#54 | Climate Tech Wisdom, Lisbon, Climate Fiction, Industrial History
Ben’s irregular newsletter mixes work and play. Unsubscribe at the bottom / Sign up here Find me: Twitter - LinkedIn - Medium - Website - Podcast
The Climate Tech Summit is now behind us - it was quite a show! A shorter update.
1. WORK: Climate Tech Summit Summary, Hello Tomorrow
2. EXPERIENCES: Lisbon
3. CULTURE: French Dispatch, Japan Sinks, Ted Lasso + Graphic Novels
4. THOUGHTS: Industrial History
Climate Tech Summit
It was quite a bit of work to produce an event with 60+ speakers with a high ratio of “insights per minute” (h/t Azeem Azhar) but the event I co-organized featuring Bill Gates, Vinod Khosla, Tony Fadell (iPhone & Nest inventor), Bill Gross and many more was a big success! We had over 2000 participants online and received a rating of 9 out of 10 (and over 60% NPS).
Videos are here (15-30 min each, watchable at 2x speed)
My personal favorites were:
Bill Gross - an amazing innovator in solar and energy storage
Tony Fadell - the iPhone and Nest inventor's outlook on climate tech
Form Energy - low-cost, multi-day battery tech
Amazon Climate Pledge Fund - Amazon will be an important frontrunner in decarbonization of all kinds
Late stage VC panel - to get the big picture on fundability
We also had Stan Chen, a sci-fi writer who just co-authored 10 well-researched stories about our A.I. future called AI 2041.
Next Event: Hello Tomorrow
I’ll be moderating a climate tech panel at the Hello Tomorrow Global Summit (the best deep tech event I know of — it’s in Paris on Dec 1-2-3). The Founder and Managing Partner of SOSV, Sean O’Sullivan, will also be speaking there in a rare appearance. If you’d like to sign up here is a 50% discount code: SOSV50 (the ‘Investor Day’ only has a few spots left).
I went to my first WebSummit in Lisbon. The main focus is ‘digital’ so less relevant to our 'deep tech’ focus but it’s still a large and well-produced show. It was a good chance to catch up with contacts and meet new people. Lisbon itself was a pleasant surprise. Half the prices of Paris, better weather and an open and international vibe.
Aside from a few strolls, I stumbled upon an expo on Tintin’s creator, Herge (Georges Remi = RG). I learned how he started by doing ads and Tintin comic strips before deciding to develop longer stories and take his Tintin character more seriously. Herge apparently thought his drawing skills were not great, and worked hard to improve over the years. Eventually he also hired 4-5 assistants to draw backgrounds, mechanical things (cars, etc.), colors… a bit like some Japanese manga artists (read Bakuman for more on this).
In later years he dabbled in painting. Some of his works were exhibited and looked like imitations of his popular artist friends. Eventually, Herge felt he would not be able to be good at both Tintin and painting and treated the latter as a hobby.
I felt the show was a good reminder that doing is half the battle, the other half is taking one’s craft seriously.
MOVIES & SHOWS
The French Dispatch***
They had me at ‘Wes Anderson’. A succession of vignettes about life in a small fictional French town from dispatched fictional American writers, liberally inspired by famous ones. It’s not his best in terms of story and use of actors (I liked The Life Aquatic and Grand Budapest Hotel better), but the visuals are gorgeous, and it’s always nice to visit the Andersonian universe. Some of the art is from this Spanish artist.
Japan Sinks: People of Hope*** (Netflix)
A ‘climate fiction’ drama set in 2023 where rifts caused by climate change cause the country to sink. It is based on a novel from 1973 (50 years already!), which had multiple adaptations including an anime series. This drama shows the interplay of:
Science (pitting a maverick discoverer against a ‘Dr. Zaius’ type from the establishment, who denies the risks),
Politics (is saving the economy more important than saving lives? or one’s career?),
Businesses (should they get privileged info?)
Journalism (should they inform the public at all costs? what if they create a panic?).
The acting is quite good, and some of the images of Japan sinking are quite convincing CGI. It made me wonder what would be the response of other countries in comparable situations… If the response to Covid provides any clue, I’m not too optimistic for most countries.
Blue Period*** (Netflix)
In this anime adapted from a manga, a smart, handsome, but poor and aimless high-school student decides to become an artist after an aesthetic shock. He tries to learn fast, to prepare the entrance exam for Japan’s top public art school (also the cheapest). As an amateur, I found the description of the dynamics around art creation and critique interesting.
I heard about it (indirectly) from Emma Watson who seems to be a fan. This show casts a coach of American football called to help a weak British Premier League team. This show is pretty entertaining especially thanks to the folksy and upbeat character of coach Lasso, the female club owner, and a few supporting characters. Rather than football, it deals mostly with management and personal issues.
Curb Your Enthusiasm** (season 11)
The comically antisocial Larry David and his gang are back for a new season. Not his best so far, and fairly disconnected from global issues, but his antics and life as an old rich white man remain entertaining.
An aged rodeo cow-boy goes to Mexico to retrieve his boss’s estranged teenage son. They had me at ‘Clint Eastwood’, but I have to admit I didn’t find this movie very good, a very long shot from Gran Torino or Million Dollar Baby.
A beautiful graphic novel that probably falls into the ‘climate fiction’ category as well. A man cursed with immortality gets to witness our world’s future (increasingly bleak) at different points in time.
Another graphic novel, or rather graphic documentary, where a comic artist and a wine maker initiate the other to their craft. I don’t know much about wine, but I still found the story enjoyable.
A World Without End (“Un Monde Sans Fin” — in French only for now)****
A graphic lecture (does that exist as a genre?). The award-winning comic artist Christophe Blain teamed up with the most famous French energy expert, Jean-Marc Jancovici, after watching one of his lectures and suggested to make an illustrated version of it.
Jancovici has 167k subs on Youtube, over 24M views, and almost 350k followers on LinkedIn — I watched the entire 20 hours of his course on Energy, and many other talks he gave but a graphic novel is certainly a way to reach many more people. It just came out and I bought several copies as gifts. It is already sold out in some shops. I hope it gets translated soon, as it provides a very practical and well-sourced view of the challenges and solutions ahead!
With Bare Hands*** (in French)
A French graphic novel focused on Suzanne Noel, one of the world’s first plastic surgeons (and first female) during the last 19th and early 20th century. Europe’s first World War provided plenty of work, but she also worked on issues not caused by injuries. The novel mentions Hanaoka Seishū, a Japanese surgeon who mixed and improved Chinese traditional medicine and Western surgical techniques, and who was reportedly the first to perform surgery using general anesthesia.
We often look at history through the lens of rulers and wars, but rarely through industrial history.
One great example was mentioned during a panel at the Climate Tech Summit mentioned the history of fertilizers and the Haber-Bosch process for nitrogen fixation (invented in 1909) - creating ammonia from air (nitrogen and hydrogen) allowing for the production of fertilizer (and explosives).
Without this process, the world’s population would have likely partly starved, but also stabilized at a lower level, putting less strain on global resources.
This made me wonder whether finding new ways to produce food is actually a solution, or just kicking the problem down the road if our population keeps growing, enabled by a larger food supply.
As a side note: before this process, guano became a popular fertilizer in the 19th century (guano is the accumulated excrement of seabirds and bats, high in nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium - NPK) and guanine, one of the four main nucleobases found in the nucleic acids DNA and RNA, was first isolated from guano in 1844.
Another interesting item is that in the 19th Century, the British parliament “legislated severe sanctions for transferring trade secrets, even prohibiting the emigration of skilled textile workers or machinists”, especially to the US where they were courted by emerging industrialists (see We were pirates, too: Why America was the China of the 19th century on Foreign Policy).
Why did they care so much?
Because tech transfers harmed trade, and because machines help us transform the material world. One reason why the UK’s influence grew during the industrial revolution is because they had machines (generally using fossil fuels) able to perform work equivalent to the muscles of scores of humans.
As a reference and to use a comparison introduced by Jean-Marc Jancovici:
Over a day of effort, humans can deploy an average of 10W of power with their arms (enough to power a LED light), or 100W with their legs (enough for an incandescent bulb) — so about 100Wh-1kWh for a 10-hour day (a horse is about 10x that), or 36-360kWh per year (10 hours a day, every day). To avoid exhaustion, let’s say 100kWh per year (which is roughly equivalent to a mere 10 liters of gasoline).
If you consider just the 23 million GWh of electricity the world consumed in 2018, they are thus equivalent to over 200 billion humans doing physical labor. This is not a typo. It means that thanks to machines (and the energy that powers them), our global population of 8 billion has the equivalent of over 100 mechanical servants per person.
Over and out.