Fri, Jul 21, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Los Angeles start-ups tackle
climate change with creative solutions

Dozens of start-ups are inventing ways to keep the city cool with products and services that aim to avert environmental disaster — and yield profits

By Rory Carroll  /  The Guardian, LOS ANGELES

Illustration: Mountain people

Drought, floods, wildfires and heat waves — climate change and extreme weather events are wreaking havoc in California, especially in Los Angeles. The city has recently baked in record temperatures with a long, hot summer still stretching ahead.

It is the new normal: Climate models predict the number of extreme heat days, defined as more than 35?C, will triple by the middle of the century.

Little wonder Hollywood is churning out desert dystopias in films such as Mad Max: Fury Road and The Bad Batch.

However, reality has an overlooked subplot: geeks are inventing ways to keep Los Angeles cool — and possibly mint fortunes in the process.

Dozens of start-ups have turned the city and nearby regions into a laboratory for products and services that they hope will avert environmental disaster and yield business models replicable across the globe, even beyond.

“We would welcome opportunities for off-planet growing,” said Brandon Martin, vice president of business development at Local Roots, which turns shipping containers into hydroponic farms. “We’d love to be the first company to grow food on Mars.”

He was completely serious. Engineers from Elon Musk’s Space X have studied how the company uses sensors, algorithms and machine learning to transform forty-foot-equivalent containers into the equivalent of 1.2 to 2 hectares of farmland while using 97 percent less water.

“We want to be a billion-dollar company as soon as possible,” Local Roots executive Kipp Stroden said. “We’d like to feed at least a billion people in the next 10 years.”

Time will tell if that is hubris, but it reflects the confidence of start-ups that think solving some of Los Angeles’ environmental challenges will open other markets in a heating planet.

“LA is essentially a giant opportunity to demonstrate their technologies,” said Mike Swords, vice president of government relations for Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), a public-private nonprofit that mentors start-ups. “If you can demonstrate that your company can help solve problems here, there’s a good chance you will export it to other urban areas around the world.”

Los Angeles’ biggest climate challenges were extreme heat and drought and increased fires, said Matt Petersen, who was the city’s first chief sustainability officer before recently taking over the reins at LACI.

“Trees are job No. 1, and cool surfaced roofs and streets are key strategies as well,” he said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has set bold targets to reduce the so-called urban heat island effect, improve air quality and ease congestion.

Voters approved two measures, which are to generate US$150 billion in the next decades — a sum exceeding former US president Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, according to some estimates — to replace traffic gridlock, a major source of heat and pollution, with cleaner transport and shaded, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.

“It’s a city that has taken the climate change challenge seriously,” Union of Concerned Scientists western states director Adrienne Alvord said.

Meanwhile, California Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislature champion a cap-and-trade program and ever more ambitious renewable energy targets — big-spending rebuffs to the environmental policies of the administration of US President Donald Trump.

The result is an El Dorado of subsidies, favorable rules and fast-growing markets for “cleantech” companies.

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