The Impact

Avoiding climate tipping points

To: The Impact Readers

Howdy 👋

So the unofficial, official Miami Tech Week happened – I wasn’t there…but if Twitter is good for anything the threads from all the VCs that did attend are a great way to live vicariously through their tweets.

Maybe we should do a Miami Clean Tech Week 🤔 Complete with paper cups, an EV car show and recycled fabric Patagonia jackets. Oh and powered by floating solar panels…Let me know if you’d be interested and we’ll tweet at the Miami Mayor.

– Swarnav S Pujari

In Your Inbox: What is the value of avoiding climate tipping points; Organic Waste Management; Why we need to invest in climate tech now

📃 POLICY & FINANCE

Valuing the Avoidance of Climate Tipping Points

By John Conor Ryan • is a physicist and business analyst, working on macro-economics of the end of fossil fuels.

What is the true value of a climate normalizing technology. (Image: Sophia)
What is the true value of a climate normalizing technology. (Image: Sophia)

How to value a climate-normalizing technology, or enterprise?

This is an vast and complex subject. One important approach is this: let’s think about how to value climate-normalizing solutions on the basis of whether they’re deployable rapidly, creating climate benefits in years, not decades. These would be particularly critical if earth is nearing a set of tipping points – points where small increments cause substantial and irreversible alteration to the climate.

Each climate tech solution aims to tackle some niche of the global climate crisis. We value these technologies as substitutes – where we may pay a small price premium for the betterment of society, but little more. Then, there is no way to see one niche, one narrow technology, as more or less vital than the next.

We need to change the calculation for climate tech solutions. The focus needs to be on the impact these solutions have toward reversing us away from tipping points on the scale towards full global meltdown. Thus, we need to rethink how society, governments and groups can view the value of climate technologies, and create prioritized solutions to prioritized problems.

Breaking down climate tipping points

We are moving, seemingly inexorably, toward multiple tipping points, each of which creates a change from which it is hard to come back. There are some well-known examples: Amazon forest dieback is accelerated by deforestation. Methane release from Siberian permafrost is accelerated by increasing temperatures. Disruption of monsoons or of the Atlantic circulation (the warming stream that keeps Europe’s temperatures moderate), among others.

Clearly the probable existence of irreversible points-of-no-return in climate damage would put a tremendous premium on solutions – behavioral, carbon sequestration, and other solutions – to be put in place before the entire climate collapses. Reading the scientific literature on this is breathtaking: sober discussions and thoughtful, quantitative analyses where the unspoken “if we get this wrong” consequences may include the obliteration of humanity.

Reforestation as a means to avoid the Amazonian deforestation tipping point

Understanding the nature of such tipping points, at a quantitative level, is key to assessing how fast we must act and extending on this, to be blunt, how much we should spend. Some of the climate-disrupting actions – combatting Amazon forest dieback on the ground in Brazil and Peru – may be more tractable economically and logistically in relatively short timescales than others – large-scale active carbon sequestration, perhaps.

A short-term, large-scale investment directed at reversing or preventing the fast-onset tipping points might have greater beneficial outcomes than a broader approach. Sounds reasonable? Where to start? Given the current, retrograde stance of Brazil, it might be easier to start elsewhere in the region, aiming to simultaneously get the science and the economics right, and to start building the ability to reverse out of tipping points.

So, it’s interesting to see analyses that start to distinguish between fast-onset tipping mechanisms and slower-acting ones.

A paper in Nature this month moves this forward, with some key conclusions:

  • Many tipping points don’t immediately get to an irreversible stage. For many, it will be possible to reverse back out before the climate system is irretrievably in a different state.
  • How far away the point-of-no-return is depends on the inherent timescale of the system, and the rate of change of Earth’s surface temperature – thus, how soon we can bring global warming under control.
  • The analyses, admitted by the authors as relatively simple, suggest that tipping points can be reversed out of … generally in about the same time scale as it took to trigger one. Some tippings occur in decades, others in centuries and still others in millenia.

How we can value climate normalizing technologies

So, while carbon sequestration (for example) is imperative in steering the climate toward a tolerable future, reversing tippings is also key. And some tipping events can be more easily and more rapidly reversed than others.

And this provides a new way to think about the challenges, particularly the costs, of re-balancing, renormalizing our climate. For each tipping point, we can imagine a complete cost.

The consequences may be different, even wildly different, from a complete cost based only on gross carbon sequestration – for example, a cost to capture carbon dioxide or methane from the atmosphere to bring levels to appropriate levels. But the carbon capture estimates do not take into account the multiple looming tipping points, and the direction described here does.

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🚀 STARTUPS & TECH

Organic Waste Management Made Just as Simple as Taking Out the Trash

By Daniel Kriozere • is a Business Analyst at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and aspiring investor & advisor to clean-tech startups.

Turning organic waste into compost through BioCoTech Americas’ aerobic, microbial, dry, and continuous technology. (Image: BioCoTech Americas)
Turning organic waste into compost through BioCoTech Americas’ aerobic, microbial, dry, and continuous technology. (Image: BioCoTech Americas)

Food waste is an enormous environmental, social and economic problem. The issue at hand has as much to do with the need for innovation but also for regulatory-induced alignment of incentives.

This week, Tanner Farrow, the Director of Operations of BioCoTech Americas, discussed what he is working on. BioCoTech Americas’ mission is to create value within the waste management system by allowing businesses to effortlessly process organic waste on-site. Below are the key takeaways from the conversation.

Why does this matter?

  • According to Project Drawdown, tackling food waste is one of the top solutions, as rotting food produces harmful methane gas.
  • Experts suggest that addressing Short-term Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCPs) offers the best chance at mitigating climate change. SLCPs, like methane, have upwards of 30X the climate change potential than that of CO2.
  • Initiatives and legislation are being enacted around the world to reduce food waste, however inedible organic waste is inevitable and must be disposed of in a sustainable manner.
  • In the United States organic waste landfill bans and zero-waste initiatives are going mainstream. Much of the legislation enforcement, which will come in the form of substantial monetary penalties, already has or will become effective within a short time frame. As a result, the demand for organic recycling facilities outweighs the capacity of the infrastructure.
  • Due to the lack of infrastructure, many entities will be unable to comply with legislation. If businesses can comply, they will incur an organic waste hauling expense that tends to be larger expense than landfilling.
  • BioCoTech Americas is innovating to bring their easy-to-use technology to where the waste is produced. Because each component of the decomposition process is meticulously managed by the machine, their technology requires virtually no user input in the compost processes – the process is as simple as taking out the trash.

What’s next?

  • BioCoTech Americas will enable businesses to meet and comply with new legislation and strive towards zero-waste goals.
  • As a result, implementing their technology will eliminate organic waste collection expenses and eliminate GHG from transportation and off-site treatment. Depending on regional waste hauling tipping fees and ancillary costs, their clients typically break-even quickly, receive healthy ROIs, and save thousands and even millions of dollars over 10 years.   
  • The end product is no longer considered waste by law or application, but rather a valuable compost resource that can be used on-site, donated to local gardens, schools, or farms, and even sold.
  • BioCoTech Americas’ BioSpeed technology has gained traction and has deployed in multiple countries in Europe, the Middle East, Canada, and the United States.

Future Outlook

Governments, industries, and businesses across all sectors are on the fast track towards creating a Circular Economy. With the rise of urban gardens, hydroponics, cultured meat, aquaponics, and so on, BioCoTech Americas envisions a decentralized food supply system – organic waste can easily be recycled with their technology and nutrient-rich compost can be used locally to grow food.

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📃 POLICY & FINANCE

Why Now Is the Time to Invest in Climate Technology

By Tristan Pollock • is a tech entrepreneur and startup investor who has built and sold 2 ImpactTech companies as well as invested $30M into startups.

COVID is setting the stage for accelerating ClimateTech startups. (Image: Unsplash)
COVID is setting the stage for accelerating ClimateTech startups. (Image: Unsplash)
Tick tock. Time is of the essence.
 
As we slowly creep out of the COVID era, we are quickly approaching the world’s next big conundrum: Climate Change.
 
Just like COVID-19, a global pandemic-like effect will occur. The resulting entrepreneurial reaction will be just as big and industry agnostic, if not bigger. Yes, there will be segments of the populations more or less affected. During COVID, those in poor health and our elders were a prime target. That allowed new medical innovations faster than ever before.
 
During Climate Change, it may be more about where you live and your geographic susceptibility to strengthening natural disasters or rising sea levels. At least in the early years. In another 20-40 years, we may see mass migrations away from coastal cities worldwide, even in the United States. Americans will move northward to escape extreme levels of heat and humidity.
 
This human movement will allow new technology and startup hubs just like COVID did via remote work and a mass migration away from expensive, congested cities like San Francisco and New York. The way we move, transportation of both ourselves and things, has proven to be the number one target of greenhouse gases, giving the breadth of climate technology spanning to mobility startups and logistics alike.
 
Our way of life will change in both slow and quick ways. And you won’t be able to stay at home to avoid disaster this time around. The ecosystems that support our incredibly dynamic provider, Mother Earth, will reach breaking points without drastic emissions reductions. This understanding is not only agreed upon by the scientific community but the agriculture community as well.
 
Food is essential to all living things, humans included. The way food is grown, what is grown, and where it is grown will have to change in a hotter world. A warming planet demands not just a migration of farm locations but smarter choices of what to farm. We are already moving away from animals as our primary source of food and a vast emissions problem. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are two bright, shining examples of how the meat we eat doesn’t need to be meat anymore.
Redefining our relationship with animals and nature will be critical. If we think we are the smarter beings on this planet, then we should act it. That doesn’t mean destroying habitats for food, homes, and profits because we can. That’s the sloppy way. That means finding ways to live in harmony with the existing natural world. And not just maintaining, but regrowing.
Like David Attenborough said in his 2020 witness statement, we need to allow our wild spaces to thrive. In doing so, we will reduce extinctions, emissions and reconnect with nature in ways that will help our communities and health flourish.
 
From zero waste to the circular economy, movements are growing around plastic alternatives and responsible environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) practices for managing the waste you produce. Let’s finally say goodbye to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
 
We’ve already seen what a pandemic can do to our mental health, and happiness at scale wasn’t even close to figured out before that. In part, that’s why companies like Calm and Headspace have become unicorn, billion-dollar businesses.
 
Climate Change is already harming our mental health. Many people are worried, distressed by the destruction we have caused to our world that seemingly has no end as long as economic growth is in sight.
But what if we can turn that economic growth into social impact and climate technologies that positively affect our lives and make us money. I think we can. We will. And it’s already happening on a massive scale.
 
Over $60 billion of global early-stage capital was invested into startups tackling the World Economic Forum’s The Net-Zero Challenge. Elon Musk of Tesla just offered $100 million to the best carbon capture technology. Chamath Palihapitiya of Social Capital thinks climate tech will be a $1 trillion industry in 10 years or less. A new PWC report, The State of Climate Tech 2020, showed that climate tech investment is growing faster than the venture capital industry as a whole.
 
We are heading in the right direction. Now it’s time to double drawdown.
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📻 PODCAST UPDATES

How Bitcoin Mining Can Catalyze Solar Development w/ Max Webster

We talked with Max Webster from Version One VC about how Bitcoin Mining with Solar can help accelerate the adoption of solar. His thesis is that when Bitcoin Mining is used to mine Bitcoin during times of abundant or excess solar power you can make solar more profitable. As Bitcoin’s price stabilizes and continues to grow, Bitcoin becomes a great source of value for excess solar power that would have been lost. He also discusses how Bitcoin Mining can and should be explored as a flexible load for solar.

Editors: Swarnav S Pujari, Daniel Kriozere Writers: John Connor Ryan, Tristan Pollock

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