What’s the True Cost of Carbon?


Steve Nelson | Flickr

Carbon accounting passes legal muster. If we’re going to fix the climate, we have to plug it into our numbers — the statistical models and accounting books that drive decision-making in business, government, and ultimately, our lives. The Obama administration has been trying to require its agencies to include the “social cost” of carbon in all their calculations, and opponents have pushed back in the courts. Those challenges got consolidated into one big appeal, and this week, a federal appeals court upheld the White House, maintaining the rules (Bloomberg). That’s good news as we try to imagine retooling the national and global economy so it doesn’t wreck the planet — by, for example, figuring out how to transform coal jobs into solar jobs (Grist). There’ll be plenty of argument about how to price each unit of climate havoc: for 2015, the feds calculate $36 for each ton of carbon emitted. Anything is better than pretending it costs nothing at all.

Old starts to become the new young. Graying boomers at the tail ends of their careers are facing discrimination, many for the first time (Washington Post). That means more bad blood in the inter-generational grudge match between millennials and their elders, and more lost opportunities for companies that snub veteran employees — and lose their expertise. If there’s an upside here, it’s that older workers may gain more empathy for the many other kinds of discrimination so many colleagues face, and embrace diversity wholeheartedly instead of resenting it, as some do. Even if your organization believes (as Mark Zuckerberg once said) that “young people are just smarter,” and isn’t deterred by the legal or moral case against ageism, it may have to get more comfortable with hiring olds: many countries’ workforces are graying rapidly (Bloomberg). When it comes to aging, no one’s exempt.

Blockchain companies try a new kind of bootstrapping. “App coins” are tokens that software projects in the Bitcoin/blockchain/fintech world distribute to fund their own work (Coinbase blog). They are like digital or in-game currencies, but for startups and distributed open-source projects, who hand them out to contributors or sell them to investors. They can even be used, as Fred Wilson marvels, to compensate customers victimized by a digital break-in. If you have app coins, you can use them to pay for services provided by the issuer, hang on to them and hope they appreciate, or trade them in now for cash at the market rate. You can think of them as a new kind of crowdfunding — a technology for marketizing and monetizing people’s belief in a new company or project. Coinbase says app coins have been issued to raise $250 million in the last four months. Right now they’re still hard to understand and use. But they map a route to financing new enterprises that cuts out the traditional VC funding system, and they could open the door for companies and ideas that have trouble finding backing today.

Bad and good news for the pot industry. On Thursday the Drug Enforcement Administration turned down an effort to get cannabis reclassified as a less dangerous kind of substance — meaning that it will remain in the same tier as heroin and meth (Pacific Standard). Governors of states that have moved to decriminalize marijuana, and entrepreneurs trying to build businesses in the space, had hoped the DEA would begin to align local policies with the federal government’s. The DEA said it couldn’t act because there’s no good evidence that pot has any real medical value. That could be because federal rules have long stymied cannabis research. But change is coming: This week also brought news (The New York Times) that the Obama administration would allow many research institutions to begin growing marijuana for research purposes. Until now, the University of Mississippi was the only school in that club.

Muscles losing out to brains, heart. New research divides work into three dimensions: “people, brains, and brawn” (The Atlantic). In different degrees and combinations, all jobs call on us either to connect with other people, to apply our intellects to the world, or to perform physical tasks. “People” jobs like therapists and nurses are expected to keep growing. “Brain” jobs aren’t going away, either: AI doesn’t just grow on trees. But if you like to work with your hands, the 21st century may leave them idle.

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