destruction. But climate change poses a much greater stress on the planet as a whole. The very laws meant to protect the natural world are being used to slow down progress addressing it, ironically raising the risk of more losses.
It’s incumbent on policymakers and society to grapple with what the right balance of clean energy development and environmental protections (to say nothing of environmental justice protections) is. In other words, do you really want to wait 10 years to site an offshore wind farm while the rest of the planet burns?
Uber promised the world it would get its drivers in EVs. Now, it has to deliver.
Carbon offsets are increasingly on the ecommerce shopping list. But they may not necessarily be the best deal in town.
So much for a green COVID-19 recovery. Just 6% of pandemic stimulus funds in G20 countries went to clean energy and other tools to protect the climate, according to a new Nature study.
The invasion of Ukraine has the potential to either amp up or stall the clean energy transition; all we know for certain is that things are, well, uncertain.
Tree-planting — the darling of carbon offset defenders everywhere — has its potential climate and environmental downsides.
Ethanol producers are betting on carbon capture and storage to solve their emissions woes, despite high costs and a performance record that is … spotty at best.
Invoking environmental laws to stop the clean energy revolution isn’t just for rich, liberal NIMBYs. A fight over a Rivian plant in Georgia has all that and more, including a George Soros conspiracy theory. (Sigh.)
— Lisa Martine Jenkins
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Thanks for reading! As ever, you can send any and all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. See you Thursday!