Monthly digest with Mark Smith – May 2021

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Expert Opinion
May 25, 2021

Green technologies: the key to the climate crisis

The US held a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate last month to ‘rally the world in tackling the climate crisis and meeting the demands of science.’

As a nation, the US has new climate targets such as limiting global warming to 1.5degC. To hit their targets, the US secretary of energy, Jennifer Granholm, outlined plans to cut the cost of four vital green technologies, including hydrogen power, carbon capture systems, batteries, and solar energy.

So, how can the UK follow suit? How will we hit our own ambitious targets in enough time to avoid the worst-case climate scenario? There isn’t a single, simple answer that will address all aspects of the climate emergency. Still, one of the most important actions will be to incentivise businesses to invest in green technologies. And we need to do it quickly. We need to develop new technologies, scale the production of these technologies, and make sure they are commercially viable. We’re in a climate emergency, and decisive action is required.

The pandemic showed us that humanity could come together when faced with a truly global crisis and make giant leaps forward in technology to combat that threat. With the recent pandemic, it was the development of several vaccines to a novel virus within 12 months, where typically they take ten years. The lesson is this: global collaboration, conducting projects out of sequence and in parallel to speed up lengthy development cycles. We need to apply those learnings to the climate emergency in the mass development of clean, green energy technology.

Environmental issues are not only a problem for policymakers. Green issues and ESG are agenda items in many board meetings. On May 13th, Elon Musk announced that Tesla would no longer accept Bitcoin over climate concerns. According to an analysis by Cambridge University, those climate concerns are valid, with Bitcoin consuming more energy annually than the whole of Argentina. According to some, this may be an overly simplistic interpretation, but new technologies must work harder to avoid compounding the climate crisis.

Bitcoin’s side effects

Bitcoin’s value crashed this month following the announcement that China has created its own digital currency, the first major economy to do so. Global markets are moving to clamp down on Bitcoin and other anonymity-based cryptocurrencies and push to regulate them to wrestle back control.

In contrast to this is the Gamestop stock saga which occurred earlier this year. The stock rocketed up by 1700% in an effort by retail investors (the everyday person) to ‘democratise finance.’ Driven primarily by social media, specifically Reddit, millions of investors organised themselves and effectively rescued Gamestop from collapse. But, did it really represent the balance of power shifting from Wall Street & the City of London to the people?

With the recent developments with China’s national cryptocurrency, it is evident that no one has developed a technology that will supplant a national government and highlights the staggering volatility of unregulated currency. If a currency is a store of value, then one that loses 50% of its value in less than 24 hours is a poor store of value. For Bitcoin to be successful, it needs to answer some pressing questions quickly, specifically around regulation and environmental impact.

Despite Bitcoin’s volatility and poor environmental score, the technology is incredibly encouraging. New cryptocurrencies are popping up every month, and many of them building on Bitcoin’s success. Some have better features, such as handling more transactions per second or using different consensus algorithms like proof-of-stake rather than proof-of-work. Proof-of-stake doesn’t need highly complex sums to be solved, which goes some way to solve Bitcoin’s inherent electricity problem.

The race is on for these innovative new coins. To supplant Bitcoin’s dominance and address the environmental issues before more companies and individuals follow Tesla and before other nations follow suit with China and develop their own.

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