A Biohacker’s Guide to Climate Change

Climate Change: let’s dream about it, let’s have fun with it, let’s make it a cool adventure.

On that, here’s my 5 favorite articles and books that merge climate change and technology. These are the pieces I’ve found myself referencing over the past year when I meet hackers and geeks curious about climate change.

1. What Can a Technologist do About Climate Change? – Bret Victor

I like this because it’s so popular  in Silicon Valley. It’s been independently re-posted to Hackernews 6 times over the past year. Paul Hawken, famous environmentalist and author of Project Drawdown, cited it as proof of Silicon Valley’s curiousity about climate during the launch of his new book, a plan for reducing carbon dioxide. When I say “climate change plus tech” it’s the most common reference people here reply with.

So I love it, it’s written by a big name in the tech scene and it has some great perspectives. It’s the best place to start if you’re a hacker interested in climate change.

2. The Whole Earth Discipline – Stewart Brand

Now this kind of veers in the serious thought-provoking direction, because it’s by Stewart Brand, and he’s got great points and perspective. He says nuclear power is good, GMOs are good, geoengineering is good. He’s an environmental pioneer and in tech circles is known for his early work designing the WELL, an early computer BBS in Berkeley in 1985. And the book is shocking to me because there’s this mea culpa along the lines of ‘look sorry about that, when we environmentalists said nuclear power was bad, and GMOs were bad, yea we screwed up. My bad. Let’s make a better path and tech paves the way’. He writes “We are as gods and we must get good at it.” Nuff said.

3. Red Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson

For me, this is basically biohacker bedtime stories. Three part story, terraforming mars and building the first Martian colony there. Tons of stuff about geoengineering, power sources, autonomous vehicles. Basically how would a planet run in the future. It’s a great book and if you like the first one there are 3 in the series.

4. Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air – David MacKay

This one’s math-tastic. Not so opinionated as the Whole Earth Discipline, and it’s not fantasy like Red Mars. It’s numbers and fun calculations. It doesn’t have anything to do with politics or human nature. The guy who wrote opened with ‘look I’m trying to write a climate book that has nothing to do with politics’. So he sidestepped all the carbon crap and said let’s just talk about energy, let’s talk about electrons. I found it really cool to start thinking about that most fossil fuels are locked up solar energy. Not that I think fossil fuels are ok suddenly, but I think it is a good way to look at the energy balance of the earth.

100% of our energy comes from either the sun, the moon, geothermal, or nuclear power. Nuclear power is from the beginning of the universe, geothermal is from the center of the earth, tidal power and waves comes from the moon, and everything else comes from the sun – biofuels, fossil fuels, wind power (hot air). Anyway I thought it was cool to play with math. This was the first climate-y book I read and afterwards I saw climate change like Neo at the end of the Matrix. It’s just numbers, brah.

5. Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan – Elon Musk

Super cool, he rattles it out. Great piece to see the truth: climate change is an opportunity, let’s build some awesome new systems and technologies on top of it.

Have another favorite to add? Let’s get this list to 11!

On anxiety

I’m sitting on the porch at home on the Big Island of Hawaii. Our six black cats laze around in the yard. Birds are chirping, the sky is turquoise, and I can see the sapphire ocean through my neighbor’s palm trees.

The cats seem skinny. One is eating a lizard it caught. We really should feed them more than table scraps. I’ll pick up a giant bag of Meow Mix at Costco and then everything will be OK. Will the cats run off to join our neighbors if they’re not fed enough? What happens when they eat all the lizards?

I stand up. I’ve suddenly realized my ultimate destiny. I’m going to overthink and whittle away every idea and experience I ever have. I am a Nimitz-class nuclear battleship and anxiety is my uranium core.

If I’m going to chew the inside of my cheeks for eternity like some Promethean snack, why not think about something bigger than 6 black cats. Like I don’t know, work on climate change or run for president or something?

This was about a year ago, and I look back on the experience with a feeling of relief, purpose, and perspective. Are you lucky enough to have 6 black cats in your life?

(wonderful photo of one of the cats thanks to Shova Ale Magar)

It’s just green paint

Tito Klondor here, alien visitor from Planet Targus 9 with a report on city infrastructure in San Francisco. My interests are in roads, telephone poles, and skyscrapers.

My job is looking over the fence at a construction site and asking what keeps a new skyscraper from falling over? Where is the cable that brings Internet into this building? How do all the yellow lines in the road get made?

I often wonder if the humans are aware how simple their infrastructure really is.

For the past week, a construction crew has been building a new bike lane on 7th Street. Now on Targus 9 of course, if you asked me how a Targan bike lane gets made I could show you the fancy machine that comes in and paints a really wide lane, and spits out symbols and plastic barriers as it rolls.

On Earth it turns out it’s just a guy with a bucket of green paint and a roller…and green-ed shoes.

And the “biker” symbol? It’s made with a giant 8 foot long metal stencil they drag out and spray paint.

(I neglected to take a photo of the stencil, but you can see the chalk line at the bottom where they position the stencil, and a spot to the lower right where they over sprayed.)

Over and out.

When will we be a “multiplanetary species”?

I’ve heard the term “multi-planetary species” come up recently in articles about Elon Musk, SpaceX,  and NASA (like this one). I’m curious, is there an exact moment when humanity becomes a multi planetary species?

I couldn’t find a definition or discussion. So I came up with my own answers.

Before: First off what isnt multiplanetary? Well right now humanity is not multiplanetary. Sure we’ve set foot on the moon and we have an International Space Station. Major feats, but neither of the Moon or ISS are planets so therefore we’re not a multiplanetary species yet.

After: So what does humanity look like as a multiplanetary species? Let’s go far into the future and imagine civilizations living on 5 planets, in communication with each other, trading with each other, and able to survive by themselves. That’s multiplanetary.

What’s in between? Here’s a couple moments that could define when humanity becomes a multi planetary species:

  1. Feet: “A giant leap for mankind.” When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon something happened. That was a moment, I can hear his declaration in my mind. So maybe when we set foot on the planet then we’re multi planetary. But that seems too easy to me.
  2. Death: Maybe when somebody dies on another planet that we’re “officially” multiplanetary. A pioneer dying of old age naturally seems like a more significant accomplishment than an accidental death. Either one seems too grim to me to feel like a big leap forwards.
  3. Life: good ole life. What an exciting moment it would be to see the first baby born on another planet. Being born in a place is a significant piece of identity. I left Florida when I was 4 years old, but it will always be my birthplace. Heck if a baby was born on the International Space Station that would be news! (No births or conceptions on the International Space Station have been reported yet, though porn site PornHub did attempt to crowdfund porn in space).
  4. War: the willingness to fight another planet seems like more of a post-multiplanetary event. Like they have their shit together enough to really declare independence. So that’s too far.
  5. Food:  In The Martian when Matt Damon sprouted potatoes, that was a big moment. Sustainable systems are a means to live independently indefinitely. This probably wouldn’t be a single event but an age during which a colony became able to produce its own food. The international space station right now is completely dependent on earth for its food and has no capabilities to grow food. Oxygen, calories, recycling, and energy, it’s all there. A sustainable food system kicking out its first harvest seems like the key to me.

A sustainable food system seems just as significant as a foot on Mars in our quest to be multiplanetary. Can we send somebody to jam their toes into Martian soil? Sure. But a sustainable food system releasing the colony from dependence on earth? That’s an even bigger development.

To become a multiplanetary species we need major advancements beyond rocket technology and the ability to ferry resources from Earth. We need agricultural technologies and ecosystem biology tools for true independence. I found a curious lack of biotech, plants, and only one mention of “food” in NASA’s 32 page report on “The Journey To Mars”. Food systems and earth independence are addmittedly further out than getting to Mars, but are key to becoming multiplanetary. Perhaps the ISS is a great place to practice buildig food systems with the next version of Freight Farms and MIT OpenAg.

8 Principles for Silicon Valley’s Role in the Post-Hydrocarbon Economy

Civilization is at a crossroads about the post-hydrocarbon economy. We have a unique window in the next 2 years during which every effort has 1,000x ROI that same effort 2+ years later. Here are 8 principles for Silicon Valley’s role in the Post-Hydrocarbon Economy:

  1. Climate change is an opportunity
    Elon Musk says “sustainability isn’t some silly hippy thing — it matters for everyone”. We see climate change as the biggest financial opportunity civilization has ever seen — to build new systems for food, energy, water, air, transportation, and manufacturing. A new civilization, the likes of which the world has never seen. We know that in the uncertainty lay immense challenges and enormous opportunities.
  2. A backdoor to civilization-scale
    Big corporations have the resources and infrastructure that make up our civilization. But they lack the innovative ideas and leadership. This is our opportunity to expedite a new world. What if we could truly pair the new ideas of tiny startups with the resources and infrastructure of big corporations.
  3. Right problem, Right Place
    We need to create opportunities for real world testing to bring in entrepreneurs around the world to the locale where the opportunity is most present – whether it’s food, energy, air, water, or manufacturing. For example, new clean manufacturing methods could be prototyped and tested in an industrial center like Shenzhen, China. A new agricultural startup could escape a coworking space in San Francisco and get their hands dirty in the fields alongside California’s farmers than being stuck in a coworking space in San Francisco.
  4. Do Good While Doing Good
    Our most valuable resources must be directed at our biggest challenges. Top tech, engineering, and science talent today lack opportunities to tackle world’s important problems. We believe that for significant civilization scale impact, the for-profit model must be present.
  5. It’s Already Happening
    There are already hundreds of entrepreneurs pursuing climate opportunities. We put together a database of 262 hot startup companies working on sustainable tech in just a few hours. Every few days we see articles about climate change on tech sites like Engadget and HackerNews. Connect the dots and we’ve got a trend.
  6. Startups first
    Startups represent a unique commitment to the future – quitting a job and leading a team into the unknown. Protect the ideas, strategy, and mission of a startup, while helping them to interface with the outside world. This is currently suboptimal. As my friend Sandro said, there are many dances between elephants and mice, and it is only the mice who ever get hurt.
  7. Lean Pilots
    Real-world testing can close the gap between a striving startup and corporate caution. Something something walk before you run. For example, we can’t have startups footing a $15k legal bill for engaging a corporate partner on a nebulous partnership that ends up going nowhere. That stuff hurts.
  8. Dreams + Discoveries = Inspiration
    Highlight the dreams and discoveries of innovators in the field to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs.

We seek technologies, partnerships, and business models that are past humanity’s horizons. Working with outliers from startups, governments, and corporations, we are building a toolbox around 6 core technologies:

  1. Food: Precision agriculture and freight farms to produce 2,000 calories anywhere in the world, dynamic time machines that can recreate the growing conditions of any time and place on earth
  2. Air and Water Engineering, including engineering filter mechanisms, Earth terraformation, bioengineering, and new currencies for pollutants
  3. Sustainable Transport on electric airplanes, cars, and freighters
  4. Sustainable Manufacturing – cradle to cradle manufacturing processes, logistics, autonomous factories
  5. Energy capture from the fusion reactor in the sky and next generation storage to make every joule count
  6. Energy consumption tech for living buildings, decentralized microgrids, and dynamic provisioning

P.S Would love your thoughts on this. Your help is welcomed!

Management Architecture of the Late Show with David Letterman

I always think the “face” of an organization runs everything and does everything. Like in my head Elon Musk is torquing tires on Teslas and Steve Jobs polished iPods. It’s a mistake, every org takes a team. I like hearing about how things really work.

I learned how The Late Show worked from a recent interview with David Letterman.
He had a team, of course. And that team ran The Late Show. He doesn’t come up with everything and says “go do that”.

Here’s his insight into 3 subsystems of the machine, writers, advertisers, and stars:

On writers:

 I don’t know about my writers’ room. I never went to the writers’ room, so I have no idea what went on there. I stayed away: “Just call me when you’re done.”

On advertisers:

I can remember having a conversation via the sales department about Tylenol, and we had Bill O’Reilly on the show, and we were talking about something in the news, not particularly unpleasant but just something in the news. Tylenol called up and said, “You know what? We’re just going to lay out tonight. We’ll be back.”

On Hollywood guests:

Well, at some point publicists took over the talk shows. They were the people that booked the guests, and they had six or seven guests, so you had to be awfully nice to Guest A if you wanted to get to Guest B or C. I was not aware that this was going on until people started saying, “So-and-so is not going to be back on the show if you don’t be nice to so-and-so.” And I said, “What do we care?” And they’d say, “Well, because they also manage so-and-so and so-and-so’s sister, and we want those people on the show.” I realized not early into it that we were a tool for the careers of other people, which mediates what you’re going to talk about

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscars 2016 Speech on Climate Change Turned My Life Upside Down

(Leo is on stage for a 2017 Oscars segment so I wanted to hit publish)

All my life I’ve been hearing about reduce, reuse, recycle. I’ve been hearing about droughts and hurricanes on the news. I’ve been hearing about climate change and how important it was.

I was under the impression that the scientists and the governments of the world had this climate change thing pret-ty well taken care of. So I didn’t pay much attention to it.

Until last year when an actor named Leonardo DiCaprio, who had been trying to win an Oscar his entire career, got up on stage having finally won an Oscar.

Instead of talking about how wonderful it was to be in film, he felt so compelled to talk about his personal experiences witnessing the ravages of climate change as they were taking place in Patagonia, because they could not find snow to do their filming.

An actor got up and started talking about climate change. And that got me wondering.

I thought that this was taken care of. I thought we were going to be fine. And I realized maybe I hadn’t been paying enough attention. Maybe the scientists and the governments who I thought had a handle on this, well maybe they didn’t have a handle on it, maybe they needed help. I myself would wake up every day and work on biotechnology projects to enable other scientists. Maybe somehow I wasn’t clued in to what was going on.

So I looked into it, and now we’re here a year later. I have been so compelled by what I’ve found that I quit my job and started a company whose sole purpose is to enable other companies who have climate changing technologies that help halt climate change or help reverse climate change. My entire purpose is to help those companies get adopted at a massive scale so we can get to the place where we need to be.

So there’s this doom and gloom about climate change. That’s ok, but that’s not going to solve the problem. What is going to solve the problem is coming at this from an entrepreneurial, an innovative, and a business-minded, profit-centered point of view. Let’s enhance the scientific leadership, extend the government’s efforts, and cut a new path.

We need to be motivated to solve this thing instead of spanked into using less water, spanked into reducing our carbon footprints and driving less. The reality is people just aren’t going to do that. Humans don’t work that way.

So what can you do? You can prove out better solutions through technology. Solutions that are not only better options for individuals, but are better options for the planet – carbon neutral or carbon reversing because they’re easier, they’re better, they’re faster.

In the past year, I’ve talked with hundreds of people, leading technologists, economists, scientists and thinkers. I’m part of a team working on bringing new technologies to light, and have identified 4 key areas for climate change solutions: food, air, energy, and water. We’ve worked with one of the world’s largest consumer packaged goods companies, aerospace companies, automotive companies, and connected with dozens of innovation labs and startups in Silicon Valley. Watch me.

If this interests you, please email me immediately with subject “Oscars 2016” to tito@impossiblelabs.io. Blank email is fine, or your thoughts.

(this post: many thanks to Dan Walsh who method-acted this whole post, Matt Inouye who provided structure, and Shova Ale Magar for listening and asking questions. And thanks to Jeff Mori for wanting to watch the 2016 Oscars, and Matt Walters for telling me I should write more)