A quiet cabin and outdoor adventures in Montana’s Seeley-Swan Valley

September 14, 2020 by  
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As Andy Aldeen strides across his Montana land, a can of bear spray stuffed in his back shorts pocket, you’d never guess the Midwestern-born hay farmer had spent 25 years working in finance in Hong Kong and Tokyo. Now, his three-generation family is rooted here in the Swan Valley, haying and running three VRBO units for visitors craving clean mountain air far from cities. A homesteader cabin That’s what brings my husband, dog and me here. With COVID-19 numbers rising, we hesitated to plan ahead. Then, we got lucky and snagged a last-minute reservation for a socially distant getaway at what was described as a pioneer homesteader cabin . So here we were, briskly touring Aldeen’s land with his black lab, Sis, acting as hostess and leading our dog Rudy through bushes and brambles. Related: 5 cozy getaway cabins that are perfect for fall The cabin has been thoroughly redone since a Norwegian fur trapper built it in the early 1900s. He surely didn’t have a hot water shower, a full kitchen and such a comfortable bed. Aldeen decorates in what he calls “Victorian explorer” style, which means a fun mix of cheery and unpredictable items, including a red-and-white-checked table cloth on the kitchen table downstairs, a cow-spotted plant stand and a sequined rainbow pillow on a daybed in the cabin’s attic library. Aldeen has scoured used bookstores all through the valley, furnishing his VRBO units with thousands of books of all genres. Best of all was the big front porch strung with Christmas lights. You can sit on an easy chair with a view of hay bales sitting in front of the Mission Mountains. In the morning, you may hear migrating sandhill cranes purring as they hunt for critters or see deer bounding by. Down the road, the ranch’s horses congregate under their favorite shade tree. With two bedrooms and a small, cozy living room, the homesteader cabin is the mid-range option among Aldeen’s VRBO units. The Lazy Bean is a 2,000-square-foot cabin that sleeps up to eight and has the most extensive library . Then, there’s a more primitive, 300-square-foot cabin with twin bunk beds. The Seeley-Swan Valley The cabins sit in the Seeley-Swan Valley in northwestern Montana, on the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and just off of Highway 83. This is known as one of Montana’s most scenic roads and is a popular route to Glacier National Park . But it’s also a destination in itself for people seeking outdoor adventures. Seeley and Swan are actually two back-to-back valleys. We were in Swan, the northern of the two, near the tiny town of Condon. The Mission Range of the Rocky Mountains towers to the west, the Swan Range to the east. This is an unusually wet part of Montana, with significantly higher rainfall than most of the state, which accounts for the greenness and abundance of water. Rivers, lakes, ponds and bogs left by long-ago receding glaciers cover about 16% of the Swan Basin — compare that to only 1% wetland habitat for the rest of the state. This is the part of the state to visit if you want to get in the water or if you like scenic hikes with dazzling lake views. With average July and August highs in the mid-80s, the lakes and rivers get lots of summertime use. “Be Bear Aware” One of the things I hadn’t realized until I got to Montana was how many bears call it home. “Greatest concentration in the Lower 48,” Aldeen told me proudly while I shook in my hiking boots. As we set out one morning for the Glacier Lake Trailhead , our route took us on a long stretch of gravel road. When we finally arrived at the parking lot, I was relieved to see other cars. Wilderness is great, but sometimes I gravitate toward safety in numbers. Still, there’s no guarantee that the presence of humans equals the absence of bears. Bears are big, and they go where they want. Signs at just about every trailhead exhort visitors to “ Be Bear Aware .” As we followed the Glacier Lake Trail, I took the information to heart. Bear spray on front backpack strap, check. Talking or singing before turning blind corners, yep. The mountains were gorgeous, and the trail was lined with huckleberries ripe for the picking. I relaxed and enjoyed it, as long as I didn’t think too much about who else loves huckleberries. Paddler’s paradise Bears swim, too. But at least it’s easier to see them coming over open water. This part of Montana is an absolute dream if you like to kayak , paddleboard or swim. Highway 83 has signs for lakes every couple of miles. If you favor motors on your watercraft, a big lake like Seeley will give you lots of space to explore. But if you prefer human-powered vessels, you can also find a quiet lake without motor traffic. The most touristy lake we visited was Holland Lake. This 400-acre glacial lake is popular for good reason, with its well-used campground, Swan Mountain views and easy access to the Holland Falls trailhead . You can rent a canoe, kayak or SUP from the Holland Lake Lodge . My favorite thing about Holland Lake was the cordoned off swimming area. Some of the lakes we visited were nice for paddling but mucky for swimming. Not Holland. You don’t have to worry about putting your feet on the bottom and having them disappear under questionable slime. Van Lake is too small to be of much interest for those with fast boats. A leisurely paddle around the perimeter took less than hour, including stops for wildlife viewing. From my SUP, I saw a bald eagle dive down and nab a fish off the line of somebody fishing from a rowboat. Watching bald eagles swoop, fish and fly above your SUP, and loons swimming alongside you, is a dream come true for any wildlife-enthusiast. The most remote lake we visited was Clearwater. It’s about a 0.7 mile walk from the road. The trail is mostly flat and would be easy an easy trip, if not for dragging an inflatable SUP. But it was worth it, as it was the only time I’ve ever been the only watercraft on a lake, accompanied only by electric blue damselflies. September average high temperatures for Seeley-Swan are in the 70s. There’s still time to get your Montana lake fix before the temperatures dip down and the snow begins falling, although that is another trip full of nature’s beauty. So if you get the chance to escape to a remote Montana cabin, grab your bear spray and go. Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat Editor’s Note: We recommend taking the utmost care to keep those around you safe if you choose to travel. You can find more advice on travel precautions from the CDC and WHO .

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A quiet cabin and outdoor adventures in Montana’s Seeley-Swan Valley

Mealworms can serve as protein source, research says

September 10, 2020 by  
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A new study published in the Journal of Insects as Food and Feed has revealed that yellow mealworms can serve as an alternative protein source for animals and, possibly, humans. The study comes at a time when global food demands keep rising. Spontaneous population growth in developing countries has led to a shortage of protein sources, prompting researchers to look for alternative options. The new research, conducted by Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), proposes yellow mealworms as a food source. Christine Picard, associate professor of biology and the director of the Forensic Investigative Sciences Program at IUPUI School of Science, led the research. The study focused on analyzing the genome of a mealworm species known as tenebrio molitor. “Human populations are continuing to increase, and the stress on protein production is increasing at an unsustainable rate, not even considering climate change ,” Picard said. Findings explain that the yellow mealworm can offer several agricultural benefits. Fish and domestic birds can use the worms as an alternative source of protein. The worms can also help produce organic fertilizer, with their nutrient-rich waste. The mealworm genome research employed a 10X Chromium linked-read technology. Researchers now say that this information is available for use by those seeking to utilize DNA to optimize mealworms for mass production. According to Picard, IUPUI’s research has dealt with the challenging part, opening doors for interested stakeholders. “ Insect genomes are challenging, and the longer sequence of DNA you can generate, the better genome you can assemble. Mealworms, being insects, are a part of the natural diet of many organisms,” Picard said. Since fish enjoy mealworms as food , the researchers propose adopting these worms for fish farming. Researchers also say that pet food industries can use the worms as a supplemental protein source. In the future, mealworms could also serve as food for humans. “Fish enjoy mealworms, for example. They could also be really useful in the pet food industry as an alternative protein source, chickens like insects — and maybe one day humans, too, because it’s an alternative source of protein,” Picard said. To facilitate the yellow mealworm’s commercialization, the IUPUI team continues researching the worm’s biological processes. + Journal of Insects as Food and Feed Via Newswise Image via Pixabay

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Mealworms can serve as protein source, research says

Wildfires have burned 2.3M acres across California this year

September 10, 2020 by  
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Over 2 million acres of land have burned in California this year alone, according to the U.S Forest Service. Unfortunately, fires are still breaking out and more destruction is expected. The state is bracing for the worst as summer comes to an end. Normally, the period preceding fall is the most dangerous in terms of fire outbreaks, and California has already witnessed more acres burned so far this year than ever recorded in a similar period. Currently, two of the state’s largest fires in history are still underway in the San Francisco Bay Area. More than 14,000 firefighters are deployed to handle these fires and others around the state. During the Labor Day weekend, a three-day heatwave aggravated the situation. Triple-digit temperatures and dry winds are making it hard for firefighters to control the flames. Related: Redwoods, condor sanctuary are damaged in California wildfires The continued increase in temperatures and forest fires is affecting services for the residents of the state. Pacific Gas & Electric, the largest utility company in the state, said it might cut power to 158,000 customers this week. According to the company, this move would be taken to reduce the risk of its powerlines and other equipment starting more wildfires . According to Randy Moore, regional forester for the U.S Forest Service in the Pacific Southwest Region, the state will close all eight national forests in southern California to prevent further damage. He said that the closures will be re-evaluated each day, based on the available risks. The service is monitoring daily temperatures and other weather aspects that are likely to lead to fire outbreaks. This decision consequently means that all campgrounds within national forests remain closed. “The wildfire situation throughout California is dangerous and must be taken seriously,” Moore said. “Existing fires are displaying extreme fire behavior, new fire starts are likely, weather conditions are worsening, and we simply do not have enough resources to fully fight and contain every fire.” Via Huffington Post Image via Steve Nelson / Bureau of Land Management

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Wildfires have burned 2.3M acres across California this year

Why e-commerce retailers should increase transparency about their products

August 21, 2020 by  
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Why e-commerce retailers should increase transparency about their products Deonna Anderson Fri, 08/21/2020 – 01:15 When shopping online, consumers are able to see a lot of information about a product. There’s the product description and specifications of an item. For a bottle of perfume, the listing would declare the fluid ounces and describe the scent. A piece of clothing would show the material makeup and available sizes. A page for a bookshelf would have information about the dimensions. And of course, all of these would display the cost. But even with so much information at the ready, it is still rare to see details about the impact the product has on the climate or the chemical makeup of an item. The Environmental Defense Fund is calling for change. “You have this greater real estate available to share this information about products right on the product page, just like you would the size of a product or colors or product reviews and you have the ability to tell more of the sustainability story, because you essentially have endless shelf space online,” said Boma Brown-West, senior manager of EDF+Business at the Environmental Defense Fund, the arm of EDF focused on corporate sustainability. In late July, EDF+Business released a report called ” The Roadmap to Sustainable E-commerce ” that pushes companies to do better by their customers and the environment by sharing more information about the products they offer. “We want to call attention to how the biggest environmental impacts and the biggest health impact of products is really due to the products themselves and the creation and the use of a product,” Brown-West said. As the COVID-19 crisis rages on in the United States, some people are relying on e-commerce retailers for their needs — from household goods to food. Making these goods and transporting them has a cost to the environment. And as my colleague Joel Makower wrote at the beginning of the pandemic, “This is exactly the right time to be talking about climate change.” The EDF+Business report outlines how the world’s biggest e-commerce retailers — such as Amazon, eBay and Walmart — could use their influence to benefit the environment and their bottom lines.  In addition to calling on e-commerce retailers to step up, the report outlines seven steps to do just that: Assessing chemical and carbon footprints of the products they sell. This would help e-commerce companies understand the prevalence of toxic chemicals in their product assortment as well as their contribution to global climate change. Setting ambitious goals to address footprints. This step could set retailers on the path to offer products with safer chemicals and reduce their climate impact. To improve their chemicals footprint, e-commerce businesses are encouraged to establish a chemicals policy with specific, time-bound goals that incentivize their suppliers to use safer ingredients in their products. Regarding retailers’ climate impact, the report suggests setting specific, time-bound goals that reduce their Scope 3 emissions. That could look like setting a waste goal that prioritizes eliminating single-use plastics or one that encourages the growth of reuse and recycling infrastructures. Align business operations with sustainability goals. E-commerce retailers would need to integrate sustainability goals into their organization and operations. Engaging product suppliers and sellers to meet goals. E-commerce companies should establish new expectations with their suppliers and incentivize them to lead. Help consumers make sustainable choices. This step could look like translating product data into compelling consumer terms. Measure progress and share it publicly. Companies should regularly report and share on their sustainability goals with employees, consumers and investors. In this effort, leaders should include both their successes and lessons learned in their reporting. Lead the industry forward on sustainability. By stepping up, e-commerce industry leaders can recruit other parts of the value chain to participate in relevant industry groups, commitments and coalitions. Some retailers already are doing this work, although not specifically in the context of e-commerce. For example, back in 2013, Target launched its Sustainable Product Index , which tasked vendors with assessing the sustainability of product ingredients as well as their health and environmental impacts.  “We definitely see some movement in [companies] trying to communicate to consumers some more information about environmental or health impacts of products,” said Brown-West, who authored the report. “But we haven’t seen a full, we haven’t seen the full experience.” Screenshot of a page from SustainaBuy, a prototype of an e-commerce website that shows how a company can display information about a product’s climate and chemical footprint Transparency from companies is key to ensuring consumers know about the work a company is doing to improve (or not improve) on its sustainability efforts, Brown-West said. In addition to the report, EDF+ Business launched SustainaBuy , a prototype of an e-commerce website that shows how a company can display information about a product’s climate and chemical footprint. EDF+Business envisioned SustainaBuy as a way to weave sustainability into the entire shopping experience, Brown-West said. There are numerous reasons for companies to employ this type of approach to transparency. For one, there is consumer demand for this type of information. The report notes a Nielsen projection that estimates consumers are projected to spend $150 billion on sustainable products by 2021. “Consumers want to buy sustainable products and e-commerce retailers can help them do so by sharing environmental and social data on their online platforms,” said Tensie Whelan, professor and director of the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, and author of the report’s foreword, in a statement. “Whether companies choose to jump at this opportunity will determine their ability to cultivate the consumer and remain competitive over the long-run.” Brown-West noted that since releasing the report, EDF+Business already has started having conversations with some e-commerce retailers about how to improve their transparency, which is key for accountability of their sustainability goals. Topics Retail Transparency E-commerce Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Credit:  Jacob Lund

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The perfect pair? Custom-fit jeans startup challenges fast fashion mindset

August 3, 2020 by  
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The perfect pair? Custom-fit jeans startup challenges fast fashion mindset Lauren Phipps Mon, 08/03/2020 – 02:12 Canceled orders, excess stock, disrupted supply chains: The pandemic has laid bare some fundamental challenges with the way our clothes are designed, ordered, manufactured and sold — or landfilled, incinerated or sold on secondary markets. These impacts have been compounded by COVID-19, but the inefficient and resource-intensive apparel industry needed a redesign well before the pandemic.  One company working to do things differently is San Francisco-based startup unspun . Founded in 2017, unspun is a denim company that specializes in customized, automated and on-demand manufacturing, designing out inventory altogether. Rather than walking into a shop full of jeans in set cuts and sizes, customers instead get a 3D scan of their body — at home using a phone app and the iPhone’s built-in infrared camera or in-person at an unspun facility, currently only in San Francisco or Hong Kong. The scan is used to manufacture a customized, bespoke pair of jeans within a couple of weeks.  It’s not cheap — a pair of custom-fitted unspun jeans will set you back $200 — but like all disruptive technologies it has the potential to become more affordable over time. And while the denim might be pricey, the products’ physical quality and emotional durability encourage customers to keep their garments for longer, a tenet of circularity. Plus, if you factor in the externalized environmental cost of denim production — which unspun does — one could argue they’re a bargain (although that’s not a case I care to make during a recession).  I caught up with unspun co-founder Beth Esponnette this week to talk about her company’s role in designing a better approach to the fashion industry. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.   Lauren Phipps: What problem is unspun solving? Beth Esponnette: The fashion industry has been pushed to the point of efficiency. It’s stuck. There’s a huge mismatch between what the apparel industry makes and what people buy at the end of the day. Especially now with COVID, there’s a huge problem with excess inventory. Margins are so important, and there’s not a lot of R&D budget — it’s not even 1 percent of [apparel] companies’ budgets that go to R&D — and big brands are risk-averse. They’re used to doing things the same way and incrementally improving them, but using a very siloed supply chain.  We produce clothing after someone’s purchased it — build it on-demand versus waiting for someone to show up.  We don’t have sizes, which is more inclusive. We don’t have inventory, which decreases waste and emissions. Phipps: What kind of technology do you use to make custom garments for every customer? Esponnette : There are two main pieces of tech that we’ve been focused on: the software that turns body scans into perfect fitting patterns, and hardware that takes yarn and starts to build the three-dimensional product. Our software takes in body scan information — and not just measurements. It requires the full point cloud of someone’s body: 30,000 to 100,000 points in space, depending on the scan quality. What’s great is that you don’t lose all of the information when taking measurements around someone’s body. We build the pattern all digitally, and before we do anything physical with it, we go back and fit it on our digital avatar a few times before it’s perfect. It’s almost like we’re getting to do multiple fittings with them, and that gives us a huge advantage. It’s automated, so once you’ve written the software it doesn’t cost anything for the program to run it and create a pattern. We’ve gotten rid of the hours of work that a tailor would be spending building a pattern. The idea is that there’s no sewing machine or manual labor. We’re also experimenting with weaving in three dimensions and building the whole [garment] from yarn. The fit is so difficult on woven products, so if you can make something to someone’s actual dimensions and it’s a woven, then you’ve really tackled that big problem. We started with the hardware in 2017 and still haven’t commercialized on it — but hopefully we will in the next six months. Phipps: You’re asking a lot for people to change the way they purchase. How do you get consumers to think differently about the way they buy clothes? Esponnette: I’m excited where consumer mindsets are going. They’re starting to slow down and think about their impact in the world. The average is 84 garments purchased per year per American; it’s insane that we buy more than one product per week. I think consumers will be willing to spend a bigger chunk of their income on fewer products that will last longer and that they’re excited about. We’re starting to see that change. When we talk to customers, it starts with the product: fit, options, etc. If you build something after they purchase it, it can be perfect for them. It can be everything they want and customized to their body. Then the conversation often goes into other excitement. We don’t have sizes, which is more inclusive. We don’t have inventory, which decreases waste and emissions.  It’s not the reason people walk in the door: It’s about not having to shop and finding the perfect fit. But we do it for sustainability and the greater mission of reducing global carbon emissions by 1 percent, which is our main North Star. Want to learn more about unspun and the future of fashion? Esponnette will speak about the potential of custom, on-demand manufactured apparel this month at Circularity 20 . Listen in (for free!) at 10 a.m. PDT Aug. 25 and register here for the event.  This article is adapted from GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, Circular Weekly, running Fridays. Subscribe here . Pull Quote We don’t have sizes, which is more inclusive. We don’t have inventory, which decreases waste and emissions. Topics Circular Economy Shipping & Logistics E-commerce Featured Column In the Loop Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Courtesy of Unspun Close Authorship

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The perfect pair? Custom-fit jeans startup challenges fast fashion mindset

The digital divide worsens the inequitable impacts of the climate crisis

August 3, 2020 by  
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The digital divide worsens the inequitable impacts of the climate crisis Maddie Stone Mon, 08/03/2020 – 01:00 This story originally appeared in Grist and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story. One of the starkest inequalities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic is the difference between the digital haves and have-nots. Those with a fast internet connection are more able to work and learn remotely, stay in touch with loved ones and access critical services such as telemedicine. For the millions of Americans who live in an internet dead zone , fully participating in society in the age of social distancing has become difficult, if not impossible. But if the pandemic has laid bare America’s so-called “digital divide,” climate change will only worsen the inequality that stems from it. As the weather grows more extreme and unpredictable, wealthy urban communities with faster, more reliable internet access will have an easier time responding to and recovering from disasters, while rural and low-income Americans — already especially vulnerable to the impacts of a warming climate — could be left in the dark. Unless, that is, we can bring everyone’s internet up to speed, which is what Democratic lawmakers on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis are hoping to do. Buried in a sweeping, 538-page climate change plan the committee released last month is a call to expand and modernize the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure in order to prepare it, and vulnerable communities around the country, for future extreme weather events and climate disruptions. The plan calls for increasing broadband internet access nationwide with the goal of getting everyone connected, updating the country’s 911 emergency call systems and ensuring cellular communications providers are able to keep their networks up and running amid hurricane-force winds and raging wildfires. This plan isn’t the first to point out that America’s internet infrastructure is in dire need of an upgrade , but it is unusual to see lawmakers frame better internet access as an important step toward building climate resilience. While the internet is often described as a great equalizer, access to the web never has been equal.   To Jim Kessler , executive vice president for policy at the moderate public policy think tank Third Way, this framing makes perfect sense. “You’ve got to build resilience into communities but also people,” Kessler said. “And you can’t do this without people having broadband and being connected digitally.” While the internet is often described as a great equalizer , access to the web never has been equal. High-income people have faster internet access than low-income people, urban residents are more connected than rural ones, and whiter counties are more likely to have broadband than counties with more Black and Brown residents. We’re not just talking about a few digital stragglers being left behind: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that more than 18 million Americans lack access to fast broadband, which the agency defines as a 25 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload speed. Monica Anderson , who studies the digital divide at Pew Research Center, says that many more Americans have broadband access in their area but don’t subscribe because it’s too expensive. “What we see time and again is the cost is prohibitive,” Anderson said. A lack of broadband reduces opportunities for people in the best of times, but it can be crippling in wake of a disaster, making it difficult or impossible to apply for aid or access recovery resources. Puerto Ricans experienced this in the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which battered the island’s telecommunications infrastructure and left many residents with terminally slow broadband more than a year after the storm had passed. Three years later, with a global pandemic moving vast swaths of the economy online for the foreseeable future, internet-impoverished communities around the country are feeling a similar strain . To some extent, mobile networks have helped bridge the broadband gap in recent years. More than 80 percent of Americans own a smartphone, with similar rates of ownership among Black, white and Hispanic Americans. Nearly 40 percent of Americans access the internet primarily from a phone. As far as disaster resilience goes, this surge in mobile adoption is good news: Our phones allow us to receive emergency alerts and evacuation orders quickly, and first responders rely on them to coordinate on the fly. Of the 240 million 911 calls made every year, more than 80 percent come from a wireless device, per the FCC . But in the age of climate change, mobile networks are becoming more vulnerable. The cell towers, cables and antennas underpinning them weren’t always built to withstand worsening fires and storms, a vulnerability that Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T have all acknowledged in recent climate change disclosures filed with the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project). And when these networks go down — as nearly 500 cell towers did during California’s Camp and Woolsey fires in 2018, according to the new House climate change plan — it can create huge challenges for emergency response. “Everything from search-and-rescue efforts to sending out warnings to getting people directions to shelters is facilitated through various telecommunications and internet,” said Samantha Montano , an assistant professor of emergency management at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. “We’re pretty reliant on them.” Democrats’ new climate plan seeks to address many problems created by unequal and unreliable internet access in order to build a more climate-hardy web and society. To help bring about universal broadband access, the plan recommends boosting investment in FCC programs such as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund , a $20 billion fund earmarked for broadband infrastructure deployments across rural America. It also calls for increased investment in programs such as the FCC’s Lifeline , which offers government-subsidized broadband to low-income Americans, and it recommends mandating that internet service providers suspend service shutoffs for 60 days in the wake of declared emergencies. Broadband improvements should be prioritized in underserved communities “experiencing or are likely to experience disproportionate environmental and climate change impacts,” per the plan. As far as mobile networks go, House Democrats recommend that Congress authorize states to set disaster resilience requirements for wireless providers as part of their terms of service. They also recommend boosting federal investments in Next Generation 911 , a long-running effort to modernize America’s 911 emergency call systems and connect thousands of individually operating systems. Finally, the plan calls for the FCC to work with wireless providers to ensure their networks don’t go offline during disasters for reasons unrelated to equipment failure, citing Verizon’s infamous throttling of data to California firefighters as they were fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire in 2018. Kessler of Third Way said that Democrats’ climate plan lays out “the right ideas” for bridging the digital divide. “You want to be able to get the technology out there, the infrastructure out there, and you need to make sure people can pay for it,” he said. The call for hardening our internet infrastructure is especially salient to Paul Barford , a computer scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 2018, Barford and two colleagues published a study highlighting the vulnerability of America’s fiber cables to sea level rise, and he’s investigating how wildfires threaten mobile networks. In both cases, he says, it’s clear that the telecommunications infrastructure deployed today was designed with historical extreme conditions in mind — and that has to change. “We’re living in a world of climate change,” he said. “And if the intention is to make this new infrastructure that will serve the population for many years to come, then it is simply not feasible to deploy it without considering the potential effects of climate change, which include, of course, rising seas, severe weather, floods and wildfires.” Everything from search-and-rescue efforts to sending out warnings to getting people directions to shelters is facilitated through various telecommunications and internet.   Whether the House climate plan’s recommendations become law remains to be seen. Many specific ideas in the plan already have been introduced to Congress in various bills, including the LIFT America Act , which would infuse Next Generation 911 with an extra $12 billion in funding, and the WIRED Act , which would authorize states to regulate wireless companies’ infrastructure. Perhaps most significantly, House Democrats recently passed an infrastructure bill that would invest $80 billion in broadband deployment around the country overseen by a new Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth. The bill would mandate a minimum speed standard of 100/100 megabits per second for federally funded internet projects, a speed stipulation that can be met only with high-speed fiber optics, says Ernesto Omar Falcon , a senior legal counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties nonprofit. Currently, Falcon estimates that about a third of Americans have access to this advanced internet infrastructure, with a larger swath of the country accessing the web via older, slower, DSL copper or cable lines. “It would connect anyone who doesn’t have internet to a 21st century line,” Falcon said. “That’s a huge deal.” The infrastructure bill seems unlikely to move forward in a Republican-controlled Senate. But the urgency of getting everyone a fast, resilient internet connection isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the idea that internet access is a basic right seems to be gaining traction every day, even making an appearance last week in presumed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s new infrastructure plan . With the pandemic continuing to transform how we work, live and interact with one another, and with climate change necessitating even larger transformations in the future, our need to be connected digitally is only becoming greater. “I think every day the pressure mounts, because the problem is not going away,” Falcon said. “It’s really going to come down to what we want the recovery to look like. And which of the problems COVID-19 has presented us with do we want to solve.” Pull Quote While the internet is often described as a great equalizer, access to the web never has been equal. Everything from search-and-rescue efforts to sending out warnings to getting people directions to shelters is facilitated through various telecommunications and internet. Topics Climate Change Policy & Politics Social Justice Technology Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Worker on the site of an ecological disaster.

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The digital divide worsens the inequitable impacts of the climate crisis

Are we on the cusp of the ‘Age of Freedom’?

July 23, 2020 by  
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Are we on the cusp of the ‘Age of Freedom’? Shana Rappaport Thu, 07/23/2020 – 01:00 Anything with “technology convergence” and “climate change” in the same sentence captures my attention. Contextualize it in the “making or breaking of human civilization as we know it” and I’m hooked — and admittedly a tad skeptical. That’s why I buckled up and dug into the recent 90-page report put forth by think tank RethinkX , co-founded by internationally recognized technologists and futurists Tony Seba and James Arbib. ” Rethinking Humanity ” makes the case that the convergence of key technologies is about to disrupt the five foundational sectors that underpin the global economy, and with them every major industry in the world.  Super heady stuff, to be sure. The vision Seba and Arbib detail reads somewhat like a distant techno-utopia. But the vision they lay out isn’t all that far off: Climate change solved and poverty eradicated within the next 15 years? Got my attention. Given that Seba and Arbib have been impressively accurate over the past decade in predicting the speed and scale of technological disruption, I figured it was worth giving the analysis a closer look.  From extraction to creation  Focusing on the disruptive potential of emerging technologies in the information, energy, transportation, food and materials sectors, the report predicts that across all five — and within the next 10 years — we could see costs of key technologies fall by 10 times or more, production processes become 10 times more efficient, all while using 90 percent fewer natural resources and producing up to 100 times less waste. What Seba and Arbib are calling the “fastest, deepest, most consequential transformation of human civilization in history” isn’t just a reframe of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which we know is underway and being enabled by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing. Indeed, many of their predictions will sound familiar to those conversant in technological change. But it’s not just the march of progress of individual technologies that will save us. The report does not introduce this alluring vision as an absolute — quite the contrary. Therein lies one big variable: Humans need to make it happen, and fast.   Instead, the report posits that we are on the cusp of the third age of humankind — what they describe as “The Age of Freedom.” This new era will be defined by a shift away from models of centralized extraction to localized creation; ones built, they say, not on coal, oil, steel, livestock and concrete, but on photons, electrons, DNA, molecules and qbits (a unit of quantum information).  They predict, for example, that the combination of cheap solar and grid storage will transform energy systems into entirely distributed models of self-generation in which electrons are virtually free. And that as the widespread adoption of autonomous electric vehicles replaces car ownership with on-demand ride sharing, we’ll completely reimagine and redesign our roads, infrastructure and cityscapes. Their vision for the future of food, outlined in greater detail in another report last year, predicts that traditional agriculture soon will be replaced by industrial-scale brewing of single-celled organisms, genetically modified to produce all the nutrients we need ( say what? ). Similar processes, combined with additive manufacturing and nanotechnologies, will allow us to create all the materials necessary to build infrastructure for the modern world from the molecule up, rather than by continuing to extract scarce and depleting natural resources.  These transformations mirror, in many ways, what we’ve seen already in the information sector — in which the decentralization enabled by the internet has reduced barriers to communication and knowledge in ways unimaginable 25 years ago.  What may sound like a pipe dream is what Seba and Arbib claim could be a lifestyle akin to the “American Dream” — in terms of energy consumption, transport needs, nutritional value, housing and education — accessible to anyone for as little as $250 a month by 2030. Humanity at a crossroads  To be clear, the report does not introduce this alluring vision of The Age of Freedom as an absolute — quite the contrary. Therein lies one big variable: Humans need to make it happen, and fast. Will the public embrace self-driving cars and genetically modified foods, among other innovations? Futurists have been wrong before about such things. (Weren’t we all supposed to be getting around in flying cars by now?) “We can use the upcoming convergence of technology disruptions to solve the greatest challenges of humankind — inequality, poverty, environmental destruction if, and only if, we learn from history, recognize what is happening, understand the implications and make critical choices now; because these very same technologies that hold such promise are also accelerating civilization’s collapse,” Seba said. We can use the upcoming convergence of technology disruptions to solve the greatest challenges of humankind — inequality, poverty, environmental destruction if, and only if, we learn from history …   Indeed, we face an epic choice. But, are utopia or dystopia really our only options? Is framing the path forward in a binary win-or-lose scenario actually accurate, let alone helpful for the business leaders, policy makers and citizens in whose hands such a complex set of decisions rest today? And what about the millions of people without access to jobs, food, housing or healthcare right now? Where do they fit into this grand, seemingly idyllic plan? The report outlines a set of recommendations which, in many ways, seem as unlikely as the vision they’re intended to enable. Giving individuals ownership of data rights, scaling new models for community ownership of energy and transportation networks, and allowing states and cities autonomy on policies such as immigration, taxation and public expenditure, for example, take time. The rapid reimagining and restructuring of what they call our society’s fundamental “Organizing System” is no small feat. And the report seems to gloss over many messy realities of how social change actually occurs. Still, there’s something compelling here. Regardless whether Seba and Arbib’s techno-utopian dream materializes in the ways they’ve outlined, the report offers compelling ideas for building a more robust, resilient and equitable society than we’ve ever seen. It’s certainly good fodder as we enter a decade that will, without question, be defined by great disruption — and already is. Pull Quote The report does not introduce this alluring vision as an absolute — quite the contrary. Therein lies one big variable: Humans need to make it happen, and fast. We can use the upcoming convergence of technology disruptions to solve the greatest challenges of humankind — inequality, poverty, environmental destruction if, and only if, we learn from history … Topics Innovation Information Technology Corporate Social Responsibility Clean Economy Corporate Social Responsibility Featured Column On the VERGE Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Are we on the cusp of the ‘Age of Freedom’?

What makes Al Gore hopeful: Tech innovation, science-based targets and the racial ‘awakening’

July 22, 2020 by  
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What makes Al Gore hopeful: Tech innovation, science-based targets and the racial ‘awakening’ Heather Clancy Wed, 07/22/2020 – 02:00 Who is responsible for emissions? Where did they originate? How can we be sure? A global coalition fronted by former Vice President Al Gore promises granular insights and data into those sources — down to individual power plants, ships or factories. Climate TRACE (short for Tracking Real-time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) intends to use a massive worldwide network of satellite images, land- and sea-based sensors and advanced artificial intelligence to generate what it’s describing as the “most thorough and reliable data on emissions the world has ever seen.” The long lag it takes to calculate this information today is untenable if countries and the corporate sector hope to act quickly, the group wrote  in a blog about the initiative, co-authored by Gore and Gavin McCormick, founder and executive director of coalition member WattTime. “From companies looking to select cleaner manufacturing suppliers, to investors seeking to divest from polluting industries, to consumers making choices about which businesses to patronize, one thing is clear: a reliable way to measure where emissions are coming from is necessary,” they wrote. “Climate TRACE will empower all of these actors.”  Some of the innovation around new materials has been particularly impressive to me, materials like silicon carbide. Climate TRACE is just the latest example of the former vice president’s decades-long commitment to educating the world about the climate crisis, through The Climate Reality Project, and to investing in technologies and solutions that could address it, through Generation Investment Manager.  Emissions monitoring using advanced technologies is something all members of the coalition have been working on for some time, but breakthroughs in software and processing technologies — as well as the will to take action more quickly than mid-decade — prompted the coalition members to step forward with the goal of making its first report before the United Nations COP26 conference in 2021. Candidly, Gore is the reason I’m on the corporate climate beat, so I was inspired by the invitation to interview him as a virtual keynote session for SEMICON West , a conference focused on members of the semiconductor industry. “There are real indications that this COVID-19 pandemic has actually accelerated the shift toward more sustainable technologies and as much as anything else, I would say there has been a very dramatic change in attitudes,” Gore told me at the beginning of our chat, prerecorded before the Climate TRACE announcement.   To be clear, the data isn’t encouraging. As Gore related during our conversation, 19 of the 20 hottest years “ever measured with instruments” have been in the last 20 years — and 2020 is on pace to dethrone the current record holder for hottest year on record. What’s more, Gore observes that we’re still emitting 152 million tons of heat-trapping pollution into the atmosphere every 24 hours. The consequences of that imbalance are felt in water cycle disruptions, sea-level rises, far stronger storms and the spread of tropical diseases northward, he noted. “It’s a real horror story and since our civilization has been built up almost entirely during this climate envelope, if you will, that has persisted since the end of the last ice age, the fact that we’re changing those conditions so radically poses an existential threat to the survival of human civilization as we know it.” But advances in processing, communications and data analysis technologies give Gore hope that humans still can take meaningful action, especially with new resolve and urgency borne out of the COVID-19 crisis, Gore told me. “This can be the stimulus we need for sustainable prosperity in the wake of the pandemic as we finally come out of it, so it’s so important that this tremendous industry has awakened to this challenge and is providing tremendous leadership,” he said.   Following is a partial transcript of our conversation, which picks up after Gore’s opening remarks. The comments were edited for clarity and length.  Heather Clancy: Do you see any long-term changes emanating from the COVD-19 crisis that could help the world deliver a zero-carbon future? Are there nuggets of hope in the response that you can point to specifically? Gore:   Well, you have to go country by country, and I don’t want to dwell too much on the response here in the United States right now. I’m a recovering politician, and I don’t want to stray back into that field. The longer I go without a relapse, the less likely one becomes. But you can find examples of hope and optimism in many country’s response to the pandemic and their success should be emulated elsewhere. I’ll leave it at that. But there are many realizations that are coming from this. We now know that the burning of fossil fuels is a precondition for higher mortality rates under COVID-19. There was a study of 324 cities in China showing a linear correlation between the infection rate and the death rate from COVID-19 compared to the amount of fossil fuels burned in those locations. A Harvard study showed the same thing here in the U.S. and even if you go back to the 1918-1919 [flu] pandemic, there was a very thorough study just 18 months ago showing that the amount of coal burned in cities throughout the U.S., again, was correlated precisely with the death rate from the great flu pandemic a little over 100 years ago. There is a lot of scholarship on how diversity in crowds, if it’s properly appreciated and tapped into, can make any group and any company way smarter than the smartest person in that company. Now we’ve already also seen with COVID-19 a rapid reduction in travel and an increase in working from home and I’m sure many of the people listening to us, Heather, have had the same experience I know you and I have had. That is thinking, “Wow, this stuff works pretty well. Maybe we don’t have to make all of those airplane flights that we have been chained to for all this time,’” and there are many other examples. There are real indications that this COVID-19 pandemic has actually accelerated the shift toward more sustainable technologies and as much as anything else, I would say there has been a very dramatic change in attitudes. I don’t want to sound Pollyannish, but I really believe there has been a kind of a general awakening.  The gains from the LGBTQ community of the last several years are being consolidated. The gains demanded in gender equity over the last several years are also being consolidated, and I think, again, the shocking new awareness on the part of so many of the inequities and injustices that communities of color have been experiencing for a lot of reasons. I mean, they are much more likely to be downwind from the smokestacks and downstream from the hazardous waste flows, but they also have much less access to quality healthcare. Their housing, by and large, is not the same. They don’t have the Zoom-able jobs like we do right now on average. Incomes, I mean, it takes 11.5 typical Black families, average Black families to make up the net worth of one white family, average white family in the U.S. and these statistics have remained unchanged for 50 years. We’ve got to change that, and I think there is a general increase in awareness, an awakening if you will. One jokester called it The Great Awokening. I don’t think I’ll use that phrase as my own, but I do think there is something to it. I think that the rising generation is demanding a better future, and if they knew all that you have planned and underway in this industry, they would feel so good about it. I’m going to do my part to make sure they do find out about it. Clancy: What foundational technologies do you see coming out of this moment of destruction that could really make an impact? And let’s go to the semiconductor industry. What positive developments do you see happening where they could really make a difference? Gore: Some of the innovation around new materials has been particularly impressive to me, materials like silicon carbide … These have been already essential in, well, take increasing the range of Tesla’s electric vehicles and actually that’s another mark of the change. Tesla just became the most valuable automobile company in the world, surpassing Toyota. That’s pretty impressive.  I’ll mention one more: Innovations around how semiconductors are packaged, that’s also been a prominent trend and essential in enabling the next generation of algorithms which power things like drug discovery, which has got our attention right now, and smart electricity grids which are much more power efficient. Environmental leader Al Gore. Clancy: What could get in the way of these advances? What concerns should the industry have from an environmental standpoint as they take these to the mainstream? Gore: Well, we are seeing a challenge to the efficacy of self-government. I don’t want to sound too highfalutin on this, but really here in the U.S., we have seen what can stand in our way when we pretty much know what to do and we just have to get our act together and think and act collectively to do it and when we let partisanship get out of bounds and when we don’t accept the authority of knowledge, when we tolerate an assault on reason and when we allow powerful players in the economy to embark on information strategies that are intended to put out wrong facts. I started to say alternative facts but, again, I don’t want to trip over all of those controversies. But it is a problem, seriously, and we have seen that spread to some other countries like Brazil and the Philippines and Hungary, not to mention Russia. Democracy itself is the most efficient way of making collective decisions because it allows us to harvest the wisdom of crowds. There is a lot of scholarship on how diversity in crowds, if it’s properly appreciated and tapped into, can make any group and any company way smarter than the smartest person in that company. So I do believe that we are seeing a number of positive developments, and I do have a lot of confidence in this rising generation that is insisting that we get on with these solutions. Clancy: You referenced data centers and cloud computing services earlier, particularly for enabling things like artificial intelligence — which we need for drug discovery, we need for so many things, so many applications related to conservation and climate change. But these things use a lot of electricity. How can the tech industry address this? Gore:  New technologies, innovation efficiency — including some of the new developments that I’ve already mentioned — will help, but we’ve got to go into this with our eyes wide open. Applied Materials has told us that, has told the world that their studies indicate that we could actually see a very large increase in the amount of energy used for information processing and that makes this challenge even more urgent. But I do continue to be optimistic, very optimistic on the ability of this industry to rise to the challenge and there are some things the industry could do, and I know some of these have been discussed.  First of all, collaborate across the industry from semiconductor equipment makers to software companies with academia to think about how to deliver a step change in the efficiency of data center semiconductors. It’s been encouraging already to see cutting-edge applications of artificial intelligence to effectively reduce data server energy use by significant amounts without any changes to hardware. I’ve been following for a few years now Google’s use of its DeepMind Division to dramatically reduce energy use in server farms, again, without any new hardware. That’s awfully impressive… Now they had the advantage of a lot of structured data to work with. They’re Google, after all, so they got a lot of structured data but there are thousands of use cases where that same approach can also be used.  Secondly, reduce the electricity required to manufacture semiconductors. I’ve been amazed at the increasing amount of power required to manufacture these ever-smaller chips, and I would join with others in encouraging all of the equipment manufacturers to work together to reduce carbon emissions in the manufacturing of these advanced semiconductors and finally continue decarbonizing the power supply on which the data centers operate… Clancy: I want to go back to something you referenced in your opening remarks, which is the environmental justice issue. It’s well-documented that climate change has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. How can the tech industry act internally and externally to change this to get rid of that digital divide that prevents progress? Gore: Well, I think first of all, this awakening that I talked about has affected people in the semiconductor industry. You look at these protest marches around the U.S. The vast majority of those marching are white and two-thirds of the American people now say they support the Black Lives Matter movement, a dramatic change compared to just two months ago. And, of course, George Floyd’s murder was a turning point but it’s also reflective of the changes that we have seen more broadly in our society. I mentioned already the fact that the communities of color are suffering disproportionately from COVID-19, and there are many reasons for it. But it’s wise for every industry, particularly a cutting-edge industry like this one, to respond very effectively to the rising demands from two groups.  First, younger employees who want their work to have meaning. Many of the executives listening to us have already long since learned that when they interview the best and brightest to join their firms, they find that the job applicants are interviewing them. They want to know whether or not the company shares their views on sustainability and shares their views on diversity. I think that the Science Based Targets initiative is a particularly important initiative that can make a tremendous difference, and I want to commend the leaders in this industry who have taken that step. And, by the way, I mentioned the wisdom of crowds earlier. I don’t want to emphasize it too much, but we’ve studied that a lot at Generation, and the scholars tell us and the evidence proves that you benefit tremendously in your collective thinking from as much diversity as possible on every matrix except one.  You don’t want any diversity on values. But then if you have different life experiences, different points of view, different religious traditions, different ethnicities and all of the rest orientations, that adds to the ability of any company to make better collective decisions. And so for the tech industry, specifically, it’s long been known that this industry has work to do in order to deal with the struggle to become more racially and culturally diverse. We’ve seen software companies make some very encouraging efforts to broaden their hiring funnels through apprenticeships and scholarships, but that could probably be increased in the semiconductor industry also. Clancy: Speed is of the essence in the fight against the climate crisis. How can the tech industry and the government work together maybe like in the area of research and development but also more broadly to make the most of this moment? Gore: Well, I think that the Science Based Targets initiative is a particularly important initiative that can make a tremendous difference, and I want to commend the leaders in this industry who have taken that step. I want to encourage others to adopt and embrace a science-based target to make sure that their activities and their emissions reductions plans are in keeping with what the global scientific community, the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] says is necessary to stay below a 1.5-degree Celsius increase in temperatures. Look, this is an existential threat to our society, and I know I’ve used that phrase, but we’ve got to accept that and we have got to take leadership and make sure that we’re doing everything we can. It’s just unbearable to imagine a future generation living with the kinds of consequences the scientists tell us would ensue if we don’t solve this crisis. And imagine them looking back at us in the year 2020 and asking, “Why in the hell didn’t you do something about it? Didn’t you hear the scientists? Couldn’t you hear Mother Nature screaming at you?”  Every night on the TV news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation, practically. We’re appropriately focused on the pandemic now, but even now we’re seeing these extreme weather events and the increasingly dire forecasts from the scientists. So I’m encouraged by this industry, and I think that the science-based targets approach is a really great step, and I’d encourage everybody to adopt them. Pull Quote Some of the innovation around new materials has been particularly impressive to me, materials like silicon carbide. I think that the Science Based Targets initiative is a particularly important initiative that can make a tremendous difference, and I want to commend the leaders in this industry who have taken that step. There is a lot of scholarship on how diversity in crowds, if it’s properly appreciated and tapped into, can make any group and any company way smarter than the smartest person in that company. Topics Climate Change Innovation Social Justice Technology Racial Justice Collective Insight The GreenBiz Interview Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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What makes Al Gore hopeful: Tech innovation, science-based targets and the racial ‘awakening’

AMD’s energy-slashing feat

July 17, 2020 by  
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AMD’s energy-slashing feat Heather Clancy Fri, 07/17/2020 – 01:00 It isn’t often I have the mindspace to proactively follow up on every commitment proclaimed by the companies I cover. But I recently paused to catch up about one that has particular relevance as more companies act to address their Scope 3 emissions reductions, those generated by supply chains and customers: AMD’s bold pledge back in 2014 to improve the energy efficiency of its mobile processors — the components used in notebook computers and specialized embedded systems, such as medical imaging equipment or industrial applications — by 25 times by 2020. Not-so-spoiler alert: The fact that I’m bringing it up should be a big hint that the company has delivered. In fact, AMD overachieved the goal, delivering a 31.7 times improvement with its new Ryzen 7 4800H processor. In layperson’s terms, that means that the chip consumes 84 percent energy, while taking 80 percent less compute time for certain tasks. For you and me, that means batteries last longer. For companies buying entire portfolios of devices based on these processors, they will see their electricity consumption reduced. (The specific reduction you’d see by upgrading 50,000 laptops would be 1.4 million kilowatt-hours.) Consider this perspective from tech research analyst Bob O’Donnell, president of TECHnalysis Research: “Lower energy consumption has never been more important for the planet, and the company’s ability to meet its target while also achieving strong processor performance is a great reflection of what a market-leading, engineering-focus company they’ve become.” Indeed, when I chatted with Susan Moore, AMD’s corporate vice president for corporate responsibility and government affairs, she told me it took “a full company focus and a lot of innovation” by the AMD engineering team to make the goal happen. Note to others attempting the same sort of thing. Although the company had pretty good visibility into what it would be able to pull off early on during the six-year period, there were plenty of questions marks, and it took unwavering support (and faith) from AMD CEO Lisa Su to keep true, Moore said.  Actually getting there took some very specific design changes, outlined in a blog by AMD Chief Technology Officer Mark Papermaster. Here are some of them: Investments in new semiconductor manufacturing processors (specifically 7 nanometer technology) Changes to the real-time power management algorithms The integration of the central processor and graphics architecture into a common “system on a chip” (among other architecture changes) Changes to the interconnections between the components (its proprietary approach for this is called the Infinity Fabric) Moore said close collaboration with customers (such as the original equipment manufacturers using AMD chips for their computers) was also critical. “A large part is the ability to sit down with likeminded organizations,” she noted.  Plus, disclosure. AMD decided to declare its progress year to year. (Here’s the report card from 2018, for an idea of how it shared the information.) “That was definitely a risk, but we thought it was very important that is was something that we talk about along the way, so we did measurements every year,” Moore said.  I wish every company were that transparent. Topics Information Technology Energy & Climate Energy Efficiency Featured Column Practical Magic Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Courtesy of AMD Close Authorship

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Unilever To Add Carbon Footprint Information on Packaging

July 16, 2020 by  
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Unilever, the industrial giant behind the Seventh Generation, Dove, Ben … The post Unilever To Add Carbon Footprint Information on Packaging appeared first on Earth 911.

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