Hello from Singapore (not Sharm El-Sheikh), where I am joining the fifth annual Bloomberg New Economy Forum. Climate is on the agenda here, and so too is Big Tech, for good reason.
The past few weeks in the technology sector have been eventful, and for many people, painful. Some of the largest and most established firms have laid off tens of thousands of employees, bringing the total so far this year to more than 120,000 layoffs at close to 800 companies. Then there is the recent jaw-dropping implosion of one of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency players, whose dealings seem very bad even within the already bad domain of bankruptcy.
The world of climate, meanwhile, is moving in the opposite direction. Climate-tech venture funding is holding strong , according to the latest figures from clean energy research firm BloombergNEF. The US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is set to unlock hundreds of billions of dollars of capital for technology and asset investment. And everywhere, climate challenges are more urgent and more addressable, in broad and narrow terms , than ever.
Tech is shedding jobs, and in places, shedding luster. Climate is expanding, and so are its human capital needs. If this sounds like the start of a great rotation in attention, interest, and employment — it could be.
Peter Reinhardt, the founder of carbon capture company Charm Industrial, recently posted a roadmap for where people with certain software skills might find a quick home in climate tech (Reinhardt himself is a good example, having previously founded and sold a software company). Transferable experience, Reinhardt wrote, ranges from remote imaging software, to industrial controls, to high-performance scientific computing for solving still-vexing challenges such as methane oxidation. Reinhardt pointed to the website Climate Draft as a resource for those laid off and looking to learn more and find new roles.
It is not only the tech skills of tech, so to speak, that will be of value for climate companies. At the New Economy Forum I caught up with Parag Khanna, the Singapore-based author and himself the chief executive of a climate company (it uses AI to forecast climate risks to real estate). Khanna noted that climate businesses are also going to need general corporate skills as they grow, including in areas that are less cutting-edge but no less essential. Experience with significant scaling is one such skill: Very rapid corporate growth is impossible to learn in the abstract. Successful climate businesses will scale to the point that they inevitably encounter policy and regulatory challenges, the navigation of which could be critical to global success. Experience navigating complex policy, regulatory, and political environments is also something that many former tech workers have.
As Conor Sen, my colleague at Bloomberg Opinion, has written, the sour taste left from the collapse of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX might change how people look at “the hoodie/beanbag thing ” — a reference to the ultracasual attire and unusual sleeping habits of that company’s former chief executive, Sam Bankman-Fried. Perhaps it is time for innovation to take on a more “normie vibe,” Sen proposed.
I would argue that climate fits that bill, even if many people in the field are still wearing hoodies (I cannot speak to the beanbags). Note that the issue of climate change has been normalized enough that the recent passage of the IRA did not really prompt political attacks in the midterm elections.
As I was writing this column, I received an alert for an online event hosted by the jobs board Climatebase that’s specifically tailored to tech careers in climate. Worth participating in, perhaps, if you’re looking for that great rotation from tech into climate (tech).
Nat Bullard is a senior contributor to BloombergNEF and Bloomberg Green. He is a venture partner at Voyager, an early-stage climate technology investor.
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Nathaniel Bullard in Washington at email@example.com
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