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    5 things to know before the stock market opens Wednesday

    Here are the most important news, trends and analysis that investors need to start their trading day:Stocks set to rise after S&P 500 closed at another recordBank earnings beat estimates, surge past last yearCoinbase gets $250 per share reference price ahead of direct listingCDC to convene advisory panel on J&J Covid vaccineModerna issues data on its Covid vaccine six months out1. Stocks set to rise after S&P 500 closed at another recordTraders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.Source: NYSEU.S. stock futures rose Wednesday, a day after the S&P 500’s modest gain pushed the index to another record close. The Nasdaq jumped 1% on Tuesday, moving it within 1% of February’s record close. The Dow Jones Industrial Average’s late-day comeback stalled and reversed, resulting in its second straight decline from Friday’s record finish. Reopening trades came under pressure Tuesday after the FDA recommended a pause in Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot Covid vaccine after reported rare cases of blood clotting.2. Bank earnings beat estimates, surge past last yearPeople pass the JP Morgan Chase & Co. Corporate headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City.Mike Segar | ReutersThe flood of earnings from the nation’s biggest banks began Wednesday with Dow stocks JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs. JPMorgan and Goldman handily beat estimates with first-quarter profit and revenue and blew past the results from their year-earlier periods, which were hit by the early days of the Covid pandemic.3. Coinbase gets $250 per share reference price ahead of direct listingThe Coinbase logo shown on a smartphone.Chris Delmas | AFP via Getty ImagesNasdaq gave Coinbase Global a reference price of $250 per share ahead of Wednesday’s planned direct listing. That would value the cryptocurrency exchange at about $65 billion, nearly eight times its $8 billion valuation in its last private fundraising round in 2018. Bitcoin has been surging in recent sessions, ahead of the Coinbase debut. Early Wednesday, bitcoin hit new heights near $65,000. The world’s biggest cryptocurrecy has more than doubled this year.4. CDC to convene advisory panel on J&J Covid vaccineZenobia Brown, MD, of the Northwell Health house calls program prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens borough on April 07, 2021 in New York City.Michael M. Santiago | Getty ImagesThe CDC is set to convene a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Wednesday to further review the six cases of rare but severe blood-clotting issues that lead federal regulators to recommend pausing J&J’s Covid vaccine. All six cases occurred in women ages 18 to 48, with symptoms developing six to 13 days after they received the shot. One of the women died. Another one is in critical condition.5. Moderna issues data on its Covid vaccine six months outWalmart pharmacist Carmine Pascarella administers a Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine for local resident Jeff Stone inside a Walmart department store as Walmart and other major U.S. pharmacies take part in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, to increase vaccinations in the U.S. in West Haven, Connecticut, February 17, 2021.Mike Segar | ReutersModerna, citing updated trial data, said its two-shot Covid-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective at protecting against Covid and more than 95% effective against severe disease up to six months after the second dose. Earlier this month, Pfizer said its vaccine, which uses technology similar to Moderna’s, was around 91% over the same period. Both vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, along with J&J’s, are the three that have been cleared for emergency use in the U.S.— Follow all the market action like a pro on CNBC Pro. Get the latest on the pandemic with CNBC’s coronavirus blog. More

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    Bed Bath & Beyond shares fall on mixed results, backs forecast as turnaround continues

    In this articleBBBYSource: Bed Bath & BeyondBed Bath & Beyond on Wednesday reported a double-digit decline in fiscal fourth-quarter sales, as ongoing store closures and divestments that are part of a bigger turnaround plan continue to weigh on results.Its shares fell more than 8% in premarket trading, as some investors expected to find clearer signs of progress.”There are some positive things, but it’s still moving,” said Jessica Ramirez, a retail research analyst for Jane Hali & Associates. “Knowing the Street, they want these turnarounds quite quickly. By this time, investors want things to be a bit in better shape.”The big-box retailer reaffirmed a prior sales outlook for the coming fiscal year, noting that positive sales momentum has carried into the current quarter. Many Americans have turned to the company’s stores and website during the Covid pandemic to buy cleaning supplies, kitchen appliances, bedding and other items for their homes.Results in its first quarter, however, are going to be messy, Chief Executive Mark Tritton explained in an interview. In the year-ago period, all of Bed Bath & Beyond’s stores were shut due to the health crisis, and it was totally reliant on its digital business to fuel sales. That’s unlike some retailers, notably Walmart and Target, that have been able to keep their stores open throughout the pandemic.”What you see is some number turbulence,” Tritton said. “You’re going to see a bifurcation in the retail market.”Here’s how the company did during the quarter ended Feb. 27, compared with what analysts were anticipating, using a survey by Refinitiv:Earnings per share: 40 cents adjusted vs. 31 cents expectedRevenue: $2.62 billion vs. $2.63 billion expectedBed Bath & Beyond’s net income during the period grew to $9.1 million, or 8 cents per share, compared with a loss of $65.4 million, or 53 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding one-time adjustments, the company earned 40 cents per share, better than the 31 cents expected by analysts, polled by Refinitiv.Net sales fell about 16% to $2.62 billion from $3.11 billion a year earlier. That was slightly short of the $2.63 billion that analysts were anticipating.The company said the year-over-year decline was driven, in part, by the sale of its Christmas Tree Shops and Cost Plus World Market businesses, as well as ongoing store closures.Same-store sales rose 4%, the company said. Online sales surged 86% during the fourth quarter, but that wasn’t enough to totally offset reported double-digit declines of in-store traffic. The company noted that 41% of online sales were fulfilled by stores.Within the namesake Bed Bath & Beyond business, it saw the most growth in home organization, followed by kitchen food prep, indoor decor and then bedding. Same-store sales at the Bed Bath & Beyond banner were up 6%.Bed Bath & Beyond reaffirmed its fiscal 2021 sales outlook that it gave back in January, which calls for sales to be within a range of $8 billion and $8.2 billion. Analysts were estimating 2021 sales of $8.18 billion, according to Refinitiv.The current quarter will be impacted by not only store closures in the year-ago period, but also by the company’s ongoing restructuring. Its four core banners are Bed Bath & Beyond, Buybuy Baby, Harmon Face Values and Decorist.The retailer is forecasting first-quarter net sales to increase by more than 40% year over year. Analysts had been calling for a 45.8% jump. Excluding the impact from divested businesses, however, Bed Bath & Beyond said sales from its four core banners could grow upwards of 65% to 70%.’Early days’Bed Bath & Beyond CEO Mark TrittonSource: Bed Bath & BeyondTritton played a crucial role in his previous gig as chief merchant at Target, to help the big-box retailer build excitement with customers around exclusive brands and refurbished stores. Wall Street is still waiting to see if he can achieve the same success at Bed Bath & Beyond.As part of Tritton’s turnaround plans, Bed Bath & Beyond is in the process of remodeling roughly 130 to 150 stores this fiscal year, including 26 remodels during the first quarter. It just completed its first batch in the Houston market in February.The company said it will spend about $250 million over the next three years to remodel roughly 450 Bed Bath & Beyond shops, in total. That involves decluttering aisles and removing sky-high piles of merchandise often seen on top shelves, adding fresh signage and installing more modern light fixtures.”It’s early days,” Tritton told CNBC about the remodels. “Normally we have a period of adjustment as we go through every remodel … it’s about a 12-week process.”Bed Bath & Beyond is also bolstering its roster of private labels across different categories of home goods. It’s planning to launch at least eight brands this year, hoping the exclusivity will be enough to drive people to its stores over the competition, which includes Amazon.Last month, it debuted Nestwell, which sells bed and bath items. Haven, a spa-inspired bath brand, will launch next week.Bed Bath & Beyond has said it expects its private-label sales will grow to represent 30% of its business within three years, up from about 10% from today. The company said these efforts should also help boost its profitability.As the year progresses, Bed Bath & Beyond said it expects sequential improvement in profit margins. Its hope is that pressures from heightened freight costs, which have impacted many retailers over the course of the pandemic, will ease.”In 2020, our mix of digital to stores was outsized,” Tritton said. “A digital sale, because of the shipping costs, is always a little different. We’re going to see that recalibrate in 2021.”This year, the company plans to buy back $325 million of its own stock, up from $300 million last year. Its three-year repurchase authorization was increased to $1 billion, from $825 million.Bed Bath & Beyond shares are up about 57% year to date, as of Tuesday’s market close. The company has a market cap is $3.4 billion.Find the full earnings press release from Bed Bath & Beyond here.—CNBC’s Courtney Reagan contributed to this reporting. More

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    Astranis, with a new approach to satellite internet, raises $250 million from BlackRock and others

    The company’s first commercial satellite.AstranisAstranis, a San Francisco-based company with an alternative approach to providing internet access from satellites, secured new funding to ramp up production.The company raised $250 million at a $1.4 billion valuation, Astranis CEO John Gedmark told CNBC, in a round led by BlackRock and joined by new investors Baillie Gifford, Fidelity, Koch Strategic Platforms, Monashee Investment Management and Uncorrelated Ventures.More than a dozen existing investors, including Andreessen Horowitz and Venrock, also contributed. The new round brings Astranis’ total funding to more than $350 million since its founding in 2015.”This is our growth round. This is what allows us to scale production of our satellite platform. We’ve developed the satellite—we’re building our first [commercial] one as we speak,” Gedmark said.Astranis co-founders: CEO John Gedmark, left, and CTO Ryan McLinko.AstranisAstranis’ approach features a small form factor satellite, similar to the spacecraft of SpaceX’s Starlink, combined with proprietary technology and placed in geosynchronous orbit, the operating location of existing players like Viasat.The company launched a prototype in 2018 and is now finishing work on its first commercial satellite for launch on a SpaceX rocket in the fourth quarter.The satellite will be positioned above Alaska, where Astranis’ first customer—telecommunications provider Pacific Dataport—will use it to triple the data speeds available to people across the state, with service beginning in first quarter 2022.”Putting down a focused beam of internet, right on a smaller or medium-sized country area, is just not something that has ever existed before,” Gedmark said.An animation of the company’s satellite broadband coverage area above Alaska.AstranisAstranis has about 120 employees. In addition to production, Gedmark says the capital will help Astranis hire “very substantially.””We have seen just overwhelming demand. … We have projects in work in countries all over the globe to bring to bear dedicated satellites for specific customers,” he said.The company’s technical advisory board, chaired by former NASA administrator Dan Goldin, has also given Astranis “many lifetimes of experience to draw upon” and focus on “what types of technologies really move the needle,” Gedmark said.A tailored approachEngineers testing the company’s satellite antenna design.AstranisAstranis’ satellites, at 350 kilograms, are about the size of a dishwasher. Satellites in geosynchronous orbit are about 22,000 miles away from the planet’s surface—a position which allows the spacecraft to stay above a fixed location, matching the Earth’s rotation.Gedmark said that traditional geosynchronous satellites are about 20 times larger, cost hundreds of millions of dollars each, and “often take four or five years to build.”Astranis “had to solve an array of challenges to pack this much punch in a small package,” he said—with surviving the harsh radiation environment of that distant orbit as its biggest hurdle.Another key element of Astranis’ satellites is software-defined radio technology, which Gedmark noted has been mostly used for U.S. military satellites.Software-defined radio allows Astranis to digitally tune communication satellites to different frequencies, while traditional satellites “are purely analog” with frequencies “locked in,” he added.Testing software-defined radio technology.AstranisAstranis’ satellites can then be “effectively identical,” but have frequencies dialed in after reaching orbit.”You can not only make changes on the fly to accommodate for changing market conditions … [but also] add some extra capacity,” Gedmark said.$1 trillion market opportunityA Falcon 9 rockets launches a Starlink mission on April 7, 2021.SpaceXGedmark says Astranis has a demand pipeline for “dozens” of satellites, as he sees the world’s “absolutely insatiable” demand for bandwidth as a “trillion-dollar market opportunity.”Satellite communications is becoming increasingly crowded, especially with multiple projects underway to launch thousands of satellites into low Earth orbit. In addition to SpaceX’s Starlink, which has over 1,300 satellites in orbit, competing global networks include OneWeb, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, Telesat, and Lockheed Martin partner Omnispace.But Gedmark isn’t worried.”Astranis, plus all our peers, can put up everything in the sky that we can manage to build and launch—and still not fully solve this problem of getting people broadband internet,” he said.His company is selling its bandwidth to telecommunications companies and internet service providers. Then, Gedmark said, “it’s up to them how they want to slice and dice that bulk capacity and price it out to their customers.” He said Astranis hasn’t seen its terrestrial partners upsell the service, especially given that, “in some of these countries, there’s only so much that a given consumer is really able or willing to pay.””For us to deliver on our mission of getting the next 4 billion people online, we would have to get satellite capacity down to a cost far below where it’s ever been historically,” Gedmark said. “I think, at least in the markets we’re serving, people are very closely aligned to go and make that happen.”Ramping up productionA timelapse of the company building its first commercial satellite.AstranisAstranis will use its new capital to expand its manufacturing space to more than 100,000 square feet to accelerate production.The planned assembly line is key to the company’s goal of speeding up the manufacturing process after its first satellite, which Gedmark said will have taken about a year and a half to build.”We are very confident we can get that build time down to just a handful of months,” Gedmark said.While Astranis is launching its first commercial satellite with SpaceX, Gedmark said the company is now talking to “all the major launch providers” about future missions.”We designed our satellites from day one to be compatible with every major launch vehicle, so we can fly as a rideshare on any of the major rockets that are out there, and some of the newer smaller launchers as well,” he said.With a number of space companies recently announcing plans to raise capital by going public through SPAC mergers, Gedmark said Astranis did look at SPACs as an option for this round.A SPAC or special purpose acquisition company is a shell company that raises money from investors via an initial public offering and then uses the capital to buy a private company and take it public, usually within two years.For now, “raising funding on the private markets in this quantity was the right move,” Gedmark said, but an IPO is still in Astranis’ plans.”The market is so huge and, in order to fully go after it, we’re going to almost certainly go back to the capital markets,” he said. “Going public is a great way to do that.”Enjoyed this article?For exclusive stock picks, investment ideas and CNBC global livestreamSign up for CNBC ProStart your free trial now More

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    Leading off-roader maker Polaris is booming and going electric

    Polaris is one of the world’s leading names in snowmobiles, off-roaders, ATVs and other recreational vehicles. During the coronavirus pandemic sales have boomed despite supply chain and logistics trouble. The company also formed a partnership with the all-electric Zero Motorcycles brand that will allow Polaris to use Zero technology on Polaris off-roaders. Analysts say the deal stands to lower the cost of developing electric vehicles – which are expensive – while widening Polaris’s customer base, and attracting new groups of investors passionate about EVs and their market potential. Many industry experts in the automotive world still think the all-electric future auto executives sometimes talk about is still several years out. Perhaps this could be even more true for the recreational vehicle segments Polaris plays in. The issues around range and charging time that keep some buyers from purchasing electric cars, trucks, and SUVs, might be even more on the minds of those who drive off-roaders into remote areas where power outlets are tough to find. But electric snowmobiles and off-roaders are attractive to customers. One reason: they are quiet. An electric snowmobile or side-by-side is less likely to spook livestock on a farm or wildlife in a forest. That is something many of Polaris’s customers say they could have a use for. If that proves true, electric technology might be another way for Polaris to hold on to some of the success it has seen in recent years. More

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    Three reasons any J&J vaccine pause may not 'derail the inevitable’ for travel industry

    News that U.S. officials recommended a pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine could have a ripple effect on the travel industry and how willing consumers are to take a trip this summer, some investors fear.Travel stocks have seen a mixed performance – the JETS airline ETF, for example, is down 7% from March highs while online travel agent Booking is just 3% from its own.BTIG digital services analyst Jake Fuller, who covers stocks such as Booking and Airbnb, does not see a long-term impact from the latest obstacles in the vaccine rollout.”Any delay in vaccinations will certainly push out a travel recovery a bit, but importantly, it’s not going to derail the inevitable,” Fuller told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Tuesday.Fuller gives three reasons why he remains bullish on the travel industry. The first, he says, is how consumers behaved last year during the height of shutdowns.”We saw it last summer, you’re going to see it again this year, too. People want to get out, people are going to take a vacation,” he said.His second point is that the industry will just adapt. Instead of resorts and airports, people will prioritize home rentals and road trips.  Lastly, any slowdown this year will be made up for in coming years, he says.”Whether the vaccine distribution is delayed in the short term or not, it doesn’t really derail what we’re expecting in the 2022 and 2023 time-frame timeline. Bottom line, we’re looking for a full recovery pretty quick, a lot of pent-up demand,” said Fuller.Still, the industry is not without its risks. Other than any resurgence in Covid cases, Fuller says online travel bookings may succumb to the natural business cycle.”It’s a maturing business. So once we get through the recovery phase, I think you’re looking at online travel growth looking a lot more like the underlying travel industry, say 3, 4, 5, 6%. It’s no longer a 10% to 15% growth industry, and that probably keeps a lid on valuations moving forward,” he said.BTIG has a neutral rating on Booking, TripAdvisor and Airbnb. The firm has a buy rating and $180 price target on Expedia, though, based on bullish market share projections. Expedia’s stock closed Tuesday’s trading at $51.69 and is up 29% this year.Disclaimer More

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    Environmentalists were seen as 'nutters,' Ryanair CEO says, and he was an 'original skeptic'

    In this articleRY4C-IEA Ryanair Boeing 737-800 aircraft parked at Eindhoven airport in the Netherlands.Nicoloas Economou | NurPhoto | Getty ImagesLONDON — Climate awareness has come a long a way, according to Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary, who concedes he was an initially an environmental skeptic himself.Speaking to CNBC on Wednesday, O’Leary said: “I was one of the original skeptics.”When asked what made him change his mind, he replied: “We learn from our experiences. Frankly, 20, 30 years ago we all thought the environmentalists were a bunch of nutters, you know. Clearly, it’s moved front and center, it is something that our customers and the people working here at Ryanair wants us to focus on and we tend to be very responsive.”The airline industry has come under immense pressure to reduce carbon emissions in recent years, and policymakers have faced renewed calls to enact measures designed to tackle the climate emergency in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.This is paramount from an environmental perspective, but also for the airline business itself. Trends such as “flight shaming,” a term which refers to the feeling of guilt of travelling via plane due to its environmental impact, have gained ground and could severely disrupt business models.In France, for example, lawmakers have voted to suspend domestic flights on routes that can be taken by a direct train in less than two-and-a-half hours.When asked about the initiative, however, O’Leary said he was concerned about this sort of step.”I get very worried about these, you know, big-stake initiatives. Largely speaking on flights below two-and-a-half hours, the trains (already) dominate that market,” he said, citing how traffic from London to Paris and Brussels is already done by train.Eurostar trains, for example, allow customers to go from Paris to London in two hours.But ultimately, the domestic short-haul flight was “never a big feature of our business,” O’Leary said. More

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    Tech billionaires are obsessed with climate change — but some question if they’re focusing on the right areas

    Combination: Jeff Bezos (L), Elon Musk (C) and Bill Gates (R).ReutersClimate change appears to be high on the agenda for tech billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates but some are questioning whether they’re focusing their efforts on the right areas.Broadly speaking, the three richest tech billionaires — who rank in the top five richest people on the planet — are all trying to develop new technologies that can reduce the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.Musk is largely focused on funding carbon capture technologies, Gates is particularly bullish on nuclear energy, and Bezos has created a dedicated “Bezos Earth fund.” All of them believe that technology has a major role to play in tackling climate change and they’re doing their utmost to ensure they’re pushing the boundaries when it comes to climate tech.”They basically think in the ‘Iron Man way,’ which is that we can build the technology to innovate ourselves out of it,” Christian Kroll, the founder and CEO of search engine Ecosia, told CNBC on a video call, adding that they should be focusing more on planting trees.”No technology will ever get there,” he said in reference to trees. “And on top of that, you’re getting so many things for free. You’re getting fertile soil, you’re doing something against the biodiversity crisis, and you’re helping the water cycle so you have less droughts and less floods.”Global carbon dioxide emissions have soared over the last 100 years, leading to unprecedented global warming and climate change.It’s widely known that trees are among the most efficient carbon-capture machines on earth. They remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through a chemical reaction known as photosynthesis where they turn the gas into energy that they use to grow. Empress trees, for example, can absorb about 103 tons of carbon a year per acre.Twelve of the top 20 climate solutions relate to either agriculture or forests, according to climate non-profit Project Drawdown, which is based in San Francisco.Last week, Britain’s Prince William underscored the importance of investing in nature to tackle climate change and protect our planet.”We must invest in nature through reforestation, sustainable agriculture, and supporting healthy oceans, because doing so is one of the most cost effective and impactful ways of tackling climate change,” he said.”It removes carbon from the atmosphere, helps build more resilient communities, tackles biodiversity loss, and protects people’s livelihoods. This is crucial if our children and grandchildren are to live sustainably on our precious planet.”Jack Kelly, the founder of Open Climate Fix and a former researcher at Alphabet-owned AI lab DeepMind, told CNBC that a mix of approaches is required. “I think we need a wide range of interventions, both tech and reforestation,” he said. Open Climate Fix announced Tuesday that it has raised over £500,000 ($689,000) from Google.Dave Waltham, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, told CNBC that “natural climate solutions” like tree planting can be viewed as “emergency first aid.””They buy us time to develop permanent solutions,” he said. “New forests, for example, absorb CO2 for 40 years or so and then reach an equilibrium. Buying time this way is immensely valuable as we still cannot produce completely climate-neutral food, steel, energy, and concrete.”Trees and reforestation, however, are relatively low down on the tech billionaire agenda list, according to Kroll.While the tech billionaires wouldn’t necessarily be able to “solve” climate change by planting more trees, they could have a “massive impact” if they dedicated more of their capital to the matter, he said.According to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index, Amazon founder Bezos is worth $197 billion, Tesla founder Musk is worth $181 billion, and Microsoft founder Gates is worth $145 billion.Representatives for Musk and Gates did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment, while a representative for Bezos declined to comment.Forests or fusion?There’s no denying that tech billionaires are becoming increasingly interested in climate change.In January, Tesla CEO Musk pledged to invest $100 million in new carbon capture technologies. Carbon capture is the process of trapping waste carbon dioxide either directly from the air, or just before it gets emitted from factories and power plants.His investment in new carbon capture technologies dwarfs the $1 million he spent on trees in 2019 when he gave YouTuber Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson a donation to help him reach a $20 million tree planting target.  Musk’s stance on climate change is complicated, however. While he runs a relatively green electric vehicle company, he has also been criticized for his love of bitcoin, which is now one of the world’s biggest CO2 emitters. Meanwhile, Gates thinks nuclear energy is the future and his TerraPower company, which he founded in 2008, is aiming to build a fully functional advanced nuclear reactor.In his new book “How to avoid a climate disaster,” Gates doesn’t seem to be convinced that trees are worth investing in.”It has obvious appeal for those of us who love trees, but it opens up a very complicated subject … its effect on climate change appears to be overblown,” he writes.Gates argues that the most effective reforestation strategy is to stop cutting down so many of the trees we already have and says that “you’d need somewhere around 50 acres’ worth of trees planted in tropical areas to absorb the emissions produced by an average American in their lifetime.”The Microsoft mogul clarified his stance on trees in a podcast interview with New York Times journalist Kara Swisher in February.”If you’re going to fund for 10,000 years constantly replanting it, then that’s a legitimate offset,” said Gates. “If you’re just planting one generation of trees, it doesn’t get you much. You know, I’m not saying it’s a mistake or anything. But that will not make a significant dent in this problem.”Gates, who is now the largest owner of farmland in the U.S., added: “The idea that there’s a place to plant a trillion trees, that’s just wrong.”Elsewhere, Bezos created the $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund last February to provide financial support to scientists, non-governmental organizations, activists and the private sector.So far, the Bezos Earth Fund has issued grants to several organizations that focus on reforestation including Eden Reforestation Projects, The Nature Conservancy, and The Natural Resources Defense Council.Amazon, however, has been criticized for increasing pollution with its planes and vans, and for using excessive amounts of cardboard when packaging its products. Amazon says that its packaging is 100% renewable and that it doesn’t use plastic clamshells and wire ties.Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud computing behemoth, and Microsoft also operate energy intensive data centers around the world.Turning profits in plantsBut Kroll thinks the tech billionaires are still relatively “obsessed” with dreaming up new technologies to take on the problem. His company, Ecosia, has made tree planting a major part of its identity.Headquartered in Berlin, Ecosia donates 80% of its profits to charities that focus on reforestation. Essentially, if a person goes on the Ecosia search engine and performs a search, almost all of the money that the company makes from digital ads will be used to plant trees.The company has partnered with over 60 tree planting organizations who have planted over 123 million trees, Kroll said, adding that they’re mostly in developing countries in the tropics.”Through our tree planting, each search is removing around 1kg of CO2 from the atmosphere,” said Kroll. “I’m doing dozens of searches every day so thousands of searches every year. That’s a few tons of CO2 removed from the atmosphere just by searching.”Kroll suggested that people should only be classed as billionaires when they remove a billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.”All the others are just dollar billionaires,” he said. “That’s boring. We don’t need that in a 21st century anymore.” More

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    Google backs former DeepMind employee’s 'solar forecasting' start-up

    A portion of the Stafford Hill solar power project gathers energy from the sun in Rutland, Vt., on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. With the completion of the project developed by Green Mountain Power, Vermont’s largest electric utility, the city of Rutland claimed it has more solar capacity, 7.8 megawatts, per capita than any other city in the New England region.Wilson Ring | APLONDON — Google is backing a climate change start-up founded by an ex-DeepMind employee through its philanthropic arm, Google.org.Open Climate Fix, a non-profit lab focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, announced Tuesday that it had been awarded over £500,000 ($686,350) by Google.org’s Impact Challenge on Climate, which has committed 10 million euros to funding new green technologies.The London-headquartered start-up is aiming to build an online solar electricity forecasting service for the U.K. and Europe.The service will aim to predict cloud cover, which determines how much electricity solar panels can generate, through a combination of satellite images and new artificial intelligence software.Jack Kelly, the co-founder of Open Climate Fix and a former research engineer at Alphabet-owned DeepMind, told CNBC on Tuesday that the U.K. currently has to keep “lots of fossil fuel generators spinning at less than their full capacity” in case “a large cloud comes along and covers Cornwall.”These generators are a lot less efficient when they’re ramped down, said Kelly.”It would be more fuel efficient and more cost efficient to run a small number of generators at nearer to their max, but that requires that we have better forecasts because to do that you’re running the system with less headroom,” he added.Open Climate Fix hopes that its solar forecasting service will provide better forecasts to electricity grid operators so they can make more accurate predictions.Kelly said the company is currently in talks with National Grid, which owns and operates the infrastructure that provides electricity to homes and businesses around Britain. National Grid was also talking to DeepMind at one stage but ultimately the talks didn’t come to anything and climate change has fallen down the agenda at DeepMind.The entrepreneur added that a lot of legacy energy companies are not very good at innovating.”That’s not their fault,” he said. “They have heritage, of 100 plus years, (of) building large bits of physical hardware and they haven’t historically been innovators in software and data.””We hope that by taking cutting edge research and modern approaches to building computer systems that it’s possible to massively improve the efficiency of the electricity system.”DeepMind co-founder and CEO Demis Hassabis told The Guardian newspaper in 2016 that no one had ever left his company, despite it being five years old with hundreds of staff. Fast forward a few years, and DeepMind now has around 1,000 staff and several former employees have quit to start their own businesses.Other examples include former DeepMind energy lead Jim Gao, and staff research engineer Vedavyas Panneershelvam, who now runs an AI company called Phaidra. Elsewhere, former DeepMind engineering executive Andrew Eland left to set up a new startup that aims to find ways to improve towns and cities.Rowan Barnett, head of Google.org for EMEA and APAC, said in a statement: “Among the many applications we’ve received to our Google.org Impact Challenge on Climate, the expert jury were convinced by Open Climate Fix’s innovative and tech driven approach.””We know that artificial intelligence can have a transformative impact when applied to challenges in the climate change sector, and we’re excited to be supporting this work.”Kelly said the money from Google will mostly be used to expand the size of his team, which currently sits at three people.Google also backed a company called Normative, which helps companies automatically compile carbon reports, and Dark Matter Labs, which is building a financial platform to support investments in urban forest management and restoration.Other tech giants including Microsoft and Amazon are also investing heavily in technologies that have the potential to reduce carbon emissions, as are the company’s billionaire founders. More