Carlos Chambers on Helsinki's cool transport overhaul, Jim Mason's simple and elegant plan, the Unicorn Club, Barack Obama drops a bomb on climate change deniers, Dilbert & more

Carlos Chambers on Helsinki's cool transport overhaul, Jim Mason's simple and elegant plan, the Unicorn Club, Barack Obama drops a bomb on climate change deniers, Dilbert & more

Today's Top 10 is another guest post from Carlos Chambers who is a member of the Direction Setting Team and spokesperson for Generation Zero.

Generation Zero is an "organisation of young New Zealanders working to cut carbon pollution through smarter transport, liveable cities and independence from fossil fuels". He is active on Twitter via @CarlosChambers1. 

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact

See all previous Top 10s here.

1. Finland’s transport system overhaul is very cool
The Helsinki Times reports on the city’s plan to build a brand new operating system for its transport network.

The ‘Mobility as a Service’ solution was developed by transport engineer Sonja Heikkilä in her masters thesis, where she drew inspiration from the workings of the telecommunications sector.

It’s an elegant solution to increasingly clear doubt over the cost, convenience and carbon emissions from the transport systems of the last thirty years.  Integrated and decentralised, like almost everything good nowadays (excluding the hardware transport nodes), software lie at it’s heart.

What I like, aside from alleviating the need to own a car and the associated costs, is the inherent realism in the approach.

Heikkilä and other architects are intelligently saying it will take up to ten years to have a decent go at making it work. That longer time scale takes account of inertia amongst older generations’ attachment to cars.  It also responds to declining demand for cars by younger generations who “are more adamant in demanding simple, flexible and inexpensive transportation”, and the reimagining of the car’s place in the our cities.

Helsinki is a first mover with the scale of this innovation. The graph in this piece from the Economist shows declining car use in other wealthy countries around the world and this New Zealand research from Roy Morgan shows that the strong trend of young people turning away from the car goes far and wide.  Couple this with the increasing push for affordability, elegance and ease and I bet others will soon follow suit.

Maybe we should send one or more of our smart transport engineers currently directed at building more kilometres of national motorways to Helsinki and work on smart reinventions of transport solutions that will make life better and live into the future.

All you need, in one click.

Ten years from now, transportation in Helsinki may operate very differently from the current system.

The service will be run by transportation operators, through which the regular citizen can buy all they want with a click. This does not only entail public transportation within the city, but also carpool, taxi, a train ticket to Tampere or parking fees in the city centre.

Few want to own their own car in future, when everything can be shared. If one wishes to travel from Puotila to Pukinmäki, the "route planner" of 2025 will provide information on where to change the city bike for a car due to impending rain, in addition to information on the fastest connection.

2. Go for both, not one or the other
A new organisation and phrase emerges, covered by the Guardian UK.  The “Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project” last week issued its first interim report of the same name.  The key finding is that zero carbon and serious economic prosperity, for instance a three times improvement on current global output are not mutually exclusive. 

Greenhouse gas emitting heavy hitters accounting for 70 percent of global emissions are analysed, including our neighbour Australia (rest assured, China is in there too).  While dense, the report’s findings are a positive contribution to the often hijacked debate of growth versus emissions reductions. The clear message is that we can have both.

The authors come from, and are representative of, the countries being examined.  Among other benefits, this means the report achieves a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective, rather than an ‘ivory tower of rationalism and reason’ lacking domestic perspective on national circumstance.

A final aspect worth highlighting is the report’s finding that climate change requires a global push on funding and development of low carbon technologies. 

Oliver Milman’s article draws on Australia as an example:

Australia could slash its carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and still experience average economic growth of 2.4% a year, according to a UN-backed study.

The Deep Decarbonisation Pathways report, released by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, analysed the 15 countries that account for 70% of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, which includes Australia, the US, Britain and China.

According to the report, compiled by academics from each of the countries, the 15 countries could make deep cuts to emissions while also tripling economic output.

These cuts are needed, the report notes, if the world is to avoid the “catastrophic” impact of failing to keep to the internationally agreed limit of 2C global warming on pre-industrial levels. The study concedes the world is on track to overshoot this.

This excerpt from the report itself sums up the broader findings:

The results from previous global studies, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate

Change (IPCC) Assessment Reports (AR), show that deeply reducing GHG emissions and

achieving socio-economic development are not mutually exclusive. Robust economic growth and rising prosperity are consistent with the objective of deep decarbonization. They form two sides of the same coin and must be pursued together as part of sustainable development.

3. The Big Ask
Disclosure that I am an active member of Generation Zero and member of the Direction Setting Team.

Jamie Morton captured the recent release of Generation Zero’s thinking in our second 2014 report, titled The Big Ask. The ask is that our leaders implement a climate change act for New Zealand, with binding targets and an independent climate commission to help set them for New Zealand.  In short, to help us catch up with countries like Denmark who are doing the right thing.

Unfortunately one of our leaders, the Minister of Climate Change Tim Groser disagreed that it was New Zealand’s place to be a world leader. Certain Kiwis turned in their graves.

The Herald did their work on this article and full credit to the journalists. Instead of recycling old content, they contacted each of the political parties and researched reasonably thoroughly to understand each one’s climate policy stance, which they then published below the article.

This is exactly how non-partisan issues like climate change, education and health should be dealt with by the media. Not just in election year, but always. Such issues affect everyone and are too important to be left to a political faction or the party of the day.

One thing I picked up in the article, and something I have been watching closely is the evolution of Generation Zero’s description or title in the media.  We are a self-described group of “young New Zealanders working to cut carbon pollution through smarter transport, liveable cities & independence from fossil fuels”.  As our voice grows louder and more people in the media and political landscapes listen up, our title has moved to “lobby group”, used in this article.  It is not wholly inaccurate, Generation Zero does lobby across the political spectrum, but “youth organisation” more aptly describes our membership and its activities. 

A lobby group has challenged the next government to introduce a climate change act that would galvanise promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions and help New Zealand "catch up" with proactive countries such as Denmark.

Climate Change Minister Tim Groser last night congratulated Generation Zero on its proposals, but said it wasn't New Zealand's place to position itself out ahead of where international negotiations were at.

The group's proposed act, called for in a report released today, would set binding periodic "carbon budgets" to ensure progress, and establish an independent Climate Commission.

Generation Zero suggested this commission could be first tasked to review New Zealand's long-term target of reducing emissions by 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, and conduct a feasibility study for the country to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.

Aside from the 2050 target, New Zealand presently has an unconditional target of cutting emissions to 5 per cent below 1990 levels by the end of this decade, and an unconditional target range of 10 to 20 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020 if there was a comprehensive global agreement.

Generation Zero spokesman Paul Young said New Zealand could be doing much more to play its part in tackling global climate change. "We only have to look at the Government's own projections of what our emissions will do under current policy," he said.  "There's just no plan for even getting emissions trending downwards, let alone meeting the targets that the Government has set."

The 20-page report, titled The Big Ask, looks to Denmark's energy strategy to transition away from fossil fuels by 2050, and Britain's own Climate Change Act, requiring the Government to produce credible plans to meet its targets.

One of these was a binding emissions reduction target of 80 per cent by 2050, and a process to develop five-year "carbon budgets".

The full Big Ask report here.

4. Meet Jim Mason
He is reinventing energy, through bio-generated power, an overlooked technology that the world’s great science minds have picked up and put down over the course of history.  His, Power Pallet converts biomass (organic waste) into hydrogen, which is then burned to produce electricity.

Everywhere people are making complex plans to start “disrupting” this and then “disrupt that”. Jim’s was more simple and more elegant.  He built the solution because authorities cut the power in his old Berkley shipyard and he wanted something to power his existence,  which seems fair enough. 

He has ended up what might be re-inventing the future of human-kind’s energy, with the potential to put a dent in some deep global problems along the way.

As far back as 2008, Mason was pushing APL to redefine the concept of energy from a "centralized, top-down commodity" to something "participatory" and ripe for hacking. Today, he's even more convinced of the need for a "PC or Internet" for energy, and he thinks the Power Pallet could be it, once he eliminates complexity ("I consider it a design error that it requires expertise") and lowers the cost. "We're operating at car price points, which I'm very upset about," he says. When I ask what this ideal version would look like, he fumbles around on his laptop for a sketch. It's just a box with a button. "Jim is a wide-eyed optimist," says his APL co-founder, Jessica Hobbs. "He thinks everything is possible." What if this time, he's actually right?

5. It is official, say economists, climate change policies have not weakened the UK economy
The Grantham Institute’s latest report is a response to suggestions that the UK Government should weaken its fourth carbon budget.

The research directly addresses claims that country’s emissions-reductions policies have resulted in ‘carbon leakage’, where carbon intensive firms respond to these measures by migrating overseas.

The authors debunk these claims, finding reasonably inexpensive carbon tax a key reason for the lack of leakage; both in the EU and the broader UK.  They also find that the opportunity for UK businesses to transition from declining, less-productive practices to growing, more productive industries will increase that economy’s capacity to adapt profitability to change.  Meaning, the UK could take the opportunity to benefit from being an economy of the future.

It is helpful to have some data through a competition lens on these questions as the UK Government considers the right answer.

"Well-designed climate change policies could offer business opportunities in fast-growing global markets, as countries, such as the United States, China and Member States of the European Union, implement ever more stringent carbon reduction and energy efficiency policies," it says.

"The UK is well-positioned to benefit from a global transition to a more resource-efficient and renewable economy, provided flexible structural policies allow it to use its comparative advantages.”

6. The Unicorn Club welcomes you, sort of
While over a year old, this piece by Venture Capitalist Aileen Lee had has seen a recent rebirth around the internet. It gives fantastic insight into the data behind the successes of some of the world’s greatest startup teams and businesses over the past 40 years, and the grounds for many of the investment decisions into them.

I have recently been through a capital raising process, so these threads and thoughts are fresh in mind.

The clearly presented data is gold in a young field typically characterised by opinion.  However, some fundamental questions are not asked by the author.  The data does not allow, and Lee is not there to look at what the flow on effects of those million and billion dollar companies were for people outside of the founders and founding teams.  The approach represents a characteristic sunk deep in the Venture Capital and startup business culture and our neoliberal model - the focus is well and truly on the individual.

I also noted the deep chasm of un-logic and reason between the actual numbers and the many media success stories we read about entrepreneurs making successful exits or liquidity events.  A friend passed on some helpful advice in the context of building businesses, “don’t catch a unicorn, don’t even go for a narwhale,  focus on shoals of small fish”.

Many entrepreneurs, and the venture investors who back them, seek to build billion-dollar companies.

Why do investors seem to care about “billion dollar exits”? Historically, top venture funds have driven returns from their ownership in just a few companies in a given fund of many companies. Plus, traditional venture funds have grown in size, requiring larger “exits” to deliver acceptable returns. For example – to return just the initial capital of a $400 million venture fund, that might mean needing to own 20 percent of two different $1 billion companies, or 20 percent of a $2 billion company when the company is acquired or goes public.

So, we wondered, as we’re a year into our new fund (which doesn’t need to back billion-dollar companies to succeed, but hey, we like to learn): how likely is it for a startup to achieve a billion-dollar valuation? Is there anything we can learn from the mega hits of the past decade, like Facebook, LinkedIn and Workday?

To answer these questions, the Cowboy Ventures team built a dataset of U.S.-based tech companies started since January 2003 and most recently valued at $1 billion by private or public markets. We call it our “Learning Project,” and it’s ongoing.

7. Barack Obama gets cheesy
The best kind of leaders are smart, global leaders who spend their time thinking about solving the world’s big problems, and lead their organisations, businesses and countries to develop, implement and advocate solutions.

That is why, when Obama bluntly tells it how it is and drops a bomb on climate deniers at a graduation speech to 8,000 US university graduates, I’ll listen up and put it in a column. 

Obama also took the opportunity after announcing new regulation to limit pollution from power plants and a billion dollar fund for communities exposed to the effects of natural disasters to enable them to rebuild for resilience.

The US President’s implicit advice to doubters of the science - head to the moon and see if it really is made of cheese.

"There's going to be a stubborn status quo and people determined to stymie your efforts to bring about change. There are going to be people who say you can't do something. There are going to be people who say you shouldn't bother trying. I've got some experience with this myself," Obama said.

"It's pretty rare that you'll encounter somebody who says the problem you're trying to solve simply doesn't exist. When President Kennedy set us on a course to the moon, there were a number of people who made a serious case that it wouldn't be worth it," he continued.

"But nobody ignored the science. I don't remember anybody saying the moon wasn't there or that it was made of cheese," Obama said.

8. Apple and IBM, in love at last?
Two old rivals team up to tool up and ride the mobile wave together, through collaborating on mobile applications.

Apple’s extension into building applications with one large partner is a different strategy to when it launched its app store six years ago, successfully leveraging the creative power of the crowd, and intelligently distributing the risks inherent in innovation and development across the same group (the increasingly common ‘platform’ play).

On the other side of the coin, IBM, a very old technology company with roots as far back as the late 1800s, has constantly reinvented its business model and revenue streams.  So, an interesting pivot, but not a giant leap from a company who have shown they can move with the times, again and again. 

It may play off, although the two behemoths’ history is nuanced, and there have been multiple failed attempts at partnerships, throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

Will history repeat itself, or can little sister and big brother get on for once?

The partnership underscores how technological upheaval can change allegiances. The notion of Apple and IBM helping each other out would have seemed inconceivable back in the 1980s and 1990s when they were bitter rivals in the personal computer market. The animosity ran so high that Apple famously skewered IBM as a soulless company devoid of new ideas in a commercial that evoked images of novelist George Orwell's "Big Brother" figure in 1984.

The hard feelings have faded away as technology has evolved and the companies have moved in new directions. IBM got out of the PC business when it sold that division to the Lenovo Group nearly a decade ago. Apple now makes far more money from its iPhones than it does from its Mac computers.

"That was a long time ago," Cook said of Apple's old rivalry with IBM. "This is two pieces of a puzzle that fit together perfectly."

9. New Indian Government takes step down right road
India’s new Hindu nationalist government which swept to power in May this year has announced important first steps in the sub-continent’s response to climate change.

Reuters outlines the key relevant aspects of the budget: the establishment of a $185 million Adaption Fund and the prioritisation of renewable energy projects.  This includes some big solar and hydro electric projects and tax breaks for solar and wind projects, starting with an annual spend of $93 million.

India cannot afford to ignore the effects of the changing climate on what is still the backbone of it’s society and economy, agriculture.  As well as adaptation it is very promising to see mitigation in the form of new energy sources.

The government has the clearest mandate and lead that Indian politics has seen since the 1984 assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi propelled her son Rajiv to office.  Successive coalitions have ruled since then.

As the new leader Narendra Modi said when he came to power, “we must make the dreams of 1.25 billion people real.  I must work hard.”  This is one piece of that work and a small but promising start.

Funds to help farmers adapt to climate change, ultra-modern solar power plants and schemes to promote women's safety in cities are among pledges the new government made in its first budget on Thursday.

10. Nobel Prize winner’s unoriginal thoughts on why life without cars will work

I agree.

Anyway: the big benefit from new IT-mediated car services will come if they make it possible for lots of people — and not just people in Manhattan — to live without owning their own cars. And if you think about it, you can see how that might work.

Right now, if you live in places without exceptionally good public transportation, it’s very difficult to manage without a car. Yet when you think about it, for most people owning a car is quite wasteful. It’s an expensive item of equipment that sits idle most of the time; it requires parking (and often a parking structure) both at origin and at destination; it requires maintenance and is a big hassle all around.

So reliable, quick-response chauffeur services could free many people from the need to tie up all those resources in a consumer durable that they only use now and then. And from a social point of view it would avoid the need to tie up so much capital that sits unused most of the time.

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Awesome Carlos! Great articles to stimulate "why not?" thinking and action!

Thanks James - glad you enjoyed them. 

hey Carlos...what is a 'young new zealander'?  How about you change the description to 'enlightened'.  There are plenty of us old disonours around who think the same way as you, but have bevered away in our own little ways (and appearing a bit odd to some of our colleagues at times) doing our bit.  Thanks for the links....

#1 I think i have a better idea.
I can only be very brief here.
We run an electrified railway system throughout the country. But instead of it being designed as a railway system it is designed as though it were Amzons super warehouse.
Goods and passenger wagons would all run as a single unit fitted with GPS etc and have no driver. You swipe a card and give instructions and the waggon takes you there.
At a goods depot there would be a crane system capable of lifting small parcels to containers. A truck driver would key in the info and the waggon would take it there.

Thanks Rastus, it's a valid point and one we've thought about. 
The "young New Zealanders" describes the majority of Generation Zero's membership and 10,000+ supporter base  (we define that as 18 to 30 years old).  Our member ship tells us, and we agree that this description continues to accurately represents the organisation.
That said, we have plenty of members and supporters who do not fit within that age bracket - some are younger, lots are older.  We certainly welcome and encourage involvement from people of all ages.
Fantstic to hear a bit about your efforts and glad you enjoyed the article links. 

Carlos, you are repeating a mistake that just gets made over and over.
You need more enlightenment.
The problem is not with any particular group of people just as some races are wrongly blamed. You may as well start a racial group and say that will solve your problems. but, as we know, you would be wrong.
The problem lies in our political system.
This political system has been around for centuaries and still not able to fix
And much more.
It is a complete failure and needs a major overhaul.
That is what will help fix your problems, so please get on track.
Thank you
PS i really like it when the younger generation take action, it is long overdue. But dont make the same mistakes we did.

#2 sounds a bit far fetched to me.
What the report implies is that the 15 top polution countries could "make deep cuts to emissions while also tripling economic output"
So, for example, Australia could have 3 x 2.4% = 7.2% average growth from now to 2050.
Do you really believe that?

Respect Carlos!
Here's a interesting article about "declining car use in other wealthy countries" in London:
...and as a w2arning don't drive a hire car into London's Congestion Zone and not pay the fee. A freind recentlyc returned and ended up with a fine plus various admin charges - GBP250!

Indeed, the EV small-car-pooled future is where things are heading:  Toyota's work with the Ha:Mo inititaive in Grenoble is one example, and I've noted the Approaching Singularity quite some time ago now.
However, contain yer enthusiasm: both production (farming, manufacturing) and distribution (FMCG to supermarkets and malls) suffer (as do the telco's) from the 'last-mile' problem:  it's easy to posit mass transport like rail, coastal shipping and road trains to get the heavy stuff from A to B:  A and B being themselves hubs or centres.
But it's much, much harder to get them loads to A in the first place (e.g. from a farm, a mine, an industrial site), and from B to the local mall or manufactory.
Logistics is already one of the most highly software-optimised activities on the planet, so barring a massive change in the way we all live (and BTW, is That what you are actually suggesting??) there's little more in the way of efficiencies to wring out there.
Incumbent inertia......

The quick response chauffeur service  or something like it is already operational in Port Vila Vanuatu. Minivans of every description ply the streets looking for customers. These "buses" offer a very efficient and economic service and one never has to wait long for a ride. The only downside was the diesel fumes