Road-blocking protests, Wikipedia of maps, and eco-unfriendly Bitcoin 

in February 26th, 2021

Here's what we emailed out the week of February 26, 2021. Sign up for updates directly in your inbox.

There’s a new face coming to postage stamps: Chien-Shiung Wu. Considered the “First Lady of Physics,” Wu is a Chinese American described as one of the most influential nuclear physicists of the 20th century. Her stamps were unveiled by the U.S. Postal Service last week. While you can learn more about Wu’s legacy here, we’re unveiling some stories worth recognizing below.


PROTESTS

Driver rights are at the intersection of road-blocking protests

Sat Feb 20

Republicans across the country are speaking up against road-blocking protests. Their proposed legislation aims to discourage protesters from blocking roads, citing a number of injuries and deaths last summer from cars driving through demonstrations.

It also protects drivers who injure protestors on blocked roads — as long as they didn’t injure or kill a protester “on purpose.” While Iowa, Missouri, Utah, and a dozen other states have introduced such counterprotest measures, Oklahoma’s Senate has already passed a bill granting drivers this immunity. It's unclear, though, how these driver protections would play out in even the current cases being dealt with by states: 

  • For example in Minneapolis, a large tanker truck drove at high speed through thousands of protestors, including children, peacefully marching on a closed highway.
  • Meanwhile in Tulsa, the district attorney declined filing charges against a pickup truck driver who drove through protesters. While the incident left two injured and a third paralyzed waist down, the demonstrators had attacked the vehicle with the driver’s children inside — according to the DA, who has not endorsed blanket immunity for drivers.

What about protester rights?

Currently, permits are required to block traffic or close a street. Historically, though, sidewalk protests sometimes turn into road-blocking ones when demonstrators swarm onto the streets and paralyze traffic in an effort to draw attention to their cause. Critics argue these bills seek to intimidate such protestors and chill free speech, rather than solve actual problems. 

Some additional resources... 

  • For more on the proposed legislation and states considering, refer to the Associated Press.
  • For more on protestor rights or to donate to protect them, refer to the ACLU.

GEOGRAPHY

The Wikipedia of maps is getting more corporate

Sun Feb 21

Should corporations determine our geographic needs? The question is causing concern over OpenStreetMaps (OSM), a free, open-source online map of the world. Launched in the mid-2000s, OSM is considered the “Wikipedia of maps” where anyone can contribute. But now, that “anyone” is increasingly becoming people working at companies like Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon.

In fact, nearly a quarter of all community contributed edits to this map came from company-linked accounts by the end of 2018.

  • On one hand, these corporate contributions have provided a lot more data — even in less represented areas. For example, when Uber switched from Google Maps to OSM and entered the Asian market, they made substantial contributions to the maps of Southeast Asia (which, at the time, had sparse navigational data on OSM).
  • But on the other, these corporations are only mapping things and places that economically benefit them. And as corporate involvement overrides the contribution of smaller mappers, what happens to OSM when these mappers feel undervalued and leave? Or when corporations finish the maps they care about and also leave?

Why does OSM even matter?

This mapping resource is used by products we engage with regularly, such as ridesharing apps, social media geotagging, hiking apps, and even humanitarian efforts. And who contributes directly impacts what gets mapped. For example, a majority of the roughly one million people who have edited the map have been men, leading to an over-representation of features associated with male interests. Other cited factors preventing equal representation include internet access, technical knowledge, or simply a lack of free time. 

Some additional resources...

  • To learn more about this story and the genesis of OSM, head to Bloomberg
  • To dig into the paper exploring the positive and negatives of corporate involvement, head to MDPI.  
  • Many believe OSM could be more useful, especially when it comes to natural disasters. To support OSM-enabled humanitarian efforts, had to hotosm.org.

CRYPTO… ENERGY?

Bitcoin energy consumption grows with currency value

Wed Feb 10

Turns out bitcoin consumes more energy than the entirety of Argentina — which currently ranks 30th in the world for electricity consumption. These findings clash with a former study that concluded bitcoin is largely eco-friendly.

It all revolves around the mining process. In lieu of traditional bank systems, bitcoin miners use specialized computers to verify transactions and keep records safe. These miners receive bitcoin as rewards for their work, which is also the only way new bitcoin enters the system. But as the price of bitcoin climbs, more people become miners. This not only adds more machines guzzling electricity, but also increases the amount of electricity needed to mine a single bitcoin. While a 2019 report — when bitcoin’s value was less than a quarter of what it is today — argues that most global mining was heavily supported by renewable energy sources, it’s unclear how this scales if the price of bitcoin continues to rapidly grow.

What can be done?

Researchers only see these energy costs dropping with the value of the currency, which recently reached an all-time high. Other possible solutions proposed include: 

  • A carbon tax on cryptocurrencies to help balance bitcoin’s environmental impacts 
  • Adjust how security measures are done to consume less energy than the current methods

Want a more regular serving of business news? Check out The Daily Upside, a business newsletter that covers the most important stories in business in a style that’s engaging, insightful, and fun — all written by a former investment banker.  

To learn more about this story...

  • Turn to our sources for reporting: BBCTechnology Review, and Investopedia.
  • To dig into the 2019 Bitcoin Mining Report, head to CoinShares
  • Some Tesla owners are upset after the company recently purchased $1.5 billion in bitcoin, seeing it as contradictory to the environmental benefits of electric vehicles. Read more about that on The Verge.

ASCII ART OF THE WEEK
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Credit: ASCII Art Farts