It may seem as simple as just that. An egg. The food that Atkins and Paleo diets made popular once again. The food that draws one of many dividing lines between vegetarians and vegans. But this particular egg is one of the more layered, even scrambled (if you will), symbols of Silicon Valley startup-dom. It’s easy to dismiss the Yos of the tech world as outliers, but much harder to look at the overall impact of our tech darlings when it comes to the betterment of global society. Blue Apron’s “Farm Egg” has me asking these questions. Is Uber creating a million jobs only to eventually take them away with self-driving cars? Is Tinder empowering a generation to meet someone in the digital age or creating a generation of promiscuous, lonely souls? Or, more pointedly, is Blue Apron creating a shitload of waste in their quest to save the Convenience Generation from fully industrialized agriculture and obesity? At first glance, “Farm Egg” appears to represent an extreme level of waste out of Blue Apron. Compared to buying eggs by the half-dozen at the grocery store, the packaging of a single “Farm Egg” in excessive cardboard (most of which is likely for insulation against bumps and bruises during transportation) doesn’t appear to be all that “Eco-friendly.” You can dive deeper into this thesis, and uncover the difficulty of recycling Blue Apron’s markedly (as in, it’s on the box) “Eco-Friendly” packaging. After compiling all the cardboard and paper products, the process involves melting and emptying the plastic cool-packs that keep Blue Apron food fresh, and finding a place to recycle LDPE plastic bags (you can recycle LDPE at retail locations, like grocery stores). If you’re willing to do all that for the earth (which is totally likely since you’re also the kind of person who doesn’t have time to shop at the grocery store, and thus, a Blue Apron user), the final step in the recycling process is to make your peace with trashing the plastic film, which has “a limited recycling market once it comes in contact with food.” That said, Blue Apron argues that its packaging waste has decreased by at least 50 percent since launch four years ago. “Farm egg is kind of ironic since most grocery stores sell eggs in Styrofoam cartons that aren’t recyclable,” said Blue Apron CEO Matt Salzberg. “We offer less food (reducing food waste) and less packaging per unit of food than any grocery store.” Plus, Blue Apron has launched a returns program for users to send back everything (the box, the cool-packs, the plastic and the paper) with a UPS return label, at which point the company will recycle the packaging for you. “Literally, tons of packaging is returned to us each month for us to recycle,” said Salzberg. For generosity’s sake, let’s just assume that each of Blue Apron’s 8 million monthly meals are properly and fully recycled. That still doesn’t account for the fact that some of those meals traveled miles and miles, likely in refrigerated trucks, from one of three Blue Apron fulfillment centers in the United States. The company has one fulfillment center in New Jersey, which services the entire Eastern Seaboard, one in California, which services the West Coast, and one in Texas, which takes care of the fly-overs. For users in New York, California and Texas, that’s not all that bad in terms of emissions. But users who aren’t in populated areas, or in Southern Florida, are receiving food that has traveled hundreds of miles. But is Blue Apron really the culprit when it comes to food transportation emissions? California avocados, Florida oranges and Wisconsin cheese don’t even scrape the surface of an industry where the vast majority of carbon emissions come from food production, not transportation. And Blue Apron specifically selects suppliers that are within the general region of their fulfillment centers, sourcing food as locally as possible to reduce emissions. Plus, for the fraction of emissions that come from food transportation — driving it to the store for retail, plus customers driving to and from the store to purchase it — Blue Apron’s exclusion of the grocery store middle man may even be more efficient. Before arriving at the fulfillment center, where it’s prepped to be shipped — I can just imagine little “Farm Egg,” separated from its friends, slipping into that individualized, stickered cardboard holster before being placed in an insulated box — Blue Apron foods come from hundreds of hand-selected, family-run farms and suppliers. That’s not so bad, either, considering how dangerous industrialized agriculture can be for the planet. The company has a team of over 50 people who work to both select suppliers and help them improve their practices, ensuring that the minimum of pesticides are used and that agricultural farmers are taking good care of their soil. And then you have to factor in how Blue Apron’s perfectly portioned meal-kits, complete with solo bacon and dear “Farm Egg,” must reduce food waste. Folks who buy food in bulk at the grocery store waste 31 percent of it, according to this USDA study. With Blue Apron portions, that number shrinks to almost nothing. “Most industry experts will tell you that food waste, given all the resources that go into growing food, is ten times worse for the environment than packaging waste,” said Salzberg. Not to mention, Blue Apron helps people cook. People who otherwise wouldn’t. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that cooking actually leads to a much healthier diet. Which begs the question: Is Blue Apron, and little “Farm Egg,” part of the problem or the solution? It’s difficult to weigh the extreme (but mostly recyclable) waste of Blue Apron’s packaging with the general good it does for the nation’s food waste and its users’ health. But we can be sure that Blue Apron, valued north of $2 billion and potentially gunning for an IPO, is as much a shipping company as it is a food startup, with a small team of employees focused entirely on boxes, plastic bags, ice packs, and… the delicate cardboard cradle for “Farm Egg.” “Farm Egg” may just be another ridiculous, hilarious symbol of Silicon Valley’s disconnect with the world’s most pressing dilemmas. Maybe. “Farm Egg” may also be a truly fitting symbol for the way the tech world approaches global problems with a holistic perspective. At first glance, “Farm Egg” seems like a joke, a step backward in our global progress, solving a problem that we don’t actually have — just go to the damn store and buy a half-dozen eggs, lazy bones! But “Farm Egg” also represents an improvement to each of the pieces of the food industry. After traveling a short distance from a cage-free chicken farm to one of Blue Apron’s fulfillment centers, where it was dressed up in recyclable materials, Farm Egg eventually ended up at the home of a user, who cooked it up for dinner without wasting anything, and… hopefully, recycled the packaging afterwards.
News Article | April 7, 2016
Why 40 years of official nutritional guidelines prescribed a low-fat diet that promoted heart disease A masterfully told history of the life of John Yudkin, once the UK's leading nutritional expert, turns into an indictment of the nutritional scientific establishment, which coalesced in a cult of personality around Ancel Keys, who was convinced that fat made you fat and cholesterol raised your cholesterol, and belittled and marginalized anyone who disagreed, including Yudkin, who believed that sugar, not fat, was the cause of obesity and heart disease. Keys's orthodoxy became the medical establishment's orthodoxy for the decades that followed, despite studies and research that repudiated the "fat hypothesis" in favor of the "insulin-carbohydrate" theory (eating processed carbs, especially sugar, causes weight gain). The burgeoning evidence against low-fat diets and for low-carb diets keeps mounting though, and researchers who argue in favor of a high-fat, low-carb diet are moving more and more into the mainstream. However, not all of them are moving at the same rate: men, like Gary Taubes, the physicist whose amazing articles on Atkins and low-carb kickstarted the modern low-carb phenomenon, is treated with civility and respect. Meanwhile, Nina Teicholz, the journalist whose Big Fat Surprise is "painstakingly researched" and documents the slimy tactics of the nutritional establishment, has herself been slimed by unsupported innuendo and accusations. When obesity started to become recognised as a problem in western societies, it too was blamed on saturated fats. It was not difficult to persuade the public that if we eat fat, we will be fat (this is a trick of the language: we call an overweight person “fat”; we don’t describe a person with a muscular body as “proteiny”). The scientific rationale was also pleasingly simple: a gramme of fat has twice as many calories as a gramme of protein or carbohydrate, and we can all grasp the idea that if a person takes in more calories than she expends in physical activity, the surplus ends up as fat. Simple does not mean right, of course. It’s difficult to square this theory with the dramatic rise in obesity since 1980, or with much other evidence. In America, average calorific intake increased by just a sixth over that period. In the UK, it actually fell. There has been no commensurate decline in physical activity, in either country – in the UK, exercise levels have increased over the last 20 years. Obesity is a problem in some of the poorest parts of the world, even among communities in which food is scarce. Controlled trials have repeatedly failed to show that people lose weight on low-fat or low-calorie diets, over the long-term. Those prewar European researchers would have regarded the idea that obesity results from “excess calories” as laughably simplistic. Biochemists and endocrinologists are more likely to think of obesity as a hormonal disorder, triggered by the kinds of foods we started eating a lot more of when we cut back on fat: easily digestible starches and sugars. In his new book, Always Hungry, David Ludwig, an endocrinologist and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, calls this the “Insulin-Carbohydrate” model of obesity. According to this model, an excess of refined carbohydrates interferes with the self-balancing equilibrium of the metabolic system.
Leveraging developments in automatic speech recognition, natural language processing and machine learning, researchers Bo Xiao (Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering), Zac E. Imel (Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Utah), Panayiotis G. Georgiou (Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering), David C. Atkins (Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington) and Shrikanth S. Narayanan (Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering), developed software to detect "high-empathy" or "low-empathy" speech by analyzing more than 1,000 therapist-patient sessions. The researchers designed a machine-learning algorithm that takes speech as its input to generate an empathy score for each session automatically. Their methodology is documented in a forthcoming article titled, "'Rate My Therapist': Automated Detection of Empathy in Drug and Alcohol Counseling via Speech and Language Processing," and according to the authors, is the first study of its kind to record therapy sessions and automatically determine the quality of a therapy session based on a single characteristic. The study appears in the December issue of PLoS ONE. Currently, there are very few ways to assess the quality of a therapy session. In fact, according the researchers, the methods for evaluating therapy have remained unchanged for seventy years. Methods requiring third-party human evaluators are time-consuming and affect the privacy of each session. Instead, imagine a natural language processing app like SIRI listening in for the right phrases and vocal qualities. The researchers are building on a emerging a new field in engineering and computer science called behavioral signal processing, which "utilizes computational methods to assist in human decision-making about behavioral phenomena." The authors taught their algorithm to recognize empathy via data from training sessions for therapists, specifically looking at therapeutic interactions with individuals coping with addiction and alcoholism. Using automatic speech recognition and machine learning based models, the algorithm then automatically identified select phrases that would indicate whether a therapist demonstrated high or low empathy. Key phrases such as: "it sounds like," "do you think," and "what I'm hearing," indicated high empathy, while phrases such as "next question," "you need to," and "during the past," were perceived as low-empathy by the computational model. Speaking about this innovation Shri Narayanan, Andrew J. Viterbi Professor of Engineering at USC and the senior author on this study, said, "Technological advances in human behavioral signal processing and informatics promise not only scale up and provide cost savings through automation of processes that are typically manual, but enable new insights by offering tools for discovery. This particular study gets at a hidden mental state and what this shows is that computers can be trained to detect constructs like empathy using observational data." Narayanan's team in the Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab at USC continues to develop more advanced models—giving the algorithm the capacity to analyze diction, the tone of voice, the musicality of one's speech (prosody) as well as how the cadence of one speaker in conversation is echoed with another (for example when a person talks fast and the listener's oral response mirrors the rhythm with quick speech). In the near term, the researchers are hoping to use this tool to train aspiring therapists. "Being able to assess the quality of psychotherapy is critical to ensuring that patients receive quality treatment, said David Atkins, a University of Washington research professor of psychiatry. "...The sort of technology our team of engineers and psychologists is developing may offer one way to help providers get immediate feedback on what they are doing - and ultimately improve the effectiveness of mental health care," said Zac Imel, a University of Utah professor of educational psychology and the paper's corresponding author. In the long run, the team hopes to create software that provides real-time feedback or rates a therapy session on the spot. In addition, the researchers want to incorporate additional elements into their empathy rating algorithm, including acoustic channels and the frequency with which a therapist or patient speaks. Explore further: Humans can empathize with robots
News Article | November 25, 2015
This week, Motherboard is exploring the world of drugs and altered states with Lit Up. So, for today's Terraform entry, here's Tim Maughan with a warped dystopia about the future of work, where you you've no hope of succeeding at the office without a mind-bending array of digitally-administered performance enhancers. —The Eds. My CEO’s face ripples with strobing house centipedes, their legs scratching away at the flesh around his eye sockets, and I want to reach across the table and flick them off him. But I’m suddenly distracted by the board room walls going totally fractal, infinite paisley point-cloud interference falling backwards away behind him, full blown horizontal vertigo. Somehow I manage not to scream, again. Then everything goes a tiny bit normal, and I wonder whether I might have overdone the pre-meeting CreativeAcid dose. My spine feels like someone just poured a jug of ice down the back of my shirt, and I’m frozen by that overpowering, horrifying, paranoid sensation that everyone in the room is staring at me. Nervously, I glance around the room. Everyone in it is staring at me. My CEO opens his mouth and noises come out, followed by a single centipede that zigzags around his skull and apparently into his ear, and I glance down at my phone’s screen. It takes all my effort to reach down and swipe it open, because a couple of the wriggly little fucks must have fallen from his face and are sitting there, sucking up the cerium polished screen-warmth. Flicking them into pixel dust I pull up the NuTropic app (‘Like You, But Enhanced’), and dial in a shot of Ritalin, a dose of Meta-Caffeine, and a micro-toke sized bump of BudhhaTHC just to take the edge off a little. The sub-dermal LEDs on the underside of my wrist flare up red, and I watch them fade to green and then vanish, a circular progress bar ticking filling in, just like an app updating itself but where you can feel the ice cold injection burn of nano-synthesised psychoactive chemicals being pumped directly into your ulnar artery. Boom: clarity. Everything snaps back to normal. Monochrome, with the filters off. More sounds fall out of my CEO’s mouth, taking a few seconds to arrange themselves like Tetris blocks into comprehensible sense. “So, Rosa? Thoughts? Harrison thinks your strategy for the Hamtramck re-zoning sounds like a fucking space shuttle disaster.” Fuck Harrison, the sweaty little bitch. He’s sat over there right now, across the table, scratching his neck like a dog with a tick. Can’t make eye contact with me, or anyone. Got the judders, looks like he’s going to drop his phone he’s shaking so much. His thumb keeps missing the screen, probably trying to dial up some ValiumPro because he’s been overdoing the MethLite like a noob. My CEO is still staring at me. Awareness kicks in. He’s expecting a response. I silently (I think?) curse myself out for being such a lightweight and dialing those downers in so soon. I’m too straight. Where’s my fucking Moment Of Profound Experience when I need it? I start making vaguely sensible noises while dialing under the desk. Another hit of CreatveAcid and a fatty of PsilocybinExpress. A big one, of the extra fast-acting shit. That ice-burn in my wrist, and a few seconds that feel like hours of that ever-painful ‘am I coming up or what’ anxiety while my CEO waits and holyfuckingshit there’s rays of light coming out of his fucking third eye, and everything shifts, like on a fundamentally quantum level, you get me, and we’re in, and it all makes sense, like the logic of the fabric of space, the secret of world peace, orbital mechanics, and my whole body is filled with butane that burns with a perfect green flame and— “Free lunches!” I scream. Everyone in the room jumps. “Free lunches. We offer every Hamtramck resident that agrees to the buy-out a year’s worth of free lunch coupons for any of the Chennai Express or Panda 2Go franchises in the Detroit Economic Zone area. Regional food demand is spiking, as you know, and we have a 25% stake in all of those chains anyway, so shouldn’t be hard to swing the coupons, plus most of those residents are below the state poverty line so we can write it off as a charitable action. Set it up as an official program. Won’t just be an incentive for them to move out, but it’ll be good PR for both us and our Chinese and Indian partners.” My CEO looks at me like I must be tripping, absentmindedly dialing something in himself, and then stares right at me. Emotionless. “Would it prove ostentatious if we named the program after me??” “Of course not!” I say, my volume slightly gauged better this time. My CEO smiles, his face cracking open again but free of centipedes. Thank fuck. “I love it! Make it happen. I want a full presentation in my inbox by tomorrow AM. I don’t know what you’re on Rosa, but it’s really working for you. Keep it dialed. Harrison? Pay attention to this lady. This is what I need—what we need—dammit—what THIS CITY needs—answers! Positivity! Not negativity! Solutions! What a fucking rush! Meeting over!” Harrison starts sobbing, wiping snot from his nose with a vat-grown Armani sleeve, as he and everyone else starts to shuffle out of the boardroom. Me, I stick around a while, watching sunbeams exploding off the walls, and feeling my body fill up with one beautiful vibrating light. Back at my desk I stare so hard at the retina display that I swear I can see the pixels, each and every one. They’re fucking there. It’s cool, they don’t have to hide anymore. I’m cool with them being there. Nobody should have to hide what they are or where. I feel this very strongly, like so strongly that it’s probably a fundamental human truth rather than just the side effects of the CaliRedBeard and NanoSativa hits I just dialed as a reward for that great meeting. A reward for a job well done. A little something just to smooth me out, y’know? My phone chimes, echoing in the foamlike air around my head, soaked in dub-space tape delay reverb. I slo-mo fumble for it, bring it right up stupid close to my face, like two inches away. I can see you, pixels, ain’t no hiding from me. I slide it open with my thumb. Schedule notification. Lunch meeting with zoning committee from the city management team. Like, now. What a fucking bummer. Totes not on that vibe right now. Some food would be good, though. Tee bee aitch. Luckily the meeting is just across the street, in Metroplex Munchies, this Detroit Techno heritage themed burger franchise we own a 42% stake in. It’s all vintage drum machines in cabinets and murals of the Belleville Three. I stumble through traffic, slapping on some lipstick with one hand and dialing a hit of PartyWorld MDMA and a little SynthiCoke with the other, and by the time they kick in I’m grooving nicely to the DJ Assault booty-tech mix they’re playing for the lunchtime crowd. “This is quite the place” says one of the gross white men I’m meant to be sweet talking, trying to pretend he’s not staring at my tits. “We own a 42% share in this franchise, you know,” I tell him. I order another Submerge cocktail from a hologram of Juan Atkins. “It’s very popular with the hipster demographic, and a lot of the techno tourists from Berlin that come through on their annual pilgrimage make it a point to eat here.” “I do say!” I’m a little sweaty, and suddenly aware that I’m chewing the inside of my lip into a salty pulp. “In fact, it’s been so successful that we’ve got another three locations in mind where we’d like to open restaurants, but of course that depends on getting approval from you guys.” “Well,” this fat fuck says, smiling like he’s been dialing ViagraOne all morning and jerking off at his desk, “I’m sure we can come to some arrangement…” My phone chimes again. I hand jerk-off boy my drink and whip it from my pocket, impatiently tapping the screen. Good god it’s so fucking slow. Another schedule notification. Ah fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Half day at Elsa’s school. I’ve got to go pick her up, and she’s way across town. I take the cocktail back from Councillor Sleazeball and down what’s left, hand it back to him, turn on my heel and head for the door. Damn it’s bright outside. As I head back to the office to grab my car keys my CEO follows me out, a cocktail in each hand and a joint hanging from his skull-crack of a mouth. I didn’t even know he was in there. “Rosa! Come back! Where the fuck you going?” “A meeting, boss! An important meeting!” Damn I’d love some gum right now, I think I’m going to chew a hole in my fucking cheek. “Investors with money! About the Grosse Point condos.” I hope he’s too high right now to check his schedule. “Well make sure you’re back here by two—conference call with Beijing!” he screams across traffic and the boom of 808 kicks coming from Metroplex Munchies. “Be late and you can clear your desk!” “Sure thing boss! See you later!” I wave back at him, smiling. An hour ago I could do no wrong, but god knows what he’s been dialing since then. I once saw him fire the whole Packard Plant sales team a week after they’d sold half of it to Foxconn, just because he’d been listening to Radiohead and had dropped some TemazepamMelancholy. So I stay? I suddenly have this vision of Elsa standing alone by the side of the road, sheltering from the Michigan wind near some burnt out wreck of a building. That ice bucket down the back of my shirt feeling. Ah fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Driving is cool. Like super fucking fun. They like to say you shouldn’t do it on drink and drugs, but the people that say that just haven’t dialed the right combination of drink and drugs. Like right now I’m three Submerges down, plus a big hit of RapidoAmphet and a couple nice bumps of ModaConcentrate and Sublinox4U. I got an old 138BPM DJ Bone mix playing loud, and the booze and the pharms and the techno have all come together in this perfect trinity, and I’m just locked into a groove, woman and machine, kick-snare-high-hat, as the roads and the city just blur past effortlessly. Plus the streets in Detroit are still fairly empty these days, apart from the huge transporters carrying Chinese cars out of the new factories, so you can drive really fucking fast. Elsa is in the passenger seat though, and she’s being kinda whiney, which is bumming out my vibe. “Mommy, can we get donuts? From Dutch Girl?” “No sweetie, not now. Mommy is in a hurry. She’s gotta drop you off at home, then get back to work for a very important meeting with her boss.” Cracked skull smile centipede face horror flashback shudder. “Well, there’s food at home. You can have a sandwich when we get home. And candy.” Do not take your eyes off the road. “But I don’t want candy. I want donuts! From Dutch Girl!” “Elsa! No! Listen to mommy—stop whining. No donuts. Not today. There’s no time.” Jesus Christ I’m so good at driving. Elsa finally shuts up, and keeps herself occupied by rummaging through the contents of my purse. Out of the corner of my eye I see her pull out my phone and unlock it, and then the next thing I know I feel that ice-burn in my wrist, and I look and see the subdermal LEDs flaring red-to-green again. I snatch the phone from here. The little bitch just dialed me a hit of TolcaponeEmpathy along with a kick of CompassionEctsasy, and I’m about to scream all shades of shit at her when I suddenly start sobbing, because I love her so very much, my poor beautiful baby, the love of my life, my precious diamond, who I’d do anything for, just anything, who must be so hungry, who must want donuts so much, my darling little baby, and I pull over into Dutch Girl Donuts and jump out of the car to get in line for a mixed dozen. We’re cruising through some dead space in what used to be midtown, where most the houses were pulled down nearly two decades ago, both chomping on donuts while I’m bussing on a couple of dials of ProVigilX and SynthiCoke. Back in control. The emphatics Elsa dosed me with have worn off, and I should be mad at her again, but I let it slide. She’s a good kid. I reach over and stroke her hair. As I do I catch the time on my subdermal, red LED numbers pulsing through my skin. It’s gonna be tight, but I should just to make it. It’s pretty deserted out here. Total dead space. Which is why it’s even more of a shock when the cyclist bumps off the hood of my Jianghua-Ford Taurus. Elsa and I both scream. I slam on breaks, but not quick enough to stop that sickening feeling of something bumping under both the left hand wheels. I spill out of the car, and the road behind it is a bit dirty smear of blood, lycra, and bent-up polycarbon. He’s still alive though. I can tell from his screaming, when my panic subsides and my hearing returns. I pull my phone out, but there’s no range here. At all. One of those Detroit dead-wireless spots. I look around and it’s like I could be stood out in the country, the trees and the grass reclaiming the landscape so ruthlessly that the occasional glimpse of ancient sidewalk amongst the wild flowers is the only clue that there used to be city here. No sign of anybody else out here. I know where we are: they wanted to make this into farmland, but we were quick and bought it up in partnership with Mahindra & Mahindra Motors, and we’re going to build a car factory here. We have a 36% share. Still no fucking reception though. No way of calling him an ambulance, or even an UberEmergency. His screaming is real bad, and he’s losing a lot of blood, crimson streaks running into the cracked, unloved asphalt of forgotten roadways. Trying not to gag I check his wrist, thinking maybe I can dial him something, but he doesn't even have an implant. Fucking hipsters. I take deep breaths, try not to panic. If I don’t take him straight to hospital now, he’s not going to make it, simple as that. I don’t have much in the way of options. I stare at my phone. The clock reads 1.47 PM. My hands begin to tremble. With the gift of full clarity I pull up the NuTropic app and start to dial. Two hits of RuthlessVyvanse and a large dose MyTimePriorityConcentrator. Logic bulldozes in, fear and compassion fading like dying light. The cyclist’s helmet, still somehow attached to his now just whimpering head, has a GoPro camera fixed to it, just in case something exactly like this happens. I bend down and rip it from it’s mount, find the SD card and drop it on the tarmac. I drop the camera next no it. With a few swift blows from my heel I stomp them both into plastic dust. The cyclist must see me do this, because he starts screaming again. I nearly tell him not to waste his breath, but I don’t want to waste mine, because I really don’t give a shit. I turn and walk back to the car. Elsa looks at me, donut glazing smeared around her lips, her eyes wide with confusion. “Mommy, is the man going to be okay?” “Shut the fuck up and eat your donuts,” I say, starting the engine. This story is part of Terraform, our future fiction project. Art by Rebekka Dunlap. Sava Saheli Singh contributed to this speculation. Lit Up is a series about heightening—and dulling—our sense of perception. Follow along here.
News Article | November 23, 2015
Richard Branson and other notable business leaders were signatories of a definitive letter of climate action directed to heads of state. Specifically, the letter calls for the Paris (COP21) deal to include a long-term climate goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Their aim in the process is “the end of business as usual.” With so many countries in Paris, this is a time for more action than talk and ponderable good intentions. It is indeed a time of choices to directly act on — actionable long-term emissions goals. The business group — the B Team — consists of 22 major business and civil society leaders, and a circle of high-profile names. The letter was signed by Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, Kering and Harley-Davidson director Jochen Zeitz, Unilever chief executive Paul Polman, and more. “We know this is ambitious, but it is ambition that will generate the global momentum and focus that is critical to success,” the B Team’s letter said. “The science, economic costs and social risks of climate change are becoming increasingly clear. We believe that securing a long-term goal in Paris should therefore be an urgent personal priority for you, as it is for all of us.” The group pledged to support political leaders in driving forward a concrete progressive agenda. Urging leaders to “clarify” their vision and acknowledging the responsibilities of business leaders themselves, 10 of the signatories have already set a 2050 target for their companies to have net-zero emissions. In a related story, BusinessGreen also contrasts communication around the legally essential aspect of the COP21: The EU reports that any global climate deal reached in Paris next month will be legally binding. On the other side, however, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s asserts that the negotiations will not have a binding treaty as an outcome. According to the Financial Times in an article published on Wednesday, Kerry said any agreement reached at December’s climate talks would not legally require countries to cut their carbon emissions, stressing the deal was “definitively not going to be a treaty.” The Guardian reports that the EU responds precisely to Kerry: “The Paris agreement must be an international legally binding agreement,” a spokeswoman for the EU’s climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, told the Guardian. “The title of the agreement is yet to be decided, but it will not affect its legally binding form.” The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, responded it was obvious that the Paris agreements will contain lawful elements. “Jurists will discuss the legal nature of an accord on whether it should be termed as a treaty or an international agreement,” Fabius told reporters. “But the fact that a certain number of dispositions should have a practical effect and be legally binding is obvious so let’s not confuse things, which is perhaps what Mr Kerry has done.” Continuing, “The political-level talks in Paris start on 7 December, so we still have some time to sort this out,” Cañete’s spokeswoman said. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 was the last legally binding climate treaty. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol imposed binding emissions targets — in those countries that ratified it. For the US, it was during the Bush administration and the US did not sign. As with that agreement, the new one may include a voluntary element. “The EU and a host of developing countries have said the Paris treaty must be ‘legally binding,'” BusinessGreen adds, “and pushed for the timetable set at the 2011 climate conference in Durban, which outlined that a global legal framework covering all countries should be set in 2015 and enter into force in 2020.” Now, unfortunately, we have the Obama administration “facing major challenges ratifying any legal treaty in the Republican-dominated US Congress.” As a result, just about anything agreed to in Paris will have to be implemented by Obama through an executive order — and what can be done that way is limited. Mentioning Richard Branson, a recent, CleanTechnica repost, “What Cigarettes, Asbestos, Coal, & ICE All Have In Common.” points out the importance of switching from ICE vehicles to electric vehicles in order to stop global warming and cut toxic fumes: “The good news is that both cigarettes and asbestos have been recognized for what they always were, although coal burning and the use of the internal combustion engine (ICE) continue to get away with it,” Roger Atkins writes. “I hope in 10 years from now the smell of exhaust will be as much a thing of the past as the smell of cigarettes in a restaurant,” Richard Branson states. New Climate Rewrite May Herald Success At COP21 In Paris When It Comes To Climate Change, The B Team Means Business Image: Enseignement supérieur et Recherche /Foter.com / CC BY-SA Get CleanTechnica’s 1st (completely free) electric car report → “Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want.” Come attend CleanTechnica’s 1st “Cleantech Revolution Tour” event → in Berlin, Germany, April 9–10. Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.