🔮 Carbon taxes get real; WFH or nothing; free shipping; lucky investing; leveraged activism & supersonic flight ++ #325

Hi, I’m Azeem Azhar. I convene Exponential View to help us understand how our societies and political economy will change under the force of rapidly accelerating technologies.


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Department of the near future

An ode to taxing carbon

📦 It sounds like a plot line from Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future. The world’s largest container shipping line is calling for a $150-a-tonne carbon tax on shipping fuel. Maersk says the dramatic increase would force the sector, which delivers 80% of world trade, to embrace cleaner fuels faster. Max Roser makes a compelling argument for such carbon pricing:

Without a monetary carbon price it is those who have the smallest emissions that suffer the largest costs from climate change. A carbon price, in contrast, means that those who cause the emissions also pay for them.

As Roser goes on to note, the logic of carbon pricing enables greater debate and understanding about the effect of emissions on the planet. While Maersk is calling for a carbon tax to be implemented later this decade, its public stance should create some groundswell of fresh debate. But, as The Ministry outlines, we don’t have a lot of time to talk. We need action. (See also: Much is made about the energy use of data centres among other electricity-intensive spaces like cryptocurrency mines. Jonathan Koomey shows that the criticism of data centres isn’t nearly as founded as we have been led to believe.)

Give me WFH or give me nothing

👔 Are you ready to return to the office? As the pandemic eases dramatically in the West, office life is coming back. But that isn’t making everyone happy. Some workers are choosing to quit before returning to the office. It’s too early to judge if this trend of absconding workers is here to stay as only 28% of US office workers have returned to their buildings but it's clear that many business leaders are eager to get their teams back in one shared physical space. Apple announced that its employees will be asked to return to the office for at least three days a week starting in September. Empathy is an overused word when it comes to the delicate negotiation of getting employees back to the office but it’s going to be critical for business leaders to recognize the freedom that working from home has given millions during the pandemic. You can’t just flip a switch and expect everything to return to normal.

The dark side of free shipping

🚚 Amazon is back under the spotlight this week as DC Attorney General Karl Racine filed an antitrust lawsuit against the company. Unlike other lawsuits targeting technology companies, the latest salvo against Amazon could pack a pretty big punch. The point of the suit, according to Matt Stoller, is that Amazon drives prices up through its behemoth Amazon Prime programme. This is achieved through free shipping, which Jeff Bezos once said was “used to draw a moat around our best customers.” When you couple Amazon’s ability to efficiently raise prices and new data that shows the company owns more than 90% market share across five different product categories, this new antitrust lawsuit could end up changing how Amazon operates. This is one to watch closely.

As luck would have it

🍀 Successful venture capital firms are driven forward by incredibly smart individuals... and luck. Leading VCs around Silicon Valley have seen small bets pay massive dividends over the years. Lightspeed’s $8 million investment in Snap yielded stock with $2.1bn after the company went public. And this isn’t confined to Silicon Valley VCs. Look at South Africa’s Naspers. The company bought a 46.5% stake in Tencent for $32m in 2001. It just sold a 2% stake of Tencent for nearly $15bn and this week Prosus, the international assets holding arm of Naspers, acquired StackOverflow for $1.8bn.

Dept of decarbonisation

CO2 level 419.97 ppm | 3,286 days until we reach the 450ppm threshold

The latest measurement of atmospheric CO2 (as of June 02, 2021): 419.97 ppm; June 2020: 418.32 ppm; 25 years ago: 360 ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250 ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this.

🗣 Let’s call it “leveraged activism”. This is what happens when a small group of people or one person is able to exercise an outsized amount of influence over critical events affecting everyone. Take Greta Thurnberg who has a significant track record of leveraged activism. The tiny investment firm Engine No.1 forced a major change in Exxon Mobile this week. Leveraging a small position, Engine No. 1 won three seats on Exxon's board with the ambition to push for “structural change opportunities”.

☢️ Wyoming will have a new nuclear power plant in conjunction with Bill Gates’ TerraPower.

Short morsels to appear smart during your next supersonic flight

🍟 This is certainly not surprising but it’s a remarkable admission. An internal Nestle document finds most of its food products are unhealthy. (via EV member Alice Casiraghi)

🤖 From the AI race, a Chinese AI lab is challenging Google and Open AI with a model of 1.75 trillion parameters. (See also, how China amped its use of AI systems during Covid.)

💰 In crypto: Remarkable profile of NFT investor, Metakovan, Vignesh Sundaresan. Popular programme now lets you mine cryptocurrency. Norton 360 antivirus will allow users to mine Ethereum. 🦹‍♀️ The rise of the drug criminal turned Bitcoin miner: cops raided a “cannabis farm” in the UK and found a Bitcoin mine instead.

👁 Dangerous territory. Pupil size might be a marker of intelligence.

🌍 Inside the high-tech infrastructure that protects “fortress Europe”.

🍝 Researchers have solved a critical problem facing sustainable packaging: how to create flat pasta.

🔏 Redacting sensitive information wasn’t always so easy. A remarkable tale of how not to redact a nuclear warhead.

👾 Finding cheats and workarounds for popular video games is a massive business.  
💻 Blast from the past: how the Commodore Amiga powered your cable system in the '90s.

📸 Have you noticed a sharp increase in the price of cameras and lenses (not the smartphone kind)? Here’s why.

⭐ If you ever wanted to feel small, here is the most detailed 3D map of the Universe ever made. 🧬 From the universe to the individual: A browsable petascale reconstruction of the Human Cortex.

✈️ The Concorde is making a comeback, sort of. United Airlines announced plans to buy 15 ultrafast airplanes capable of reaching Mach 1.7.

🛩 Meanwhile, China is on the verge of creating a new generation of super-fast jets thanks to the development of a hypersonic wind tunnel.

📱 The remarkable rise of Waze, the popular mapping application bought by Google, was fuelled by an unusual approach to product thinking.

Great paper in Nature on ultra-precision medicine.


The Economist points out how Europe has lost corporate leadership, has become a "corporate also ran". Is Europe over? Or are European values going to inform our new sustainable credentials? Something I am musing on this weekend.



What you’re up to – notes from EV readers

The Exponential View podcast assistant producer Ilan Goodman has created an immersive audio piece based on interviews with frontline NHS staff as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival, featuring BAFTA winning actress Wunmi Mosaku. Listen here.

Congrats to Trista Bridges who's helped create Japan's first ESG-focused fund led by all-female GP and investment team!

Megan Roberts published analysis on the UN Security Council’s first debate on emerging technologies, which exposed some familiar tensions even as it trod new ground for the UN body with primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security.

Marko Ahtisaari invites us all to the Helsinki Festival 2021 for a celebration of art.

Brain P. Gatens contributed to a new book about his school district's journey in helping students navigate the complex landscape of adolescence. It is available now for pre-order.

Tom Raftery interviewed Tobias Fausch, CIO of AgTech giant BayWa on the Climate 21 podcast.

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