Click below for the second episode of the podcast I mentioned last week. The answer to the question, whether Facebook is fixable, was a surprise. Although we use that platform, if passively, to promote entrepreneurial conservation in our businesses, I personally chose not to have an account. It was only recently that I began appreciating the value of that decision. Now, something similar with Amazon, for which I have had equal measures of awe and wariness. This episode helps me understand the details that make my instinctive wariness insufficient.
Some time later this year, Amazon could become the first trillion-dollar company in American history. Its valuation has already doubled in the last 14 months to about $800 billion, and Jeff Bezos, its founder and CEO, is officially the richest man on the planet.
There are ways in which Amazon seems to be the greatest company in American history. It’s revolutionized the global shopping experience and expanded into media and hardware, while operating on razor-thin margins that have astonished critics. But some now consider it the modern incarnation of a railroad monopoly, a logistics behemoth using its scale to destroy competition.
So what is Amazon: brilliant, dangerous, or both?
Thanks to Anna Brones for bringing this article, and its subject, to our attention in the Guardian, as a reprint of an essay originally published in Guernica:
America’s sustainable food movement has been steadily growing, challenging consumers to truly consider where our food comes from, and inspiring people to farm, eat local, and rethink our approaches to food policy. But at the same time, the movement is predominantly white, and often neglects the needs and root problems of diverse communities. Continue reading
It is Monday, a good time to revisit the “meatless” movement, the one where you take one small step at a time to a better diet. Thanks to Bibi van der Zee and colleagues at the Guardian for arranging this guide to all the good reasons to reduce or eliminate meat from the diet:
As concerns over the huge impact on the environment, human health and animal welfare grow, what future is there for the meat industry
What are the economics of meat?
Cattle in the Brazilian Amazon. Photograph: Rodrigo Baleia
Food and farming is one of the biggest economic sectors in the world. We are no longer in the 14th century, when as much as 76% of the population worked in agriculture – but farming still employs more than 26% of all workers globally. And that does not include the people who work along the meat supply chain: the slaughterers, packagers, retailers and chefs.
In 2016, the world’s meat production was estimated at 317m metric tons, and that is expected to continue to grow. Figures for the value of the global meat industry vary wildly from $90bn to as much as $741bn. Continue reading
A computer server farm in Iceland, dedicated to mining Bitcoin. Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times
Thanks to the New York Times for this story on how much electricity is required to create virtual currencies:
SAN FRANCISCO — Creating a new Bitcoin requires electricity. A lot of it.
An employee at a Bitmain facility in Inner Mongolia, one of the biggest Bitcoin farms in the world. Credit Giulia Marchi for The New York Times
In the virtual currency world this creation process is called “mining.” There is no physical digging, since Bitcoins are purely digital. But the computer power needed to create each digital token consumes at least as much electricity as the average American household burns through in two years, according to figures from Morgan Stanley and Alex de Vries, an economist who tracks energy use in the industry.
The total network of computers plugged into the Bitcoin network consumes as much energy each day as some medium-size countries — which country depends on whose estimates you believe. And the network supporting Ethereum, the second-most valuable virtual currency, gobbles up another country’s worth of electricity each day. Continue reading
Square Roots, on the site of the former Pfizer building in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where produce is grown in 10 shipping containers using only enhanced water and LEDs. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times
Ruffled feathers of slow food pioneers aside, Kimbal Musk’s projects focus on the link between food and community and his passion to make real food accessible to more people.
Kimbal Musk, 45, got rich working in tech alongside his older brother, Elon. Now he wants to do for food what his brother has done for electric cars and space travel.
Although Mr. Musk has food ventures humming along in Colorado, where he lives, as well as in big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, he has become enamored of places like Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio — parts of the country he believes are the ripest for a revolution in eating and agriculture…
Mr. Musk is promoting a philosophy he calls “real food,” which nourishes the body, the farmer and the planet. It doesn’t sound much different than what writers like Michael Pollan and everyone who has ever helped start a farmers’ market or community garden have preached for years.
But Mr. Musk has big ideas about what the Silicon Valley crowd likes to call the food space, which is as exciting to him as the internet was in 1995. “We’ve never seen this kind of innovation around food,” he said.
In short, he wants to create a network of business, educational and agricultural ventures big enough to swing the nation’s food system back to one based on healthy, local food grown on chemical-free farms.
“Food is this beautiful gift we give each other three times a day,” he’ll often tell a crowd, “but you couldn’t design a worse food system than what we have.”
The Google logo is spelled out in heliostats (mirrors that track the sun and reflect the sunlight onto a central receiving point) during a tour of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert near the California-Nevada border February 13, 2014. The project, a partnership of NRG, BrightSource, Google and Bechtel, is the world’s largest solar thermal facility and uses 347,000 sun-facing mirrors to produce 392 Megawatts of electricity, enough energy to power more than 140,000 homes. Photograph: Steve Marcus/Reuters
The often maligned Calvin Coolidge quote the “Business of America is Business” takes on a positive note when we consider that in the current political climate many corporations are stepping up where the federal administration falls short.
After the November elections, many of us in the climate and energy fields were rightfully fearful. What would happen to international agreements to cut greenhouse gases? What would happen to funding for climate research? What would happen to the green energy revolution?
In most instances, Trump is worse than we could have imagined. But in one special area, the president may not matter. That is in the growth of corporate purchasing of renewable energy. It turns out there are factors that even he cannot stop that make choosing renewable energy an easy decision for many companies.
New evidence about the unstoppable renewable energy wave recently came out in a report that was released by Apex Clean Energy and the GreenBiz Group. These groups surveyed corporations to determine their future plans on renewable energy installation and adoption. They wanted to know whether these plans had changed in the past few years and what motivated their decisions to implement renewable energy strategies. The outcome of this survey is available here for people who want to read the entire document.
The groups surveyed 153 major corporations (both public and private), whose combined revenue was in excess of $250 million. Among these companies, 84% are “actively pursuing or considering purchasing renewable energy over the next 5-10 years.” Surprisingly, they found that 43% of the corporations intend to be more aggressive in their pursuit of renewable energy in the next two years. 87% of those actively pursuing renewable energy purchases stated that the election had no impact on their decision.
In fact, 11% were more inclined to purchase renewable energy. Continue reading
Dairy cows in Fresno County, Calif. Some of the reductions in a state proposal to reduce emissions would come from curbing emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from manure piles at dairy farms. Credit Scott Smith/Associated Press
We appreciate California’s heroic measures to take responsibility and show leadership where it can on climate change:
Over the past decade, California has passed a sweeping set of climate laws to test a contentious theory: that it’s possible to cut greenhouse gas emissions far beyond what any other state has done and still enjoy robust economic growth.
Now that theory faces its biggest test yet. Last August, the State Legislature set a goal of slashing emissions more than 40 percent below today’s levels by 2030, a far deeper cut than President Barack Obama proposed for the entire United States and deeper than most other countries have contemplated.
So how will California pull this off? Continue reading
A male chimpanzee hooting in the wild forests of western Uganda. Deforestation in the country is occurring at some of the fastest rates on Earth, shrinking the habitat of this endangered species. Credit Suzi Eszterhas/Minden Pictures
Thanks to the New York Times for this refresher on the basics of climate change and what is needed that we can most easily do to counter its effects:
By Brad Plumer
The tropical forests in western Uganda, home to a dwindling population of endangered chimpanzees, are disappearing at some of the fastest rates on Earth as local people chop down trees for charcoal and to clear space for subsistence farming.
Now, a team of researchers has shown that there is a surprisingly cheap and easy way to slow the pace of deforestation in Uganda: Just pay landowners small sums not to cut down their trees. Their study, published in the journal Science on Thursday, demonstrated this by conducting something all too rare in environmental policy — a controlled experiment. Continue reading
Mangroves play an essential role in maintaining healthy life on earth, and we’ve been privileged to work in many locations where we’ve seen their impact on biodiversity levels first-hand, including India.
Frequently these ecosystems are under threat of habitat loss, whether for agricultural or land development. Thanks again to Anthropocene for adding up the facts in such clear terms.
Conservationists frequently say that ecosystems are worth more when they’re left untouched. But to whom? Local communities who could potentially farm the land might wonder, what’s the real benefit of leaving wild areas intact?
In the Bhitarkanika mangrove in Odisha, India, a group of Indian researchers grappling with this question have arrived at a surprising answer. By leaving the mangrove intact, they say, Bhitarkanika’s surrounding communities can in fact reap almost double the economic benefits they’d get from simply converting the mangrove to crops. Continue reading
Mark Twain called it the Gilded Age. In his period there was plenty of reason to be concerned about monopoly powers, especially those of railroads. Echoes in the present day, of reasons to be concerned about the same, seem to be getting louder and clearer. We have shared concerns about Amazon in the past. Those were mostly little creepy concerns. But little creepy things sometimes grow big. Sometimes Amazon big. Thanks to Lina M. Khan, a legal fellow with the Open Markets Program at New America and the author of “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” recently published by the Yale Law Journal. She has made clear, in a concise essay, exactly what we need to be concerned about with Amazon.
…For consumers, so far, Amazon has delivered many benefits. Its Prime program enables users to receive, through a click, almost any item within two days. But for producers — those who make and create things — Amazon’s dominance poses immense risks. Continue reading
Growing coffee provides income for about 15 percent of Ethiopia’s population and is the country’s top export. Climate change is likely to shrink the land suitable for coffee, thereby also hurting the livelihoods of many people.
Courtesy of Emily Garthwaite
Change is almost never easy. Then there is climate change. Daunting, but we cannot stop considering the implications and the options. The planet may recover in geological time, the underlying logic of those who promote denial of the urgency, but plenty of people are at risk in real time, so no option but to keep focus.
Thanks to the salt, at National Public Radio (USA) for a reminder of coffee‘s relationship with conservation, a reminder of Ethiopia in general, which is always welcome, and especially Ethiopia’s relationship with one of our favorite beverages:
by Courtney Columbus
Ethiopia gave the world Coffea arabica, the species that produces most of the coffee we drink these days. Today, the country is the largest African producer of Arabica coffee. The crop is the backbone of the country’s economy – some 15 million Ethiopians depend on it for a living. Continue reading
Economic value of coral reefs for tourism (A). This figure summarises the combined dollar values of expenditures for on-reef and reef-adjacent tourism. Reefs without assigned tourism value are grey; all other reefs present values binned into quintiles. Lower panels show Kenya and Tanzania (B), South-central Indonesia (C), and Northern Caribbean, with part of Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas (D). (Further maps can be seen in Appendix A and online at maps.oceanwealth.org
A country that depends on its coral reef to attract visitors, as Belize does, has every reason to pay attention to the various sciences paying attention to those reefs. Mostly marine biologists, perhaps, but also economists. Geeks and wonks are heroically gathering information, processing it, publishing it and if not for The Nature Conservancy’s efforts some of us might not ever see it.
The August, 2017 issue of Marine Policy, an academic journal, carries the article “Mapping the global value and distribution of coral reef tourism” by the scientists Mark Spalding, Lauretta Burke, Spencer A. Wood, Joscelyne Ashpole, James Hutchison, and Philine zu Ermgassen and TNC’s Cool Green Science has a summary in common language. Also they complement the academic illustration above with one of their own:
If it’s true that people reveal their true values by how they spend their money, coral reefs are very valuable indeed. In fact, according to a new study in the Journal Marine Policy coral reef tourism generates $36 billion (U.S) in global value every year. Continue reading
Thanks to Anthropocene for this summary:
Aerial view of flooded rice fields participating in California’s BirdReturns program. White areas are dense gatherings of birds. Photo © Drew Kelly for The Nature Conservancy
The Moneyball approach to thinking about how to make the next big breakthroughs in conservation–not surprising that we are hearing this from The Nature Conservancy’s best and brightest:
BY ERIC HALLSTEIN, SARAH HEARD
Engaging in markets is not new for The Nature Conservancy. But with our roots as a land trust, we thought about markets in a very specific way. We bought property to protect biodiversity using donor and public funding. We were in the market for “externalities.” Continue reading
S.W. Reddy’s discussion of the islands where she carried out empirical research in the behavioral economics vein reminds of some fundamental similarities to Kerala, especially the fish and coconuts part. Thanks to the Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science for bringing this to our attention (if you do not have 15 minutes for the video now, save the text below for later reading):
By Sheila Walsh Reddy
Behavioral science and economics have provided important insights for health, finance, and many other domains, but are largely untapped resources for conservation. A new paper in Conservation Letters helps practitioners tap into behavioral sciences. Continue reading
Thanks to Bloomberg for a surprising bit of good news about the prospects for solar energy going forward:
Emerging markets are leapfrogging the developed world thanks to cheap panels.
by Tom Randall
A transformation is happening in global energy markets that’s worth noting as 2016 comes to an end: Solar power, for the first time, is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity. Continue reading
The book “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds,” by Michael Lewis, tells the story of the psychologists Amos Tversky, left, and Daniel Kahneman, right. Photograph Courtesy Barbara Tversky
We are more and more intrigued by this book, reviewed by two who knew the subject(s) better than most:
By Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler
In 2003, we reviewed “Moneyball,” Michael Lewis’s book about Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s. The book, we noted, had become a sensation, despite focussing on what would seem to be the least exciting aspect of professional sports: upper management. Beane was a failed Major League Baseball player who went into the personnel side of the business and, by applying superior “metrics,” had remarkable success with a financial underdog. We loved the book—and pointed out that, unbeknownst to the author, it was really about behavioral economics, the combination of economics and psychology in which we shared a common interest, and which we had explored together with respect to public policy and law. Continue reading
We believe in the core principle from market-based economics that incentives drive behavior. We lean toward behavioral economics as a more robust and believable model than the standard “homo economicus” (read oversimplified but mathematically model-able idea of human decision-making) taught to most 20th century students. We believe that desire for recognition is an incentive commonly found among super-achievers. And this explains why “big” prizes are created and tend to matter over time. Not to suggest that geniuses chase prizes (on the contrary, much of the time).
But the Nobel probably inspires its fair share of young academics in a few fields. For that reason we find this editorial opinion piece quite compelling, especially due to the first example given:
In the mid-1960s, Robert Paine, a scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, discovered a hidden organizing principle in the coastal ecosystem he was studying. When a certain species of starfish was present, a panoply of algae, limpets, barnacles, anemones and mussels lived in delicate, dynamic balance. But when he removed the starfish and tossed them into the ocean, that balance collapsed and one kind of mussel took over.
Dr. Paine coined a term to describe the starfish’s outsize influence: keystone species. Keystone species have since been identified in forests, in grasslands, in the ocean and even in the human gut. The concept has become one of ecology’s guiding theoretical principles, Continue reading
Image credit: Royal Olive via Flickr
A thought-provoking question, the economic and political debate over regulation and efficiency is one that has plagued governments long before the US Environmental Protection Agency was created. But with the EPA’s role in regulating pollution (among other things, of course) has come the question of whether corporations can actually benefit in the long run as a result of more stringent requirements that prevent wanton waste, for instance, being put in public waters. Sarah DeWeerdt reports:
According to conventional economic wisdom, the cost of complying with environmental regulations represents a burden that eats into companies’ profits. But another view, known as the Porter hypothesis, holds that environmental regulations can spur innovation and increased efficiency, ultimately increasing profitability.
Economists have debated these ideas for the past two decades but have had little direct empirical evidence to help settle the matter. Now, researchers Dietrich Earnhart of the University of Kansas and Dylan Rassier of the U.S. Department of Commerce have provided such a real-world test with a look at the U.S. chemical manufacturing industry between 1995 and 2001.