Tag Archives: Climate change

Updates from Chicago Booth

There will be more innovation post-COVID. Here’s why.
By Harry L. Davis – Since the COVID-19 pandemic threw our lives into disarray, we’ve had to change how we do anything involving other people. Rather than counting on bumping into colleagues in the hall, we now have to schedule Zoom calls around the competing demands (childcare, a broken water heater) that everyone is dealing with. There isn’t time for the kind of small talk that often, unpredictably, leads to big ideas.

There are unquestionably benefits to handling some tasks over video conference. Last spring, I taught a class in which groups of students take on consulting projects with the guidance of Chicago-based Kearney. Consultants spend countless hours on airplanes to make face-to-face meetings with their clients possible, and it’s a big part of their culture. In past years, regular in-person meetings and schmoozing were built into the syllabus.

Of course, none of that was possible this year. Our students were thrust into a new world where even senior executives were caught off-guard and without webcams. Whiteboard brainstorming sessions became Zoom calls.

Curious about their experiences, we surveyed the students about the impact of remote work throughout the quarter. While pessimistic at first, by the end of the nine-week course, they later felt that their remote situation was actually helping them be more efficient and helped them do do a better job responding to their clients’ needs. I had a similar experience with teaching remotely—although daunted at first, I found that I was able to deliver my classes effectively, even if I was tethered to my desk chair.

Once the pandemic is behind us, we’ll have to choose what to return to and what to keep from our remote way of working. I think Zoom and its ilk will continue to have an important place for those situations where teams are geographically dispersed or there’s some urgent decision that needs to be made. But the type of work that delivers innovation—creative work—will still best be done in person. more>

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Here’s how Biden could undo Trump’s deregulation agenda

Biden could use Trump’s playbook to reverse his regulatory moves on pollution, worker safety, health care, and more.
By Sarah Kleiner – Cutting workplace safety inspections. Allowing subpar health insurance plans to be sold to Americans. Permitting tractor-trailer drivers to blow past previous driver-fatigue limits. Waging war on birth control.

These deregulatory actions and others taken by President Donald Trump’s administration have adversely impacted the health and safety of Americans, as revealed in reporting for System Failure, an investigative series produced by the Center for Public Integrity and Vox.

Trump’s actions may not stick. Now that President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office in January, he has a few tools at his disposal to undo some of Trump’s regulatory maneuvers. Some could be more difficult to quickly put to use with a split Congress, however.

If Democrats take control of both houses of Congress, they’ll be able to quickly wipe out regulations pushed through in the last 60 legislative days of Trump’s term, because of the Congressional Review Act, part of the Contract With America that Newt Gingrich and House Republicans campaigned on in 1994.

But, while Democrats maintained control of the House, it’s still unclear which party will hold the majority in the Senate. All eyes will be on Georgia’s runoff for two Senate seats, which will happen in early January. Neither of the Republican incumbents, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, garnered a majority of the votes in last week’s election, forcing a runoff with Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.

If Ossoff and Warnock ultimately prevail, it won’t be clear until January when the Congressional Review Act’s 60-day period began — because it all depends on how many days Congress meets between now and January 3, when its current term ends — but experts predict it started sometime during the summer. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Many investments in digital farming have not fulfilled their full potential. What can companies do to improve returns?
Creating value in digital-farming solutions
By Shane Bryan, David Fiocco, Mena Issler, RS Mallya Perdur, and Michael Taksyak – Over the past 20 years, agriculture has undergone a digital revolution. It started quietly with original-equipment manufacturers that began to sell harvesters with guidance systems and auto steering, then roared to life in 2013 with Monsanto’s nearly $1 billion acquisition of the digital-agriculture company Climate Corporation. Since then, there has been an arms race within the industry, with billions of dollars invested and hundreds of millions of acres affected by digital farming.

The rapid pace of investment and broad adoption of digital technologies on the farm are a testament to the power of digital to reduce costs, boost yields, and put more money in the pockets of growers. However, despite the promise of digital-farming solutions, our research suggests that such investments have not lived up to expectations of the companies that made them. To explore why this might be the case and what could be done to improve outcomes, we conducted a survey of more than 100 industry executives from across the agriculture value chain.

For the purpose of this article, we define “digital farming” as any platform or application that processes input data to provide growers or crop advisers with agronomic decision-making support. These include proven digital offerings (such as variable-rate application) and ones that are more novel (such as in-season sensing). We excluded automation equipment, drones, and services that are not linked to agronomic decisions (for example, fleet-management software).

The survey found that most agriculture companies have invested in digital-farming solutions, but less than 40 percent of respondents (representing a broad swath of the industry) self-reported positive returns. To understand why, we tested a number of success factors, several of which dramatically increase perceived success. These standout factors include:

  • high attention from CEO and top team
  • clear strategy and business case linked to value creation
  • at-scale investment

About two-thirds of survey respondents indicated they had just one of these success factors in place; this suggests that the disappointing returns from digital-farming investments may be due to lack of adequate preparation. more>

We have to accelerate clean energy innovation to curb the climate crisis. Here’s how.

A detailed road map for building a US energy innovation ecosystem.
By David Roberts – “Innovation” is a fraught concept in climate politics. For years, it was used as a kind of fig leaf to cover for delaying tactics, as though climate progress must wait on some kind of technological breakthrough or miracle. That left climate advocates with an enduring suspicion toward the notion, and hostility toward those championing it.

Lately, though, that has changed. Arguably, some Republicans in Congress are still using innovation as a way to create the illusion of climate concern (without any conflict with fossil fuel companies). But among people serious about the climate crisis, it is now widely acknowledged that hitting the world’s ambitious emissions targets will require both aggressive deployment of existing technologies and an equally aggressive push to improve those technologies and develop nascent ones.

There is legitimate disagreement about the ratio — about how far and how fast existing, mature technologies can go — but there is virtually no analyst who thinks the current energy innovation system in the US is adequate to decarbonize the country by midcentury. It needs reform.

What kind of reform? Here, as in other areas of climate policy, there is increasing alignment across the left-of-center spectrum. Two recent reports illustrate this.

The first — a report so long they’re calling it a book — is from a group of scholars at the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), led by energy scholar Varun Sivaram; it is the first in what will be three volumes on what CGEP is calling a “National Energy Innovation Mission.” The second is from the progressive think tank Data for Progress, on “A Progressive Climate Innovation Agenda,” accompanied by a policy brief and some polling.

Both reports accept the International Energy Agency (IEA) conclusion that “roughly half of the reductions that the world needs to swiftly achieve net-zero emissions in the coming decades must come from technologies that have not yet reached the market today.” There are reasons to think this might be an overly gloomy assessment, but whether it’s 20 percent or 50 percent, aggressive innovation will be required to pull it off.

Both reports set out to put some meat on the bones of a clean energy innovation agenda. And they both end up in roughly the same place, with roughly the same set of policy recommendations. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Holding warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels could limit the most dangerous and irreversible effects of climate change.
The 1.5-degree challenge
McKinsey – All of the 1.5°C scenarios would require major business, economic, and societal shifts—each enormous in its own right, and with intricate interdependencies. We identified five critical shifts and determined what it would take for them to occur.

1. Reform food and forestry

2. Electrify our lives

3. Reshape industrial operations

4. Decarbonize power and fuel

5. Ramp up carbon management and markets
more>

Limited liability is causing unlimited harm

The purpose of limited-liability protection was to encourage investment in corporations, yet it has evolved into a source of systemic market failure.
By Katharina Pistor – In a recent tweetOlivier Blanchard, a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, wondered how we can ‘have so much political and geopolitical uncertainty and so little economic uncertainty’. Markets are supposed to measure and allocate risk, yet shares in companies that pollute, peddle addictive painkillers, and build unsafe airplanes are doing just fine. The same goes for corporations that openly enrich shareholders, directors and officers at the expense of their employees, many of whom are struggling to make a living and protect their pension plans. Are markets wrong, or are the red flags about climate change, social tensions, and political discontent actually red herrings?

Closer inspection reveals that the problem lies with markets. Under current conditions, markets simply cannot price risk adequately, because market participants are shielded from the harms that corporations inflict on others. This pathology goes by the name of ‘limited liability’, but when it comes to the risk borne by shareholders, it would be more accurate to call it ‘no liability’.

Under the prevailing legal dispensation, shareholders are protected from liability when the corporations whose shares they own harm consumers, workers and the environment. Shareholders can lose money on their holdings, but they also profit when (or even because) companies have caused untold damage by polluting oceans and aquifers, hiding the harms of the products they sell or pumping greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere. The corporate entity itself might face liability, perhaps even bankruptcy, but the shareholders can walk away from the wreckage, profits in hand.

The stated justification for limited liability is that it encourages investment in—and risk-taking by—corporations, leading to economically beneficial innovations. But we should recognize that sparing owners from the harms their companies cause amounts to a hefty legal subsidy. As with all subsidies, the costs and benefits should be reassessed from time to time. And in the case of limited liability, the fact that markets fail to price the risk of activities that are known to cause substantial harm should give us pause. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Climate risk and decarbonization: What every mining CEO needs to know
Building a climate strategy won’t be quick or easy—but waiting is not an option.
By Lindsay Delevingne, Will Glazener, Liesbet Grégoir, and Kimberly Henderson – In the mining industry, the impact of climate change and how the industry can respond to it has increasingly been a topic of discussion over the past decade.

Mining is no stranger to harsh climates; much of the industry already operates in inhospitable conditions. But forecasts of hazards such as heavy precipitation, drought, and heat indicate these effects will get more frequent and intense, increasing the physical challenges to mining operations.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, 195 countries pledged to limit global warming to well below 2.0°C, and ideally not more than 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. That target, if pursued, would manifest in decarbonization across industries, creating major shifts in commodity demand for the mining industry and likely resulting in declining global mining revenue pools. Mining-portfolio evaluation must now account for potential decarbonization of other sectors.

The mining sector itself will also face pressure from governments, investors, and society to reduce emissions. Mining is currently responsible for 4 to 7 percent of greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions globally. Scope 1 and Scope 2 CO2 emissions from the sector (those incurred through mining operations and power consumption, respectively) amount to 1 percent, and fugitive-methane emissions from coal mining are estimated at 3 to 6 percent. 1 A significant share of global emissions—28 percent—would be considered Scope 3 (indirect) emissions, including the combustion of coal.

The mining industry has only just begun to set emission-reduction goals. Current targets published by mining companies range from 0 to 30 percent by 2030, far below the Paris Agreement goals. Mines theoretically can fully decarbonize (excluding fugitive methane) through operational efficiency, electrification, and renewable-energy use. Capital investments are required to achieve most of the decarbonization potential, but certain measures, such as the adoption of renewables, electrification, and operational efficiency, are economical today for many mines. more>

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Updates from McKinsey

Ten principles for successful oil and gas operator transitions
Incoming operators face several challenges when taking over an asset, including managing the transition, improving performance, and capturing value. Ten principles can guide the way.
By Pat Graham, Maximilian Mahringer, and Andy Thain – In the past five years, many oil and gas assets experienced an operator change after concessions expired and new operators or national oil companies acquired the rights, or after international oil companies divested or acquired assets. Regardless of the circumstances, a transition between operators represents a critical inflection point for an asset. On one hand, it gains a fresh lease on life through better access to capital, the adoption of new operating methods, or the application of new technologies that enhance its value. On the other hand, an operator change can trigger instability and increase risk before and after the transition. Indeed, many new operators fail to capture the value they expected.

From our analysis of production profiles following upstream operator transitions, we found that only about 20 percent were executed successfully, meaning they maintained or improved production levels throughout the transfer phase. Between 15 and 20 percent stagnated, while 60 to 70 percent declined.

Why were failure rates so high? We identified several reasons why incoming operators struggled to maintain production output:

Lack of collaboration between acquirer and incumbent. Failing to establish an effective working relationship can lead to multiple issues, such as reluctance among incumbents to invest in areas that fail to yield an economic payback before exit, decline in employee engagement, and challenges in the transfer of data and operating procedures.

Excessive level of change from day one. Transferring operatorship always involves changes to governance, operating processes, and IT systems—some of which will need to be implemented from day one. However, tackling too much change too soon can be disruptive, destroying good incumbent practices and cultural features that the acquirer should seek to retain.

Loss of essential capabilities. When exiting an operatorship, incumbents often relocate critical talent to more attractive prospects in their portfolios. This is particularly true of asset-leadership teams, specialists, and those with scarce skills. Replacing such capabilities can be costly and time consuming for the incoming operator.

Lack of attention to cultural differences. Every operator has their own way of aligning the organization’s vision, translating that vision into reality, and finding ways to create business value. No matter how similar ways of working may appear on the surface, different companies often interpret key terms such as “respect” or “risk-taking” in different ways, with different expectations of the behaviors needed to support them. Bringing these differences into the open and deciding which ones need to be addressed, and how, is a vital step in any transition. more>

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Updates from Georgia Tech

Scientists Transform Barbecue Lighter Into a High-Tech Lab Device
By Josh Brown – Researchers have devised a straightforward technique for building a laboratory device known as an electroporator – which applies a jolt of electricity to temporarily open cell walls – from inexpensive components, including a piezoelectric crystal taken from a butane lighter.

Plans for the device, known as the ElectroPen, are being made available, along with the files necessary for creating a 3D-printed casing.

“Our goal with the ElectroPen was to make it possible for high schools, budget-conscious laboratories, and even those working in remote locations without access to electricity to perform experiments or processes involving electroporation,” said M. Saad Bhamla, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “This is another example of looking for ways to bypass economic limitations to advance scientific research by putting this capability into the hands of many more scientists and aspiring scientists.”

In a study reported January 10 in the journal PLOS Biology and sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, the researchers detail the method for constructing the ElectroPen, which is capable of generating short bursts of more than 2,000 volts needed for a wide range of laboratory tasks.

One of the primary jobs of a cell membrane is to serve as a protective border, sheltering the inner workings of a living cell from the outside environment.

But all it takes is a brief jolt of electricity for that membrane to temporarily open and allow foreign molecules to flow in — a process called electroporation, which has been used for decades in molecular biology labs for tasks ranging from bacterial detection to genetic engineering. more>

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Updates from ITU

Addressing challenges for teaching the Internet of Things
By Anna Forster – The Internet of Things (IoT) has become one of the fastest growing fields and an increasing number of jobs require expertise in this field. Yet very few academic institutions offer targeted degrees in the field of IoT.

The Internet of Things is changing how we interact with the world around us. Connected smart watches can provide real-time insights into our health and wellbeing; smart home devices such as connected refrigerators and lights can increase energy efficiency; and connected streetlights can help to manage traffic flow during peak rush-hour.

As more devices become connected, we need to ensure that today’s students have the right skills to drive this technology forward.

Designing a curriculum to teach IoT can be a challenge, in part because IoT is not a stand-alone technology, scientific discipline or paradigm. Rather, it is a combination of existing and well-established fields, including communication networks, embedded programming, artificial intelligence and computer security.

Education professionals must find a way to combine these rather isolated fields together into a meaningful program, and to explore and teach their interactions. Additionally, students need to obtain practical experience.

Students must be equipped with the right tools and skills to keep up-to-date with the extremely fast pace of their field. The market is nowadays exploding with new products, technologies and standards; what they learn during their studies will surely be outdated by the time of their graduation.

Therefore, a successful IoT curriculum is built on three dimensions: technical content, soft skills and teaching paradigms. more>

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