Business Cannot Fly Blind Through The Climate Crisis


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

Steven Miller | Flickr

Last week we told you about the federal climate scientists who are backing up their data to protect it from Trump administration tampering or neglect. But plenty of other information we need to steer our economy through the dangers of climate change is under threat.

Over the past decade the federal government began adding calculations of the social costs of carbon emissions to the ledgers it uses when it does cost-benefit analyses of rules and regulations. But Trump administration transition officials have said they plan to drop that practice. Michael Greenstone and Cass Sunstein, two policy experts who helped shape the Obama administration’s carbon cost estimates, argue (in The New York Times) that without such calculations, we’ll be flying blind into the climate disaster, unable to make informed choices about balancing economic costs and climate benefits. “Wishing that we did not face this trade-off,” they write, “will not make it go away.”

Meanwhile, The Times also reports, a G20 task force urges big companies to disclose climate-related risks voluntarily and to undergo climate-risk “stress tests” to see how they’d fare in likely warming scenarios. The report is partly an acknowledgment that, in the U.S., at least, we’re unlikely to see such disclosures made mandatory any time soon. It’s also a sign that smart businesses understand that reality always wins, and that the longer we defer reckoning with the impact of climate change, the more it will mess with our prosperity.

Planning for a warming planet, and preventing the most catastrophic scenarios, is just due diligence — which is why the G20 report’s advisers weren’t all environmentalists or politicians but also included bankers and mining executives. As task force chair Michael Bloomberg put it: “Climate change is not only an environmental problem, but a business one as well.”

In Tech, Trump Resisters and Collaborators

The list of Silicon Valley companies who say they won’t help build a Muslim registry for the Trump administration keeps growing, and it now includes Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Uber (The Verge). Amazon and Oracle? They’re not saying. IBM? Maybe — CEO Gini Rometty has been promising cooperation with the incoming administration. More than 2,200 engineers, designers, and other tech employees have signed the “Never Again” pledge refusing to contribute to such a project. And more than 125 founders and CEOs have signed a similar pledge to protect civil liberties and not to contribute to projects that infringe on them (NewCo Shift).

One company that stands decidedly on the other side of the fence: Palantir, a firm founded by Trump confidante Peter Thiel, named after J.R.R. Tolkien’s magical (and easily corrupted) surveillance stones, and heavily invested in government spying projects. The Intercept reports that Palantir is positively champing at the bit to pitch in with any and all Trump-era anti-immigration measures — and to cash in on the associated government contracts.

How Much Can Cities Help the Climate On Their Own? (A Lot.)

With climate action unlikely at the federal level in a Trump-governed U.S., people are turning to cities for leadership — and finding it. The group known as C40 is a global network of progressive mayors committed to reducing carbon emissions and meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. They’ve spent a decade trading ideas and making plans, and last month they reported some progress (Wired).

If their cities collectively meet their emission-reduction targets, they can get the world 40 percent of the way toward meeting the Paris plan’s most ambitious goals. That’s not enough by itself, of course, but it’s quite a substantial fraction, and it suggests some room for hope, which we could all sorely use.

Why Automating Manufacturing Doesn’t Have to Kill Jobs

In many industries, making stuff is still a craft-based undertaking, and machinists pass down folklore knowhow through apprenticeships. Nick Pinkston, who grew up in the steel country outside of Pittsburgh and now runs a Bay Area startup called Plethora, thinks the whole field of custom manufacturing is ready for some major-league automation — but opportunities for human jobs will increase, too (Kim-Mai Cutler in Initialized Capital).

Pinkston wants to move away from the old “guild mentality,” automating factories without leaving people behind — and aims to do so by training workers in fundamentals rather than specific tasks. At Plethora, he says, new employees get to move faster into positions of responsibility and high skill that they’d wait years for at more traditional outfits: “In three to six months, we can take you from not knowing anything to programming the most complicated machines in our factory.”

The model is worth watching, and not only because it holds out hope for the U.S.’s depressed manufacturing zones. As Pinkston sees it, the road that machine shops are going down today is where software and computer programming will end up tomorrow. “Computer programmers are not going to be a white collar job in the long run,” he says. “Machinists were the programmers of 100 years ago.”

Confessions of a Funded Female Founder

Do women build startups differently than men do? In a two-part essay, Jory Des Jardins says that the answer, often, is “yes” (NewCo Shift). Women founders are often less enthralled by cool tech and more interested in delivering functionality than the male execs they turn to for funding; they are also more likely to go for base hits than home runs, and venture investors read that as a lack of fire-in-the-belly ambition.

Sure, generalizing about women and men always oversimplifies things. But Des Jardins suggests there are real gender dynamics at play in the startup world that can be useful in understanding why female-led companies are still harder to found and fund.

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