🔮 Europe’s carbon plan; Solutionism; Academic remote work & lab-grown foie gras ++ #331

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.

🎧  Our podcast team is on a break for a couple of months. As we prepare for the next season, I invite you to check out some of my favourite episodes from the past year:

💬 I asked members of Exponential View whom they'd like to hear on the podcast next, especially on blockchain, decarbonisation and biology. To join the discussion, become a member; or tweet your suggestions @azeem.

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Dept of near future

A carbon-free Europe

🐶 The EU’s Fit for 55 plans to decarbonise the bloc are a milestone, just as Germany and Belgium real under killer floods likely exacerbated by climate change. (Good read on the floods in The Economist.)

We are at a pivotal moment in the world’s response to the climate and biodiversity emergencies and we are the last generation that can still act in time. This decade is a make-or-break moment.
Credit: Isaac Cordal

Two great analyses of EU’s green deal available at Bloomberg and Politico.

The proposal is interesting and wide-ranging, talking about the importance of nature (beyond climate change) and the need for a systemic and interconnected, approach to tackling the issue. (Kees van Der Leun has a good tweetstorm.)

This is - could be a trigger - what I like about the proposals are that they are broad in scope and systemic. They do not simply rest on an assumption of technological progress (though we will need that too.)

These proposals don’t talk about whether current levels of welfare and consumption are simply too high. They explicitly call out ideas of the circular economy (important) but not whether consumption levels just need to diminish. One limitation is that these proposals look like the EU doing its bit and not more. As a rich, powerful bloc with a population perhaps more willing to decarbonise than other major economies, perhaps the EU needs to go further than simply fulfilling its obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Elsewhere: China launched a carbon market but the price of credits at about $7.42 a ton are far too low (they trade closer to eight times that in Europe.) Read more here.

In praise of solutionism

🌟 The past year has been a difficult one for pessimists and optimists alike. A deadly new virus swept through the world leaving economic destruction in its wake. However, a revolutionary vaccine was developed in record time to contain the virus. Jason Crawford writes that “the risk of adopting an ‘optimistic’ or ‘pessimistic’ mindset is the temptation to take sides on an issue depending on a general mood, rather than forming an opinion based on the facts of the case.”

Making remote work work

📈 Academics are used to working remotely. Over their years of training, they learn how to self-motivate and function within distributed teams. With ongoing remote work experiments transforming how large parts of the economy function, should we look to academia as a successful remote work model? Matt Clancy makes a compelling case. Academics regularly undertake large-scale complex, knowledge-intensive collaborations over years, consider the LiGo or Event Horizon Telescope projects. These and other scientific collaborations have much in common with the know-how driven intangible economy that will come to dominate the common decades.

There are some caveats. For one, academics are trained to work remotely from the start of their careers. Most people don’t receive such training and so emulating academics will require a large investment in skills. Another is that  

A new approach to technology in Europe

🇪🇺 Europe needs a new approach to technology, the one that appreciates technology as a power lever. A brief by policy experts Ulrike Franke and Jose Ignacio Torreblance argues that in order for the EU to embrace new partnerships and take advantage of its de facto mediator status between the US and China, leaders need to think beyond the economic implications of technology. If Europe can break out of established thinking about technology, specifically a deeper appreciation of its geopolitical significance, the bloc stands to gain.

The race to the moon

🚀 Beyond the attention-grabbing headlines of Sir Richard Branson’s flight to the edge of space last week lies a genuine space race between the United States and China. This isn’t the space race of the Cold War. It’s about America reestablishing its dominance in space (albeit with thrift by leaning on entrepreneurs like Branson and Jeff Bezos). At the same time, China is keen to demonstrate its power and prestige in space. EV reader, Oliver Morton, raises an important question: “Does the American system work better than the alternative when faced with the challenges of the future?”

🔋 Dept of decarbonisation

CO2 level 417.33 ppm | 3,252 days until we reach the 450ppm threshold

The latest measurement of atmospheric CO2 (as of July 12, 2021): 417.33 ppm; July 2020: 415.51 ppm; 25 years ago: 360 ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250 ppm. Share this reminder with your community by for warding this email or tweeting this.

🚶‍♀️The popularity of electric cars is sustained and rising but it’s not enough to meet net-zero targets. What’s needed is more people literally moving themselves from place to place. Active travel, as in bicycles and walking, “can contribute to tackling the climate emergency earlier than electric vehicles while providing affordable, reliable, clean, healthy and congestion-busting transport”. It’s also much healthier for society, as it gets people moving and outside. The best way to encourage active travel is to create the infrastructure that encourages people to get outside. City planners can thus transform the health of their residents and transform the climate through smart infrastructure decisions.

✈️ United Airlines is set to become one of the largest airlines in the world to use electric aircraft. The US carrier announced its plans to purchase 100, 19-seat electric planes from Heart Aerospace to use on regional routes. This is part of the company's plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 100% by 2050. Given the size of United, it’s only a matter of time before other carriers follow in its footsteps. Are we on the verge of a new race to green aircraft in the aviation industry? Let’s hope so.

Short morsels to appear smart while using mind-reading technology

🎮 From the Department of Shortages: Why the microchip shortage continues to be a major problem.

📷 Laser integration with sensors and optics is getting better and bringing the next wave of innovation in photonics.

🥼 Using machine learning, researchers created a tool that might help doctors improve people’s healthy lifespan with a focus on inflammation.

🌍 Super apps are taking over Africa.

🧠 We love to add complexity in problem solving, even when it goes against our best interests.

🇨🇱 Chile gets serious about regulating “mind-reading” technology.

🤠 Have we reached peak populism? An argument for brighter times ahead.

⛽️ A savvy inventor found a way to power his moped using methane gas harvested from ditches and ponds.

📚 It’s all about you. Using crowd-sourced data from Kindles, researchers found that passages with the term “you” appeared in more highlights.

🥧 Is π the same in every universe? It’s all about definitions.

🦆 Great news! Lab-grown (and ethical) foie gras gets support from the French government.  


We’re well into a summer that has brought with us terrible fatal examples of extreme weather, which can increasingly only be pinned back to climate change. I’m going to do some more thinking about what this means over the summer. Expect more members’ discussions on the topic.


What you’re up to – notes from EV readers

Profile of Azeem in the Boston Globe.

Excellent interview with Hussein Kanji, the founding partner at Hoxton Ventures.

Josh Berson will be speaking on low-tech thermoregulation for the climate change era at Berggruen Institute.

Gianni Giacomelli will be speaking on a panel about reskilling at scale at the Global Skills Day virtual conference.

Carl Hahn will be speaking on a panel with the Chief Privacy Officer for IBM and the Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer for HPE about all things related to AI Ethics (or at least a few of them).

Dave Goldblatt recently launched a rolling fund to invest in early-stage tech companies, Vibe Capital.

Mozilla Thunderbird partnered with Patrick de Schutter’s Mailfence to offer an encrypted email suite.

Ben Macon-Cooney shares a series of essays his team published looking at how the UK can supercharge science and innovation.

To share your projects and updates, fill out your details here. Because of space constraints, we prioritize updates from paying members and startups I have invested in. (You can become the former by subscribing, if you have not already, and the latter by getting an intro to me via a trusted contact.)

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