Carpool Now

Not that kind.

It’s going to be the boringest, most plausible solutions that save us, part the infinity.

No tech/some tech/even with tech, the radical ideas are already here, sitting… waiting. In a discussion with colleagues about the twin scourges of traffic congestion and parking strife permanently visiting our otherwise sleepy little burg, the needless importation of already-existing strategies (get it?) eludes us in favor of trying to think of different ways to evade the problem. We’re not doing that, precisely, but trying to think of ways to incentive the creation of more surface parking instead of how to have less cars is a different kind of plague. Fortunately, we already have a rested and ready vaccine: the carpool.

It’s a word for when more than 1 person rides/drives together from/to like destinations like work or school.

We then ask our eternal question: is there an app for that?

I kid you not.

The car sharing system merges several new people into one car, which leads to meeting new people in one car, and reduces air pollution and noise pollution. The car sharing system saves the economy of each person as they share their rides and also share the cost with the other member by car. This will stop spending endless money on travel. The growth of the global carpooling market is mainly driven by the growing demand for time and cost-saving transportation facilities. A government initiative to promote carpooling due to increasing road congestion is expected to boost market growth.

But I am serious about this. Make it a game, a competition. Give people money, time off, commemorative sweatshirts, rock show tickets, whatever. Just help get us out of cars.

Defeating the porpoises, an ongoing series

At the intersection of global climate issues and all things monetary, well, it can be difficult to decide which word to italicize anymore:

The U.S.-based crypto exchange Kraken has announced that, despite the layoffs and hiring freezes among its competitors in the ongoing “crypto winter”, they intend to keep hiring aggressively. They also took the opportunity to announce that they “believe bear markets are fantastic at weeding out the applicants chasing hype from the true believers in our mission”, and that they had “taken this opportunity to align our internal culture around a set of shared values”. They also make it clear that anyone who disagree with the changes can GTFO: “In commitment to these values, we also expanded our permanent benefits program to make moving on a bit easier for anyone who feels it’s time for the next chapter in their career.”

That’s from Molly White’s terrific and wonderfully-named website and she’s is no danger of running out of content anytime soon. Because lots of everyones out there think all the other everyones are the suckers, or they’re not sure who is. But whatever, the sucker rule still applies.

And at the same time, it’s more than that. When the last necessary thing was another distraction from the burning and belching, from the fanning, the rising and the storming, everyones are out here convincing themselves to believe in yet another free ride. Yes, it would be great if blockchain ‘tech’ guaranteed that you could trust this invisible money (cf. the italics dilemma). But that’s not how people work. What people do is find the sucker, and adjust for scale, malheureusement.

Image via porpoisesdotorg, natch.

Shop ’til you stop

Insightful NYRB review of two new books about life in a slower economy. It’s NOT that things will necessarily be so much worse when we are spending less, driving less, burning less – they won’t be worse. It’s just the transition to consuming less itself we consider to be so painful as to be unthinkable. We’re such babies:

Generations of economists, meanwhile, have insisted on the goodness of economic growth and warned that any significant drop in consumption would vaporize jobs, leaving millions if not billions of people without a means of supporting themselves or their families. (Margaret Thatcher’s well-known phrase “There is no alternative,” sometimes shortened to TINA, refers to the assumed necessity of perpetual growth.) The resulting dilemma, as MacKinnon puts it, is that “we must stop shopping, and yet we can’t stop shopping.”

Rather than dismiss this conundrum, MacKinnon seeks to complicate it. Whose jobs would be lost, and for how long? How could societies and their economies adapt, and what could they gain in the process? How would other species react to quieter, less polluted habitats? To begin to answer these questions, he proposes a thought experiment to economists, entrepreneurs, and others: Say that on a single day not long from now, consumer spending falls 25 percent. What next? Predictions in hand, MacKinnon seeks real-world equivalents, finding disparate places and times where conditions similar to those of his thought experiment have already come to pass.

This approach, which might be called speculative journalism, was memorably employed by Alan Weisman in his 2008 book The World Without Us, which MacKinnon credits in his acknowledgments. To conjure a planet precipitously vacated by humans, Weisman interviewed architects, engineers, ecologists, and others qualified to forecast the fates of abandoned cities, farms, and forests. He then visited deliberately unpeopled places, such as the Korean Demilitarized Zone and the United Nations–controlled buffer zone between the Turkish and Greek sides of the island of Cyprus. In a kind of reverse archaeology, both Weisman and MacKinnon assemble shards of past and present into plausible futures. The most obvious difference between their thought experiments is that MacKinnon’s became all too concrete: when he was midway through his research, pandemic shutdowns upended the world economy, and the effects of his imagined fall in spending were inflicted on real people in real time.

The Day the World Stops Shopping is neither an economic treatise nor a detailed policy proposal, though it draws on both as sources. It is an enjoyably idiosyncratic tour led by a perceptive, empathetic guide. It assumes that any significant, lasting reduction in consumption will result from accidents and innovations, brought about not by individual households but by loosely coordinated communities, nations, and regions. In this sense, it is both more realistic and more persuasive than any technical argument, for it makes it possible to imagine not only one alternative to endless growth but many.

Lots of important points here, brought us by people who are smarter.

If it woes, it leads

We’re backing into the climate future/present with woes leading the way. It’s the perfect media framing and supports the status quo – yes everything is awful. We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas, let’s see how we can keep cheap gas going a little bit longer. It’s this way, in part, because ALL of the progress is boring. For instance, wide bandgap:

Silicon and silicon carbide are useful in electronics because they are semiconductors: They can switch between being electrical conductors, as metals are, and insulators, as most plastics are. This ability makes semiconductors the key materials in transistors — the fundamental building blocks of modern electronics.

Silicon carbide differs from silicon in that it has a wide bandgap, meaning that it requires more energy to switch between the two states. Wide bandgap, or WBG, semiconductors are advantageous in power electronics because they can move more power more efficiently.

Silicon carbide is the senior citizen of WBGs, having been under development as a transistor material for decades. In that time, engineers have started using younger upstart WBG materials, like gallium nitride, or GaN. In the 1980s, researchers used gallium nitride to create the world’s first bright blue LEDs. Blue light comprises high-energy photons; gallium nitride, with its wide bandgap, was the first semiconductor that could practically produce photons with the sufficient energy. In 2014, three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for that innovation, which became ubiquitous in devices like TV screens and light bulbs.

Lately, researchers have started using gallium nitride to improve power electronics. The material reached commercial fruition over the past few years in adapters for charging phones and computers. These adapters are smaller, lighter, faster-charging and more efficient than traditional ones that use silicon transistors.

“A typical charger that you buy for your computer is 90 percent efficient,” said Jim Witham, chief executive of GaN Systems, a Canadian company that supplied the transistors in Apple’s gallium-nitride laptop chargers, which were released last fall. “Gallium nitride is 98 percent efficient. You can cut power losses by four times.”

Keep going, science.

Making climate reduction technologies sexy

Or… sexier than ape cartoons.

My head, it shakes. Because no matter how seriously and soberly one might approach the financial dilemma of bringing promising technologies to maturity by broad investments, there are always hand-scrawled love notes, or pictures of pictures, or the newest version of L.H.O.O.Q., not to mention instant toothbrush delivery schemes to entice the ridiculously wealthy or even the passingly prosperous. It’s a problem:

Tony Fadell, who spent most of his career trying to turn emerging technologies into mainstream products as an executive at Apple and founder of Nest, said that even as the world faces the risks of climate change, money is flooding into less urgent developments in cryptocurrency, the so-called metaverse and the digital art collections sold as NFTs. Last year, venture capitalists invested $11.9 billion in renewable energy globally, compared with $30.1 billion in cryptocurrency and blockchain, according to PitchBook.

Of the $106 billion invested by venture capitalists in European startups last year, just 4% went into energy investments, according to PitchBook.

“We need to get real,” said Fadell, who now lives in Paris and has proposed ideas on energy policy to the French government. “Too many people are investing in the things that are not going to fix our existential problems. They are just investing in fast money.”

Even so-called ESG funds and investor movements run the risk of becoming fads, passing, allowing a regression toward the mean, also know as same old, same old. Governments have to do more to leverage current investments and attract new. But there also has to be some boring seriousness to guide the reckless speculation, as contradictory as that sounds. Otherwise, we’re still speculating alright, on something.

Image: Not a new version. Duchamp would be kicking himself

Nostalgia for Normal

Lots of talk/pixels about ‘getting back to normal,’ the ‘new normal,’ and returning to a time when things/life were somehow better because they were usual. Primarily related to the pandemic, it’s also an opportunity to unpack a sympathetic but highly questionable sentiment. So this interesting tweet, highlighted by Bloomberg, serves as a good remedy for that nostalgia for normal:

Happy talk about way-back-when presents recklessness on many fronts – political, racial, economic – but it is also woebegone in terms of environmental devastation and the slow thoughtlessness that has brought us to exactly here. No one* wants to go back to Jim Crow and no one should want to go back to the normal, daily burning rates of our fossil-fueled civilization. As the article demonstrates, and this is a note to hit over and over again, the [high] costs of slowing down and reversing the effects of climate change are actually a bargain. Slice it however you want – we’ve already gotten far closer to the tipping point of better and cleaner far faster than imagined. Looking away and ignoring now requires more effort. That normal is depressing – and it should be. Our calculations of the impacts of the burning have become far less abstracted, to the point of easily transposing the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster onto methane well leakage and carbon emissions just by looking at the numbers.

Unfortunately, our numbness to the staggering total of COVID deaths resembles our shruggy attitude to climate-related externalities. We get used to them, consider that state ‘normal,’ and long for the days.

But we shouldn’t, and we can’t go back, the comforting but perilous blindness of ‘normal’ notwithstanding. Instead of normal, how about a different better? As our friend says, Don’t Be Afraid.

*Admittedly, sometimes my optimism overwhelms

Re-Tooling Demand

This Financial Times article (subscription req’d) pulls back the curtain on rain forest destruction in Brazil to let us see what – and who – it’s all for:

At the recent UN climate summit in Glasgow, more than 100 national leaders committed to halt deforestation by 2030, and 30 financial institutions, including Storebrand, promised to eliminate the harmful practice from their portfolios by 2025. However, the signatories, including Brazil, Russia and Indonesia, did not indicate how it would be implemented or tracked, and environmental campaigners remain sceptical.

ADM and Bunge are among the world’s largest traders moving Brazilian soyabeans around the world. The increase in production of the commodity, largely used for livestock feed, has been a leading cause of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest as well as the destruction of Cerrado savannah.

The scale of soyabean production on deforested land and differing standards about what qualifies as acceptable activity makes tackling its presence in supply chains challenging for companies.

Both Bunge and ADM strengthened their deforestation policies last year in response to calls from shareholders. Storebrand, together with US fund manager Green Century, tabled a proposal at Bunge’s annual meeting asking it to tighten its policies, which was backed by 98 per cent of shareholders. Bunge has said it is committed to not having soyabeans from illegally deforested land.

As much as even the big fund managers and many governments get on board with divestment and ESG priorities in managing portfolios, this really points up the issue: the companies – and countries – who burn and mine for profit just aren’t going to give it up as long as it’s profitable. The whole ‘fiduciary responsibility to shareholders’ is baked into our ethos, as long as there is money to be made, dividends to be paid, stock to buy back, whatever.

For allies in COP26 and elsewhere, the approach has to include the goal to dismantle, and then re-assemble, the demand side. It’s worth being realistic about this – otherwise, we remain [eternally? That’s optimistic – ed.] captive to supply-side economic logic. As the ADM example highlights, the companies will never lead anywhere besides mining, digging, clearing, and burning.

Image via FT.com © Ricardo Beliel/Brazil Photos/LightRocket/Getty Images

Water in Holy Lands

The Khaju Bridge (above) is one of the five historical bridges on the Zayanderud, the largest river of the Iranian Plateau, in Isfahan, Iran. Both a bridge and a weir, it links the Khaju quarter on the north bank with the Zoroastrian quarter across the Zayanderud.

The Khaju Bridge was built around 1650, under the reign of Abbas II, the seventh Safavid king (shah) of Iran, on the foundations of an older bridge. The existing inscriptions suggest that the bridge was repaired in 1873. There is a pavilion located in the center of the structure, inside which Abbas II would have once sat, admiring the view.

Beneath the archways are several sluice gates, through which the water flow of the Zayanderud is regulated. When the sluice gates are closed, the water level behind the bridge is raised to facilitate the irrigation of the many gardens along the river upstream of the bridge. Because of a sustained drought, and of course related management issues, the sluice gates and riverbed are now the site of gatherings of people worried about these many gardens, as well as crops and more general concerns about sustenance. Compare and contrast

Pictures, 1000’s of words, etc. 2022 is on the way and we need to do better. Soon.

Luxury, re-imagined

At the risk of sounding like some past (and very likely coming to screen near you in the adjacent soon) Mercedes Benz and/or other brand advertisement, the luxury of being in a position to do something about climate change is also a handy rationale to not do that something. Worry over the future of polluting industries and their investors as equal to concerns about the planet implies a false choice. And we love those:

Sorry, but there is no Trump Light, or Trump without the fill-in-this-blank. It’s only a sleep walk into fascism, sorry. Listen to what they run on. Banning Beloved would only be a starting place.

Meanwhile in Scotland, some of our betters are engaged in the COP26 think-scussions:

Humm recently shifted Eleven Madison Park from an omnivore’s menu to one focused on plants, a change that took effect this summer after his restaurant reopened from the coronavirus pandemic shutdown. Hearst has focused much of her energy on reducing waste in the New York design house that bears her name, as well as at Chloe, the Paris-based luxury firm where she is creative director. In October, Chloe became a certified B Corporation, which means it meets independent standards for environmental and social performance, as well as transparency.

“It’s not only about climate change, but it’s also about what does luxury mean,” Humm says about their upcoming conversation in Glasgow. “I think we both realize that, you know, not everyone — or only a few people — have access to our restaurant or Gabriela’s clothes. But we do have these incredible resources and this incredible platform that people are actually paying attention to.”

“Some of the ideas of luxury are old ideas that have to be refreshed,” Humm continues. “For example, we are still celebrating caviar as a luxury ingredient … and there is nothing luxurious about caviar. It’s farm-raised. It’s flown in. It’s not rare at all. And it doesn’t even taste good. This is an old idea.”

A future is not THE future. Reckoning with the many complications of the actual problem of a warming planet caused by out-of-control carbon emissions will re-define luxury, and perhaps even put the concept out to pasture. We will realize that enjoying privations is not luxury but sociopathy. Basking in a scarce resource – whether it be time, security, clean water, or perceived reasonableness – has to be treated as wasteful, if not immoral. Like shrugging before you give your vote to a soft authoritarian. That’s a luxury you can’t afford.

I reckon

What’s the best way to get there? We need to start taking everything into consideration:

To help users find more sustainable travel options, Google launched a feature Wednesday that will show a carbon-emissions estimate for almost every flight in its search results. Now, along with price and duration, travelers will be able to use environmental footprints to compare and choose flights.

James Byers, a senior product manager on the Google travel team, said the emissions estimates are based on a combination of factors, such as the distance of a trip, the number of stops, the number and class of seats on board, the type of aircraft, and data from the European Environment Agency.

The feature, which follows another eco-friendly feature for Google’s hotel searches, could be valuable in the fight against climate change, suggests Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Center at Texas Tech University.

It’s a shift in thinking, a pivot to including more of what has long been ignored. Will it catch on? Many right-wingers will surely choose the most rootin-tootin-pollutinest routes, rollin’ coal as much and for as far as they can. Many are certainly so inclined, and it may have just become easier to make them pay more for the pleasure.

For everyone else more sensible, this is potentially a good tool, allowing demand to push supply in a better direction.

Image: proposed rail network. (Not pictured, how to get North Americans to Europe, Africa, Asia)