This week the worst for all things sustainable President Trump was impeached, BigFinance actually gave us some hope even as COP25 staggered to a near fatally disappointing conclusion, and Gorillas make a comeback putting a smile on the week.
All this and more in This Week in Sustainability.
Trump is bad for sustainability, his impeachment was warranted
This Week in Sustainability cannot avoid the impeachment of President Trump.
Without dwelling on the well deserved verdict, it must be said that Trump still poses one of greatest dangers to humanity and millions of other forms of life on this planet.
As a Canadian, I hesitate to say I understand the USA. But what on earth led Americans to accept such a disgraceful and shameless man as their President? And Trump’s GOP facilitators?
Pulling down America, incomprehensible, but not my business
How can his own supporters condone his power? Even as they voice support for him, he pulls away benefits such as food stamps, Medicare, and other lifesaving benefits that disproportionally helps them.
This is hard to comprehend. Yet it is not for foreigners to say how America should run its affairs.
If Americans want to deny millions of their own the health care I enjoy as a Canadian, so be it.
If they don’t mind automatic weapon wielding maniacs killing their children, that’s their business.
If they are ok with leaving new graduates under with massive, life-long debt, it is their right.
Pulling down the world, that is my business
But America’s impact on climate, biodiversity, and international affairs?
These, among other issues, affect the entire world.
So, Trump’s actions and influence in these areas does concern me, particularly his aggressive denial of, and intentional actions to worsen climate change.
In an exhaustive article outlining the Trump administration’s reversal of environmental regulations, the Pulitzer Prize-winning non-profit, non-partisan Inside Climate News found him to be:
- Promoting unfettered oil, natural gas and coal development.
- Trying to restore King Coal to its throne.
- Suppressing climate and related science.
- Undermining clean energy development and energy efficiency.
- Trying to undercut California’s world-leading climate progress.
Trump’s violent influence is a virus
We should also be concerned about Trump’s licensing of violence and affliction with science and evidentiary truth.
Trust in policy making based on science is under attack. This cannot be accepted as it is being copied in other jurisdictions (e.g., the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Ontario under Doug Ford and Jason Kennedy, respectively).
Violent crimes are on the rise again across the USA despite a twenty-year decline to record lows. Evidence points to a positive correlation between words at the top and actions on the ground.
GOP sycophantic symptoms as dangerous
For these reasons, if not for Trump’s sheer lack of dignity and decency, we should pray each to our own god or gods that the President be removed from office now or in the 2020 election.
As to the members of the GOP?
Surely, America, you can find representatives with more moral courage in a country of 330 million people to uphold conservative values I may not agree with, but were once pursued with dignified vigor and a willingness to compromise.
PS – It was to my great spiritual relief today that Christianity Today, a leading evangelical magazine, proclaimed for mostly the right reasons that Trump should be removed from office.
COP 25 limped, staggered, crawled to an inconclusive, frustrated and frustrating, disappointing close.
These are just a few of the descriptors journalists used to characterize COP25 in Madrid this past week.
(A wounded bird stuck in saturated oil sands may be more apt)
The conference was not really expected to produce great breakthroughs. After a truly inspiring year of #FridaysforFutures and #Extinction Rebellions, however, there was at least the hope of a stronger will for more forceful collective action.
More force of conviction? Not!
The mainstream press reported the summit hit an impasse. That, it was not.
Rather, it was a stunning and near complete ‘fail’, the playing out of a Kafkaesque drama (where things end badly in an overcomplicated plot with actors following fanatical, singular devotion to absurd conditions).
The alternative media got closer to that truth, noting negotiators simply caved to craven vested interests concerned less about climate than their own status quo.
Here is what we know.
The Convenient Cover of Carbon Market
Negotiating the details of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement on carbon trading and carbon markets creation were punted to COP26 in 2020.
Carbon markets, seen by many as the most efficient tool for reigning in emissions, proved for the second year in a row too ‘complex’ to resolve.
The buying and selling of carbon is admittedly not as simple as putting a lump of coal in an Amazon box and sending it on its way.
Carbon markets require the means to measure and verify emissions generally, and emission savings projects, specifically. They also need a global carbon registry, a global trading mechanism, and much more.
Too complex or conflicting (with status quo interest)?
Carbon markets are complex. But not that complex. Think about it. Finance folks have created trillion-dollar markets for derivative securities like forward commodity trading hedge options. So don’t tell me a carbon market can’t be had cheap and quick.
Had #BigEmitters (nations and companies) focused on building markets instead of on finding “loopholes and ways to slice out climate ambition in the current and already inadequate targets,” observed Ulriikka Aarnio of the Climate Action Network Europe, some progress might have been made.
Simply put, the status quo is more comfortable for #BigEmitters.
Willfully or not, they pulled a ‘Trump’ using complexity to distract negotiators from actual market building.
Loss and damage reparations unbound
Then there are Loss and Damage considerations, aka climate justice.
Why should poor and small countries, with growing deserts and or exposed shorelines, pay for a problem they hardly contributed to?
Besides, the task is enormous. Asking them to fix the #ClimateCrisis is like tying the legs of a grade two soccer team together for a match against Manchester United.
We smother you with carbon, you to pay for the impact
In an attempt at fair play, the UN created the Warsaw International Mechanism in 2007.
The mechanism was worked into the Paris accord and seeks to have #BigEmmiterCountries help poorer, low emission countries avoid choking under sand dunes or sinking underwater.
During COP25, #BigEmmiterCountries made it clear they only kinda, sorta, not really wanta participate in the WIM. They assured us they will pay, but voluntarily and on their own terms, unbound by international rules.
And we all know how well international largess worked out for the Ukrainians with Trump.
It identified four main gaps, to which I add a fifth.
First, the summit failed to address the Emission Gap, or the distance between greenhouse gas emission cuts agreed to in Paris and actual current emission levels which we know are rising not falling as they are supposed to be.
Then there is the Production Gap, or the gulf between Paris goals and emissions locked in by the current levels of mining and drilling of just 10 coal, oil, and gas-rich countries.
Next up, the Finance Gap, or the amount of money needed to shift the planet from fossil fuels and the paltry bit that has been committed to date.
Finally, there is the Ambition Gap, aka We’re not even trying to fix any of the gaps between the goals countries set in the Paris agreement and what actually needs to be done.
The fifth, final and perhaps most egregious Gap?
The biggest gap?
I call it the Morality Gap. That is the distance between actions founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct and those on legalities, enactment, or custom.
Clearly, legal issues and economic custom are an important part of the discourse. But allowing them to stop us from doing what is indisputably right?
That is a gap of yawning proportions.
“The summit,” said The Nation, was “business-as-usual pettiness, politicking, game-playing, and obstructive deceptions,” inside the negotiating rooms and the world-shaking urgency of the crisis everywhere outside them.
Symbolic counts when dissent has got us this far
Though more symbolic than impactful, cocktails receptions, dying decorative plants, baroque bureaucratese, and the unimaginably blockheaded suggestions that riotous youth be relegated to their own venue in Glasgow at COP26 will cast a shadow over this summit’s Morality Gap equally, if not more, than allowing #BigEmitter obfuscation.
The organizers were obliged to let Greta take the stage (which she did to thunderous applause) but corralled the very protestors whose dissent she represents. This tells us only those who play by the rules created by the folks who put us in the climate bind in the first place will be tolerated.
The summit, in effect, was listening to the polluters but not the people.
Intractable, complex problems need the truth to break them down
Yes, the problems are complex and yes, the several trillion-dollar fix required is enormous.
But clear-eyed analysts in alternative and mainstream press exposed the lack of progress at COP25 for what it was: the willful sedition of the summit goals by #BigEmitters, particularly US, China, Saudi Arabia, and, most stunningly, Australia, which is literally on fire.
COP25 did approve a meek exculpatory statement that Paris commitments are intended to “represent a progression” toward stronger ambition over time.
Said Chema Vera of Oxfam International, “the world is screaming out for action but this summit responded with a whisper.”
And now we wait while the COP takes a gap year.
Booker Bill aims to help small famers, rural communities
Senator Cory Booker introduced a bill this week in the US Senate aiming to radically reform the animal agriculture system in the US by putting small and independent producers, rural communities, and consumers first.
His Farm System Reform Act would halt construction of new concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and phase out all large CAFOs by 2040.
At the same time, his bill would hold corporate meatpackers accountable for environmental degradation and farmer exploitation.
It would also address meat packers price collusion and other anticompetitive activities, while reviving fair market mechanisms and country-of-origin labeling on beef, pork, and dairy products.
A big sustainability deal
This is a big deal, sustainability wise, as commercial agriculture at the scale of CAFOs, serves neither our health nor rural community vibrancy.
Booker’s USD 100 billion plan would end large-scale animal agriculture, or farms with over 700 dairy cattle, 2,500 hogs, or 82,000 laying hens, by 2040.
The deal is, sadly, dead before arrival, as it has little-to-zero chance in the Republican-controlled Senate.
It’s is nonetheless a shining example of what could be done and needs to be done to create a more vibrant rural community and a more ecologically oriented
The Booker Bill would decrease American red meat production by half
Some critics worry that doing away with big meat producers would affect meat protein availability.
As it stands now, America eats too much protein, and far too much meat-based protein.
The average adult male needs about 55 grams of protein a day. Women 45 grams.
That’s two to two and a half palm-sized portions of meat, fish, tofu, nuts or pulses daily.
Pissing away perfectly good, expensive protein
Now consider this.
The average American eats 101 kilos (222 pounds) of red meat and poultry a year!
This is about 280 grams (10 ounces) per day or over five times the recommended amount.
Without going into the details, America is pissing away four times more expensive protein each day then it retains.
Not to mention the carbon
If 27 kilos of carbon are produced for each kilo of red meat, total red meat consumption related carbon is 2,727 kilos annually per person.
If all Americans ate the recommended average amount of protein or 55 grams a day all in red meat, they would produce 524 kilos a year of carbon, or about 2,185 kilos less than they currently produce.
The total savings for not peeing away carbon: 721 million metric tons. Or, just for good measure, the weight of about 360 million male rhinos in their prime.
That’s a lot of carbon. Stimulating vibrant small farms and rural communities seems like just a bonus! Oh, and double bonus if you chose to eat one quarter the red meat most Americans do today, you would save about USD 1,400 a year. And if you saved this much each year and invested it for ten years you would net an incredible USD 180,000 (5.25% average return, compounded).
Eat less meat. Make money and save the world.
Not a bad bill Corey!
EV Solutions shut down by evil petty politics
A few weeks ago, This Week in Sustainability reported Chuck Schumer, Democrat minority leader in the US Senate, was going to fast track an electric vehicle (EV) support bill.
The bill is a follow-on from an Obama administration initiative to stimulate EV production and sale.
The bill would provide cash vouchers of up USD 7,000 towards an individual’s purchase of an EV with the goal of putting some 63 million of them on the road.
That’s a lot of EVs and a lot less carbon in the air, nearly 290 million tons a year less (or an incredible 5.7 trillion pounds less over the life of the subsidized EVs).
The bill was intended to help fund car manufacturers scale EV production efficiencies. Once a given manufacturer reached 200,000 units annually, they would not be eligible for the subsidies.
Climate Troglodytes in the House
This year, both GM and Tesla reached that threshold.
Schumer’s bill, in addition to supporting other manufacturers, would continue subsidizing the two leaders, to ensure their competitive position against European and Asian car firms rapidly investing in EV production.
Not so fast, said the scorched earth Trump administration.
Why should we, they say, help reduce carbon if the #ClimateCrisis doesn’t exist? And more to the point of their politics of grudge, why should we help rich Californians and Tesla?
Said Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), “I am not sure why the Trump’s White House has such extreme resistance” to the bill . Why, she asked would the White House “want to stop jobs and the future of the auto industry.”
Trump’s policy alternative: denial, coal, and politics
Who cares if Elon Musk gets richer? Unlike other so-called industry leaders, Tesla is all about Climate and having a future, not just their own.
PS – Thanks to Bloomberg for the original report and for Electrek for its elaboration. You can check out Electrek which breaks news about Tesl, EVs, and green energy… at electrek.co
Gorilla Population is Growing!
This week, Tara Stoinski, the CEO and chief scientific officer of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund reported some happy news: the eastern African mountain gorilla population is growing!
The number of gorillas has, in fact, risen from just 240 in the 1980s to a still-not-clear-of-extinction yet level of 1,063.
The mountain gorilla’s population dwindled over the years due to lost habitat, hunting (who is so twisted to hunt gorillas?), disease, and other threats.
Over three decades of “extreme conservation” involving day-to-day protection of gorilla families has helped the gorilla’s numbers to grow.
Wild gorillas’ populations have a ways go, but this is really exciting, positive news.
Faint Climate hope shines in #BigFinance
As many regular viewers of This Week in Sustainability know, #BigFinance is among my favorite targeta for critical ridicule.
They deserve it, and they deserve it big.
That said, and if nothing else, The Sustainable Century is committed to evidence-based truth.
And the truth is, there are glimmers of hope for finance meaningfully addressing the #ClimateCrisis and other pressing sustainability issues.
Faint rays of a good finance dawn?
A few announcements this week spread a bit of much needed light on the limpid COP25, dim rays of finance trying to do the right thing.
First, 16 asset owners committed to the UN Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance, under the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). These investors will work towards net zero across their entire portfolio by 2050.
Next, and as reported in This Week in Sustainability last week, over 600 investors have joined the Global Investor Statement to Governments on Climate Action, representing well over USD $37trillion in assets.
And in much applauded news, Goldman Sachs announced this week it will not bankroll new Arctic oil drilling. The bank also hopes to convince other BigFinance companies to stop financing fossil fuel.
This week Liberty Mutual insurance company became one of the first big U.S. insurers to announce it would stop aiding coal companies.
The European Investment Bank announced––again reported in This Week in Sustainability––that it was out of the fossil fuel finance business, and activists said this week the Swiss Central Bank was close to taking similar action.
Not all and good qualitatively or quantitatively
Now, I am not saying any of this bad news, far from it. It’s all good.
But as reported extensively in The Sustainable Century and many other media, both the quality and quantity of these commitments are, in a word, underwhelming.
To claim USD 37 billion is pressing open the doors of meaningful change, would be to disgrace the intelligence of the protestors who were left outside the very doors that slammed shut between their hopes and the financers on the inside at COP25 this past week.
Looks like of money to us, but it’s not so much of the market
It is sad to note, too, that few of these billions in assets have real or material impact on the sustainability trifecta of the climate, biodiversity, and economic justice crises.
Considering there is some USD 300 trillion in assets in the public markets, throwing USD 37 against the problem is like spitting into an extreme #ClimateCrisis event hurricane.
Many financiers just don’t get it do they?
Then there is the more subjective ‘they just don’t get it” problem.
Ana Botín, executive chair of Santander bank, which funded $15 billion in fossil fuel projects since 2016, took the stage at COP25, for example, to praise “herself for balancing customer credit card purchases with carbon offsets.”
And where some banks see risk, Chase Bank, sees opportunity. It has become the biggest fossil fuel lender in the world, financing hundreds of billions of dollars of some of the most extreme fossil fuel projects on earth.
Chase has not decreased but dramatically increased fossil fuel lending since the Paris accords. “If these bankers plugged the money pipeline,” wrote Time Magazine “the fossil fuel industry would have to stop expanding.”
A USD 7 trillion stick unwielded
Meanwhile, Larry Flint, CEO of Blackrock, the USD 7 trillion fund manager should be looking in his rear view mirror these days. There is a posse of Catholic Nuns on his tail.
The 9,000 nuns of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas called on Blackrock this week to push its investee companies to move faster on emission reductions. The Sisters are unhappy with Blackrock, which has supported a mere 6 of 52 climate related resolutions at investee company annual shareholder meetings.
The nuns’ call is despite Mr. Flint’s weepy annual declarations, and his company’s promises of good intention on climate and other sustainability issues.
Financiers will be complicit until they take out the big money stick
Without going down BlackRock’s long deep and mucky rabbit hole, the company said it spoke to some 370 investee companies on environmental matters and ‘where relevant’ voted on climate related proposals.
Oh, but I digress.
Talking to other corporate executives with equally spanky suits always works better than the direct threat of divestment by the biggest investment fund manager in the history of the world.
Like the nationalization of a couple BigOil companies, something The Sustainable Century advocates, BigFinance has only to divest loudly and strategically, crippling one or two investee companies to make its point and change carbon behavior quickly.
BigFinance can afford to take a hit or two
Given banks make money on thousands of other things besides fossil fuels, and given they are filled with really smart (if often commercially amoral) folk, they can easily make up the difference a divestment or two would afflict on their quarterly return reports.
Like most activists, I have no faith in the current value set of most financiers. I do have faith in their capacity, creativity, and innovation, however.
Set in the right direction, BigFinance could provide much more than the glimmer of hope it offers today.
It truly could be the very rays of light we have been searching for.
The question, is: will it find its humanity and step up?
The Last Word in This Week in Sustainability
Said Yeb Sano at COP25, we are “tired of dishonest optimism.”
Yeb is a self-proclaimed recovering climate negotiator, now Executive Director of Greenpeace South East Asia.
Bless you Yeb and your work. Bless Greenpeace too. And may your god/ s, and any other god great and small protect and guide you.
Signs of Change in This Week in Sustainability