Clean Energy Gets a Billion Dollar Boost


James Joel | Flickr

Clean energy development will continue whether the White House supports it (as it has for the past eight years) or not. President-elect Trump may doubt the reality of climate change and favor fossil fuels, but a small army of his fellow plutocrats — led by Bill Gates — just announced a new billion-dollar fund to seek technology fixes for global warming (Quartz). Other initial investors in the new Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund include Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio, and Softbank’s Masayoshi Son.

The fund has a 20-year life and will begin making investments next year in a wide variety of clean-tech areas: electrical generation, batteries, industrial processes, farming, and energy efficiency. An earlier wave of clean energy investments a decade ago failed to pay off. But it did speed deployment of solar panels, electric cars, and other foundations of a new energy economy that might be riper today — readier to provide returns in profits as well as reduced greenhouse-gas emissions.

The Death of the American Dream, in Charts

If you define the “American dream” as the opportunity to do better in life than your parents did, well, that dream has been declining steadily for decades, according to a new report by a team of economists at Stanford, Harvard, and other universities.

The charts they’ve presented are “deeply alarming,” writes David Leonhardt (The New York Times), and paint “ a portrait of an economy that disappoints a huge number of people who have heard that they live in a country where life gets better, only to experience something quite different.”

Collectively and on average, we are still better off than previous generations, but the average doesn’t tell the whole story, given how drastically inequality has risen. Also: Our sense of well-being is relative, not absolute, and if we are failing to make more money than our parents, we’re likely to see ourselves as failures.

Trump’s Win Could Be Uber’s Salvation

Uber faces a rising tide of legal challenges around the world as different governments and cultures push back against its model, insisting that the drivers who use its platform should be treated more like employees and less like contractors. For a company that would rather see fewer regulations, the election of Donald Trump may have come just in time (Backchannel).

Of course, another word for “regulation” is “protection.” Trump’s appointments to the departments of transportation and labor and to the National Labor Relations Board are far less likely to step in to protect Uber drivers and other gig-economy workers than their Obama-eras predecessors. But most of Uber’s customers are crowded in the coastal cities where support for Trump is thin. This should give the company quite a needle to thread in the next year.

Help-line Workers Just Need a Break

Working the help-line phone banks may just be the digital age’s most hazardous job, at least psychologically. SpotHero, a startup with an app that finds drivers empty parking spaces, had a costly turnover problem on its help desk — employees kept leaving (NPR Planet Money). A manager persuaded the company’s leadership that the problem wasn’t with the employees at all, but with the workload.

SpotHero hired a bunch more people and solved its turnover problem. It also elevated these front-line workers to “hero” status — which may sound cheesy, but seems to have made them feel more appreciated.

Where Should Machines Go to Learn?

Machine-learning-based AI is only as good as the data on which it’s trained, writes Auren Hoffman (NewCo Shift). But acquiring, hosting, and preparing the huge data sets the new AI requires is a huge challenge, particularly for startups. And safeguarding individual privacy is tricky. A solution could lie in shared or rented data — data as a service.

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