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Climate

AM Briefing: Bird Files for Bankruptcy

On the struggling e-scooter company, protecting old forests, and drinking wastewater

AM Briefing: Bird Files for Bankruptcy
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Southern California is bracing for heavy rain • China's bitter cold is complicating earthquake rescue efforts • Iceland's capital of Reykjavik could be hit by pollution from a volcanic eruption.

THE TOP FIVE

1. E-scooter company Bird files for bankruptcy

E-scooter company Bird, which “put electric scooters onto the sidewalks of major cities,” is filing for bankruptcy in the U.S. Just five years ago the company reached “unicorn” status with a $1 billion valuation faster than any startup ever before. But “Bird grew too quickly — it launched in too many cities before it had a viable model,” one former employee told the Financial Times. “It was losing money on every ride, so the more cities and more rides it was doing the more money it lost.” The company went public in 2021 but its stock plummeted quickly and never really recovered. Other micromobility startups are facing similar financial challenges, and some cities are cracking down on e-scooters.

Bird

2. Biden moves to protect ‘old growth’ forests

President Biden issued a proposal yesterday to protect some of the oldest trees in America’s national forests from commercial logging. The move has climate ramifications because older trees are natural carbon sinks, so keeping them alive prevents that carbon from being released into the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. “Older forests provide the most above-ground carbon storage potential on Earth, with mature forests and larger trees driving most accumulation of forest carbon in the critical next few decades,” a group of scientists wrote in a letter to Biden last year. “Left vulnerable to logging, though, they cannot fulfill these vital functions.” The proposal doesn’t protect “mature” trees, which aren’t quite as ancient as “old growth” trees. This concession is “a middle ground between environmentalists and the timber industry,” says Lauren Aratani at The Guardian. The ban is set to come into place in 2025 and comes as part of an executive order, so whether it goes ahead could depend on the outcome of the 2024 election.

3. California will start turning wastewater into drinking water

California officials yesterday approved regulations allowing wastewater from toilets and showers to be recycled into drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people. “As we look to make our communities more resilient to drought, to climate change, this is really going to be an important part of that solution,” Heather Cooley, director of research at water think tank Pacific Institute, tells the Los Angeles Times. Colorado has similar rules in place already, and Arizona and Florida could soon follow suit. The wastewater recycling process has undergone extensive review by scientists and engineers who insist it is clean and safe. The water is filtered, decontaminated, disinfected, and monitored, making it “purer than many drinking water sources we now rely on,” says E. Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the state’s water resources board.

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  • 4. British Museum gets £50 million in funding from BP

    The British Museum, one of the most popular museums in the world, came under fire this week for accepting £50 million (about $63 million) in new funding from oil giant BP. The deal will last for 10 years and the money is expected to help pay for museum upgrades and refurbishments. The sponsorship isn’t new: BP has partnered with the museum since 1996. But it comes at a time when cultural institutions in Britain and elsewhere are under pressure from climate activists to cut ties with fossil fuel companies. One activist group has threatened legal action in response to the move, and Greenpeace called it “brazen greenwashing.” But, as the Times of London points out, most of Britain’s museums charge nothing for entrance and rely heavily on philanthropy and sponsorship. “Money needs to come from somewhere,” the paper says.

    5. VW will use Tesla’s EV charging plug

    Tesla’s EV plug, the North American Charging Standard (NACS), is one step closer to dominating the industry entirely with the announcement that Volkswagen Group has committed to using the connector starting in 2025. VW says customers will now have access to 15,000 Supercharger locations across North America. The last remaining NACS holdout is Stellantis, but it’s probably only a matter of time before the automaker “bends the knee.

    THE KICKER

    Five gray wolves were released in Colorado this week as part of a wild wolf restoration project.

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    Jessica  Hullinger profile image

    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

    Technology

    AM Briefing: Google’s Geothermal Deal

    On the tech giant’s geothermal deal, Musk’s pay package, and the climate costs of war

    Google’s Plan to Power Data Centers with Geothermal
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: Extreme flooding has displaced hundreds of people in Chile • Schools and tourist sites are closed across Greece due to dangerously high temperatures • A heat wave is settling over the Midwest and could last through next weekend.

    THE TOP FIVE

    1. Tesla shareholders vote on Musk’s pay package

    We’ll know today whether Tesla CEO Elon Musk gets to keep his $56 billion pay package. The compensation deal was originally approved in 2018, but a Delaware court voided it earlier this year, saying it was “deeply flawed” and that shareholders weren’t made fully aware of its details. So the board is letting shareholders have their say once more. Remote voting closed at midnight last night. This morning Musk “leaked” the early vote results, claiming the resolution – along with a ballot measure to move the company from Delaware to Texas – was passing by a wide margin.

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    Sparks

    There’s Gold in That There Battery Waste

    Aepnus is taking a “fully circular approach” to battery manufacturing.

    Lithium ion batteries.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Every year, millions of tons of sodium sulfate waste are generated throughout the lithium-ion battery supply chain. And although the chemical compound seems relatively innocuous — it looks just like table salt and is not particularly toxic — the sheer amount that’s produced via mining, cathode production, and battery recycling is a problem. Dumping it in rivers or oceans would obviously be disruptive to ecosystems (although that’s generally what happens in China), and with landfills running short on space, there are fewer options there, as well.

    That is where Aepnus Technology is attempting to come in. The startup emerged from stealth today with $8 million in seed funding led by Clean Energy Ventures and supported by a number of other cleantech investors, including Lowercarbon Capital and Voyager Ventures. The company uses a novel electrolysis process to convert sodium sulfate waste into sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid, which are themselves essential chemicals for battery production.

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    Economy

    What 2 Years of High Interest Rates Have Done to Clean Energy

    The end may be in sight, but it’s not here yet.

    Jerome Powell.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Are interest rates going to go down? The market will have to wait.

    Following a Tuesday report showing steady consumer prices in May and prices overall only rising 3.3% in the past year, the Federal Reserve held steady on interest rates, releasing a projection Wednesday showing just one rate cut this year.

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