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Can companies mix crypto and climate change pledges?

January 7, 2022, 5:43 PM UTC

Two loosely related news stories this week should perk the ears of any corporate executive or public relations official involved with integrating cryptocurrency into their business.

The first article, documented by The Verge and several other outlets, details a blow-up between the Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit behind its eponymous Internet browser, and since-departed Mozilla founder Jamie Zawinski. Following a Mozilla Foundation solicitation via Twitter for donations via crypto, Zawinski responded with a blistering tweet.

“Hi, I’m sure that whoever runs this account has no idea who I am,” Zawinski wrote, “but I founded @mozilla and I’m here to say f— you and f— this. Everyone involved in the project should be witheringly ashamed of this decision to partner with planet-incinerating Ponzi grifters.”

A chastened Mozilla responded Thursday by announcing a pause on the fundraising source, pledging an immediate review of “if and how our current policy on crypto donations fits with our climate goals.” While estimates vary on the environmental impact of crypto mining, it’s widely accepted that the electricity-intensive process produces carbon dioxide emissions each year on par with decently large industrialized countries.

The second story takes place more than 6,000 miles away, in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. Widespread civic unrest prompted the government to shut down the Internet there this week, kneecapping the country’s fast-growing Bitcoin mining industry. 

The development brought renewed attention to the fact that an estimated 10% to 20% of the world’s Bitcoin mining takes place in coal-dependent Kazakhstan, where many Chinese miners decamped following a national crackdown on crypto. In 2018, before the recent explosion of crypto, Kazakhstan produced the second-highest amount of carbon dioxide emissions per capita, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In the grand scheme, Mozilla and Kazakhstan are little more than blips on their respective business and world stages. They do, however, portend the looming clash for organizations between their pledges of climate do-goodery and their burgeoning forays into an emissions-heavy crypto market. 

To date, the conflict has claimed only a few scalps. Under modest public pressure, largely from environmentalists, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced in May that the company would no longer accept Bitcoin as payment for vehicles because of “rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions.” Ditto for donations to Greenpeace

But expect more backlash as supposedly green-friendly companies integrate crypto into their transactions. 

Facebook parent company Meta, which boasts that it reached net-zero emissions for its own operations, is experimenting with crypto and pledging internally, according to The New York Times, to fully embrace the movement. Visa, which committed this year to going net-zero by 2040, is increasingly embracing crypto amid concerns that it could upend traditional payment processors.

It’s possible that technological advances will render this tension moot, with renewable energy providers working in closer tandem with crypto miners. Musk and Block CEO Jack Dorsey certainly believe that’s the case.

Until then, however, expect more corporate-crypto cautionary tales to play out in the years to come.

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Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

A Sonos no-no. The U.S.’ top trade court ruled Thursday that Google infringed on five audio technology patents held by Sonos, and the Alphabet subsidiary cannot import products containing the speaker manufacturer’s intellectual property, The New York Times reported. Barring an intervention by President Joe Biden’s administration, the import ban will go into effect 60 days after Thursday’s order by the U.S. International Trade Commission. Google does not expect the issue will significantly impact products, such as the Google Home speaker, that contained the at-issue technology because the company has developed work-arounds approved by the commission.

The (almost) $100 million man. Apple’s banner year resulted in CEO Tim Cook earning $98.7 million in compensation in 2021, nearly seven times more than he earned in the prior year, CNBC reported Thursday. Most of Cook’s pay package came from the issuance of restricted stock valued at $82.3 million, aimed at keeping the 10-year leader atop the company for years to come. Apple sales hit $365 billion in fiscal 2021, the company’s highest total on record, while its stock price climbed nearly 30% in that time.

A meme-and-NFT marriage. Shares of meme stock favorite GameStop spiked about 20% in morning trading Friday on news that the lagging video game retailer plans to launch a marketplace for non-fungible tokens later this year. The company, which saw its stock price increase seven-fold in 2021 amid rampant buying by organized retail investors motivated to squeeze Wall Street short sellers, is making a pivot to digital sales after years of dwindling revenue at its brick-and-mortar stores. Many details of the potential marketplace haven’t been disclosed, including which tokens could be used.

Game over or a minor blip? Online gaming developer Roblox recently shut down the Chinese version of its platform, called LuoBuLeSi, prompting questions about the company’s future there amid a nationwide crackdown on video games and other tech sectors, TechCrunch reported Friday. Roblox officials, who launched their Chinese version five months ago in partnership with Tencent, said they have “determined that a number of transitory actions are necessary as we build the next version of LuoBuLeSi,” hinting at issues relating to data architecture. Chinese users had downloaded LuoBuLeSi an estimated 1.7 million times since its launch.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

An early metaverse look? The annual Consumer Electronics Show isn’t always an accurate barometer for which products will flourish in the mass marketplace (remember 3D television?), but it’s still a useful window into the potential future. And in 2022, nothing carries more buzz than the metaverse. Axios’ Ina Fried takes a look at the metaverse-centric technology that debuted at CES this year, including a body tracking suit that gives avatars legs and an accessory that warms and cools with your virtual reality.

From the article:

The grand metaverse that tech enthusiasts talked up last year remains a distant goal for the industry, but this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas showed off a few of its building blocks as they begin to materialize.

The full vision of a shared, 3D digital dimension a la "Ready Player One" is probably still a decade away—but it won't arrive out of nowhere in one piece. Instead, it will show up in bits and chunks, clunky and disjointed, before coalescing into something both functional and useful.

Unless, of course, all this turns out to be another false start for a VR industry that has been promising us one metaverse or another for three decades now.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

As cars become smartphones, Big Auto turns to handset chipmaker to survive, by Christiaan Hetzner

Sanofi agrees to partnership with A.I.-based drug discovery company Exscientia worth up to $5.2 billion, by Jeremy Kahn

A.I. could make your company more productive—but not if it makes your people less happy, by Francois Candelon, Su Min Ha, and Colleen McDonald

Even amid crypto’s early-2022 jitters, some analysts still think Bitcoin at $100,000 is in reach, by Vildana Hajric, Emily Graffeo, and Bloomberg

RadioShack wants to be corporate America’s connection into DeFi, by Declan Harty

Crypto crime just hit an all-time high of $14 billion, by Jonathan Vanian

BEFORE YOU GO

Twelve congenial men and women. After several years of covering criminal and civil courts around the country, I could hardly contain my excitement last month when I received word that I’d been called for jury duty (yes, I’m one of those weirdos). But alas, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts notified me last week that my services are no longer needed. So I, and you, will have to settle for this account of a juror’s experience adjudicating the Elizabeth Holmes trial, via The Wall Street Journal. You’ll be shocked to know that they found the Theranos founder’s testimony less than convincing.

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