Big Tech Earnings: Microsoft And Alphabet Signal Q2 Could Be A Bottom

Big Tech earnings were off to a solid start on Tuesday when Microsoft and Google reported stable revenue growth and margins that are unchanged from recent macro conditions. The strong margins were especially welcomed as many companies have been missing on operating margins and cash flow. Meanwhile, Microsoft delivered free cash flow of $17.8 billion and net profits of $16.7 billion along with upbeat guidance for the year. Similarly, Google reported strong free cash flow of $12.6 billion and net profits of $16 billion in the recent quarter.

The same was not true for Meta, which primarily stumbled on its Q3 guide. The company reported its first decline in revenue in company history and guidance for next quarter missed due to FX headwinds. Analyst expectations for Q3 were for $30.4 billion, or 5% growth. Instead, the company guided for $26 billion to $28.5 billion, or a YoY decline of 6% at the mid-point of the guidance with the current exchange rates creating a 6% headwind.

Alphabet: Search is Resilient

The company reported revenue of 13%, or 16% in constant currency, for a total of $69.7 billion. The operating margin was flat year-over-year, which is a win. Operating expenses grew 24% yet the operating margin was in line with previous quarters at 28% for $19.58 billion in operating income.

The net margin was a bit weaker than previous quarters in 2021 at $16 billion yet in line with last quarter. The company has free cash flow of $12.6 billion. The company has $125 billion in cash and marketable securities. The company reported EPS of $1.21 compared to $1.36 for the same period last year.

Search was stable given the current environment at 13.5% growth to $40 billion and this provided relief that not all ad spend has been paused. Search was strong last quarter at 24% growth to $40 billion, and was flat sequentially in terms of total dollar amount.

The effects of Google’s large R&D department and advances in AI cannot be overstated when it comes to the resiliency of Search in the current environment. We are getting a very slight glimpse of what’s to come for Google in terms of its advertising dominance.

The expectations were that YouTube would weigh on the report yet YouTube provided a bit of growth at 5% year-over-year. The company was adamant that YouTube growth is low because of the tough comps. The tough comps was touched on many times, such as this: “the modest year-on-year growth rate primarily reflects lapping the uniquely strong performance in the second quarter of 2021.”

Notably, Google Cloud slowed to 35.6% growth down from 43.8% growth last quarter. This means Google Cloud is growing slower than Azure on a lower revenue base. This is something to monitor in the future.

Microsoft: Double-Digit Guide for FY2023

Many tech companies are declining to give guidance while Microsoft’s management provided strong guidance in both Q1 FY2023 and for FY2023. For Q1 FY2023, management provided a 10% guide across product lines for next quarter (this includes FX headwinds) and also provided guidance for fiscal year 2023 ending in June: “We continue to expect double-digit revenue and operating income growth in both constant currency and U.S. dollars. Revenue growth will be driven by continued momentum in our commercial business and a focus on share gains across our portfolio.”

Revenue grew by 12% YoY to $51.9 billion (missed Wall Street analysts’ estimates by 0.94%) and EPS came at $2.23 (missed estimates by 2.9%). The strong US dollar negatively impacted the revenue by $595 million and EPS by $0.04. Microsoft Cloud revenue grew by 28% YoY to $25 billion. The company’s results are good considering the various macro uncertainties, China lockdown, and the strong US dollar. FY2022 revenue grew by 18% YoY to $198.3 billion and net income increased by 19% YoY to $72.7 billion.

The company’s gross income increased 10% YoY to $35.4 billion. The gross margin decreased by 147 bps to 68.2% when compared to the same period last year. Excluding the impact from the change in the accounting estimate, the gross margin was relatively unchanged.

The operating income increased by 8% YoY to $20.5 billion. The operating margin decreased by 187 bps to 39.5%. Excluding the impact from the change in the accounting estimate and FX, the operating margin would be relatively unchanged.

The company’s cash flows continued to be strong in the recent quarter. Cash from operations grew by 8% YoY to $24.6 billion (47% of revenue) and free cash flow increased by 9% YoY to $17.8 billion (34% of revenue). The company has cash and investments of $104.8 billion and debt of $49.8 billion.

Despite weakness in PCs, the company’s other segments continue to grow. Intelligent Cloud grew 20% YoY to $20.9 billion and Productivity and Business Processes segment grew 13% YoY to $16.6 billion. The company also made an accounting change in the useful life for server and network equipment assets from four to six years which will extend the depreciation expenses for the company.

Amy Hood said in the earnings call, “First, effective at the start of FY ’23, we are extending the depreciable useful life for server and network equipment assets in our cloud infrastructure from 4 to 6 years, which will apply to the asset balances on our balance sheet as of June 30, 2022, as well as future asset purchases.

As a result, based on the outstanding balances as of June 30, we expect fiscal year ’23 operating income to be favorably impacted by approximately $3.7 billion for the full fiscal year and approximately $1.1 billion in the first quarter.”

Meta: Misses Q3 Expectations

The market does not need a perfect quarter for Q2 given the numerous headwinds facing tech companies. What the market does need is a sign that a company may have bottomed and is able to guide growth (even if minimal) from Q2-Q3.

In Q2, Meta’s revenue declined for the first time in history. This was expected. However, what was not expected was the lower guide for the next quarter. The company guided for $26 billion to $28.5 billion, or a YoY decline of 6% at the mid-point of the guidance. The guidance takes into consideration the weak advertising demand the company experienced in the recent quarter and also the foreign exchange headwinds of 6%. The investors were expecting a return of growth in the next quarter.

The company had a slight beat on DAUs at 1.97 billion versus 1.96 billion expected. Monthly users were 2.93 billion slightly missed expectations of 2.94 billion. Operating expenses rose 22% YoY to $20.4 billion. This led to the drop in the operating margin to 29% in the recent quarter compared to 43% in the same period last year. It also led to the 36% YoY drop in the net income to $6.69 billion. The EPS came at $2.46 compared to $3.61 in Q2 2021.

The company is looking to further reduce the operating expenses for the year to $85 billion to $88 billion from the last quarter guidance of $87 billion to $92 million and the prior estimate of $90 billion to $95 billion.

Apple: Strong results despite challenges

Apple released strong results despite the challenging macro environment, strong US dollar, and supply chain issues. Revenue grew by 1.9% YoY to $83 billion, which was in-line with the analysts’ estimates. It reported EPS of $1.20, which beat estimates by $0.04 (4% beat).

The product segment revenue declined marginally by 0.9% YoY to $63.4 billion and the services segment revenue grew by 12% YoY to $19.6 billion. The company’s installed base of active devices reached an all-time high. It had more than 860 million of paid subscriptions, up 160 million in the past year.

The company did not give exact revenue guidance for the next quarter. Tim Cook, CEO of the company, said in the earnings call, “We’re going to accelerate revenues in the September quarter as compared to the June quarter and will decelerate on the Services side.”

The company’s gross margin was 43.26%, compared to 43.75% in the previous quarter and 43.29% in the same period last year. It was above the management’s guidance of 42% to 43%. Net income was $19.4 billion or $1.20 per share compared to $21.7 billion or $1.30 per share in the same period last year. It beat the analysts’ EPS estimates by $0.04.

The company had cash and marketable securities of $179 billion and a debt of $120 billion. The company reported strong operating cash flows of $23 billion (28% of revenue). The company returned over $28 billion to the shareholders in the recent quarter in the form of dividends and share repurchases.

Royston Roche, Equity Analyst at the I/O Fund, contributed to this article.

Please note: The I/O Fund conducts research and draws conclusions for the company’s portfolio. We then share that information with our readers and offer real-time trade notifications. This is not a guarantee of a stock’s performance and it is not financial advice. Please consult your personal financial advisor before buying any stock in the companies mentioned in this analysis. Beth Kindig and the I/O Fund own Alphabet and Microsoft at the time of writing.

Beth Kindig is the CEO and Lead Tech Analyst for the I/O Fund with cumulative audited results of 141%, beating Ark and other leading active tech funds over four audit periods

Source: Big Tech Earnings: Microsoft And Alphabet Signal Q2 Could Be A Bottom

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Eating Too Much Protein Makes Pee a Problem Pollutant In The U.S.

In the U.S., people eat more protein than they need to. And though it might not be bad for human health, this excess does pose a problem for the country’s waterways. The nation’s wastewater is laden with the leftovers from protein digestion: nitrogen compounds that can feed toxic algal blooms and pollute the air and drinking water. This source of nitrogen pollution even rivals that from fertilizers washed off of fields growing food crops, new research suggests.

When we overconsume protein—whether it comes from lentils, supplements or steak—our body breaks the excess down into urea, a nitrogen-containing compound that exits the body via urine and ultimately ends up in sewage. Maya Almaraz, a biogeochemist at the University of California, Davis, and her colleagues wanted to see how much of this nitrogen is being flushed into the U.S. sewage system because of a protein-heavy diet.

The researchers combined population data and previous work on how much excess protein the average American eats and found that the majority of nitrogen pollution present in wastewater—some 67 to 100 percent—is a by-product of what people consume. “We think a lot about sewage nitrogen. We know that’s an issue,” Almaraz says. “But I didn’t know how much of that is actually affected by the choices we’re making way upstream—when we go the grocery store, when we cook a meal and what we end up putting in our bodies.”

Once it enters the environment, the nitrogen in urea can trigger a spectrum of ecological impacts known as the “nitrogen cascade.” Under certain chemical conditions, and in the presence of particular microbes, urea can break down to form gases of oxidized nitrogen. These gases reach the atmosphere, where nitrous oxide (N2O) can contribute to warming via the greenhouse effect and nitrogen oxides (NOx) can cause acid rain.

Other times, algae and cyanobacteria, photosynthetic bacteria also called blue-green algae, feed on urea directly. The nitrogen helps them grow much faster than they would normally, clogging vital water supplies with blooms that can produce toxins that are harmful to humans, other animals and plants. And when the algae eventually die, the problem is not over. Microorganisms that feast on dead algae use up oxygen in the water, leading to “dead zones,” where many aquatic species simply cannot survive, in rivers, lakes and oceans. Blooms from Puget Sound to Tampa, Fla., have caused large fish die-offs.

Although it is possible to treat algal blooms, many of the current methods—such as spraying clay particles or chemicals over the surface of a bloom to kill and sink the algae—are not always effective at eliminating all of the harmful growth. Some of these methods can even lead to additional pollution. So the best strategy for dealing with the effects of nitrogen pollution is prevention, says Patricia Glibert, an oceanographer at the University of Maryland, who was not involved with the new study.

One option for preventing nitrogen from getting into the environment is improving wastewater treatment plants. The technology exists to remove 90 percent of nitrogen from wastewater, but only 1 percent of all U.S. sewage is currently treated this way, partly because the technology is so expensive. Equipping plants in China to remove nitrogen from three quarters of the country’s urban sewage cost more than $20 billion. Almaraz and her team suggest, however, that curbing nitrogen pollution could be approached more quickly with a change in eating habits that could save billions of dollars in the long term.

Their new study, published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, broke down protein requirements by age (adults 50 to 70 years old need the most) for the current U.S. population and projected future populations out to 2055. By midcentury, the country’s population is expected to be larger overall and to have a greater percentage of older people. The researchers calculated the amount of nitrogen that would enter the environment if people ate today’s average American diet and if they instead reduced their protein intake to only what is nutritionally needed.

This shift in diet alone could reduce the amount of nitrogen reaching aquatic ecosystems by 12 percent today and by nearly 30 percent in the future, according to the study’s results. Such a change could also help reduce damaging nitrogen pollution while wastewater infrastructure catches up. “Many people think that we need to all switch to becoming vegetarians. Obviously, that’s not practical. That’s not something that is really ever going to happen,” Glibert says.

Rather than cutting out any foods entirely, she suggests consumers could switch to a “demitarian” diet—an approach that focuses on reducing the consumption of meat and dairy, which currently make up about two thirds of the protein eaten in the U.S. “Enjoy your steak, enjoy your burger but go modest on your meat consumption in your following meal,” she says.

“One cool area that opens up here is how human behavior can influence our environment,” Almaraz says. “I think it can be really empowering to people to understand that, ‘hey, my choices—once those add up with other people making similar choices—can actually have a positive impact.’”

Source: Eating Too Much Protein Makes Pee a Problem Pollutant in the U.S. – Scientific American

Critics by  

Protein buildup in the kidneys creates a much more acidic environment in the kidneys, causing you to have to pee all the time. Increased acid production can also cause problems in the bones and liver. Side effects start with mild dehydration but can lead to the development of kidney stones, which are intensely painful. One interesting note-researchers found that plant and dairy proteins had a much lower negative effect on renal function than nondairy animal protein (meat) did.

high-protein diet might have helped you tone up for summer or get closer to your goal weight, but could it also be contributing to your blue mood? Maybe. Especially if your protein-to-carb ratio is way off base. Carbs run the show in your brain, telling it what to do and how to do it. Carbohydrates are specifically responsible for releasing serotonin-your body’s “feel good” hormone. One study from the American Medical Association on the psychological effects of low-fat and low-carb diets found that people who adhered to a high-protein, high-fat and low-carb diet for a year experienced more anxiety, depression and other negative feelings than those on a low-fat, high-carb, moderate-protein diet.

High-protein diets are often low in fiber-especially when your main protein sources are from animal products-which can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Fiber helps move everything along through your intestines, and it can only be found in plant foods. Simply mixing up your protein intake with foods that deliver both fiber and protein, like whole grains, beans or tempeh, can make a huge impact. Also, try ramping up your fruit and vegetable intake to get way more health benefits than just getting regular again.

Think protecting your body from chronic diseases and weight gain, and keeping your gut healthy, just to name a few. High-protein diets are often praised for helping people drop a dress size or two in as short as a week-but the long-term effects aren’t as desirable. Following a high-protein diet often means eating very few carbs, which isn’t sustainable for most of us in the long run. This can lead to food cravings and less energy to get your morning workout in, and can make you regain the weight you worked so hard to lose.

Sandra Aamodt, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist who has spent years studying the brain-weight link. She told EatingWell, “Don’t do anything to lose weight you’re not willing to do forever.” This is because your brain can certainly adjust its behaviors once you lose the weight, but it needs you to continue your efforts in order to maintain it. Opting for restrictive diets-like keto-may not be your best bet for long-term health after all.

Even if you’re someone who gets those coveted eight hours of sleep every night, eating too much protein can still leave your body tired for several reasons. First, we now know that overconsumption can put a strain on your kidneys, liver and bones-causing them to work overtime. Also, eating too few carbs can really affect our brains-preventing us from being sharp, focused and energized each day.

Since carbs are your brain’s main source of energy, you probably want to increase your intake of healthy ones, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, to get you back to your best. Not only can this help you get your energy back, but you’ll be getting more of the vitamins, minerals and fiber that your body needs to be healthy and happy overall.

If you or someone you know has tried the keto diet, you’ve likely head of the term “keto breath.” This happens when you’re focused more on consuming protein and fat instead of healthy carbs: your body has to adjust and produces ketones that smell awful, like acetone (yes, the ingredient in nail polish remover!).

Trying to find a more balanced approach when it comes to macronutrient consumption will help your body get up and running on carbs again and get your breath nice and fresh once more. Simply swapping out several sources of animal protein for plant versions-like whole grains and beans-each week will still keep your protein intake at the high end of your daily needs, while increasing your intake of healthy carbs.

Related contents:

Defra opens £12.5m competition for sustainable farm-based proteins Agriland

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Emerging Markets and The Future Of Blockchain

In the first ten years of the expansion of blockchain technology, it was utterly dominated by developed (or more precisely western) nations. But emerging markets like Africa are adopting crypto faster than their global counterparts. This growth is even more impressive when one considers that there has been very little institutional support for blockchain technology in these nations.

The growth in blockchain adoption has been concentrated in. Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania, which are some of the most densely populated nations on the continent, which have been banned from crypto trading. In the first ten years of the expansion of blockchain technology, it was utterly dominated by developed (or more precisely western) nations. Almost all the Bitcoin Miners were located in America and Europe, and only rising mining costs moved those operations abroad.

Asides from that, many of the earliest Bitcoin/blockchain innovators were either westerners or living in western countries. For example, Vitalik Buterin, while being Russian-born himself, had been in Canada for the better part of two decades before creating Ethereum. However, as blockchain technology is moving into the next phase of its development, it appears that emerging markets like Africa are adopting crypto faster than their global counterparts. While no one knows the reason for this, it’s very difficult to deny that it’s happening. The numbers are simply undeniable.

For example, cryptocurrency adoption grew in Africa by 1200% between the 12 months between July 2020 and June 2021. Regardless of whether this was brought on by the financial uncertainty of the pandemic or other clusters of reasons, the effect of this growth can hardly be ignored. This growth in blockchain adoption has been concentrated in countries Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania, which are some of the most densely populated nations on the continent. Peer-to-peer trading, which is a huge part of blockchain technology, is so big in Kenya that the country led the world in P2P transactions in 2022.

All this points to an exciting future for blockchain technology in these markets. This growth is even more impressive when one considers that there has been very little institutional support for blockchain technology in these nations. Many of the regulators in these countries have banned crypto trading, which has slowed down adoption. Despite that, the rate of adoption is still incredible. All this points to one thing; blockchain technology adoption might already have plateaued in the West, but this is just the beginning in emerging markets like Africa.

The Opportunities are Limitless

The blockchain ecosystem of emerging markets might not be as huge as that of developed nations, but it’s rather apparent that blockchain technology solves more structural problems in these markets than elsewhere. For example, in nations where inflation is rampant — like Zimbabwe — citizens can safeguard their wealth with stablecoins. Interestingly, I addressed the structural problems of P2E economies here and recommended the need for a dedicated stablecoin to fix these structural problems.

Blockchain technology also gives a level of autonomy to citizens in nations with oppressive and dictatorial governments. In countries where governments can unilaterally freeze bank accounts of dissidents, digital stores of value like cryptocurrency can be a real vehicle of social change.This is indeed already happening. In 2020, there was at least one case of a popular protest funded in part by Bitcoin. Bitcoin was rather useful for the protest because of the anonymity and decentralization built into the coin’s infrastructure on the blockchain.

Asides from the monetary use of blockchain, it also has administrative uses as well. By applying blockchain technology to supply chain management, countries can greatly improve asset recording, tracking, assigning, linking and sharing; developing nations can build resilient supply chains without using an overinflated bureaucracy. This can be especially useful for developing nations that are battling supply chain issues. Blockchain can be useful in the entertainment industry as well. It can be used to prevent privacy in the industry, protect digital content, and facilitate the distribution of digital collectibles.

There are opportunities in gaming too. While Play-to-Earn games with NFT characters have gotten a bad rep because of how expensive it is to purchase a character, companies like Rainmaker Games are solving this problem. Rainmaker Games, for example,  is one of the most exciting companies revolutionizing games for the future. Within just a few months, Rainmaker Games has found a way to vet the identity of players who are joining guilds, figure out a way players can play hundreds of P2E games for free, and also incorporate an NFT marketplace on all of that.

With startups like Rainmaker Games lowering the barrier of entry for P2E gamers from emerging markets, it’s only a matter of time before these players stand toe to toe with the rest of the world. Asides from the structural shakeup a startup like Rainmaker Games can cause with its technology; there’s also the matter of the financial freedom these P2E games can give to players from emerging markets.

The NFT Goldmine

Despite the opportunities on the blockchain, it’s obvious that the same enthusiasm for crypto in emerging markets has been missing. One reason that has been brought up is the unfriendly technical nature of NFTs. And that could be a good point. After all, the more technical using a technology is, the fewer people use it.

Perhaps that’s why players in Web3 are already working on the important infrastructure that will help builders scale technical barriers to entry and build products faster and cheaper in the ecosystem. Ankr is one of those stakeholders, and the company provides fast, reliable infrastructure at community first pricing. It isn’t just infrastructure either — the company does everything from helping enterprises integrate with Web3 to allowing DeFi users to stake their coins and earn higher yields.

Right now, NFTs have taken on a lot of different forms, but there’s one that remains elusive; representation from emerging markets.While developing nations seem quite capable of holding their own and accelerating their development when it comes to crypto, the markedly lukewarm attitude toward NFTs has continued unabated. We know that the reason isn’t because of lack of utility. NFTs have proven that they can solve the problem of monetization for content creators and solve the problem of piracy for artists.

This means that NFTs have a huge future in these emerging markets — even if adoption isn’t on the up and up as it is with crypto. The problem, it seems, is with the complexities of releasing a token and a much higher tech barrier to entry. Cryptocurrency has largely avoided these problems due to a friendlier technical environment. For example, there are centralized exchanges for crypto where people with limited technical knowledge can just open an account and buy their cryptocurrency.

While there is also something like that for NFTs — Opensea is a great example — it isn’t targeted at or built for content creators in emerging markets.Thankfully, some NFT companies are also already solving the problem of higher technical barriers to entry. Ayoken Labs, for example, is building an NFT platform where artists and content creators from these emerging markets can release their social tokens, and essentially monetize their content efficiently.

This platform not only monetizes content for creators but also rewards fans and users in general with its native token for use. In a way, it’s like a play-to-earn game but without the gaming aspect.It’s clear that there are limitless opportunities in the blockchain space in emerging markets. It’s almost inevitable that more startups will come into the space and create solutions that are tailor-made for these markets. It is now a matter of when — not if. Today, the developed world is the capital of blockchain innovation. But it might not be for long.

By Victor Fabusola

How Germany Got Hooked on Russian Energy

On Sunday 1 February 1970, senior politicians and gas executives from Germany and the Soviet Union gathered at the upmarket Hotel Kaiserhof in Essen. They were there to celebrate the signing of a contract for the first major Russia-Germany gas pipeline, which was to run from Siberia to the West German border at Marktredwitz in Bavaria. The contract was the result of nine months of intense bargaining over the price of the gas, the cost of 1.2m tonnes of German pipes to be sold to Russia, and the credit terms offered to Moscow by a consortium of 17 German banks.

Aware of the risk of Russia defaulting, the German banks’ chief financial negotiator, Friedrich Wilhelm Christians, took the precaution of asking for a loan from the federal government, explaining: “I don’t do any somersaults without a net, especially not on a trapeze.”

The relationship would benefit both sides: Germany would supply the machines and high-quality industrial goods; Russia would provide the raw material to fuel German industry. High-pressure pipelines and their supporting infrastructure hold the potential to bind countries together, since they require trust, cooperation and mutual dependence. But this was not just a commercial deal, as the presence at the hotel of the German economic minister Karl Schiller showed.

For the advocates of Ostpolitik – the new “eastern policy” of rapprochement towards the Soviet Union and its allies including East Germany, launched the previous year under chancellor Willy Brandt – this was a moment of supreme political consequence. Schiller, an economist by training, was to describe it as part of an effort at “political and human normalisation with our Eastern neighbours”.

The sentiment was laudable, but for some observers it was a potentially dangerous move. Before the signing, Nato had discreetly written to the German economics ministry to inquire about the security implications. Norbert Plesser, head of the gas department at the ministry, had assured Nato that there was no cause for alarm: Germany would never rely on Russia for even 10% of its gas supplies.

Half a century later, in 2020, Russia would supply more than half of Germany’s natural gas and about a third of all the oil that Germans burned to heat homes, power factories and fuel vehicles. Roughly half of Germany’s coal imports, which are essential to its steel manufacturing, came from Russia.

An arrangement that began as a peacetime opening to a former foe has turned into an instrument of aggression. Germany is now funding Russia’s war. In the first two months after the start of Russia’s assault on Ukraine, Germany is estimated to have paid nearly €8.3bn for Russian energy – money used by Moscow to prop up the rouble and buy the artillery shells firing at Ukrainian positions in Donetsk.

In that time, EU countries are estimated to have paid a total of €39bn for Russian energy, more than double the sum they have given to help Ukraine defend itself. The irony is painful. “For thirty years, Germans lectured Ukrainians about fascism,” the historian Timothy Snyder wrote recently. “When fascism actually arrived, Germans funded it, and Ukrainians died fighting it.”

When Putin invaded Ukraine in February, Germany faced a particular problem. Its rejection of nuclear power and its transition away from coal meant that Germany had very few alternatives to Russian gas. Berlin has been forced to accept that it was a cataclysmic error to have made itself so dependent on Russian energy – whatever the motives behind it. The foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, says Germany failed to listen to the warnings from countries that had once suffered under Russia’s occupation, such as Poland and the Baltic states. For Norbert Röttgen, a former environment minister and member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union (CDU), the German government bowed to industry forces pressing for cheap gas “all too easily”, while “completely ignoring the geopolitical risks”.

In February this year, German Green economic affairs and climate action minister Robert Habeck said that gas storage facilities owned by Gazprom in Germany had been “systematically emptied” over the winter, to drive up prices and exert political pressure. It was a staggering admission of Russia’s power to disrupt energy supplies.“I was wrong,” the former German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, says, simply. “We were all wrong.”

In recent weeks even Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German president, a totemic figure of the Social Democrats and greatest German advocate of the trade “bridge” between east and west, has recanted. He admits he misread Russia’s intentions as he pursued the construction of a new undersea gas pipeline. “My adherence to Nord Stream 2 was clearly a mistake,” he told German media in April. “We held on to bridges that Russia no longer believed in, and that our partners warned us about.”

This is an extraordinary admission for a man who acted as chief of staff to Gerhard Schröder, the Social Democratic chancellor from 1998 to 2005 and thereafter a lavishly rewarded, and much reviled, lobbyist for Vladimir Putin. Steinmeier was also foreign minister under Chancellor Merkel, and a great evangelist for Wandel durch Handel, the concept that trade and dialogue can bring about social and political change.

How did Germany end up making such a blunder? Some argue that Merkel should have seen that Putin was taking Russia in an authoritarian direction when he announced his return to the presidency in 2011. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Germany made no move to stop importing Russian gas, and although Merkel threatened to introduce crippling trade sanctions, German industry convinced her to hold back. But some blame a more persistent misjudgment stretching back 50 years, based on a fallacy that authoritarian countries can be transformed through trade.

The Social Democrats have now set up a review into whether the policy of Ostpolitik – first laid out in a landmark speech in July 1963 by Egon Bahr, then the closest adviser to West Berlin’s mayor and chancellor-to-be, Willy Brandt – became deformed over time, especially after securing its great achievement, the fall of the Berlin Wall.

What is extraordinary, retracing the history through memoirs and contemporary records, is how frequently and determinedly Germany was warned, by everyone from Henry Kissinger onwards, that it was making a pact it might live to regret. Kissinger wrote to Richard Nixon on 9 April 1970: “Few people, either inside Germany or abroad, see Brandt as selling out to the East; what worries people is whether he can control what he has started.” Over 50 years, Germany fought numerous battles with a series of US presidents over its growing dependence on Russian energy. In the process, Germany’s foreign office developed a view of American anti-communism as naive, and a belief that only Germany truly understood the Soviet Union.

From the late 1960s, the Federal Republic of Germany tried to open its own direct line of communication with the Soviet leadership, even though its interest in reunification created tensions with the US. When it faced criticism from the US, Germany was wont to cite its unique status. “I cannot imagine there is anyone more interested in being allowed to continue working for detente and balance in Europe than the German people who are forced to live in two states,” Hans-Dietrich Genscher, then the foreign minister, told the German Bundestag in January 1980, to great applause.

But after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, why was Germany still so reluctant to listen to others? A sense of guilt for the atrocities committed against the Soviet Union during the second world war may have played a role. Pride, too, that – through Ostpolitik – it had mended its relations with Moscow. Germany, in a sense, became a double prisoner of its past – bound both to the horrors it had committed, and to its belief that its response to those horrors was correct.

The conflicts between Germany and the US in the 70s and 80s, involving two very different presidents, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, were some of the most rancorous transatlantic battles since the second world war. “The disputes were all part of West Germany showing independence in foreign policy during the cold war, and that became uncomfortable for some American leaders,” the historian Mary Elise Sarotte said to me.

Carter and the German chancellor Helmut Schmidt had little respect for each other. Carter found Schmidt moody, while the chancellor, in his autobiography, dismissed Carter as an idealistic preacher, who knew nothing of Europe and was “just not big enough for the game”. The two leaders did not just grate personally, they disagreed on issues of substance – including how to protect human rights in Russia. In 1979 Schmidt and Carter came together to jointly adopt the so-called dual track decision, by which Nato would upgrade its nuclear weapons based in Europe, while actively seeking an arms control agreement with Russia. But in other ways their approach was very different.

Schmidt never lacked self-confidence, but like many Germans of that era he carried a deep sense of shame arising from painful war memories. He also believed that the stability of the eastern bloc was in the interest of West Germany, given Russia’s nuclear capability. In his autobiography he wrote that he had wanted to develop trading relations with Russia, in order to foster “a greater Soviet dependence upon European supplies”, in turn leading to “more European influence” on Moscow’s policies. And following the 1973 oil crisis, Schmidt became convinced that the Soviet Union represented a more reliable supplier of energy for Germany than the Gulf states.

Carter, by contrast, saw withholding trade as the better way to influence the Soviets. In July 1978, responding to Moscow’s imprisonment of two Soviet dissidents, Aleksandr Ginzburg and Anatoly Shcharansky, Carter restricted US exports of technology for the exploration and development of the Soviet oil and natural-gas industries.

Yet, collectively, European business went in the opposite direction. Even after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, a large German business delegation went ahead with a visit to Moscow. The Soviets (Soyuzgazexport) and western Europeans (chiefly Ruhrgas and Gaz de France) completed negotiations on a new giant gas project, a 4,500km dedicated pipeline from the giant Urengoy field in West Siberia in late 1980. This deal was projected to increase Germany’s dependence on Russian gas from 15% to 30%. When German ministers reviewed the security implications, they concluded there was no danger of Russia misusing its potential stranglehold. Their reasoning was simple. “Long-term disruption would be against the self-interest of the Soviet Union,” the ministry decided.

In a phone call with Carter on 5 March, Schmidt explained his support for the pipeline by telling the US president, “Those engaging in trade with each other do not shoot at one another.” It was a restatement of Norman Angell’s famous pre-first world war theory that the new interdependence of economies made war unprofitable and thus irrational. According to a note in his diary, Carter responded: “It is not beneficial for the Europeans to expect us to provide the stick and for them to compete with one another about providing the biggest carrot.”

In 1980, Schmidt wrote: “To speak of the Federal Republic’s economic dependence on Moscow to a degree large enough to affect foreign policy indicates ignorance or malice.” Given Germany’s plight now, those words look hopelessly misjudged.

Schmidt faced a more challenging opponent in Carter’s successor, the traditional anti-communist Ronald Reagan. In Reagan’s eyes, German trade with Russia was in direct conflict with western security. Reagan’s view was informed by a CIA assessment submitted in July 1981, which noted a clear trend: from 1970 to 1980, Soviet gas exports to western Europe had risen from 1 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year to 26.5bcm annually.

The CIA warned Reagan that the Urengoy gas project would not only accelerate Soviet economic growth, but provide the Soviets with $8bn in hard currency, facilitating a further military buildup. Far from giving Germany sway over Soviet thinking, “it would provide the Soviets one additional pressure point they could use as part of a broader diplomatic offensive to persuade the West Europeans to accept their viewpoint on East-West issues”.

In arguments that echo today’s debates, the US ambassador to the UN, Jeane Kirkpatrick, complained: “We consistently find in our talks the allies are already significantly dependent: France for 15% [of its] gas, Germany for 30%.” Schmidt assured the Americans that Germany “can go six months in the event of a Soviet cut-off”. The forecast now is that, in such an eventuality, Germany would have to go straight to a form of energy rationing.

Despite various US efforts to persuade Europe to adopt a voluntary ban, including offering alternative sources of energy, in 1981 Ruhrgas AG and Soyusgazexport went ahead and signed a contract for annual imports of 10.5bcm of Soviet gas over a 25-year period. Unemployment in Europe was close to 9% at the time, and European industry needed to boost its energy supplies. At the same time, the US argument about security was dismissed as a veiled way of promoting the US oil industry.

When Moscow backed the imposition of martial law in Poland on 13 December 1981, Reagan thought such a shocking event might persuade Germany to put the pipeline on hold. In a private note to Margaret Thatcher, sent on 19 December 1981, he urged her to back tough sanctions against the Soviets, stating that “this may well be a watershed in the history of mankind. A challenge to tyranny from within.” Unusually for her, Thatcher vacillated, advising Reagan that the Germans “cannot and will not give up the gas pipeline project”.

The US responded to the Soviet intervention by banning US companies from helping with the pipeline. In the summer of 1982 Reagan tried to force European firms to stop working on the pipeline by imposing secondary sanctions on them. Such sanctions are now a commonplace in the US foreign policy armoury, particularly over Iran, but then, they were seen as an incursion into European sovereignty. Thatcher bridled, telling the Commons “it is wrong” for “one very powerful nation [to] prevent existing contracts being fulfilled”.

By November, Reagan had abandoned the attempt to impose sanctions. In a trial of strength in which Europe sided with Germany, the world’s superpower had lost. The new pipeline started pumping on 1 January 1984.

The German advocates of change through trade had won. The US position on Russia was further weakened when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The peaceful collapse of communism was trumpeted as a vindication for those that had championed dialogue, and engagement through trade. In a speech to the Brandt Foundation in March 2008, Steinmeier gave full vent to this view: “What Ostpolitik in fact achieved – as is now recognised also by those who criticised it at the time,” he said, “was to make peace in Europe, despite the difficulties, a degree more secure. For the democracy movements in eastern Europe it created new possibilities, new scope for action. It was a key factor, too, in finally ending the confrontation between the two blocs.”

Olaf Scholz, Germany’s current chancellor, remains an adherent of this view, arguing last year that it contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union and laid the basis for democracy and EU membership for much of eastern Europe. The SPD co-leader, Lars Klingbeil, has also insisted that Ostpolitik “was the basis for reunification and the end of the cold war. As a result, there has been a consensus in the federal republic for decades that conflicts can be defused through dialogue. We won’t let that be bad-mouthed.”

Yet a number of historians and writers believe that this rosy picture of Ostpolitik is misleading. “The idea that Willy Brandt’s policy of detente towards Moscow led in a straight line to the fall of the iron curtain and German unity is at least an over-simplification,” says the historian Jan Behrends. German journalist Thomas Urban, author of a new book critiquing Ostpolitik, believes its role in the fall of the wall and German reunification has been exaggerated:

“It was military buildup by Reagan and the flooding of the market with cheap oil that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union,” he told me. The Russian government budget had grown so dependent on energy for its revenue, he said, that when the price of oil plummeted in the mid-1980s, Russia’s lifeline to external capital dried up. “Gorbachev could no longer fund the overseas wars and the Soviet Republics,” he said. “But this argument was entirely missing in the German debate, especially on the left.”

Urban argued that Ostpolitik’s theory of change suffered from two basic misconceptions: the belief that political change in eastern Europe could only come from engaging with the elite in power, rather than from civilian movements, and second, that “security must be the key to everything”. By the turn of the century, the advocates of change through trade were in their pomp. Chancellor Schröder, with growing confidence, promoted the idea of a strategic partnership with Russia. He invited the new Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to address the Bundestag in 2001, where he won over his audience by giving the speech in fluent German and declaring “the cold war is over”.

Schröder, at the time of Putin’s address, saw a perfect confluence of interests between Europe, Germany and Russia: peace, stability, multilateralism and economic growth. Putin, Schröder was convinced, “wants to transform Russia into a democracy”.

In this favourable political climate, pro-Russian German lobbyists such as Klaus Mangold, chairman of the powerful German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, pursued the construction of yet another gas pipeline, this time taking gas from Vyborg under the Baltic Sea to Germany – the first Nord Stream. The scheme was especially controversial since it would bypass Poland, Belarus and Ukraine, reducing those countries’ incomes, weakening their bargaining power and depriving them of badly needed transit fees. The €7.4bn pipeline construction costs were to be borne by the private German companies BASF and E.ON, and the majority Russian state-owned Gazprom.

This time, protests against the pipeline did not just come from the US, but from the states that had recently emerged from Soviet rule, such as Poland and Lithuania. Radosław Sikorski, then Poland’s defence minister, notoriously compared the plan to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which paved the way for the invasion of Poland.

Yet on 8 September 2005, 10 days before the election in which Schröder’s Social Democrats lost to Angela Merkel’s conservatives, the Nord Stream 1 contract was signed in Berlin by representatives of Gazprom, E.ON and BASF. Putin stood alongside Schröder at the signing ceremony.

Schröder has since been singled out for his role in creating Germany’s dependence on Russian energy, and getting very rich in the process. But the distinguished former German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger recently argued that Schröder should not take the blame for giving the go-ahead to Nord Stream 20 years ago: most German politicians, he told the New York Times in April, did not question whether they were getting into an unhealthy dependence on Russian energy. In the article, Schröder made the same case: “It never occurred to anyone that this could become a problem. It was just a way of procuring gas for Germans, for Germany’s heavy industry, and also for the chemical industry, with fewer problems and disruptions.”

Thereafter it seemed, whatever the setbacks in German-Russian relations, nothing could shift the faith in trade – not Russia’s “peace enforcement operation” in Georgia in August 2008, not the Russian disruption of the gas pipelines in a dispute with Ukraine in January 2009, nor the news that Putin was planning to return to the presidency in 2012, replacing Dmitry Medvedev, in whom Frank-Walter Steinmeier had placed his faith. In 2011, the year Nord Stream finally opened, German total trade exports to Russia rose 34% to €27bn.

Then came the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2014. Initially, Russia’s incursion seemed to mark a turning point. Merkel’s condemnation was clear: the annexation of Crimea was contrary to international law. Sanctions were duly imposed, and German exports to Russia fell.

Following the 2014 invasion, serious German media such as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published lengthy articles looking at the options for how Germany could wean itself off its dangerous dependency on Russian energy. Many of the proposals, such as new liquid gas terminals to allow Germany to import gas from other countries such as Qatar and the US, are the same ones under discussion now, which shows how little actual diversification was achieved. When I spoke to a Qatari energy official last month, he recounted how they spent five years trying to break into the German energy market, only to find their route blocked at every turn.

Some German sanctions on Russia continued for many years, but the advocates of change through trade gradually re-established their ground. It seemed nothing Russia could do would shake their confidence. On 4 September 2015, at the Vladivostok economic forum, with Putin in attendance, an agreement was signed for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on the Baltic seabed, which would vastly increase Germany’s reliance on Russian natural gas. Gazprom would also take over Germany’s gas storage business, thereby handing control of German energy reserves to a foreign power.

Various theories – some grubby, some metaphysical – have been proposed to explain Germany’s dogged refusal to see the dangers in its dependency on Russia. One argument places the blame on SPD politicians and civil servants who were allowed to move seamlessly between public office and Putin’s employment, and worked hard to manipulate the EU and German regulatory environment to suit Gazprom.

Then there is the question of the German-Russian industrial lobby, as symbolised by the German-Russian Forum, which was closely linked with, and partly funded by, German companies active in Russia. (The Forum was suspended after the invasion of Ukraine.) Its board of trustees consisted mainly of business people, often with economic interests in Russia. Its chairman, Matthias Platzeck, the former SPD minister president of Brandenburg, seemed genuinely shocked by Putin’s invasion: “I was wrong because until recently I thought what happened was unthinkable.”

The historian Sarotte said there is no clear evidence that business had exerted greater influence in politics in Germany than in other countries. Nevertheless, over the years, Russia showed an ability to suborn, and in some cases corrupt, the German political class. The Polish foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, on a visit to Berlin in late May, called German Ostpolitik a “fiasco”. German rhetoric around the political value of interdependence, he said, crudely boiled down to gaining a competitive advantage through cheap energy.

Thomas Urban, examining the psychological roots of Ostpolitik, pinpoints two emotions in Germany’s relationship with Russia: nostalgia and guilt. He described to me “the memory of Bismarck, who saw the alliance with Russia as an anchor of stability in Europe. But then there was also the feeling of guilt because of the German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, with millions of dead. It meant it was difficult to criticise the Red Army or the Soviet repression since to do so means you do not recognise the greatest crimes in history. It makes Germany blind to the black side of the Soviet Union. It also permits Putin’s propaganda by talking only of the Russian war dead, and not those that were killed in Ukraine and Belarus.”

Much of Germany’s belief in trade with Russia was born of wishful thinking. It led Steinmeier as foreign minister, for instance, to look constantly for signs of reform, ignoring foreign office advice that he needed a plan B in case Germany’s faith in Russia turned out to be ill-founded. In 2016, Steinmeier gave a deeply sincere, almost elegiac speech at Yekaterinburg University asking whether Germany and Russia were still capable of listening to one another. He admitted the annexation of Crimea had been a low point, but hoped dialogue was still possible, urging both sides not to turn their backs on one another.

It was the speech of a man who sensed the tide was going out, and who feared his belief in dialogue no longer matched the spirit of harsher times: “In political discussions, we sometimes hear opinions expressed by people who are not interested in the slightest in understanding others; people who have already made up their minds about the other side; people who don’t even bother reading because they think they already know the answer.” What he described as the “supposed antagonism” between the west and Russia, he feared was becoming entrenched and ideologically driven, running counter to the pursuit of diplomacy and peace.

Now, as Germany’s president and head of state, Steinmeier has been told by Ukrainian officials that his record as the promoter of Russian interests in Germany means he is not welcome in Kyiv at this time. It seems a shame. There would be no need for him to fall to his knees – as Willy Brandt did in Warsaw in 1970, apologising for his nation’s wartime crimes – but he could give a sober reflection on what precisely went wrong with Germany’s eastern policy for so long. For, one way or another, a reckoning is still needed.

By

Source: ‘We were all wrong’: how Germany got hooked on Russian energy | Germany | The Guardian

US pours $3.5 Billion Into Direct Air Capture Hubs For Carbon Removal

As part of its ambitions to move to a net-zero economy by 2050, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has been ramping up its plans to facilitate removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and drive down the cost of the technology required to do so. These efforts are set to receive a massive cash injection, with the Biden administration announcing US$3.5 billion in funding for a set of regional direct air capture hubs.

The announcement follows a string of far smaller investments that began with $22 million in 2020 and a further $24 million last year, designed to accelerate research into carbon capture technology. As part of the the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) signed by President Biden in November last year, the the DOE also announced its Carbon Negative Shot initiative. This is centered on deploying carbon capture technologies on a gigaton scale by 2050, by driving down the cost of carbon capture and storage to $100 per ton.

A gigaton is equivalent to one billion metric tons, and to put things into perspective, the world’s largest direct air capture plant currently collects around 4,000 tons of CO2 each year. Humans pump out around 30 billion tons each year, while a single gigaton is about the amount generated annually by the US’s entire light-duty vehicle fleet.

The DOE has today released a Notice of Intent, which acts as a kind of high-level draft ahead of an official funding opportunity announcement later in the year. The $3.5 billion in funding will go towards hubs that will act as regional centers for direct air capture projects, with applicants needing to demonstrate an ability to capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it. The DOE expects each of these hubs to permanently sequester a million metric tons of CO2 each year.

“The UN’s latest climate report made clear that removing legacy carbon pollution from the air through direct air capture and safely storing it is an essential weapon in our fight against the climate crisis,” said US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is funding new technologies that will not only make our carbon-free future a reality but will help position the US as a net-zero leader while creating good-paying jobs for a transitioning clean energy workforce.”

The project in question, the Regional Direct Air Capture Hubs program, is funded under the bipartisan infrastructure law and will involve the construction of four regional hubs for carbon dioxide removal.CO2 removal involves sucking carbon dioxide from the surrounding air and either storing it underground or using it for products that do not release it back into the air.

It is a separate process from carbon capture, which aims to prevent the initial release of emissions outright.“CDR is a key element in scenarios that likely limit warming to 2°C or 1.5°C by 2100,” the report states. “Strategies need to reflect that CDR methods differ in terms of removal process, timescale of carbon storage, technological maturity, mitigation potential, cost, co-benefits, adverse side-effects, and governance requirements.”

Source: US pours $3.5 billion into direct air capture hubs for carbon removal

Carbon removal is the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it away for decades, centuries, or millennia. This could slow, limit, or even reverse climate change — but it is not a substitute for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This is because carbon removal is generally slow-acting and may not be able to be deployed at scales commensurate with society’s current greenhouse emissions. Carbon removal is sometimes referred to as carbon dioxide removal or CDR, and technologies for implementing carbon removal are sometimes called Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs).

Some prominent ideas for carbon removal include:

  • planting massive new forests (afforestation/reforestation)
  • using no-till agriculture and other practices to increase the amount of carbon stored in soils (soil carbon sequestration)
  • creating charcoal and burying it or plowing it into fields (biochar)
  • capturing and sequestering carbon from biofuels and bioenergy plants (bioenergy with CCS or BECCS)
  • spreading crushed rocks over land to absorb carbon dioxide from the air or exposing them to carbon dioxide-rich fluids (enhanced mineralization)
  • building machines that would suck carbon dioxide directly out of the atmosphere and bury it (direct air capture)
  • oceans-based methods, including:
  • spreading alkaline materials, such as lime, over the ocean (ocean alkalinization)
  • fertilizing selected areas of the ocean by spreading nutrients, such as iron, over the surface (ocean fertilization)
  • fertilizing selected areas of the ocean by pumping nutrient-rich waters from the depths to the surface (artificial upwelling)
  • accelerating the transport of carbon to the ocean depths by pumping surface waters downward (artificial downwelling)

More contents:

The trouble with negative emissions”.

The Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting” 

Forests and climate change”.

Forest Protection & Climate Change: Why Is It Important?”

“Greenhouse Gas Removals: Summary of Responses to the Call for Evidence”

Managing woody bamboos for carbon farming and carbon trading”

“Carbon Farming

“Carbon Farming: Hope for a Hot Planet – Modern Farmer

Can Dirt Save the Earth?

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