Memia 2022.29: After Sri Lanka..?📉// New Zealand's worst climate emitters🥛// the foot and mouth opportunity🐄💡// supply chain mapping on steroids🤯// the metaverse is Epic🥽// WFH digger operator🚧
Rootless laptop elites
Welcome to another weekly Memia newsletter, horizon scanning across emerging tech and the unfolding future from Aotearoa New Zealand.
(As always this weekly email is *way* too long for most email clients…click on the link above to read online or view in the Substack app):
Latest ⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa instalment from Sunday (paid subscribers):
Also in the last week…
📉After Sri Lanka…?
After the ousting of its president and government by the popular Aragalaya (network swarm?) uprising, economically stricken Sri Lanka remains in a highly complex political situation. The BBC reports on the hard choices Sri Lankans must make now:
“…the clock is ticking for Sri Lanka. Its central bank governor told the BBC it is uncertain they have enough foreign currency to buy fuel after the end of this month. The country urgently needs a leader to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund for a much-needed bailout of its debt…
…[but] the strength of the Aragalaya movement has been its leaderless, organic nature. It's what makes it so good at spontaneous mass uprisings - but it also makes it difficult to predict or control.
In the past few months, peaceful marches have morphed into chaotic clashes with military and police. In the past 10 days alone, protesters have stormed the official residences of the president and prime minister, taken over the presidential secretariat building, and attempted to enter parliament.”
Meanwhile there are signals around the world that Sri Lanka could be the canary in the mine of global socioeconomic collapse:
Papua New Guinea:
A hit list of countries that could follow Sri Lanka into economic chaos:
Even France is a bellwether for European instability, argues Renaud Beauchard in a guest post for N.S. Lyons’ The Upheaval:
“If there is one hot spot where upheaval is happening fast, it would be Europe. Facing the consequences of their exit from History after WWII, European nations appear to be facing a moment of reckoning with a rather extraordinary convergence of crises: the ecological crisis, the end of the American century (the crisis caused by the transition eastward of the center of the world economy), the terminal crisis of liberalism, and a looming energy crisis caused by a completely avoidable conflict in Ukraine. In less than a week, we have seen new hunger-related revolts and the intensification of a backlash against rootless laptop elites, with farmer protests spreading all over Europe…”
Meanwhile in the USA, supposedly the world’s economic and security backstop:
My antennae are vibrating at high frequency on intensifying global instability right now… pretty much anything seems possible (and I didn’t even mention the latest on Russia/Ukraine or China/Taiwan!).
(So when local Jaysus Grifter Brian Tamaki openly calls for a Sri Lankan Solution for Aotearoa at last weekend’s motorway blockade protests…I’m deep into modelling the gameplay. This year’s Parliament protests clearly weren’t the end of it - gonna be another tense election year ahead I reckon. Just maintaining relative regional stability will require huge effort from Aotearoa and Australia governments, let alone pushing through reform agendas…)
🥛Climate change by the numbers
The relentlessly hard working environmental scientist Mike Joy is a man on fire on LinkedIn right now. A few of the insight-driven links he’s shared this week:
A reminder that producing renewable energy systems still requires hugh quantities of fossil fuels: A Bottom-up Insight Reveals: Replacing Fossil Fuels is Even More Enormous Task Than Thought
“Replacing the existing fossil fuel powered system, using renewable energy technologies, for the entire human population is even more enormous task than thought…Required extra energy and materials may form a bottleneck even if we could reduce consumption and material needs via circular economy and regulation”
Kiwi Kevin Trenberth writes How not to solve the climate change problem:
“According to the World Resources Institute, the range of costs for direct air capture vary between US$250 and $600 per metric ton of carbon dioxide removed today, depending on the technology, energy source and scale of deployment. Even if costs fell to $100 per metric ton, the cost of reducing the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide by 1 part per million is around US$780 billion.
Keep in mind that the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has risen from about 280 parts per million before the industrial era to around 420 today, and it is currently rising at more than 2 parts per million per year.“
(To me this actually give cause for hope… as I’ve previously written, I view DACCS as the only realistic solution to extract CO2 from the atmosphere at enough speed and scale. According to this analysis a price tag of US$1trillion per CO2 ppm is in sight... Thereafter I would expect exponential cost reduction curves as DACCS technology matures and scales ... If so, we should see this come down by at least one order of magnitude within the decade, if not more.)
Most starkly, Mark Daalder in Newsroom tells it with data: Revealed:New Zealand’s worst climate polluters:
Just 15 companies – each responsible for more than a million tonnes of emissions - make up three quarters of New Zealand's greenhouse gas profile”
But, there may be a simple solution just waiting on our doorstep… read on.
🐄🐄🐄Too many cows (1)
In June the Dutch coalition government unveiled proposed limits to nitrogen pollution (Nitrogen oxide and ammonia) to cut emissions by 50% nationwide by 2030. The immediate implications of these new restrictions are that farms closest to nature reserves must cut nitrogen output by 70%…according to the Economist, about 30% of the country’s cows and pigs will have to go, along with a big share of cattle and dairy farms.
“The honest message ... is that not all farmers can continue their business”
- Netherlands Government statement
Predictably there has been a forceful backlash from those directly affected: Dutch farmers have been protesting in huge numbers, blockading roads and starting fires, but so far the government is standing firm.
Perhaps most relevant to Aotearoa, Natasja Oerlemans, head of the WWF Netherlands food team is quoted (my bolding):
“We export 70%, keep all the rubbish, and the gains are all for private companies. It’s a system that’s not sustainable and can’t go on. We [the Netherlands] can be considered as a wake-up call for what happens with very intensive farming systems that don’t take into account the environmental conditions they have to operate in.”
🐄🐄🐄Too many cows (2)
This week the Aotearoa Government warned of 'doomsday' foot and mouth scenario as the cattle disease turned up on Aotearoa’s doorstep:
"It would devastate our national herd ... In the event of foot and mouth reaching New Zealand all trade in animal products would be stopped ... Animals would be slaughtered and more than 100,000 jobs in the primary sector would be at risk"
- PM Jacinda Ardern
(I was still living in the UK in 2001 when an outbreak there saw 10 million animals culled and cost an estimated £10 billion (NZ$19Bn) The images on the news of huge pyres of culled cattle being burned stay vivid in my mind today.)
BUT: to put the PM’s comments in a non-economic context: ICYMI, Greenpeace launched a vocal campaign back in April: There are too many cows. Halve the herd:
“In terms of climate pollution, industrial dairy is to New Zealand what coal is to Australia or tar sands are to Canada. Agriculture is responsible for half of New Zealand’s emissions.”
(You can still sign the petition here if you think petitions move the dial.)
So, hear me out…has anyone run numbers through an alternative lens of just “letting it rip”?
💡I’m serious: the foot and mouth opportunity. What would an alternative accounting treatment look like where:
A decision is made to just “let it rip” and not to spend NZ$billions on attempted Foot and Mouth elimination / restocking (M Bovis eradication cost at least NZ$350 million…)
The majority of the animal herd is slaughtered as it is no longer fit for consumption
Aotearoa’s GHG emissions go down by over 50% in one year?!?!?!
Waterway pollution by nitrogen run-off is massively reduced
Farmers are fairly compensated by a long term climate transition fund and directed towards plant-based agriculture and/or regenerative forestry?
Many of the rural agricultural labour force are freed up to fill some of the many other skills shortages in higher value-add industries? (Construction, for one).
Aotearoa shifts radically towards a more plant based diet by necessity, further reducing greenhouse emissions long term
Most importantly, Aotearoa’s completely risky structural economic dependency on an environmentally-polluting, low margin, commodity producing, high-vulnerability industry would be mitigated.
Within as little as 10 years the economy could be completely recovered and structurally transformed. (Same thing happened with tourism 2 years ago in response to another pandemic, when you think about it…is Aotearoa and the planet better or worse off from a environmental and social perspective?).
How long should “the economy” trump “the environment”? If you actually ran a national wellbeing accounting calculation rather than a pure GDP-based one (or political one) it’s not at all clear to me which option would come out on top. Anyone able to point to a more in-depth study?
🌊1/1000th complete cleanup
OK, on to one piece of positive environmental news.
Previously featured in Memia 2021.44, startup The Ocean Cleanup reached a major milestone this week, hauling more than 100,000kg of plastic out of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) - that’s officially 1/1000th of the job done using their “System 002” 2nd generation boom and net.
If you want a dose of unashamed environmental “can-do” optimism and entrepreneurship, spend 16 minutes watching the Ocean Cleanup team’s latest video below on their plans to scale up the 0.6km System 002 to a 2.5-km System 03 boom (there’s a positive story in the numbering convention too). We need a 1,000 more teams like this.
Lots going on in tech and new ideas (as always)…. lots of signals from every angle this week:
🤯Supply chain mapping on steroids
Researchers at the Complexity Science Hub Vienna (CSH) have created a complete representation of Hungary's economy. They mapped the entire country's production network: all of the relevant firms and all of the supply relationships with their clients and customers. With this detailed knowledge of the economy, they can compute its systemic risks:
"By viewing the economy as a network of all companies and their mutual relationships, we can now rethink economics. In particular, one can compute the risks associated with supply chain disruptions, which can be significant…This allows us to quantify the economic systemic risk of each company within a country."
- Stefan Thurner, CSH president
(Anyone reading in MBIE want to commission a model for Aotearoa soonish!?)
🌐5G vs. fibre?
Spark and Vodafone are selling their cellphone tower assets, ostensibly to free up capital to roll out 5G networks.
Both firms are structurally separated from fibre network operators Chorus, Enable and others. Telco engineer Jonathan Brewer reads between the lines:
(This week Spark announced it is trialling a “super fast” 5G network in North Canterbury… )
🚧WFH digger operator
The future of earthmoving: a remote-operated digger working inside earthquake-damaged Christ Church Cathedral in Ōtautahi has finished its clean-up a month ahead of schedule, removing 247.92 tonnes of material in 41 days:
✔️Nature is healing
Expect this to become a trend: in the tightest skills market in generations, Australian Zoomers are deciding they don’t want to work for environmentally dodgy mining companies, whatever the money:
🔋Batteries top nuclear for the first time
California already has one of the biggest battery storage capacities of any electricity grid - 6% of the state’s maximum on-peak capacity. For half an hour on July 15, for the first time batteries supplied more power to California's grid than the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant:
⚗️Kerosene from CO2
Aviation makes up around 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and finding a replacement for fossil-derived kerosene is still a long way off.
Scientists at ETH Zurich have demonstrated an entire thermochemical process chain to turn water and CO2 to kerosene using a fully-integrated solar tower system: 169 sun-tracking reflective panels redirect and concentrate sunlight onto a solar reactor on top of a 49-foot-high tower. Although the yields are low: producing just over 5,000 litres of syngas in 9 days, of which only 16% of that was then converted into kerosene. (A 15 hour long haul flight in an “efficient” Airbus 350 uses 121,000 litres)
🥽The metaverse is Epic
The most comprehensive article I’ve read in a while (with lots of onward links) arguing how Epic Games (owners of Fortnite, Unreal Engine and many more assets) is currently the most important metaverse company by default and how its assets work together as a metaverse tooling ecosystem:
“The layer 0 technology for gaming and 3D”
Quite amazing the huge list of digital assets Epic has accumulated over the years and how effectively the flywheel of their business model keeps on turning.
⚛️Fusion power - *still* over 20 years away
Two further recent advances in nuclear fusion:
In May, a team of Chinese researchers claimed to have designed the world’s first power plant that can turn fusion energy into electricity “without bringing the power grid down”. They aim to complete the China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor around 2035, aiming for peak power output of 2 gigawatts.
Quantum-resistant crypto algos announced
US federal agency NIST just announced its selection of the first four quantum-resistant cryptographic algorithms after a six-year competition:
For general encryption, (eg used when accessing secure websites): CRYSTALS-Kyber algorithm.
For digital signatures (eg when we need to verify identities during a digital transaction or to sign a document remotely), three algorithms were selected: CRYSTALS-Dilithium, FALCON and SPHINCS+ (read as “Sphincs plus”).
Try to get your head around how that all works…
San Francisco-based startup Earthgrid is developing a plasma boring robot that they *claim* is capable of digging infrastructure tunnels “100 times faster, and up to 98 percent cheaper” than existing boring systems:
Perhaps they will be used to deliver food directly to your home (C1 Espresso was way ahead of the game on this one!):
☁️Zephyr may still be up there
In the latest test of the Airbus Zephyr US stratospheric UAV, the solar-powered aircraft stayed aloft for over 36 days and counting. The Zephyr operates like a geostationary satellite, capable of providing communications equivalent to “25 cell phone towers”, for months at a time.
🧠Getting inside my head
Synchron is a new brain-computer interface startup which has implanted their first 4cm “Stentrode” device into a 5th patient who has lost the ability to move and speak, hoping that this will enable him to browse the internet and communicate.
🥏I wish I could fly
Finally, not for the fainthearted, take a watch of this video of the world’s first electric motor-assisted wingsuit flight. Yikes!
A periodic *nudge, people*: (Obviously) I really enjoy writing these weekly Memia newsletters and am perpetually stoked that it reaches so many people in Aotearoa and around the world! Glad to stimulate the parts other newsetters can’t reach.😇
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Running a bit late on publishing so I’ll rip through this week’s mind expanding links. Some good stuff in here if you have the time to read.
What is the difference between a DAO and a Community?
A useful thread on the social constructs needed for a DAO:
How architects are designing and reimagining buildings in the metaverse
“The laws of physics do not apply in the metaverse, so our imagination is free to run wild. Pure creativity is the basis of our office design”
- Massimo Mercurio, Mercurio Design Lab
Helium: network of networks
Mario at the The Generalist does his usual thousands of words winding through Helium’s journey from a global crowdsourced IoT network to it’s new moves into 5G.
…But the article has raised a bit of anti-crypto whiplash on the financial numbers and investment theses involved - Helium is always held up as the poster child for practical applications of Web3...but not so much, it would seem? (Disclosure: I hold some HNT, Helium’s network token).
True design innovation
Thanks for sharing @leighelse - great story from VanMoof on how they changed the packaging on their bikes to massively reduce damage in transit.
This week’s book to add to my reading list, a follow up to 2020’s Shouting Zeros and Ones:
(Released in September - top work Anna and Kelly from Antistatic for what I imagine was a marathon editing job!)
Shout-outs around the motu this week go to:
Blue Mirror, an Aotearoa-based health tech company is deploying their machine-learning PPE-checking solution in Singapore hospitals:
Independent thinker Brendon Harre’s latest article Stealing Community Rent and Monopolisation of Land by the Few Causes Poverty restates Georgism into an modern Aotearoa context, well worth a read:
“New Zealand has a ‘low-road’ form of capitalism that increases poverty and inefficiently allocates workers and investment capital. A new approach that improves New Zealand’s underlying ruleset is required.”
Pathway To Survival is a group sourced within Extinction Rebellion (XR) in Aotearoa who have some rather sensible policy ideas to get the PolyCrisis onto the agenda for the 2023 election.
Nuggets and gems
A full catch of memes and distractions this week!
You spin me right round
Even more Neo-Andean architecture
I covered the Bolivian “futurist” architecture movement back in Memia 2022.01 - here are some more fantastic examples:
I would walk…
Come for the meme, stay for the pedantic comments… hilarious!
Museum of Failure
This whole thread…
…but in particular😶:
The music of mushrooms
…is pretty out there - thanks Tom Bevan for sharing!
Thanks as always to everyone who gets in touch each week with ideas, thoughts, feedback, links - always appreciated!