Tech billionaires won't save the planet

Issue 126

Paris Marx

Hey urbanists,

I’m in the home stretch with this Master’s thesis, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to motivate myself to keep going. About another week, and I think it should be pretty much done. I did get the unfortunate news yesterday that I technically won’t graduate until the fall, which was a bit of a letdown, but I’ll survive.

I don’t have an essay this week; instead I have an article for NBC News that I wrote in between all this thesis work. I hope you like it!

Of the articles in this week’s issue, I want to recommend those on predatory lending in Kenya, how billionaires’ space visions are changing movies, ride-hailing pollution, unsafe Autopilot, landlord tech, and the environmental and social crises in Chile. I also included a short tweet video at the end of a new British Labour MP who I’m really liking because she’s drawing attention to how big business influences politicians.

Have a great week!


P.S. — If you like the issue, press the heart below the title or at the end of the newsletter.

🌎✊ By Paris:Jeff Bezos' climate change philanthropy has quite a few (hidden) strings attached” (NBC News THINK): “The truth is that, in the face of a challenge as immense as climate change, government action is necessary if we want to ensure that our planet remains livable for future generations. […] The highways, the suburbs and the victory against the Nazis — just to provide a few examples — are products not of the private sector but of government action.”

Tech dystopia

🇰🇪📱 “It’s as if they know an African has no options.” Tech startups offering high-interest loans through apps have flooded in Kenya. Tala’s founder was feted by investors and philanthropists, but her company traps Kenyans in a cycle of debt with interest rates of 180% and debt collectors who say they’re pushed to aggressively retrieve the money or they’ll be fired. Silicon Valley loves it because the company requires borrowers to give them all the data on their phone, regardless of whether they’re approved. “App-based lending has become synonymous in Kenya with predatory practices, much like payday lending in the U.S. About 2.5 million people have been reported to credit reference bureaus by digital lenders.”

🇨🇦✊As a result of a decision by the Ontario Labour Relations Board, Foodora couriers have won the right to join a union. The Board also determined that couriers are not independent contractors, but dependent contractors, given that they can be deactivated based on performance, do not set their own pay rates, are not given the opportunity to negotiate a contract, cannot make their own agreements with restaurants and customers, and Foodora controls their shifts.

🎬🚀 Marta Troicka argues tech billionaires’ musings about living in space have changed the kind of space movies that get made — and they’re not nearly as good. “These movies all take the human move towards space as a given, an inevitable part of natural progress. Yet, while we are not technologically capable of this move yet, the truth is that we are even less morally prepared to do so.”

📱🦠 How might the gig economy respond to the coronavirus? “Crossbreeding this disease with the nation’s platform economy might mean that the rich will shelter in place, safe and sound, while the poor troll through the streets, taking their chances for a necessary payday.”

🎬📱 Knives Out director Rian Johnson revealed that Apple won’t let bad guys use iPhones in movies

🚗😕 Uber and Lyft want to put ads on top of their drivers’ vehicles

Critical urbanism

📱🏭 Uber and Lyft generate an estimated 70% more pollution than the trips they replace. Ban them.

🚫🏠 “The reign of the single-family home is over. Whatever its habitable charms and nostalgic appeal, the single-family home is out of step with the future.”

🚗💥 NTSB investigators found that Tesla’s Autopilot was partially responsible for a fatal crash in 2018. They further said that reliance on cameras (without LIDAR) has limits, Tesla’s method of sensing whether a driver is holding the wheel isn’t sufficient, that the vehicle didn’t alter the driver of impending impact, and that the driver was overconfident in Autopilot’s capabilities. The NTSB has now asked the NHTSA to evaluate the limits of Autopilot and use its regulatory powers to ensure Tesla acts.

🇬🇧🚌 U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson is promising other cities and towns around England will have greater power to regulate and control their bus services, which London has had for decades. But the details remain scant, and few cities have announced an intent to use them.

🇦🇺🚌🚇 Transit ridership in Sydney was forecast to grow 26% between 2011 and 2031 — but there were already “93 million more trips taken on buses and trains last year” than was forecast for 2031. There’s crowding on many services because adequate investments were not made, and one of the city’s signature projects, the Sydney Metro, has had its projected cost increase A$4.3 billion to A$16.8 billion.

🇱🇺🚌 Public transit in Luxembourg was made free as of Saturday, with the exception of first-class train travel and some night buses

💻🏠 New tech makes it easier for landlords to sue and evict their tenants. What’s that about tech making the world a better place?

🚫🚗 Taking cars off Market Street in San Francisco made transit faster and more reliable. Who could’ve guessed?

Michael Hertz, who played an integral role in the design of New York City’s subway map, died at the age of 87

Climate crisis

🇬🇧👨‍⚖️ The third runway at London’s Heathrow airport has been ruled to be illegal by the court of appeals because of the government’s climate commitments. “The court’s ruling is the first in the world to be based on the Paris agreement and may have an impact both in the UK and around the globe by inspiring challenges against other high carbon projects.”

🇨🇱✊ “Various ills converge in Til Til: severe attacks on the environment provoked by a high concentration of industrial activity, locals’ degraded health, trying socio-economic conditions, and a lack of access to mechanisms for citizen participation. These Sacrifice Zones are emblematic of a development model that was established under Chile’s dictatorship, and that was reinforced when the country returned to democracy. Such spaces illustrate the limits of a development model that now prompts feelings of injustice and anger across the country. Social and economic issues, employment, precariousness and health issues have become intertwined with the environmental crisis.”

🇨🇦🌍 “The Trudeau government, like the Harper regime, continues to defend the profits of a few wealthy owners of mining corporations who steal from Africans. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions continue to face the social and environmental impacts of resource extraction, without the supposed economic benefits mining and foreign investment are said to bring.”

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