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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien

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Environment

Feb 14, 2019

Meet RJ Scaringe. The Founder of Rivian, Changing the Way We View Transportation

RJ’s goal? To change the way our society views transportation. To change the way we buy and own vehicles. To change the way we treat our environment.

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

Founder of Rivian, the company building the world’s first electric adventure vehicles, RJ Scaringe isn’t one to set simple goals. He thinks big.

RJ’s goals go beyond simply building electric cars. They go beyond 4×4 vehicles. They go beyond self-driving vehicles. RJ’s ultimate goal is this – to change the way our society views transportation. To change the way we buy and own vehicles. To change the way we treat our environment.

RJ founded a car company, and yet he does not want people buying his cars in the future. This may seem like a strange business plan, but to RJ, it is the only way forward.

RJ envisions a world where you don’t own a car. Your family doesn’t own a car. Your neighbors don’t own cars. Sounds like a hassle to get around, right? How will you go skiing this weekend? How will you take your family to the beach in the spring? How will you move your oldest child into her dorm room?

RJ, with Rivian ambassador Alex Honnold.

With Rivian, you won’t own a car. But you will have 24/7 access to a vehicle that drives itself to you with a simple press of a button. No, it’s not Uber. No, it’s not a car share. It is a self-driving, electric vehicle that will drive itself to you, whenever you need it, so you have access to it whenever you need it. People no longer have the need to own vehicles. They just call a Rivian!

RJ’s Beginnings

It was this truly deep internal conflict

RJ’s lofty goals didn’t just spring out of the blue. He began his career working at a Porsche restoration shop in Florida, which is what sparked his deep love for cars and the car industry. “I’m a lifelong car enthusiast and grew up restoring classic cars, like the Porsche 356. Along the way, I decided that I wanted to get into cars, I wanted it to be the focus of my life. So I went to school to achieve it.” But no matter how much he loved cars, something about it always bothered RJ. “As I got more involved with it, it started to bother me how these things that I loved were simultaneously the cause of our changing climate, smog, and a whole host of environmental and social problems on the planet. It was this truly deep internal conflict.”

So, he set out to change things…


The First Few Miles

It’s like I’m naked at the base of a super steep mountain, and have to figure out how to get to the top

RJ went on to get his master’s and PhD from MIT with the goal of learning how to increase driving efficiency in vehicles. He went on from there to work for multiple large organizations, where he felt that efficiency could be improved, but they often lacked the ability to adapt to change given their structure. “I realized that I could have more impact by actually starting something on my own.” So he built his own company – from the ground up. “I saw how difficult it was to do big systems-level innovation even when you have really smart people. Just because of the scale of these organizations, the complexity of the organizations. So I said, ‘If you could redesign the organization to think of the systems-level, to not have the traditional boundaries between silos, and rethink from a clean sheet what the vehicle is, what the architecture is, what the company is…’”

So he did it. He started from a clean slate. No money, no team, no supply chain, no plant, no technology.

When asked if he has encountered any big challenges along the way, RJ responded, “It’s like I’m naked at the base of a super steep mountain, and have to figure out how to get to the top.”

Founding, and rethinking, Rivian

Starting with less than 20 people, the company took some time to get off the ground. But after securing good relationships with investors and shareholders, the team began to grow. Now, with five plants around the world, and mass production set for 2020, RJ’s hard work and aspirations are all starting to pay off. Naturally, in the beginning, given RJ’s background working with Porsche sports cars, Rivian was focused on building an electric sports car. However, as the company grew, and as RJ’s love for the outdoors grew, so their focus began to shift.

this whole world of conditioned air, of electronics and watching TV, of your vehicles that can take you places, is powered by fossil fuel

“In college, I was heavy into mountain biking. I would be biking every weekend, and it always bothered me that going on those adventures, I would have to use a car. It was this weird juxtaposition of wanting to enjoy the outdoors and go into the outdoors, but on your way there, making the outdoors worse. So, to be honest, I thought about all kinds of crazy things I could build to fix this… Could I build a bike that could peddle power a car to take me to these adventures? I would bike really long distances to get to a hike, and then I would be exhausted and hike for only half an hour. And I’d be like, ‘okay, now I have to bike all the way back.’ So, we pivoted off of the idea of the sports car, and we decided to really focus that passion around adventure and outdoor lifestyle.”

And with that outdoor adventure lifestyle in tow, Rivian decided to completely rethink the way an outdoor adventure vehicle is designed. “The key for building a new company, and for that matter, establishing your brand, is that you have to have something that gets people excited. It has to foundationally reset expectations… So, it’s quicker than it needs to be. It’s better off-road than it needs to be. It’s more efficient than it needs to be. It’s sort of unreasonably good. But it’s there to make a statement, and that statement is the foundation framework we are building. And when I started on that journey, it wasn’t as unreasonably good as it needed to be across all the different areas of the vehicle. So we’ve kept on going back and saying, ‘Let’s make it better. Make it better, make it better.’ It’s three seconds, zero to 60. It’s better off-road than any vehicle on the market, and it’s wrapped in something that’s really compelling. It’s got great storage. It’s a unique vehicle.”

And with this unique vehicle, RJ hopes to help enable people to access the outdoors. “We often think that a vehicle can’t make you active, but it can enable that, and make it easier for you to generate memories. And from a societal point of view – right now, we collect our memories with pictures. So, we need to be designing a product that helps you to do the things you want to take pictures of. Like, you don’t take a picture of yourself sitting on the couch watching TV. But you take a picture of yourself on an awesome hike, or with the kids at the beach. And we want to enable those things that you’re going to take pictures of.”

Rivian vehicles aren’t even in production yet, and they are already a hot topic of conversation among outdoor adventure enthusiasts. They even gained attention from the outdoor industry’s biggest star, Alex Honnold, when he decided to leave his #VanLife behind and partner with Rivian as an ambassador. Honnold described his partnership as an easy choice, “Even if I wasn’t working with Rivian, if I wasn’t an ambassador or anything, I would still be supporting the brand. We need more companies like this in the world. The world has to go 100% electric at some point, and the sooner the better!”

What are we doing wrong?’ I think every business should be able to answer that question – why the world needs them to exist.

RJ hopes that by founding Rivian, this will help push other car companies to make the move toward electricity as well. “We as a society today live in a world where we have conditioned air in our homes. We travel 30 miles to get to the office on a daily basis. We don’t really think anything of it, but this whole world of conditioned air, of electronics and watching TV, of your vehicles that can take you places, is powered by fossil fuel. And what’s amazing is that in 100 years of this level of this style of lifestyle, we’ve used about half of what took 300 million years to accumulate. All the fossil fuels on our planet are 300 million years’ worth of plant and animal life that died and went into the earth’s surface. It then comes out in the form of coal and liquid fuel, and we literally used almost half of that in 100 years. It’s just staggering to think about how fast we are consuming that energy resource. It’s not a choice if we want to continue to travel and we want to continue to live the way we live today – we have to transition to something that’s sustainable beyond the next 100 years. And our argument is that the sooner we do that, the better, because simultaneously while using up all those carbon fuels, we are significantly changing the makeup of the atmosphere. We essentially took what happened in 300 million years where carbon was extracted from the atmosphere and put into the core of the earth, and we reversed that in 100 years. Of course it is going to lead to dramatic changes in our climate books. So, let’s make this change as fast as possible. We’re going to have to make it anyways. It’s not a debate, it’s a fact. We have to change. We can’t continue moving around like this on the planet. Everything we do at Rivian is to try to get that to be faster.”

All in all, we are excited to see what Rivian has to offer in the future. RJ’s business tactics may differ slightly from the way his competitors do things, but that may be just what the world needs right now. Who knows – maybe other businesses will be able to learn from RJ, and from the question he asks himself every day. “Does the world need us as a company to exist? Because if the answer to is no, then you need to take a step back and say, ‘What are we doing wrong?’ I think every business should be able to answer that question – why the world needs them to exist.”

Find out more about the Rivian vehicles here.

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Environment

Dec 21, 2018

Youth v. USA: Carbon Capitalism on Trial

As a nation's leaders shrink from imminent global catastrophe, its youth rise to the challenge. In the US, a lawsuit against the federal government could galvanize climate change policy.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

Aji Piper was just 15 years old when he and 20 other adolescents sued the federal government. Their contention: due to decades of misconduct, the country’s highest bureaucracy is responsible for deleterious climate change. Three years later, their lawsuit, Juliana vs. USA, awaits a trial date. As citizens poised to inherit a volatile climate and its incumbent challenges, the youth plaintiffs have turned to the courts as the last bulwark against an administration devoted to business-as-usual. As children and young adults, Piper and the other prosecutors have the activist mentality and tech-savvy to promote their case online and in the streets. “We are agency in action; we have to win in the court of law and the court of public opinion,” Piper says.

Youth rally for climate justice

They’ve already got climate science on their side. Consensus from this month’s UN “Conference of the Parties” (COP) climate summit is that urgent remedial action is required of world leaders to address anthropogenic climate change. At the conference, heavyweight investors warned of $23 trillion annual economic losses should global leaders fail to slash carbon emissions and phase out coal burning. October’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report called for a 45% reduction in global carbon dioxide emission to avoid irrevocable climate-related dangers including sea level rise, mass crop loss, and extreme weather events. Forecasts predict a global temperature increase of 3°C since pre-industrial numbers by the end of the century—well above the 1.5°C target most experts champion. Climate-related hazards unfold on a visceral level as anomalous wildfire events, coastal inundations, and exacerbated respiratory ailments such as asthma. The sirens of the climate change newsroom have reached fever pitch, but they’ve fallen on deaf ears at the federal level.

Oil well at sunrise. Image via Pixabay.

Federal subsidy of the fossil fuel industry has resulted in human suffering due to climate change, and they are liable for the damage.

The prosecutors of Juliana vs. USA first brought their qualms to the judicial realm under the Obama administration in 2015. Their bid for trial puttered through a series of bureaucratic postponements that bled into the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s administration poses an additional hurdle for the lawsuit. The president, an outspoken climate change denier, has called global warming “a total, and very expensive hoax”, and has pursued pro-fossil-fuel policy since taking office. Just last week, his administration released plans to retract protection of the greater sage grouse on some nine million acres of public lands in the West to pursue oil and gas drilling. According to policy experts, the action would open up more land to drilling than any previous move the administration has made.

Youth rally for climate justice

Ironically, the defendants won’t be denying the climate science, which Juliana lawyer Philip Gregory knows is airtight. Instead, they will obfuscate the link between climate change and bodily harms and contest federal responsibility for rising carbon emissions. But Gregory says that the government has known since the 1950s that burning fossil fuels could affect the climate. “They put a foot on the accelerator and ramped up fossil fuel extraction through federal leasing and opening up the Gulf and the Arctic for drilling, despite knowledge that carbon dioxide emissions could have devastating negative health effects,” he informs. According to Gregory, the global crises is the result of more than political paralysis; affirmative government action fueled the catastrophe.

Youth rally for climate justice

The case raises some imposing questions. How will federal policies address the uncertain boundaries of climate change? What responsibility does a government bear to its citizens with respect to the climate? Gregory and the prosecutors have an answer. “The government does not have a duty to directly protect anyone; however, if it creates a danger or is a substantial factor in creating the danger, then it is obligated to protect citizens from harm,” Gregory explains. He analogizes fossil fuel to foster care. “A classic example would be the state-run foster care system. If they have reason to suspect that a licensed foster-care provider is not helping children but continue to license that provider, they would be liable for the suffering of children under the care of the negligent provider.” Essentially, federal subsidy of the fossil fuel industry has resulted in human suffering due to climate change, and they are liable for the damage.

Piper claims that Washington’s culpability is incontrovertible because “livable climate is essential to a free and ordered society.” He wants to test the clout of the public trust doctrine, which holds that the government is responsible for good stewardship of critical natural resources. The plaintiffs reason that healthy climate, a natural resource comparable to clean air or safe drinking water, is entitled to legal protection. But the potency of the public trust doctrine is already under siege; on Tuesday the EPA released proposed changes to the Clean Water Act that would truncate federal protection of vast tracts of seasonal wetlands and waterways. The plan is the latest effort by the Trump administration to rescind “regulatory overreaching” Obama-era environmental policy they claim stifles development. As the proposal demonstrates, even an established protection like the Clean Water Act is subject to the agenda of the sitting government. Federal curbing by the GOP can limit the efficacy of a “public trust” designation.

Youth rally for climate justice

It’s unclear whether victory in court will impact global carbon emissions in the critical time-frame prescribed by the IPCC report.

Should Juliana triumph in court, the US government would be bound by law to develop a climate recovery plan. According to Piper, the plan’s content is outside the jurisdiction of the courts but will necessitate unprecedented commitment to reforestation and other carbon sequestration efforts, renewable energy subsidies, and an aggressive dismantling of fossil-fuel infrastructure. That’s a tall order of a government whose President said in October: “I don’t know that it’s [climate change] manmade…I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs. I don’t want to be put at a disadvantage.” An adequate climate plan would entail a complete overhaul of US carbon capitalism, a radical reconfiguration that the present administration will resist with every political roadblock at their disposal. Stall tactics might include an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court, or even to the Supreme Court and its conservative-leaning bench. Due to the ambiguity of a “climate recovery plan” and the legislatorial challenges of a polarized government, it’s unclear whether victory in court will impact global carbon emissions in the critical time-frame prescribed by the IPCC report. But every month counts on a destabilizing planet, and the lawsuit’s prompt success could mean the difference between 1.5°C of warming and 3°C. “Even if we do pass a ‘tipping point’, I won’t stop being an activist,” Piper concluded. “Even helping one community or one family is making a positive impact, and that’s enough for me.”

Youth rally for climate justice. Photos provided by Marlow Baines.

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