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Tom Steyer thinks business is missing a big opportunity—and that Trump has done ‘nothing but whiff’



Since Tom Steyer dropped out of the presidential race in February, he has been busy proselytizing about his favorite topic: climate. Both the political and the earthly, that is.

An advisor to Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, Steyer is warning that the planet faces imminent calamity if bold and urgent action isn’t taken. But it’s not all doom and gloom, says Steyer, a billionaire and former hedge fund manager. Humanity may yet snatch prosperity from the jaws of eco-devastation.

Fortune caught up with Steyer, whose name has been floated for a possible Biden cabinet placement. He explained the Democratic ticket’s economic recovery plans, which tie together financial stimulus and environmental policy. The discussion ranged from how Steyer is reading the markets to what technological breakthroughs he’s most excited about (see: electric vehicles, offshore windfarms, and more).

Here is that conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.

Fortune: Which is the bigger crisis facing this country, COVID or climate?

Tom Steyer: I don’t separate those. It is our ability to handle the natural world. It’s about dealing with the facts, dealing with the science, and taking into account what you need to do to avoid disaster. Joe Biden intends to deal with them in a way that also addresses our high unemployment rates and the need to create good paying middle-class jobs. Mr. Trump has done nothing but whiff.

What would a Biden presidency entail?

The biggest thing the Biden campaign has proposed is the $2 trillion “build back better” plan to rebuild the infrastructure of America over four years with an eye toward climate and clean energy—but it’s not limited to that. It includes building affordable housing and charging stations for electric vehicles. It includes weatherizing millions of houses, redoing HVACs in commercial buildings, and rebuilding the grid so it can take in renewables. It’s a huge infrastructure deal. This is critical.

The president says the plan costs too much and will destroy the economy.

The exact opposite is true. Did you read Mr. Trump’s taxes? Are you going to listen to this guy on business or economics? I did two studies five or six years ago with Hank Paulson and Mike Bloomberg with the support of American CEOs and policy leaders called “risky business” to show that moving to clean energy creates faster growth, more and better paying jobs, and better health, while avoiding the climate disaster. It is a win, win, win. Clean energy is cheaper than fossil fuel energy. Trump either doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he’s lying. Those are the only possibilities.

What is the cost to the country—or the planet—of delaying action?

Incalculable. Your generation is going to have to deal with this every single day for the rest of your lives.

Say more.

I live in California. We’ve had over 4 million acres burned so far this year. The record before this was two years ago, 1.9 million acres. The Gulf has a record number of hurricanes. If you have a strong stomach, read about how the now-considered-unstoppable melting of the Greenland and Antarctic glaciers will affect sea level. This is not a problem you can wait four years to deal with. No, this problem will just keep escalating until we get on top of it.

China is making bold commitments. It aims to be “carbon neutralby 2060. Do you believe, or trust, China’s leadership when it makes such pronouncements? Is there any hope of the U.S. and China working together?

I do not want the people of the United States to suffer horribly, and I don’t believe the Chinese leadership wants the people of China to suffer horribly. We can only solve this together. There is a huge business and economic opportunity up for grabs here. We can either seize it or not.

Where should the U.S. focus its attention?

Think about growth. Is growth going to come by us taking marginal market share in the internal combustion business, or is it going to come by us creating a whole new business in things like electric vehicles? Are we going to get growth by coming up with new coal plants? Or are we going to get growth by coming up with entirely new clean ways of creating electricity?

Elon Musk would appreciate your touting electric vehicles.

All I can say is the market is speaking really loudly here—really, really loudly in terms of where we’re going. The Republican Party isn’t listening. Just take a look at where people think the future is—whether that’s the balance sheets of our biggest banks, or the valuations of companies on freely traded exchanges. We say we want America to be energy independent. Let’s talk about how we’re going to do that.

Which technologies excite you most right now?

We can see how much better the battery is going to be and where solar prices are going in the next year or two. But can you really tell me how big offshore wind is? It could be huge. Can you really tell me where we’re going with clean hydrogen? That is a game changer.

As a former hedge fund manager, what advice might you have for people looking to get through this time of economic uncertainty?

I don’t really give investment advice anymore. I always say to people, if you want to do it, do it full time—be completely committed. But I will say this. It has never worked to invest in the past. We literally need to rebuild this country. Drive around and take a look. We need to rebuild the infrastructure and we have to do it on accelerated basis. This is a huge business opportunity.

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Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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We don’t know enough about COVID antibodies to count on them



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One of the biggest outstanding questions about the coronavirus, and one which could well determine the course of the pandemic, is the role that antibodies play in immunity.

By now you’ve probably heard plenty about antibodies in the context of immunity and developing a COVID vaccine. These Y-shaped proteins form because of an immune response to a pathogen or other hostile biological material. They may be personalized to sites on an individual virus called antigens, to which they attach and help prevent infection.

As with many viruses, antibodies form during the course of a COVID case and should offer protection against against a second coronavirus infection. But it’s still unclear just how potent these antibodies are and whether or not they may provide stronger immunity for some people more than others. And that raises the question of whether or not you can contract COVID-19 twice.

One central mystery that may take years to answer is how long COVID antibodies last. First off, antibodies don’t always behave the same everyone. Some may form powerful antibodies with staying power; others whose body’s so-called adaptive immune system produces weaker ones may face a much more brutal fight with COVID and be at a higher risk for reinfection. Human biology can react in unpredictable ways to new adversaries.

Then there’s the type of pathogen that the novel coronavirus is itself. Coronaviruses encompass a broad class of bugs which can include everything from some types of the common cold to SARS and MERS. There is to date no cure or vaccine for the common cold since there is such a variety of strains. There also aren’t any commercially available ones for SARS or MERS—or any coronaviruses for that matter.

Part of the reason for that is both the SARS and MERS outbreaks cause milder disease than COVID-19, and the former were contained relatively quickly. Patients who contracted SARS during that outbreak were found that have protective antibodies for an average of two years.

That doesn’t seem to be the case with the novel coronavirus—at least for certain COVID patients. In those who suffer from a mild case, antibody levels may be cut in half in just over two months, according to one study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Another new analysis by Imperial College London scientists released this week examined antibody levels among the British population. The report found that antibody prevalence dropped sharply and quickly in the study population: from 6% in late June to 4.4% in late September.

“This very large study has shown that the proportion of people with detectable antibodies is falling over time,” said Helen Ward, one of the lead study authors.

But there’s another twist: Those falling antibody levels don’t necessarily mean you’ll be reinfected with COVID. “We don’t yet know whether this will leave these people at risk of reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19, but it is essential that everyone continues to follow guidance to reduce the risk to themselves and others,” she said.

Other studies have shown there is a non-zero number of people who have been reinfected after recovering from COVID. A Lancet report published two weeks ago examined the case of a 25-year-old man from Washoe County in Nevada who contracted COVID-19 once in April and again at the end of May.

“The degree of protective immunity conferred by infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is currently unknown. As such, the possibility of reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 is not well understood,” wrote the authors from the University of Nevada and Nevada State Public Health Library.

To date, as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) puts it, “confirmed and suspected cases of reinfection of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been reported, but remain rare​.”​

Experts stress that the mere presence of coronavirus antibodies is no reason to assume you’ll have long-lasting immunity or protect others from infection. The latter point throws a big wrench into proponents of a “herd immunity” approach wherein you simply let enough people get infected and become immune.

At the end of the day, it is still be important to wash your hands, wear a mask, socially distance, and be generally responsible—antibodies or otherwise.

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Who is Ryan Smith, new owner of the Utah Jazz?



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The NBA’s Utah Jazz has been owned for close to 35 years by Utah businessman Larry H. Miller or his family. But in a move that stunned locals, the Miller family announced today that it would sell a controlling stake in the team to Ryan Smith, cofounder of tech company Qualtrics.

So who is the new owner of the Utah Jazz?

Here are the high points: Smith is young (42), loves basketball, and has signaled a strong commitment to social justice, particularly racial justice issues. And of course, he’s very wealthy.

Prior Jazz owner Miller was born in Salt Lake City and built a business empire starting with car dealerships, then expanding to a television station and movie theaters before purchasing the Jazz in 1985. The price tag was reportedly $22 million for 100% of the Jazz. Miller died in 2009 and passed control of the Jazz to his family.

The contrasts between Miller and Smith start with that price tag: Smith’s takeover of the Jazz will cost him a reported $1.66 billion. It’s not entirely clear how large the Smith’ stake will be, though the team was recently estimated to be worth $1.55 billion by Forbes. However much he got, Smith paid nearly thirty times what Miller paid for the entire team, in inflation-adjusted terms.

Smith can afford the markup. He co-founded Qualtrics, with his brother and father, a marketing professor at Brigham Young University, in 2002. In 2018, the company was sold to German business software giant SAP for $8 billion, though it remains an independently run unit and Smith still serves as CEO. The founders’ share of that payday was estimated at $3 billion, and Forbes now estimates Ryan Smith’s personal net worth at $1.3 billion.

What exactly did SAP buy? Qualtrics started off by offering customer surveys online, but has expanded considerably. It’s now best known for its so-called “customer experience management” software, which brings together a variety of data sources, including surveys, social media chatter, and direct customer feedback. The software is meant to track both broad sentiment about a company’s products and services, and specific customer interactions, such as repair or refund requests. One of Qualtrics’ closer competitors is Salesforce, which draws on a similarly broad array of data sources to help companies manage sales and customer relationships.

As Fortune detailed when we named him to its 40 Under 40 list in 2016, Smith is a lifelong Utah resident and, like the majority of Utah residents, a Mormon. He’s been a major booster of the local business community, helping found a coalition of central Utah tech businesses called Silicon Slopes.

Smith has been notably active on social justice causes. In June, at the height of Black Lives Matter protests, Smith announced he would personally match donations by Qualtrics employees to legal defense funds for the movement. In a 2017 Forbes profile, he strategizes with fellow founders about how to attract more diversity to Utah.

Those commitments should serve Smith well as an NBA owner, given recent collisions between sport and politics that included a brief NBA player strike in August in response to police shootings of African-Americans. They also mark something of a contrast with Miller, who in 2005 raised the ire of activists by refusing to show Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain at theaters he owned because it depicted a gay relationship.

Smith also clearly loves basketball. He has a court in his basement, as well as in the lobby of Qualtrics’ headquarters building in Orem, Utah. Smith’s Twitter feed is sports-heavy, and he has partnered with the Jazz before, including a sponsorship this year that helped raise $25 million for cancer research.

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