all posts tagged 'climate change'

How to Scale Nuclear Power

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The baggage around nuclear power largely stems from an inaccurate, almost mystical notion of how it works. In reality, contemporary nuclear power plants boast exceptional safety records and produce astonishingly minimal waste relative to their immense energy output. Additionally, their compact footprint allows for versatile placement: They don’t require areas with ample sun or wind, are dispatchable when needed, and realistically could be placed on-site at particularly important facilities as a steady supply of clean power. 

But if we’re going to normalize nuclear power as a reliable and well-understood energy source, it’s essential to understand how we’ve ended up in our current situation. It’s also important to recognize that although much of this post focuses on large-scale nuclear fission reactors — because that’s what have been delivering civilian power for the past several decades — smaller, more modular reactors will likely play a major role going forward, perhaps as a means to address more local, and even hyper-local, energy needs.

I’m taking all of this with a grain of salt because it was written by the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, but I did find this to be a fascinating overview of the history of nuclear power.

In particular, I enjoyed the explanation of a nuclear meltdown and why, thanks to evolutions in technology, those are unlikely to ever happen again.

There were also plenty of phrases used (carbon rod, Diablo Canyon) which sparked my inner Simpsons nerd.

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Seabound: Charting a Course to Decarbonize Shipping

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Seabound’s carbon capture technology diverts a ship’s exhaust gas into a container full of small pebbles of calcium oxide, which chemically react with CO2 in the exhaust gas to form calcium carbonate. In other words, we make limestone onboard ships, effectively locking the CO2 into small pebbles. When the ship returns to port, we offload the limestone and either: 1) sell it for use as a building material, or 2) recycle the pebbles to separate the CO2 from the calcium oxide so that we can reuse the calcium oxide to capture more CO2 on another ship, and then sell the pure CO2 for clean fuel production or geological sequestration.

Our process is unique because we only capture the CO2 onboard and leave it locked in limestone, rather than trying to separate and liquefy the pure CO2 from the limestone onboard as well. These steps of separation and liquefaction are typically the most complicated, expensive, and energy-intensive for carbon capture technologies, which is why we’ve shifted them to shore where we can leverage economies of scale and land-based energy infrastructure.

This is the sort of solution I want to be a part of. How cool of a concept is this?!

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How to Find Joy in Climate Action

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I have a habit of listening to podcasts and jotting down reminders to check out stuff that the hosts recommend, and then never ultimately getting back to consume that content.

I stumbled upon this video today while spelunking through my reminders app, and I felt like it was fitting considering (a) an upcoming thing that I’m really excited to share soon, and (b) it helps tie together the two most recent posts on this blog.

The part that made me go “ah, damn” was when she mentioned that most people who go through this exercise end up with some form of communication as their climate action.

After completing the exercise, the two things I wrote down were:

  1. Do the podcast idea, build your network of “doers” in various climate fields, leverage the network to institute policy change and inspire others into action.

  2. Do the podcast idea, discover a company doing something cool in climate (terrible pun), join that company.

The other thing Ayana warns in this video is to not start with your solution in mind, but dang, that’s just not fair, is it?

Either way, going through this venn diagram exercise gave me a lot to think about, and I’m quite curious to hear what you think if you end up doing this as well.

We can’t afford to be climate doomers

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Rebecca Solnit, writing for The Guardian:

I keep saying I respect despair as an emotion, but not as an analysis. You can feel absolutely devastated about the situation and not assume this predicts outcome; you can have your feelings and can still chase down facts from reliable sources, and the facts tell us that the general public is not the problem; the fossil fuel industry and other vested interests are; that we have the solutions, that we know what to do, and that the obstacles are political; that when we fight we sometimes win; and that we are deciding the future now.

Another great friend sent me this last night after reading my Shatner post, and his comment was “it’s too easy and too unsatisfying to give up entirely.”

This article gave me the shot in the arm I’ve been needing. Maybe I need to start saying “okay, doomer.”

At the tail end of my full time involvement with JMG, I was pushing into the idea of climate work within mobile app development. As I was thinking of my next side hustle, climate work was the first thing that came to mind.

But as I started to consider where I wanted to go with focus, I started getting overwhelmed. There is so much that is being done in climate, and in addition to feeling unapproachable, it also felt like “what’s the point?”

My big idea was to start a podcast where I chatted with folks in the climate industry to hear the stories of what work is being done to clean up our planet.

Some companies I’d want to start with would be Ecosia (who is building a sustainable search engine), Treecard (which is a debit card that plants trees), and The Ocean Cleanup (which uses this dope-looking boat to get plastic out of the ocean).

This is supremely cool shit that’s being done, yet thanks to doomerism, I’ve felt paralyzed from starting.

Maybe this article will be the shot in the arm I need to start helping in just about the only way I know how: helping others make sense of the work that’s being done to solve this seemingly insolvable problem.

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William Shatner: “My Trip to Space Filled Me With Sadness”

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I learned later that I was not alone in this feeling. It is called the “Overview Effect” and is not uncommon among astronauts, including Yuri Gagarin, Michael Collins, Sally Ride, and many others.

Essentially, when someone travels to space and views Earth from orbit, a sense of the planet’s fragility takes hold in an ineffable, instinctive manner. Author Frank White first coined the term in 1987: “There are no borders or boundaries on our planet except those that we create in our minds or through human behaviors. All the ideas and concepts that divide us when we are on the surface begin to fade from orbit and the moon. The result is a shift in worldview, and in identity.”

It can change the way we look at the planet but also other things like countries, ethnicities, religions; it can prompt an instant reevaluation of our shared harmony and a shift in focus to all the wonderful things we have in common instead of what makes us different. It reinforced tenfold my own view on the power of our beautiful, mysterious collective human entanglement, and eventually, it returned a feeling of hope to my heart.

In this insignificance we share, we have one gift that other species perhaps do not: we are aware—not only of our insignificance, but the grandeur around us that makes us insignificant. That allows us perhaps a chance to rededicate ourselves to our planet, to each other, to life and love all around us. If we seize that chance.

I had a chance to grab some drinks recently with a good friend of mine who I consider to be the absolute smartest person I’ve ever met.

As is often the case, our chat devolved into a brutal critique of the current state of affairs: the real threat of nuclear war in Europe, dealing with the ramifications of climate change, the weaponization of artificial intelligence, and so forth.

As we were wrapping up our chat, I got the sense that both of us were looking to each other for a glimmer of hope. Something that would allow us to go to bed thinking, “yeah, the world sucks right now, but we’ll figure it out.”

Wiliam Shatner’s observation about our species’ ability to be aware of such things might be the thing that we could have potentially used.

Our awareness is what gives us such existential dread in a moment in history that is otherwise the undisputed best time to be a human.

We need to balance our innate ability of detecting danger with our other innate abilities of strategizing and inventing.

After all, what’s the point of stressing about the future if there is no hope? What’s the point of fixing the future if we can’t also appreciate the present?

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Your Kids Are Not Doomed

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My children will live a story that I cannot write and cannot control. It will be their story. To become a parent is to feel, every day, the weight and hope and terror of that fact. I can’t tell you whether it’s the right choice for you, but no climate model can, either.

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Leave It Better | Pack It Out

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Who couldn’t love a story like this? Two people biked across America with a mission to pack out as much trash as they could.

A beautifully told story that compels one to really take stock on what matters in life.