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Tuesday’s New York Times featured a dire assessment of Silicon Valley’s reluctance to fund startups fighting climate change. The report lauds the efforts of investors like Nest co-founder Matt Rogers, who has socked millions into ventures seeking to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere—even as it laments the dearth of Valley high-rollers willing to do likewise.
“We don’t need another photo-sharing app or another blockchain start-up,” Rogers tells the Times. “We need to solve the carbon crisis. But a lot of folks are chasing the easy money rather than taking responsibility for what needs to be done.”
The Valley’s suspicion of environmentally-focused technology ventures, the Times notes, is a legacy of the clean-tech boom of a decade ago, in which investors eager to save the planet mostly wound up losing their shirts. It turns out that problems like the carbon crisis are hard. Solutions tend to be complicated, time-consuming, and tricky to scale.
But perhaps the pessimism is overdone. Wall Street is paying attention to environmental ventures even if Silicon Valley is not. This year’s hottest IPO is Beyond Meat, the El Segundo, Calif.-based company that has engineered plant-based alternatives to beef. Investors seem just as bullish about Impossible Foods, a rival venture which recently announced a nationwide tie-up with Burger King. Experts say a shift to “beef-less burgers” (so far the response from consumers seems pretty good) could drastically reduce carbon emissions and water consumption. Some even claim that getting people to eat less beef could do more to curb carbon emissions than getting them to give up cars.
Bankers, too, are newly focused on climate and environmental issues. At a meeting in Paris last month, the Network for Greening the Financial System, an alliance of 34 central banks and financial supervisors, issued an open letter warning that “as financial policymakers and prudential advisors, we cannot ignore the obvious risk” posed by climate change. The Bank of England recently announced it will require the banks and insurance companies it oversees to disclose how they are managing the financial risks of climate change. Politico recently hailed Bank of England governor Mark Carney, who has been especially outspoken on the issue, as an “eco-warrior.”
At a Fortune dinner in New York last night I moderated a panel of three “green finance” heavyweights: Rock Creek CEO Afsaneh Beschloss, Goldman Sachs head of environmental markets Kyung-Ah Park, and Citigroup global head of environmental finance Michael Eckhart. All concurred that–the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accords notwithstanding–in financial capitals around the world, regulators, banks, and institutional investors are converging on sustainability issues with newfound zeal.
The occasion for last night’s dinner was to help set the agenda for the first Fortune Global Sustainability Forum, to be held in Yunnan, China September 4-6. On Thursday, we’ll convene an equally high-powered dinner in San Francisco where we’ll hear from entrepreneurs and venture investors and talk with Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh about how the world’s oldest maker of blue jeans is going green. The Forum in Yunnan is by invitation only, but you can learn more about it and apply to attend here.
Checking the box. At Google’s annual I/O developer conference, the company had some goodies to unveil, including a cheaper Pixel phone, starting at $400, a combination Google Assistant smart speaker and Nest home monitoring video camera, dubbed the Nest Hub Max, and an augmented reality arrow for the Maps app. Google also made a series of privacy promises, enhancing “incognito mode” for the Chrome browser, adding the feature to YouTube and Maps, and adding a further way to limit location tracking on Android. “We think privacy is for everyone—not just for the few,” CEO Sundar Pichai said. Attendees with a 5G phone could try out Sprint’s 5G network. Since that’s pretty much no one, Sprint had demo phones from LG on hand for try outs.
A big yellow taxi took my girl away. In its first earnings report since going public, #2 ride sharing giant Lyft had good news and bad. It beat Wall Street expectations by showing 95% revenue growth, to $776 million, but disappointed with a bigger-than-expected loss of $1.1 billion. Lyft’s shares, previously down 18% from its IPO, were down 4% in premarket trading on Wednesday. Separately, Waymo said it will commence a self-driving car pilot test in Phoenix with Lyft.
Going, going, gone. Hackers grabbed digital currency worth $40 million from cryptocurrency exchange Binance. The hackers were absolute geniuses, according to Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao. The crooks “had the patience to wait and execute well-orchestrated actions through multiple seemingly independent accounts at the most opportune time,” he said. Elsewhere on the fading scene, Chinese currency miner Bitmain disclosed it has cut its computing power usage by 88%, likely signaling a deep cut in activity.
Autoplay. Spending on digital advertising rose 22% last year to $108 billion, the first time the total topped $100 billion, according to a joint report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers. The mobile segment increased 40% to $70 billion while desktop spending declined 2% to $38 billion. Among various media, video ad spending jumped 37% to $16 billion.
I think it’s gonna be a long long time. Elon Musk’s SpaceX says it plans to launch “dozens” of small satellites next week that will form part of the company’s Internet-from-space service known as Starlink. The company says it needs about 800 satellites in orbit to start commercial service, but ultimately aims to loft 12,000.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
It’s not just crooks, hackers, and drug dealers who seek to go online via anonymous, nearly untraceable services like Tor. This week, the Central Intelligence Agency announced its own Tor-compatible service, known as an onion service because traffic is hidden in many layers of transmissions. Wired’s Lily Hay Newman checks out why The Company is interested in Tor. As for Tor itself, the group is, like a captured Mission Impossible agent, disavowing all knowledge of the CIA’s actions.
“We make free and open source software that’s available for anyone to use—and that includes the CIA,” says Stephanie Whited, communications director for the Tor Project. “We don’t choose who uses our software. We want to see onion services adopted more frequently, and we think there’s a trend moving in that direction.”
The CIA could have ulterior motives for establishing an onion site, but perhaps the agency is in fact simply trying to offer more ways for people to contact it and interact with its public resources. If nothing else, the project’s tagline pokes fun at its inherent ambiguity: “Onions have layers, so do we.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
This Is Why Rideshare Drivers Are Going on Strike By Michel Lev-Ram
Why The Uber Strike Should Make Investors Uneasy By Lucinda Shen
Surprise Amazon Go Store Opening Causes New Yorkers to Do What They Do Best: Line Up By Jeff John Roberts
BEFORE YOU GO
In the famous episode of Seinfeld called “The Hamptons,” Jerry and the gang travel to the Long Island getaway to see an ugly baby. I don’t think that would be the case if you got invited to Frogmore Cottage to see the new royal baby. The first pictures were released on Wednesday and mum and dad, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, are ecstatic. Still no name announced for the boy, yet. The top choices among wagerers? Spencer, James, or Alexander.