Seattle Week in Review: Bottom of the Ninth, World’s Climate at Stake

For a moment this week—or for several hours, depending on how much of it you took in—America was transfixed by something historic, suspenseful, and with no modern precedent. Game 7 of the World Series, which delivered the pinnacle of drama in the sports world, was a needed break from the election, and perhaps a chance to temper our nerves for election night, when the stakes are as big as they get—unless you’re a Cubs fan.

Let’s hope it doesn’t go to extra innings. The anxiety is real, so try to take it easy this weekend.

Meanwhile, here are a few things that caught our attention in the last few days, including Amazon’s renewable energy long game, the international climate agreement, and Washington’s carbon tax vote; a chatbot for political questions; and a pledge among Washington’s research powerhouses to collaborate more closely. Details:

—Despite its near absence from the scorched-earth presidential campaign, energy policy is likely to be fundamentally altered by the election. Implementation of the international climate agreement that takes effect today will be up to the signatory nations themselves. They will begin to sketch out ways to do so—and to monitor each other—at the next big U.N. climate conference, beginning Monday in Marrakech.

Whether the U.S. continues to participate hinges on the election. The Washington Post’s breakdown of the implications is highly detailed. But the gist is this: Hillary Clinton represents a continuation or even a strengthening of the climate change policies of the Obama Administration. Donald Trump has pledged to effectively stick America’s fingers in its ears, close its eyes, and kick randomly at the efforts of the rest of the world like a toddler having a tantrum, ignorant that the house is on fire.

One of the only official comments from China’s government on the U.S. election came from its climate chief. Reuters reports that Xie Zhenhua said of Trump’s dismissal of the global climate pact: “I believe a wise political leader should take policy stances that conform with global trends.”

Meanwhile, one of the biggest areas of international and cross-industry agreement as the climate accord comes into effect is the need for a price on carbon dioxide emissions, reports Leigh Collins, editor of Recharge News (my former employer), from Paris. Xie notes in the Reuters dispatch that China’s carbon trading market is set to begin next year.

In Washington state, voters will decide on what would be the nation’s first carbon tax plan—voting on I-732, which would tax greenhouse gas emissions, but reduce other taxes to be “revenue neutral.” The initiative has divided the environmental community over issues including social justice and the state’s regressive tax structure. David Roberts got all the details in this piece a couple of weeks ago in Vox. Money was streaming in on both sides of the issue in the week before the election and polls showed a close race, reported Hal Bernton in The Seattle Times.

(We will be talking over the policy implications of the election with experienced Northwest cleantech investor Kirk Washington and University of Washington history professor and author Margaret O’Mara at Xconomy Intersect, our next Seattle tech event, coming up on Dec. 8. They are part of a great lineup of experts on topics from the forests and vineyards of the Northwest to cloud computing, healthcare IT, and machine learning. More information and a full list of speakers here.)

—Corporations, and tech companies in particular, continue to drive demand for renewable energy. This week, Amazon Web Services announced an Ohio windfarm with generating capacity of 189 megwatts. When it comes online a little more than a year from now, it will feed clean energy into the power grid that serves two major AWS data centers in Ohio and Virginia.

AWS is aiming to procure all of the electricity used to power its datacenters from renewable sources. The company says it’s on track to hit 50 percent renewables by the end of 2017. It currently has some 180 megawatts of wind and solar in production in the U.S. and another 569 megawatts of wind energy in planning or under construction.

In a statement, AWS vice president of infrastructure Peter DeSantis says of the 100 percent renewable energy goal: “There are lots of things that go into making this a reality, including governments implementing policies that stimulate cost-effective renewable energy production, businesses that buy that energy, economical renewable projects from our development partners and utilities, as well as technological and operational innovation that drives greater efficiencies in our global infrastructure. We continue to push on all of these fronts to stay well ahead of our renewable energy goals.”

—If you need more last-minute election information, there’s an Alexa skill for that. Rhiza, with offices in Pittsburgh and Seattle, helps media companies and marketers make better use of data. It baked some of its technology into My Pundit, a chatbot that answers election questions via devices powered by Amazon Alexa. My Pundit draws data from sources including RealClearPolitics and The Washington Post.

—The three biggest research powerhouses in Washington—its public universities and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)—pledged to work together more closely in areas including clean energy, computing, and materials science. The memorandum of understanding signed by the top leaders of University of Washington, Washington State University, and PNNL, builds on a range of ongoing research collaborations including smart energy management in buildings and across campuses, and the Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing.

They pledged to create more joint faculty appointments at PNNL and the universities, and to create new opportunities for students at PNNL facilities around the state.

—Good reads at the end of truth, and the beginning of the robots:

Farhad Manjoo, “How the Internet Is Loosening Our Grip on the Truth,” and Timothy Egan, “The Post-Truth Presidency,” both in The New York Times.

Ellen Gamerman, “Love in the Time of Robots,” in The Wall Street Journal.

Policing Police Robots,” an in-depth review of the legal and policy issues “of a future where police robots are sophisticated, cheap, and widespread,” by UC Davis Professor of Law Elizabeth Joh, in the UCLA Law Review.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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