🌎 #271: What is the climate gap?

Quinn Emmett
March 31, 2022
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Welcome back, Shit Givers.

TLDR: HOODIES!

Big news: I've overhauled the referral program to reflect your survey responses (thanks again!).

  • 1 referral: Stickers! (you people LOVE stickers
  • 3 referrals: The brand-new "Not Important" newsletter
  • 5 referrals: INI coffee mug
  • 10 referrals: INI t-shirt
  • 25 referrals: INI hoodie! (pull-over or full-zip!)
  • 50 referrals: An invitation to our upcoming INI/Community

I'm so excited to share these with you and SO pumped to see who gets the first INI/Community invite 👀!

Last bit: I'm off next week. My kids are on spring break and I'm excited to spend some real time with them.

This Week, Summarized:

  • The climate tech gap, explained
  • Free COVID tests, over (for some)
  • The future of fresh water
  • Millions of nurses, lost
  • Facebook, unregulated, still

Reminder: You can read this issue on the website, or you can 🎧 listen to it on the podcast (shortly).

🕛 Reading Time: 9 minutes

CLIMATE CHANGE

Gas meter

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How to scale

The news: As real-world climate effects -- some predicted and others not so much -- continue to become manifest, a more frequent and thorough review of efforts to slow global warming is requisite.

On the one hand, East Antarctica’s Conger ice shelf -- the size of Rome -- collapsed. It's not great, but is indicative less in isolation as some big scary event (it's a relatively small shelf and was a long time coming) and more that warm air and water continue to eat away at the colder half of Antarctica.

On the other hand, billions of dollars are plowing into early stage "climate tech". That's great! But there's an enormous gap in funding for successful seed projects that are now ready to go commercial, or scale.

And because so much of what we need to build (or re-build) is in the real-world, scale is what's desperately needed, it's where we get this shit done.

Understand it: We have made enormous technical gains in solar, wind, and batteries, but as wildly impressive as the cost drops have been, the easy part is over. We are firmly in the real-world scale phase, and the landscape has become far more complicated:

  • Switching to EV's in the US could save 100,000 lives from air pollution alone, but the chips and minerals are already in very short supply
  • Putin's illegal war in Ukraine has threatened to cut off hordes of clean energy-related minerals
  • Europe is working desperately to get off Russian gas, and while heat pumps (are dope and) could alleviate some demand, and some countries are considering new nuclear, the US -- despite this week's deal -- may not have enough gas to make up the difference long-term
  • China's renewable goals may be reached 5 years early, oh, and they've got most of the rest of the minerals
  • One of the US's largest wind farms is up and running in Oklahoma, but much of the developing world still remains in energy poverty
  • While wind and solar supplied a record 10% of global power in 2021 (yay!), desertification of the West is drying up water not only for farming and drinking, but also for long-reliable hydropower

US President Joe Biden's new budget calls for billions in transformative climate mitigation and adaptation, but will it become actual legislation?

And that's the crux: Our biggest lever remains policymaking, and policy only holds up as long as the party supporting it remains in power.

With the US still so dependent on cars, and US gas prices relatively high compared to, again, Europe, we're not only not subsidizing EV's and public transportation, but policymakers like Governor Newsom of California are throwing gas rebate cards at California car owners in a desperate bid to stay in power.

Like (and not unrelated to) poverty, decarbonization is now a policy choice. The tech is here, ready to be scaled, and so is the opportunity. The biggest remaining questions are where we find the raw minerals, and the votes.

⚡️Action Step: You should already be a subscribed to Climate Tech VC's essential free newsletter, but don't sleep on ClimateRaise, a brief, curated newsletter focused on early stage climate companies led by women founders.

COVID

COVID test

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Vaccine equity update: Just 14.5% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose, and 35.7% of people worldwide have received zero doses.

No more free lunch tests and vaccines

The news: As Omicron variant BA.2 drives case counts up again in 10+ US states and the UK, among others, you'd be excused for not having noticed.

Understand it: The UK, having scrapped all pandemic restrictions, ended free testing today just as hospitalizations are rising once again.

Our special relationship exists here, too: After Congress declined to pick up the $22 billion tab, COVID tests are no longer free for the uninsured, who, if you're playing along, number around 28 million, and who frequently live and work in tight-quarter, hourly jobs with zero paid sick leave.

Free vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments are next on the chopping block.

As always, context is vital: Cases are -- by the measures we've all been using for the last two years -- historically low. We've got more immunity than ever thanks to vaccines and Omicron, and pills that fend off severe sickness.

There will be a surge, but it may be relatively manageable for health systems and if you're up to date on your boosters, relatively safe.

But (taps the sign) we're making that outcome less likely: We're making testing harder and less affordable, tests at home don't count towards official case counts, there's still no mandatory sick leave, and we're nowhere near vaccinating the world.

Like climate tech, the tools are now available to those who can afford them, but we have to actually choose to use them:

Less than 70% of Americans over 65 have had even one booster shot, millions of free government-funded tests are still waiting to be ordered, and folks in general aren't excited to wear masks again, the simplest measure to stop spread.

⚡️Action Step: Load up on home tests and good masks, get your booster if you're eligible, and bookmark and share the best wastewater surveillance dashboards: COVIDPoops (yes), and the CDC's.

FOOD & WATER

Water

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Little sips

The news: The scramble to mitigate dwindling fresh waster supplies amid leaky infrastructure, drought, and population growth is the most unheralded issue of our time and I've decided I'm going to keep banging on about it.

Understand it: I mean, it's water? There's a lot of "nice to have's" out there but water is not among them.

You subscribe to this newsletter so you know that California's water crisis isn't going to just affect lawns and Pressed Juice bottling, but also a quarter of the country's food and 40% of its fruits and veggies, which are delicious.

Like with cities now inevitably threatened by sea level rise, we have to have hard conversations about the west.

I will get some shit for this, and I genuinely try to avoid hyperbole, but California, Arizona, and the six other states primarily served by the Colorado River, a region where the population is projected to double by 2060, are in trouble.

Farmers are already getting zero water deliveries and pumping groundwater that doesn't exist. Calls for voluntary residential cutbacks to irrigation aren't enough.

The fabled and vitally important rainy season doesn't really exist any more, and while storms will bring temporary relief, that's just not how you sustain a population, much less one of the world's most vital breadbaskets.

Myriad cutbacks, shortcuts, and distribution deals with tribal nations (with powerful water rights) will make the short-term tenable, and even ignorable to many who can pay for the increasing cost of water, if they notice at all -- for now.

But aside from massively expensive and energy-intensive desalination, we're just not making any more water. As it warms, the drought will grow, and the only way to slow warming is to cut methane and carbon emissions, immediately.

If you've read everything above, you know we can do it. It's not going to be a pretty transition, but there's so much to save, and there's a far less volatile world on the other side.

⚡️Action Step: I've learned an enormous amount about water from Circle of Blue. I really, really, really recommend you read and listen to their work. Inform your policymaking and corporate policies, today.

HEALTH & BIO

Nurse

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Nursing America back to health

A brief reminder, if you're new here: SARS-Cov-2 was a pop quiz that tested every societal and economic choice we've made to date.

And while the mRNA vaccines are among humanity's greatest accomplishments, full-stop, making future viruses less likely to reach us and less deadly when they do requires going back and making different choices.

And now, the news: A new report shows 1/3 of US nurses plan to leave their roles in the next year, citing burnout, stress, benefits, and pay as the leading reasons why.

This is unfortunate, because nurses are fucking awesome.

But let's go deeper: 40% of those nurses say they're not quitting nursing, per se, but looking for nursing roles elsewhere.

Understand it: We were short a shit-ton of nurses before COVID, and we're increasingly short not just because 1 in 5 health workers have quit since COVID, and not just because most nurses are over 50 years old and ready to retire, but because nursing schools have turned away their replacements to the tune of 50,000+ qualified candidates every year.

Why?

Because there aren't enough faculty to train them, and there's not enough faculty to train them because we don't pay those faculty enough, and there isn't enough classroom space, and because our healthcare system profits from specialized doctors performing billable services.

All of this, despite the large amount of research showing more nurses equals better health outcomes.

Moral of the story: Training millions of well-paid nurses can alleviate soooo many existing and upcoming public health issues.

We've barely begun to study Long COVID, much less treat what may be a variety of lifelong health complications for millions, or help the chronically ill folks shunted aside for COVID.

30% of US adolescents are reported to have prediabetes. Heart attacks and strokes killed more people in the last two years than COVID and most of the causes -- tobacco, hypertension, and air pollution -- are, again, choices.

But we can also keep people out of the hospital. Upgrading our public health means making it easier for people to make the easy, healthy choices throughout their life. You can't just yell at people, Frank.

Subsidize legumes and walkable cities. Flood the airwaves with antitobacco ads while we regulate nicotine to fucking negligible levels, regulate insulin prices, regulate the shit out of sodium in packaged foods, and the same for pollution from power plants, automobiles, and stoves, and boom, diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes are manageable.

We won't cure everyone, but if we address our root weaknesses, the next virus won't be so deadly, and we'll have millions of nurses ready to listen and attend to the folks who do get sick.

⚡️Action Step: Nursing schools are mostly funded at the state level (Virginia is trying to increase funding to double the number of graduates). Contact your state representative to find out what the hell they're doing to increase funding for nursing schools. Some open scholarships for nursing students can be found here.

BEEP BOOP

Disinformation reigns

Facebook logo

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The news: One of the reasons I started INI was because so many friends and family who otherwise gave a shit were getting their news from Facebook, and well, we know how that turned out.

In 2022, Facebook's still at it. From Global Witness:

"When we simulated the experience of a climate-sceptic user on the platform, within a few clicks Facebook’s algorithm recommended content that denied the existence of man-made climate warming and attacked measures aimed at mitigating the climate crisis. Much of this content deployed culture war tactics to polarise debate around climate change and demonize environmental movements."

Understand it:  Facebook's disinformation allowances continue to not only hinder decarbonization efforts, but also, for example, fail to label "80% of posts promoting bioweapons conspiracy theories" in the war in Ukraine. Which is neat.

And this week, Facebook engineers conducted an investigation that "found that Facebook’s systems failed to properly demote probable nudity, violence, and even Russian state media the social network recently pledged to stop recommending in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine" in up to half of all News Feeds, or 1.5 billion people.

Taken in good faith and in isolation (haha, oh boy), these issues feel like bugs, not features (unlike Facebook's lobbying to get TikTok labeled a threat to American children).

On the whole and in real life, they continue to be indicative of a platform that suffocates or buys competition and, internally, is technically and morally ungovernable.

I am a nerd who occasionally writes science-fiction for money and yet I am increasingly less convinced we are supposed to be connected like this, at such vast scale.

You may use this moment to evangelize decentralized social networks, but while one could theoretically remove the massively powerful central actor (and concurrently any hope of content moderation), I am convinced that the error lies not with capitalism, the instant connections to billions of people, or the combination, but with humans ourselves: we may be unable to wield such a thing.

⚡️Action Step: Support The Markup, my favorite nonprofit newsroom that holds tech companies' feet to the fire. Not literally, which is too bad.

10 THINGS FROM MY NOTEBOOK

  • A tiny upstate New York town is holding the door against bitcoin
  • Greta's got a brand new book -- and 100 excellent contributors
  • The UN named a greenwashing bullshit detective panel
  • The Energy Department proposed tougher standards for A/C and pool heaters
  • After all this time, besides the obvious -- why have some people avoided COVID?
  • Ancient genetic tricks to improve crop yields are legit
  • These are the 2022 Grist 50!
  • Complex genetic testing on embryos may already be out of control
  • Styrofoam replacement TemperPack raised $140 milly
  • The US will release 2.4 billion genetically modified mosquitoes to battle deadly diseases

Thanks for reading, and thanks for giving a shit.

Have a great weekend.

-- Quinn

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