How to Fortify Your Cyber Strategy in the Wake of the T-Mobile Hack

Enterprises need to protect every aspect of the cyber journey, from identification to prevention to recovery.

We are one month into 2023, and another major cyberattack has occurred. This time 37 million T-Mobile customers were impacted by a “bad actor” who gained access to personal data, including names, addresses, emails, phone numbers, and more. The hack occurred in November, and T-Mobile hired an external cybersecurity team to investigate. The company now believes the hack is “fully contained.” 

The true financial and personal impact of this hack is unknown, but it’s never been more critical to discuss cybersecurity’s future. That’s because this incident comes on the heels of what many would call a turbulent year. 2022 was not only dominated by headlines of an economic recession and geopolitical tensions – there was also an ongoing stream of reports of cyber issues. The year started with shocking data just days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February that there had already been a 196% increase in cyberattacks on Ukraine’s government-military sector. From there, we saw an alarming number of breaches against U.S.-based enterprises, including Twitter, Fast Company, DoorDash, and more, not to mention international organizations. 

As a result, the global average cost of a data breach grew from USD $3.86 million in 2020, to $4.24 million in 2021, to an all-time high of $4.35 million in 2022. In 2023, the global annual cost of cybercrime as a whole could top $8 trillion, potentially reaching a whopping $10.5 trillion by 2025.

Cybersecurity quickly moved up to be in the top three priority items on the list in corporate board rooms in recent years. In 2023, it quickly needs to move to the top of the list. Executives agree, with two-thirds considering cybercrime the most significant threat in the coming year. And rightfully so, with another major trend in cybersecurity being increased regulation around reporting and data privacy, with the Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Transportation, Department of Energy, and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency all working on new rules starting in the middle of 2022. 

However, ensuring an enterprise is as secure as possible is easier said than done. Cybersecurity has gotten more complicated in recent years (a serious understatement). Enterprises have made strides in investing in technology, digitization, and innovation; at the same time, cybercriminals have been doing the same. IoT, cloud computing, and more have brought business efficiencies and processes into the next era, while also inadvertently exposing even larger attack surfaces and helping to facilitate increasingly sophisticated attacks. This will only continue as we usher in Web 3.0, AI, metaverse, and other new, exciting technologies that come with their unique unknown implications – quantum computing, for example, has already proved to have the potential to break security encryption keys, posing a significant challenge. 

Organizations need to take a more holistic approach to cybersecurity, protecting every aspect of the attack journey, from identification to prevention, to recovery. Here’s a guide for how to do exactly that:

  1. C-suite leaders – yes, even the CEO – need to ask themselves: Am I aware of my company’s cybersecurity posture? Do I know how I’m positioned versus my industry peers? Am I aware of where investments will keep the company secure – and how are we preparing for what comes next as the bad guys continue to get smarter? This is no longer something to hand off to the CISO or IT teams and forget – if a breach occurs, top leadership needs to move in lockstep, in real-time, to curb the impact. With automation, companies can more quickly and cost-effectively identify the actual cybersecurity risk, sometimes reducing exposure time from 50 days to as little as three days, resulting in $82 million in potential savings. 
  2. With a better view of where the most significant risks lie, investments can be made into appropriate solutions to prevent attacks from occurring. Consider a government agency, where employees have historically been asked not to bring their smartphones into the office. Tracking and listening can occur outside the physical office, which becomes especially important as hybrid work models continue to be prevalent across industries. Hardware in the form of an exocomputer can protect smart devices at all times – not just while people are in the office – from audio and video capture, location tracking, and remote wireless attacks. Another example is how voice can be used to prevent fraud in customer service and beyond. Our voices are as unique as our fingerprints, and companies need to harness that fact. AI can be deployed to not only get a caller to the appropriate call center rep – it can authenticate their actual voice, even with the ability to catch deep-fakes, which helped an up-and-coming player in the voice prevention field catch $2 billion in attempted fraud across 5.3 billion calls. 
  3. All that said, companies need to be prepared if a breach occurs. While most hope to avoid this by focusing on identification and prevention, efficient and fast recovery is the final puzzle piece. With a single, centralized platform to secure data across the enterprise, in the cloud, and in SaaS applications, teams can more easily recover from attacks like ransomware, restoring servers and data sometimes in a matter of hours. There are also solutions out there now that stimulate hypothetical cyberattack events, allowing teams to test the sequence, timing, and potential weak points of their recovery strategy. 

The innovation needed in this new era of heightened cyber threats will be driven by startups, which historically can move with tremendous speed, positioning them well to keep up and stay ahead of bad actors. Enterprises should consider empowered partnerships with these innovators to build a security architecture that supports the other strides they have made recently in new technologies and next-generation solutions. 

As we continue to see more companies report layoffs, especially in tech, and pull back on spending in response to the uncertain economic climate, cybersecurity must remain at the top of the investment list in 2023. What’s more, investments in cybersecurity cannot one-and-done – there are so many aspects to staying secure that a holistic approach with investments across the board are vital. After this month’s T-Mobile hack, cybersecurity is more important than ever before. The time to ensure your company is completely covered is truly now or never. 

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How to Fortify Your Cyber Strategy in the Wake of the T-Mobile Hack

Enterprises need to protect every aspect of the cyber journey, from identification to prevention to recovery.

Fossils Should Pay Trillions to Store Carbon through 2050, Ex-Industry Execs Say

Enterprises need to protect every aspect of the cyber journey, from identification to prevention to recovery.

Corporate Values Take Center Stage at Davos 2023

Enterprises need to protect every aspect of the cyber journey, from identification to prevention to recovery.

Hydrogen Patents Reveal Shift Toward Cleaner Technologies

Enterprises need to protect every aspect of the cyber journey, from identification to prevention to recovery.

Fossils Should Pay Trillions to Store Carbon through 2050, Ex-Industry Execs Say

A recent paper calculates the cost and emission reduction potential of a “carbon takeback obligation” that would require fossil producers to permanently store a tonne of carbon for every tonne they take out of the ground.

A group of former oil and gas executives and academics is calling for the industry to pay tens of trillions of dollars through 2050 to take full responsibility for every tonne of carbon it produces.

In a paper published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the group calculates the cost and emission reduction potential of a “carbon takeback obligation” that would require fossil producers to permanently store a tonne of carbon for every tonne they take out of the ground, without expecting taxpayers to foot the bill.

Fossil producers’ responsibility under a takeback obligation would include the downstream or “Scope 3” emissions that occur after a fossil fuel shipment reaches its final user, and account for about 80% of the carbon in a barrel of oil. The paper says carbon storage under a takeback mechanism would cost about US$1 trillion in 2025, calculated in 2005 dollars, rising annually to exceed $10 trillion in 2050. (With inflation, $1 trillion in 2005 is the equivalent of $1.53 trillion today.)

“The simple expression of it is that if you take carbon out of the ground when there’s too much in the atmosphere, you don’t want to make things worse. So if you take it out, you should be responsible for permanent storage of an equivalent amount,” said study co-author Hugh Helferty, a former corporate strategic research manager at ExxonMobil now serving as co-founder and president of Houston-based Producer Accountability for Carbon Emissions.

“Companies have substantial capability to help solve the problem and can be a big part of the solution,” Helferty told The Energy Mix. “What they need is the incentive to do it.”

A ’Backstop’ for Carbon Cuts

The team of authors led by Oxford University physicist Stuart Jenkins frames carbon takeback as a “backstop”, not a replacement, for energy efficiency, renewable energy, carbon pricing, and a menu of other climate strategies that haven’t yet brought down emissions or proven themselves sufficient to hold average global warming to 1.5°C.

The paper sets 2020 as the start date for companies to have begun capturing 3.3% of the carbon dioxide produced by energy, transport, and industry, then increase that capture rate by 3.3% per year to bring emissions to net-zero in 2050. In the early years, the approach relies on nature-based climate solutions (NbS) like ecosystem restoration and better management of agricultural lands to deliver shorter-term emission savings.

But the approach includes what co-author and Oxford geosystem scientist Myles Allen called a “stylized recognition of the opportunities and limits of nature-based solutions.” Nature-based storage peaks in 2035 and then declines, with companies turning toward more expensive but essentially permanent geological carbon storage through mid-century. Over time, the rising annual price tag approaches today’s cost of direct air capture with carbon storage (DACCS)—with the expectation that the more exotic carbon storage options will become less expensive as the technologies develop.

“In the long term, the only durable way of compensating for any continued production of CO2 from fossil sources is likely to be geological storage or measures of equal permanence, such as remineralization,” the authors write.

All of that multi-trillion-dollar activity would be meant to complement existing carbon reduction and energy transition policies, “acting as a backstop to catch residual CO2 which would otherwise be emitted,” the paper states. If energy demand falls faster than forecasters often assume, or if falling costs speed up the shift to solar, wind, and energy storage, “people will need less fossil fuel and then there will be far less carbon storage required,” co-author Margriet Kuijper, a former CO2 storage manager at Shell Europe, told a media briefing Wednesday.

Carbon takeback “doesn’t lock you into a commitment,” she explained. “If you use a lot less fossil fuels, you will be storing a lot less CO2. But anything you can store is good, because 1.3°C is better than 1.5. I don’t think we should ever say no if we can easily store CO2.”

Helferty acknowledged concerns that any attention to carbon storage could create a pretext for building new fossil fuel infrastructure and locking in future emissions. He said the initial reliance on natural sequestration in a carbon takeback system would avoid overbuilding carbon storage facilities and allow time for other alternatives to show what they can do.

“The intent is to start off reasonably slowly, build up the capability, figure out how to reduce the cost, see how other things evolve, then if needed, ramp it up over time,” he said. “If it’s not needed, presumably people won’t spend money on it.”

Cleaning Up Your Own Mess

The paper casts carbon takeback as a form of extended producer responsibility, which holds businesses responsible for the downstream impacts of their products and gives them an incentive to introduce more environmentally benign designs.

Applied to fossil fuels—where the industry’s job is to extract a substance that warms the atmosphere when used as directed—a carbon takeback obligation “would require all extractors and importers of fossil fuels within a jurisdiction to dispose permanently of a progressively increasing fraction of the CO2 generated by their activities and the products they sell,” the authors state.

“As the stored fraction increases, the cost of complying rises,” the paper says, and “it would be a decision for the fossil fuel industry and its owners (in many cases governments) whether to pass this cost on to consumers in full, or to defend its market share” by accepting lower profits to reflect the environmental impact of oil and gas.

But carbon takeback relies on two carbon storage approaches, NbS and carbon capture and storage (CCS), that each face challenges and limitations in their own right. NbS raises long-standing concerns about offsetting fossil fuel production with land conservation and restoration when climate science clearly calls for nature protection alongside production cuts—not one as an offset for the other.

“Everybody wants NbS to work because it’s conceptually straightforward. It doesn’t require decarbonization in the short term, and it doesn’t require the difficult political decisions to be made,” said Dr. Jessica F. Green, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. But “in the beginning they would be an important piece of companies fulfilling their takeback requirements. and we know that’s problematic.”

And even the more established technologies meant to capture carbon dioxide for geological storage are still under development, with little proof so far that they can perform as intended or on the scale carbon takeback would require.

Can Carbon Capture Deliver?

While the carbon takeback concept focuses on carbon storage, the “capture” side of CCS has faced fierce criticism, focused both on the viability of the technology and the end use of the CO2 that fossil companies have collected to date. As recently as January, 2021, 81% of the world’s captured carbon was being injected into depleted wells to extract more fossil fuel through a process called enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

More recently, in a sweeping industry assessment released last September, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) found that 10 of the world’s 13 “flagship, large-scale” CCS projects underperformed, failed outright, or had to be mothballed.

“CCS technology has been going for 50 years and many projects have failed and continued to fail, with only a handful working,” said IEEFA energy finance analyst and report co-author Bruce Robertson. Though there is “some indication it might have a role to play in hard-to-abate sectors such as cement, fertilizers, and steel, overall results indicate a financial, technical, and emissions reduction framework that continues to overstate and underperform.”

Just a few weeks later, an annual survey by the Global CCS Institute pointed to a small boom in construction activity, with 153 new projects under construction around the world. But even if all of the projects are completed—and even if they meet their targets when they go into operation—they’ll still capture just 244 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, less than 1% of the estimated 36 billion tonnes humanity emitted last year.

But Allen told the media briefing the biggest challenge facing CCS is scaling up storage quickly enough to gain public trust and confidence. The technology to capture carbon exists, but “what’s always been lacking is an effective policy to make people do it,” he said. When projects have fallen behind schedule or missed their capture targets, “every one of those cases has been a failure of policy, not a failure of technology. We know how to do this.”

Helferty agreed that the technology can deliver, noting that the fossil industry has solved tougher challenges—like pushing the sulphur content in diesel down below 15 parts per million—in the past.

“CCS is not as technically difficult,” he said. “You work through the bugs, improve the process, find new ways of doing it. The issue is that they’ve never had a reason to implement it at scale because there’s no charge to put the CO2 in the air.”

The industry already stores 40 million tonnes of carbon per year, Helferty added, “and if you can do that, you can do 400 million.”

But IEEFA’s director of resource planning, David Schlissel, said the shaky performance of CCS will make companies less likely to commit.

“The big flaw will be getting any producers of CO2 involved, because they know the process is not going to work very well,” he told The Mix. “Why would you want to take on the risk? Then you want the government to pay you to take it on, so if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay. So good luck to it, but we’re not the only ones who don’t think CCS works the way they claim.”

“I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that extraction or oil and gas firms are going to say, ‘yeah, we’re going to make these risky investments because that will allow us to be profitable in the long term’,” Green agreed. “There’s not a lot of empirical evidence that companies are doing that. What they’re doing is lobbying governments like crazy for things like CCS subsidies. They don’t want to pay for it.”

Hope But Verify

Allen and Kuijper said they’re satisfied that geological carbon storage can be permanent, and that the volumes that fossil producers stow away can be monitored and verified. Allen said the best evidence that geological storage works is that companies can only recover half of the carbon dioxide they inject underground for enhanced oil recovery, even when they’re trying to get it back.

“Over the decades there will be leaks, just as occasionally in Britain we have a perennial problem of sewage leaks in very old Victorian sewers,” he said. “That’s not great, but it doesn’t mean they don’t bother with a sewage system. The fact that there will be leaks makes it all the more important to get daring on this, to develop the monitoring and reporting and verification systems that will be needed to minimize those leaks, then deal with them when they occur.”

Kuiper said most countries planning for geological storage intend to monitor their first projects more rigorously, “to make sure they can reassure the public and everyone else that indeed the CO2 is staying where it should be staying.” As confidence builds over time, some of the monitoring will be scaled back.

“In the beginning, it’s like what we did with the first offshore wind farm, a lot of environmental monitoring to make sure that what you thought would happen really happened,” she said. “Once it’s confirmed, you can have your monitoring far more focused for the next project.”

But Green cautioned against getting too confident, too soon. “The track record shows that when companies can greenwash, hedge, or cheat, they will,” she said. While it’s useful to introduce a carbon takeback obligation that makes downstream emission reductions mandatory, rather than voluntary, “it solves one accounting problem but creates another one. It solves the exclusion of Scope 3, but then it creates another one, which is that you actually have to measure a lot more emissions.”

Jason MacLean, assistant professor of law at the University of New Brunswick, said the ultimate question is whether carbon takeback will speed up decarbonization. “To me, it looks like it’ll do the opposite,” he said. “It will help strengthen the social licence of fossil fuel producers, and it will take away emphasis and attention that needs to be placed on the speed of the transition, the transformation, and ultimately the phaseout of the industry that’s required.”

With oil and gas companies still committed to massive investments in new infrastructure, “we’re really laying the foundation for a much slower transformation and phaseout of the fossil fuel industry than climate science unequivocally tells us we have to achieve.”

‘Shunned and Ex-Communicated’

The other big question is what would motivate fossil companies to accept a carbon takeback obligation, with full responsibility for Scope 3 emissions and no taxpayer subsidies to fall back on.

“They must sit alone at industry conferences,” IEEFA’s David Schlissel said of the carbon takeback proponents. “I think ‘shunned, ex-communicated’ are the first two words that come to my mind.”

But Kuijper said she’s spent the last three years discussing the ins and outs of carbon takeback with industry and non-government organization contacts in The Netherlands, and has seen growing interest in the concept. Allen said oil and gas executives may be more open to a concept like carbon takeback than they appear to be in public.

“When I talk to people in the fossil fuel industry off the record, they all say of course, in the end, this will be part of their cost of doing business,” he told The Mix. “They see this as almost an inevitable future.”

“Clearly, it’s more profitable for the industry not to have to dispose of its CO2 than to dispose of it,” he added. “So if you were being cynical, you’d say they just want to keep the party going as long as possible before they have to start tidying up. Or perhaps on a more charitable level, you might say they just want more certainty about the technology before they start committing to actually doing it.”

But many in the industry “would actually be quite happy for this to be regulated,” he said. The condition is that “the same rules need to apply to everybody. That doesn’t necessarily mean everybody in the world, but everybody in the economy which you’re selling into.”

Helferty cited sulphur reductions in fuels and the shift to unleaded gasoline as instances where fossils initially dug in their heels and resisted environmental regulations. “They would say it couldn’t be done, that it was too expensive,” he recalled. “But once it was mandated and phased in over time, they found the cheapest way to meet the objective, and as long as everyone has to do it, those who figure out the best way will be the most successful and those who don’t will be less so and may fail.

“That’s the way the system is supposed to work,” he added. “But no company will do it on their own without it being required, because that would put them at a competitive disadvantage.”

By that mechanism, Allen said carbon takeback should push companies to compete and do better.

“What they want to be is a swashbuckling, super-profit-making, go-getting kind of industry, and if you introduced a carbon takeback obligation as a strict licencing condition on everybody, they would be looking for storage as a way of making higher profits,” he explained. “It would go from being a mundane service activity to where prospecting the CO2 storage opportunities became like prospecting for oil. And that’s the way we need them to think about it. We need them to get out there and apply the same level of ingenuity and general get up and go that they apply to finding new fossil fuel reserves.”

The swashbuckling media relations offices at Cenovus Energy and Suncor Energy didn’t respond to requests to comment for this story. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers responded with a September, 2022, submission to Finance Canada that called for more generous tax subsidies for CCS and greater flexibility to use captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery. A spokesperson said the group had nothing more to say on the topic.

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Penny Pritzker: Tech & Government Must Work Together

Penny Pritzker was U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration from 2013 to 2017. An entrepreneur herself, she chaired the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) program and now leads PSP Capital Partners, a […]

Penny Pritzker was U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration from 2013 to 2017. An entrepreneur herself, she chaired the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) program and now leads PSP Capital Partners, a global private investment firm. We spoke to her on the sidelines of our recent Techonomy 2017 conference (under 2-minute video).

“Tech leadership should be creating an opportunity for people in their organizations to go work in government for a year or two,” she said.

She also appeared onstage with GE’s Beth Comstock.

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How to Fortify Your Cyber Strategy in the Wake of the T-Mobile Hack

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Fossils Should Pay Trillions to Store Carbon through 2050, Ex-Industry Execs Say

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Corporate Values Take Center Stage at Davos 2023

Penny Pritzker was U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration from 2013 to 2017. An entrepreneur herself, she chaired the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) program and now leads PSP Capital Partners, a...

Hydrogen Patents Reveal Shift Toward Cleaner Technologies

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Corporate Values Take Center Stage at Davos 2023

Techonomy and Wipro assembled a panel to discuss how to build and manage a sustainable company culture.

The World Economic Forum was founded on principles of stakeholder capitalism, in which a company’s corporate values drove the business, not just the pursuit of shareholder profits. This year in Davos, Techonomy and Wipro brought together leaders in the technology, finance, and manufacturing industries to share their process, progress, and vision for the future. 

In some companies, corporate values are set from the top. At Dell Technologies, for example, CEO Micheal Dell has been talking about the circular economy for more than ten years. Indeed, Dell was one of the first technology companies to institute a recycling program. Even so, today, less than 17 percent of worldwide e-waste is properly recycled. 

We will continue these conversations at Techonomy Climate on March 28th, 2023. To learn more on how you can join us, click here.

Changing that is part of Dell’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Jennifer “JJ” Davis, mandate. “Our purpose is to create technology that drives human progress,” Davis says. “Michael was thinking about circularity before that was even in a term, and we were worrying about recycling 20-plus years ago.” 

This is the right thing for any company to do, to be sure, but the action is also spurred by the fact Michael Dell’s name is on every product the company sells. As Davis says, “He doesn’t want to see his name in a landfill.”

Of course, corporate values extend beyond the environment and can include various ESG issues. Wipro, a multinational corporation that provides IT consulting and business processing services, also has a long history of promoting ESG goals and continues to devote a substantial amount of its profits to those goals through its Premji Foundation

“The Premji Foundation works really across the community, in areas of education, health care, human trafficking, and lots of other really important social issues,” according to Stephanie Trautman, Wipro’s Chief Growth Officer.  “Our sustainability program started 15 years ago, and about 66 percent of our profits go to the Premji Foundation.”

Bank of America is another company financing sustainable capital transition. The company has committed to mobilizing $1.5 trillion by 2030 and has spent $250B in sustainable finance in 2021 alone. “Everything we do should be sustainable finance, Bank of America Global Head of Sustainable Finance, Karen Fang Says. “Everything we financed, we invest, it should contribute some in some way, shape or form to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

Addressing those goals is going to require big changes in global consumption patterns and MasterCard has a plan to do just that. MasterCard has 90 million merchants in its network, 20,000 banking partners, and more than three billion card holders. The company is working to activate this entire value chain to drive more sustainable spending. “That’s a lot of consumption,” says Ellen Jackowski, chief sustainability officer at Mastercard. “That’s a lot of opportunity.” 

Mastercard has been focusing on financial inclusion for the unbanked, among other ESG goals. Rather than approach the issue from a sustainability silo, the company has made sustainability across its business. Perhaps more importantly, it incentivizes all of its 25,000 employees to help meet the company’s ESG goals.

“A portion of the annual compensation for every single employee is tied to whether or not MasterCard has made progress that year on our ESG targets, both environmental and social impact,” says Jackowski. “Every single employee in the company is on the sustainability team, they’re incented.”

All of the panelists agreed that technology can play a crucial role in reducing a company’s carbon footprint.  At Wipro, for example, conversations with clients now involve matching projects and strategies to meet clients’ sustainability goals. “We used to just talk about top-line growth, bottom-line savings, customer experience, employee experience, says Wipro’s Trautman  “Now we also talk about what this will do to help you achieve your company’s ESG goals.”

The panel shows there is no single path to building and managing a sustainable company culture. You can watch the full panel discussion, led by Worth Media CEO Josh Kampel, in the video below.

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Techonomy and Wipro assembled a panel to discuss how to build and manage a sustainable company culture.

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Techonomy and Wipro assembled a panel to discuss how to build and manage a sustainable company culture.

Hydrogen Patents Reveal Shift Toward Cleaner Technologies

Techonomy and Wipro assembled a panel to discuss how to build and manage a sustainable company culture.

Hydrogen Patents Reveal Shift Toward Cleaner Technologies

A new study analyzing patents in Europe shows “a clear shift of innovation from traditional, carbon-intensive methods to new technologies with the potential to decarbonize hydrogen production.”

Innovators motivated by climate change have been shifting hydrogen technology toward low-emission solutions, boosting the potential for green hydrogen to replace fossil fuels in industries like long-haul transport, where few clean alternatives exist.

But European oil companies’ investments in hydrogen are overwhelmingly “aimed at lowering the carbon intensity of their refinery operations, rather than developing green transport fuels,” reports oilprice.com.

Fossil investment is not the whole story, however. The International Energy Agency (IEA) collaborated with the European Patent Office (EPO) on a “first of its kind” report that analyzes the patenting trends in hydrogen production technologies over the past 20 years. The study shows “a clear shift of innovation from traditional, carbon-intensive methods to new technologies with the potential to decarbonize hydrogen production.”

Technologies motivated by climate concerns generated nearly 80% of all patents related to hydrogen production in 2020, the two agencies found.

Hydrogen is gaining recognition as an essential fuel for achieving national net-zero targets. But not all hydrogen fits that pathway. Grey hydrogen is produced using fossil fuels, and blue hydrogen is derived from fossil gas—though its carbon emissions are meant to be captured and sequestered underground, independent analysis has the technique resulting in higher emissions than just burning the gas directly, or even turning to climate-busting coal. Only green hydrogen—created by electrolysis that uses clean energy sources like solar or wind—can be produced without emissions. But the technology is still expensive, so innovation plays a key role in its viability.

The IEA and EPO used patent data for 2011 through 2020 to track the technical progress of clean hydrogen technology across the entire value chain: production, storage, distribution, liquefaction, and end uses. It found the technology is shifting towards low-emission solutions, with Europe and Japan leading the way and the United States falling behind during the study period. The European chemical industry, in particular, “dominated” innovation in established hydrogen, “but the new hydrogen patenting heavyweights are companies from the automotive and chemicals sectors focusing on electrolysis and fuel cell technologies.”

Patents for hydrogen technologies for the automotive sector increased at much higher rates than other end-use applications, and hydrogen use in steel production has progressed recently—but innovation has not significantly taken off for uses like long distance transportation, “particularly for shipping and medium-haul aviation.”

A separate report by Brussels-based Transport and Environment (T&E) shows [pdf] European fossils starting to invest in hydrogen and e-fuels for transport. But they spend a lot more—nearly eight times as much—on biofuels refining.

“Instead of supplying hydrogen and e-fuels to various transport modes, oil companies have been mainly focused on reducing the carbon intensity of their refinery operations, focusing on replacing grey hydrogen with blue hydrogen and to a lesser extent green hydrogen,” T&E writes. “A dedicated policy push will be needed to push refiners to supply e-fuels for aviation and shipping.”

The IEA and EPO similarly suggest governmental policy must step up to address uneven trends in innovation. Efforts to support weak points in complex supply chains could help reduce logistical challenges, and government research incentives could drive  further private investment

Their report also found that 80% of later-stage investments in hydrogen businesses went to companies that had previously filed patent applications, showing that patenting is an important step for start-ups looking for investment capital. “More than half of the US$10 billion in venture capital investment into hydrogen firms in 2011-2020 went to start-ups with patents, despite them making up less than a third of the start-ups in the report’s data set.”

Patents have similarly helped finance other sustainable technologies, with studies showing a 300% rise in wind power patents in the past decade and a 200% increase for heat pumps in the last five years, notes [pdf] The Patent Lawyer. But patenting can also present a barrier when “much of this sustainable innovation takes place in organizations that do not take full advantage of the patent system.” To move faster towards a net-zero future with sustainable technology, governments should aim to raise awareness of patenting and lower barriers to the system, The Patent Lawyer says.

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A new study analyzing patents in Europe shows “a clear shift of innovation from traditional, carbon-intensive methods to new technologies with the potential to decarbonize hydrogen production.”

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A new study analyzing patents in Europe shows “a clear shift of innovation from traditional, carbon-intensive methods to new technologies with the potential to decarbonize hydrogen production.”

Hydrogen Patents Reveal Shift Toward Cleaner Technologies

A new study analyzing patents in Europe shows “a clear shift of innovation from traditional, carbon-intensive methods to new technologies with the potential to decarbonize hydrogen production.”

A Farm in the Cloud

Here’s a mind-blowing number: Roughly 2% of people in the United States grow the food that the other 98% of us consume. Novel agtech is changing what it means to farm.

Here’s a mind-blowing number: Roughly 2% of people in the United States grow the food that the other 98% of us consume. While farm owners continue to be a shrinking population, the U.S. population is still growing, albeit at a slower pace.

The net result?  We’ve got more mouths to feed and fewer farmers to farm. I spent two days at VISION Conference, an agtech conference that drew leaders from across the agricultural ecosystem to tackle these problems with a tech-eye view. As expected, they talked about weather a lot, but more interesting to me were the conversations about the potential of the metaverse, digital twins, and cloud computing.

Peter Wells of Elevated Foods shared that as an agtech startup he visits farms that can occupy thousands of acres and do $500 million plus in revenues, but are often managed by 20 employees or so, most of them administrators. And workers are hard to come by.

Perhaps you’ve heard of GEM, an acronym used by the agricultural industry that stands for Genetics/Environment/ Management–a trio of forces that dominate the agrarian mindset. According to John Teeple Global Partner Leader, Agriculture, Amazon Web Services, the GEM model is shifting its allegiance.

Science and biology, he says, have already pushed genetic modifications, like the creation of disease-resistant, hardier, and more bountiful crops, to the max. The environment, as we’ve seen over the past few years, is anything but predictable and manageable. Floods and forest fires in California, tornadoes in the midwest, and disappearing rivers and lakes have all destabilized production. “And so,” says Teeple, “we’re going to increasingly depend on management, learning to do more with less and under more extreme conditions.” Coupled with a labor shortage on farms, these factors coalesce into a perfect storm, so to speak. Farmers are hoping technology can come to the rescue.

The heroes of tomorrow’s farming success stories may not be the “go it alone” stereotype of the tough American farmer, but nerdier high-tech farmers who can manage autonomous vehicles, AI, IoT devices, and digital twin modeling. This new era of agriculture will require lots and lots of cloud storage. Farmers are making fast friends with data.

“We’ve created more data in the past three years than in all of history,” says Teeple.  “And the amount of data is likely to triple by 2025.” Sensors in the field measure and track everything from soil samples to irrigation needs.  Sensors built into machinery can recognize a weed from a wheat stalk, and distinguish a beneficial insect from a crop destroyer.

John Deere was the darling of the CES 2023 Ag 4.0 exhibit floor, showcasing smart machines that help farmers maximize crops while minimizing labor. The industry giant’s new See and Spray technology uses 36 cameras built into its tractors that recognize weeds and apply just enough–but not too much–herbicide. John Deere says See and Spray has the potential to cut herbicide use by 77%.

See & Spray™ Select can help farmers reduce their herbicide use by 77% on average by targeting and spraying only weeds on fallow ground. Image: John Deere

A new “crop” of robotic machines handling tasks like weeding, tilling, and sowing are making their way to market. In farms all over the country seedlings are transplanted by machine; pesticides and fertilizers are dispensed by giant robots on wheels. Many estimate that a single machine could take the place of 30 employees (except in cases like hand-picking where robots don’t yet have the skills).

Image recognition can also detect the ripeness or the quality of a crop. Will a particular apple be good for eating or is it destined for applesauce? At CES 2023 a startup called One Third demonstrated how to test avocados and other perishables for ripeness and shelf life by inserting the fruit into a machine. The company hopes to cut down on food wastage with this technique.

Farmers are also moving towards using digital twins–virtual replicas of a farm that gather input from sensors and edge devices to predict and optimize things like crop rotation, water conservation, and irrigation practices. More and more we’ll see dashboard-driven agriculture increase yields and efficiencies. And modern farmers will need a different set of skills to match. With stints at Hitachi (digital twins), Ericsson (5G/IoT) and Microsoft (Cloud),  Rob Tiffany, founder of Sustainable Logix, epitomizes this new farming ethos.

The Trouble with the Cloud

High tech farming in the cloud is far from a silver bullet. Ruggedization, cost, lack of broadband, and ineffective business models are just a few of the obstacles.

Most farms are in rural areas, far from the cell towers they need for good broadband reception. Buying private towers or satellites, while an answer for some larger farms is prohibitively expensive for most. High speed connectivity is essential. The community is hoping for satellites to help solve the problem.

IoT devices are another expensive outlay on the farm. Vulnerable to weather and prone to failure, the devices experience frequent malfunctions need regular replacement. The question of how many devices a farm needs to monitor operations is open for debate. One device per acre? One device per apple tree? Too much information creates as many issues for farmers as not enough.

Obsolescence is another issue, both in terms of expense and sustainability. When Farmer Joel bought a tractor that tractor was maintained and passed down from one generation to the next. “The high tech world is used to obsolescence after three of four years,” said McMcquire.

Image recognition is still inadequate. When, for example, a head of lettuce grows a green mold, it’s tough to know how many layers of mold it could have lying beneath. Intense sunshine distorts images and cloud cover can render satellite and drone images useless.

Connectivity between various devices and systems is another issue, with little agreement on the farming platform.

Climate Smart Crops

Sustainability and environmental preservation are increasingly top priorities for farmers. Vonnie Estes, President  of the International Fresh Produce Assocation is passionate about the emerging area of agriculture called Climate Smart Crops. She says three factors distinguish agriculture that’s more climate-smart:

  • Increased productivity and incomes. Farmers need to grow more, but also be able to earn more.
  • Enhanced resilience and the ability to more quickly respond to environment and climate changes,
  • Reduced emissions, mitigating the greenhouse effects.

Estes also sees a sharp increase in consumer awareness about where and how their products are farmed, and they are applying pressure on farmers to use forward-thinking techniques.

New business models are needed to ensure the cost of tech doesn’t put the onus on farmers to pick up the tabs. Universities need to start teaching high tech farming now. Family farm succession planning should include passing the farm along to someone who speaks tech. And if we’re to enjoy a future of stable food production, sustainable practices must be at the heart of all agricultural systems.

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Davos 2023: Rethinking the Economics of Sustainability

Climate and sustainability were the hot topics at Davos this year, both on stage and off.

Building sustainability into your business has always been a good idea, but attendees at this year’s Davos are focused on turning that good idea into a good business. Techonomy and Wipro hosted a session that laid out the challenges and opportunities that businesses face daily.

One of the themes of the conference is that sustainability needs to include more than just the environmental impact, says Susan Kenniston, VP Global Head of Sustainability at Wipro, an information technology, consulting, and business process services company. “It’s really much more about value today, business value, and thinking of it as kind of capital, natural capital, social capital, and advancing the outcomes of the business and the organizations.”

We will continue these conversations at Techonomy Climate on March 28th, 2023. To learn more on how you can join us, click here.

Fundamentally, sustainable business is just about using resources more efficiently, according to Charles Giancarlo, chairman and CEO of Pure Storage, a company that delivers all-flash storage servers for businesses. Giancarlo pointed out that “if you use fewer resources to produce the same result, and produce less waste at the end of life, you’re creating a more sustainable environment because you need less energy [and] less extraction resources…whether it’s plastics, metals, semiconductors…By producing less waste, you put less cost on society.”

Unfortunately, sustainability initiatives are often hampered by the complicated and confusing landscape of carbon monitoring and accountability. There are various stakeholders demanding numbers, shareholders, investors, government bodies, and even environmental advocates. And they all have different requirements. The easiest thing for companies to do is simply purchase carbon offsets to provide the appearance of emissions reduction, even if the company isn’t reducing its own emissions. “I think a lot of metrics allow a lot of coverups and a lot of greenwashing to take place,” says Giancarlo. “But it also puts a big burden on the industry as a whole because it requires, in many cases, double, triple, quadruple, counting [on] every organization doing it for itself.”

One company attempting to standardize data collection and reporting is S&P Global. The company supports the International Sustainability Standards Board’s efforts to create new accounting standards, ensuring consistency in how companies measure and report on sustainability. 

“We have to normalize and make consistent all of that massive information,” says Richard Mattison, President of S&P Global. “And that is not just about scraping data, it’s about engaging with the organizations that create that information and challenging whether the data is correct.”

The model is very similar to the role that credit ratings play, according to Mattison. “We have a view, and a company has a view, and we challenge, and so this is what we’re doing on sustainability as well.” By challenging the self-reported metrics, S&P Global aims to reduce the risk of greenwashing and improve real accountability. 

For some companies, past sustainability investments are paying for themselves now. Mattison points to the green bond that Apple posted in 2015 to finance a large solar array for its data centers as one example. At the time, it seemed like an extravagant expense. 

“Today, that looks like a genius move,” he says, “You’ve gone off grid. Effectively, you’ve secured your own supply. Solar is now well within the cost curve of coal, which was the cheapest source of energy in the United States. The cost of capital to finance that is cheaper, because there is demand for green bonds.”

In many ways, sustainability is about expanding the time frame of your company. Mattison says “[Apple] invested in the vision, which was not just about the price today, but the price over five to 10 years.” That is how accountants think.

Indeed, one of the most dramatic changes in the economics of sustainability is where it fits into the company’s org chart. Most business leaders say there needs to be buy-in, both from the executive team and the employees themselves. But increasingly, sustainability efforts are being managed by the accounting and finance teams. 

Wipro’s Kenniston says she has seen leadership on sustainability change in the last few years as the responsibility for sustainable efforts moves from the CEO and marketing team to the CRO, CFO, and accounting departments. “This is part of the responsibility of the company, the value of the company, and how they assess the risks [and] the opportunities, and so you’re seeing more leadership engaged,” Kenniston says. “It is really a new way of doing business.” 

You can watch the full interview below.

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Cleaning Up 80 Years of Plastic Waste

The Plastic Credit Exchange is on a mission to “clean up 80 years of plastic waste.” It serves a global ecosystem of partners that recover, process, and recycle plastic waste with programs that improve livelihood and scale social impact.

“There’s a reason why you don’t see paper and glass or metal polluting our streets, it’s because the market has assigned a value to that material. So certain sectors within a community will collect it and divert it away from nature and into the circular economy. We need to do that for plastic,” said Plastic Credit Exchange founder Nanette Medved-Po in a clip teeing up a talk on the plastics crisis. “The Plastic Credit Exchange model benefits the communities because it financially incentivizes them to clean up. It benefits businesses, because we give them a responsible way to offset their plastic footprints. And it benefits government that get some relief on heavily taxed waste system. And the cleanup benefits our planet, allowing nature a chance to heal.”

Sebastian DeGrande is the CEO of the Plastic Credit Exchange (PCX), a nonprofit with a mission to “clean up 80 years of plastic waste.” Its commercial market subsidiary serves a global ecosystem of partners that recover, process, and recycle plastic waste with programs that improve livelihood, scale up social impact, and reduce the flow of plastic pollution into nature. DeGrande spoke at Techonomy 22 in Sonoma, CA, explaining the magnitude of the plastic crisis and PCX’s novel solution. The transcript below has been edited for clarity, watch the full video here. DeGrande opened his talk with a pop quiz of the Techonomy audience:

I’m going to give you a quiz on a few points just to dimensionalize the crisis, the challenge and the opportunity. So how much plastic has ever been produced in the world? 8.7 billion tons of plastic produced over time. You can’t even conceptualize it. And just to be clear, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Plastic is an amazing invention. It’s brought food security to poor communities all over the world, medical devices that save lives every day, right?

How much plastic has been produced just this year? 465 million tons – the important thing there is that’s about 5% of the total. So just think about that as a trajectory of growth relative to 8.7 billion over basically 100 years. How much ends up in nature each year? It’s only, and I will say only, 10 million tons. And the reason is much of it goes into landfill, or it gets incinerated. And that doesn’t count as going into nature. Even though it’s a petroleum product, burning it isn’t necessarily a good thing either.

In the U.S. our recycling rate has gone down from 8-9% in past years to more recently below 5%. But most importantly, most of this 10 million tons of plastics ends up in open pits that then degrades or it goes straight into rivers and oceans.

One of the scariest statistics that you will hear is that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish. And if you’re a scuba diver like me, and you go scuba diving in some of the remote, beautiful places in the world, and the sun is shining, you see this amazing kaleidoscope of color while you’re diving and you say wow, that’s beautiful. And then you look closely, and you realize it’s the light from the sun refracting through microplastics in the ocean.

We’re finding microplastics in the Antarctic ice shelf, we’re finding it in all our fish. We’re even finding it in human fetuses at this point. And we don’t actually fully understand the implications of all of this.

Plastic is a petroleum product, so how much does it contribute to carbon emissions? At least 5%. It’s really hard to tell for sure, because there are many various types of plastics produced in various ways. Some are recycled, but even the recycling has a carbon footprint. But it is a significant contributor to the warming of the planet as well as being a crisis in its own right.

What you will hear out there around this topic is a lot of discussion from a lot of people. We need to reduce and we need to eliminate single use plastics. We need to go to refillable solutions. We need to increase infrastructure and recycling. Absolutely. But we also need to deal with the problem today. So we need to look at the forest and the trees.

There are many efforts underway: innovation around alternative materials, bio plastics, innovate refillable solutions. But how long will those innovations take? What percent of the total plastic use cases will be addressed by refillable solutions? Maybe 20%? How long will it take to change supply chains? We need to solve the problem today and tomorrow. And we can do these things simultaneously.

The problem is, it’s an incredibly fragmented and inefficient marketplace right now. You’ve got producers and consumers of plastic, many of whom are well intended and want to do the right thing, but don’t have an avenue to do it. I talked to many companies who say, “can you just get us more recycled feedstock that we can increase the amount of recycled content in our products?” And the answer is no, I can’t. Because the infrastructure isn’t there. There’s over a trillion dollars of infrastructure missing on the collection, transportation and recycling, particularly in emerging markets.

And then on the other side, you’ve got project providers who would love to do the work, but they have no capital, they have no economic incentives, and there’s no structure within which to do it. Because you need standards, you need certification, you need traceability, et cetera. So that’s where the Plastic Credit Exchange (PCX) comes in. PCX believes that the problem of plastic waste entering nature can be solved– now. We can eliminate that 10 million tons of plastic entering nature today. And we can even start eating into the debt of plastic that is out there in nature. But it takes economic incentives.

For a nickel, you can clean up a kilogram of plastic, collect it, put it in the right place, recycle it where it can be recycled, otherwise manage it more properly. So how does it work? Very simple. Everybody’s heard about offsetting in carbon, PCX is doing that in plastics. Start by baselining your footprint and understanding what your starting point is, then set goals, and then PCX activates our ecosystem of partners all over the world who are doing the work. And you fund that through the purchase of these credits. And then that feeds the collection, the transportation, and any other activity to properly manage that waste.

PCX has been doing this for a few years and we already have five of the top ten consumer packaged goods companies as partners. We even have government agencies like USAID, and others. Some of these players are supporting projects and investing in the infrastructure to expand these projects. They’re also investing in community based collection like the project led by female micro entrepreneurs in the Philippines, who get additional income by collecting plastic waste from local community aggregating sorting, and then the program takes that plastic off to a recycling center on their behalf.

We have launched what I sort of refer to as the “Airbnb of plastics.” The idea is to remove the friction and make it as transparent, verifiable and easy as possible to take action. You can come onto our PCX platform, browse projects by simply signing up with an email, by price point by plastic type, by geography, etc, and then you can literally stick it in your basket and check out and drive that impact.

And then more importantly, or as importantly, PCX uses blockchain for what it was originally intended for: traceability. It is an immutable ledger. So every project that we list has to go through a certification process to ensure what they’re doing has additional impact over what would have happened otherwise has the right labor standards in place. One of our projects has taken an informal waste picker community and turned them into full time employees with medical benefits.

We trace collection on the blockchain and that’s the beautiful thing about plastic versus carbon. It is really hard to calculate the carbon sequestration effect of planting trees that 30 years from now will produce some impact. But with plastic, you pick it up, scan it, weigh it, transport it, scan it, weigh it, recycle it, scan it, weigh it and you’re done. And it is verified. And it is a claim that any company can make with confidence because we have all of the information on our blockchain ledger, publicly available for anybody to look at. And you can see the certificates that are then produced for each, each participant.

PCX is just getting started–33 million kilograms. That’s not a drop in the bucket yet. We need more projects, more liquidity and market based forces to drive scalability.

For more on this topic, join us at Techonomy Climate 2023 in Silicon Valley, March 28th, where we dive deeper into the plastics crisis and again will be joined by our friends at PCX. Register your interest below.

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The EV Revolution Brings Environmental Uncertainty at Every Turn

As demand for electric vehicles ramps up, environmental stumbling blocks have emerged.

Manufacturers, governments and consumers are lining up behind electric vehicles — with sales rising 60% in 2022, and at least 17 states considering a California-style ban on gas cars in the years ahead. Scientists say the trend is a key part of driving down the transportation sector’s carbon emissions, which could fall by as much as 80% by 2050 under aggressive policies. But while EVs are cleaner than gas cars in the long run, they still carry environmental and human-rights baggage, especially associated with mining.

“If you want a lot of EVs, you need to get minerals out of the ground,” says Ian Lange, director of the Energy and Economics Program at the Colorado School of Mines.

That’s because manufacturing EVs requires about six times more minerals than traditional cars. That requirement — coupled with growth in consumer electronics and renewable energy infrastructure — will double global mineral demand over the next two decades, according to the International Energy Agency.

And that’s only under current trends. The IEA says meeting the Paris Climate Accord goals for decarbonization will require even more — far more — minerals: as much as four to six times present amounts.

That will mean a lot of mining, with much of it for EV batteries. And at least some of it will happen in the United States, as the Biden administration and many Republicans want more EV materials sourced at home, both to act on climate change and to wrest some control of supply chains from China.

Lange, who served as an economic advisor in the Trump administration, says it will be a big change for the country, which “got out of the minerals game” in recent decades. And it will bring challenges — including obtaining permits for minerals development, developing the needed workforce, and building processing capacity. The Biden administration hopes that funding from the landmark Inflation Reduction Act and other sources will help overcome these obstacles.

But the rush for renewables will also bring another big hurdle: environmental impacts. Already, as the search for EV materials ramps up, Tribes, landowners and communities find themselves wrestling with the not-so-green side of green energy.

Environmental Considerations

For a sense of things, consider cobalt. About 30 pounds of it go into each EV battery to boost performance and energy storage, which are key to luring consumers from dirtier gas cars. But today 70% of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an estimated 40,000 children as young as 6 work in dangerous mines. The mines also bring deforestation, habitat fragmentation and high carbon emissions from mining and refinery processes that rely heavily on fossil fuels to produce electricity and drive heavy machinery. Some sources say cobalt mining’s CO2 emissions could double by 2030.

EV boosters are eager to put mileage between their products and human rights abuses, which fuel Republican and oil industry criticisms of battery power. Although efforts are underway to improve overseas practices, another way to tackle the issue would be to mine cobalt in the United States, which would also increase domestic sources of EV materials. But today the country has only one cobalt mine, and building others would likely raise environmental concerns.

Lange says that’s certainly the case in Alaska, where copper and cobalt rest beneath rolling tundra in the Ambler district south of the Brooks Range. Accessing it would require a 200-mile road through traditional Alaska Native lands, caribou habitat and Gates of the Arctic National Park, with gravel quarries dug every 10 miles. It’s something state leaders support but state and national environmental groups and several Indigenous communities oppose. Permitting for the road began during the Obama administration and was approved under Trump, but it’s now under reconsideration by Biden.

According to Lange, such regulatory sagas breed uncertainty within the minerals industry that slows investment in the minerals needed for EV batteries. He offers up the Twin Metals Mine near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Wilderness as another example. Here the target is nickel, another important EV metal mined in only one U.S. location. In a political tug-of-war, the mine’s long-held leases were denied renewal by Obama, reinstated under Trump, and then canceled under Biden.

In both cases, concerns over compliance with the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act led to lawsuits and claims of rushed environmental analysis. Lange says these bedrock environmental laws have improved air quality and human health conditions in the United States, but at the same time they may also contribute to the lag in sustainable production of EV materials.

“When we restrict access to natural resources, these international companies can choose to go elsewhere,” he says — often to countries with lax environmental and human rights laws.

The tension between environmental protection and renewables development is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Adam Bronstein of Western Watersheds Project sees it in northern Nevada, where his group has joined a lawsuit against a proposed open-pit lithium mine in Thacker Pass, an area of remote desert that’s home to sage grouse, antelope, Lahontan cutthroat trout and other sensitive species, including some only found locally. It also holds hundreds of Native American heritage sites that remain important to Tribes today.

“It’s a very remote and undeveloped landscape, where the stars are still bright and the air is quiet,” he says.

Bronstein says the West is quickly losing such landscapes to development, including large-scale solar projects and renewable energy mining. At Thacker Pass, for instance, the lithium mine would entail a 2-mile-long open pit with waste ore, acid dumps and massive water usage. Like opponents of Alaska’s Ambler Road, some also worry it would open access to additional claims, spreading impacts to further wildlands.

Mine proponents say Thacker Pass lithium could support more than a million EVs annually and would add jobs and tax revenue.

Bronstein questions the notion that ecologically valuable areas must be sacrificed for climate goals. Others agree, including a rising chorus who say solar and wind development in Nevada and California are eliminating vast areas of wildlife habitat, contributing to biodiversity loss worldwide.

As a judge considers the Thacker Pass lawsuit, nearly 2,000 miles away, residents of Coosa County, Alabama, express similar concerns over plans to mine graphite, an EV mineral not currently produced in the United States.

“It’s going to be a mess,” says Chris DiGiorgio, a lifelong resident of the area and a board member of Coosa Riverkeeper, which protects, promotes and restores the Coosa River.

DiGiorgio says graphite mining will level forest, disrupt hydrology, and leave chemical pollution that could last generations. Yet he also acknowledges the need for minerals to support renewable energy.

“We all want to stop climate change,” he says.

Still, DiGiorgio feels that state officials unjustifiably fast-tracked the mine’s permits, and he questions whether graphite demand will still be high by the time mining starts in 2028. But whereas Western Watersheds Project is fighting the Thacker Pass mine, Coosa Waterkeeper appears settled into guarded acceptance and a commitment to playing a watchdog role over the mine.

Navigating the Transition

Josh Johnson with the Idaho Conservation League has taken yet another approach. As Australia-based Jervois Mining prepared to open the United States’ only cobalt mine in Idaho’s Salmon River Mountains, he helped secure $150,000 in annual funding from the company for local conservation work — money that can also be leveraged to help secure matching funds from state and federal grants. Two years in, the funding has helped restore overgrazed streambanks and supported acquisition of vital fish habitat. Each year, the organization determines where the funding goes, with input from Tribes, agencies and others.

Johnson says that the cobalt mine connects to the league’s conservation goals, which include promoting renewable energy and adopting EVs. And while he recommends that environmental groups take a nuanced look at such mines, he stresses that his partnership doesn’t compromise Idaho Conservation League’s watchdog role as mining gets underway.

But it’s also important to consider what happens after Idaho’s cobalt meets daylight. With no processing plants in the United States, it will be shipped to Brazil, then to China for manufacturing, and eventually back to the United States tucked inside a new EV battery.

Generous incentives for EVs in the Inflation Reduction Act aim to tighten that supply chain — and ease reliance on strategic adversaries like China to reach U.S. climate goals. They join funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, the Defense Production Act and other sources in a strategy that aligns with IEA recommendations for diversifying global mineral sources. And while this all-in approach on industrialization raises biodiversity and other concerns, it could move the United States closer to reaching Paris Climate Accord goals and the Biden administration’s target to cut economy-wide carbon emission by  50% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Lange agrees the funding will boost research, development and processing capacity, but he questions whether it moves the needle on EV mineral production in the United States.

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