Posts Tagged ‘climate’

New programs link cities with science experts to tackle resiliency challenges

Two new programs aim to get subject-matter experts linked up with local and regional governments to take on their most pressing resiliency challenges.  Andy Revkin offers up his typically link-infused overview of these efforts, centered on Thriving Earth Exchange, which is networking to bring in experts to help cities with specific issues such as flood risks to food distribution systems, adapting to extreme heat, responding to drought, and many others.  Meanwhile, the Obama White House rolled out a similar program dubbed The Resilience Dialogues, an “online consultative service will help communities find, use, and understand information, tools, and programs to support their climate-resilience needs.”

Both of these programs are actively soliciting requests from cities for expert guidance, and subject-matter experts willing to share their insights.  If you’re active in your local community’s transition, resiliency, or climate response programs, check them out!  Start with Revkin’s introduction, then dig in.

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Investors are responding to climate and societal crises

In the face of continued grim climate news and disturbing societal trends, it is increasingly clear that governments cannot marshall the resources—or perhaps even the will—necessary to the tasks before us. Increasingly, though, forward-looking investors are stepping in to help lead the way forward. Two recent reports offer some encouraging signs that global finance does indeed include many actors who are committed to the changes that we need.

Domestically, a progress report on an impact investing initiative from the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation shows actual investments to be outpacing and outperforming the initial commitments and expectations. When this private-investment initiative was announced in June 2014, they had $1.5 billion in new commitments to impact investments from private funds, foundation programs and endowments, investment banks, small family foundations, and nonprofit organizations. By the time the dust settled on the first round of planning, that total had grown to $2.5 billion to be invested over the five years from 2014-2019. The recent report followed up and found that in just the first eighteen months, through December 2015, almost half of this total had already been invested, suggesting that in the long run the goal may well be exceeded.  This is especially likely when we turn to the returns coming in on the early investments, which universally have exceeded expectations.  It turns out—no surprise to the SRI community—that investing in projects with strong social and environmental impact is very good business!  So far, about two-thirds has been invested for social impact and one-third for environmental impact, especially climate solutions. 81% has been invested here in the U.S.

financing_sustainable_development_momentum_to_transformation-212x300Internationally, the news is also encouraging. A recent UN report outlines the challenges before us: to meet both the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development goals and the targets in the Paris climate agreement, $90 trillion of investment is needed over the next 15 years.  This amounts to about 8% of global GDP over this timeframe, a daunting but not unrealistic goal.  But to get there, it will mean marshaling the same power of private financing. As former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson points out in an op-ed entitled How to Raise Trillions for Green Investments:

“The good news is that there is a global abundance of private capital. To unlock these riches, governments must create conditions that encourage private investment in clean technologies and sustainable development. With smart, well-designed and coordinated policies, financing models and instruments like bonds and incentive programs, countries have the potential to solve some of the planet’s most pressing environmental challenges while still maintaining economic growth.”

Paulson is especially enthused about the explosive growth of green bonds, which nearly quadrupled from 2013 to 2015, up to $42 billion.  Of this, 40% is being deployed in China, where the government there has set ambitious green energy and building targets.  The Building Energy Efficiency and Green Development Fund is a public-private partnership that will bring leading-edge technologies from U.S. companies to China to increase the energy-efficiency of new buildings there. (One more reason to NOT start a trade war with China!)

All this investment is still just the first few drops in the $90 trillion bucket, but the rapid ramping up of these and other green investment commitments suggests that the financial powers that be are finally waking up to the scope of our challenge and are ready to put their massive wealth to work making the changes that are needed. Time will tell whether it will be enough, but we’re encouraged that it’s happening on a scale we haven’t seen before.

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Catch the bug: rooftop solar is highly contagious!

We’ve been hearing about the rapid expansion of solar power, and most of us have probably noticed more rooftop panels and small community solar projects in fields.  But it turns out that solar’s spread is not simply due to climate concerns or enticing economics: there’s a strong “contagion” factor, as new solar owners encourage their friends and neighbors to get on board.  Check out this animation, from northern Colorado:

According to SolarCity, the largest solar installer and leasing outfit in the US:

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Bracing for climate-driven food system shock?

A fascinating and somewhat scary article from Jeff Masters at Weather Underground paints a very plausible picture of how climate change could trigger a confluence of weather-related impacts around the globe that, together, lead to an unprecedented shock to the global food system.  He fleshes out a report put together by Lloyd’s of London, which posited several events around the world, including an El Niño-driven drought from India through Southeast Asia to Australia (triggering a 6-20% reduction in key grain harvests), along with floods in the Mississippi basin creating a 7-27% hit on US grain, and torrential rains and landslides causing a 10% drop in Pakistan and the Himalayan lowlands.  The addition of a couple of plant-diseases in South America and western Asia add some more 10% reductions to regional harvests, with the cumulative result being a world-wide food crisis.

We’ve had hints of this in the past, as when US floods in 1993 (pictured above) caused US corn production to fall 33%, or the 60% spikes in global food priced during two Russian droughts (pictured below); the more recent one occurred in the same year as damaging floods in Canada and Pakistan, both of which also contributed.


What’s different in the Lloyd’s of London analysis is the idea that climate change could trigger several large impacts at once.  Instead of 60% increases in food prices seen in the “bad” years within recent memory, they suggest we could see global food prices leap to 4 or 5 times the norm, which are likely to trigger all manner of social upheaval and tragedy of the sort that tends to trigger us to plunge our heads into the nearest hole in the sand. . . .

It will probably say something about your own comfort with risk to hear that Lloyd’s sees this worst-case scenario as having about a 20% chance of happening during the next forty years.  Even if we dodge those odds, the chart above is a reminder that one or a few modest disruptions can have a huge impact on the global food system.  It seems prudent for resilient investors to have at least an awareness of these risks, and, if possible, a plan in place for how to respond if food prices spike.


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California blazes a trail to the future, once again

Once again, California is showing the way forward.  This time, it’s more consequential than Hollywood’s entertainment, Silicon Valley’s new tech, or the Sixties’ social evolutions.  California is road-testing large-scale public policies that face up to the profound threat of climate change, showing the rest of us that a shared social commitment IS possible.  As fleshed out The California Code, published in the new west-coast quarterly journal, Boom:

California’s response to the drought is … nationally and globally significant. What state and local leaders did to reduce the risks, and how state residents reacted, was a very public demonstration of government’s capacity to act with reason and intelligence to a short-term ecological emergency, with a long-term vision.

California sprang to action in its fourth year of deep drought because water management professionals and state leaders recognized that California’s water-scarce condition could be the new norm. They accepted the scientific consensus that it could get considerably worse. The way out of the trouble was to convince state residents of the need for collective action and to instill behavioral changes in homes and businesses that would diminish demand and provide a higher measure of safety.

Perhaps that should not be surprising given California’s historical ability to set the national and global agenda in culture, technology, environmental restoration, and the like. It’s arguable, though, that what California is up to now in responding to global ecological disarray may be the most important contribution to human well-being that it’s ever made.

A series of remarkably astute and aggressive measures approved by Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Sacramento has systematically formed a model for dealing with Earth’s new conditions, and it is proving to be effective. Among the most significant measures:

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Al Gore’s climate optimism

Earlier this year, a new talk by Al Gore was posted on the TED site: The case for optimism on climate change.  The 20-minute talk and subsequent short interview with TED-meister Chris Anderson is well worth a look.  Much of his optimism centers on the rapid shift in electricity production:

The best projections 14 years ago were that we would install one gigawatt of solar per year by 2010. When 2010 came around, we beat that mark by 17 times over. Last year, we beat it by 58 times over. This year, we’re on track to beat it 68 times over. We’re going to win this. We are going to prevail. When I came to this stage 10 years ago, this is where (the growth curve for solar) was (see arrow on image at top of post). We have seen a revolutionary breakthrough in the emergence of these exponential curves.

Gore quotes economist Rudi Dornbusch, who said, “Things take longer to happen then you think they will, and then they happen much faster than you thought they could.”  Importantly, the business community has been quick to jump onto the bandwagon, and in fact has been crucial to the rate at which its been gathering steam.  “This is the biggest new business opportunity in the history of the world, and two-thirds of it is in the private sector,” notes Gore. “We are seeing an explosion of new investment. Starting in 2010, investments globally in renewable electricity generation surpassed fossils. The gap has been growing ever since.”

Beyond these trends, Gore stresses the underlying nature of humanity, and of fundamental social changes:

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The latest in coming to grips with the Anthropecene

This is a one-two punch I couldn’t resist: one of my top-5 journalists recommending a powerful new essay by my favorite “recent discovery” in earth-connected literature.  Even better, Andrew Revkin and Robert Macfarlane are both riffing on one of the juicier umbrella topics for thinking about our rapidly-changing world: the Anthropocene, or the idea that the human mark on the planet is likely to take its place as the latest geological epoch.

Both Revkin and Macfarlane set out to point our attention to the best of the recent writing on this key topic. Revkin, in large part, welcomes Macfarlane’s recent piece as a chance to take a break from his regular dips into the recent literature, but he adds a few of his own recent faves at the end of his column.  By contrast, Macfarlane’s extended essay in The Guardian presents a rich and complex introduction to the topic.  You couldn’t find a better starting point (just as you couldn’t find a better deep-dive for learning about the field than those regular dips collected on Revkin’s site).  Here’s a first taste, then click through for more excerpts:

There are good reasons to be sceptical of the epitaphic impulse to declare “the end of nature”. There are also good reasons to be sceptical of the Anthropocene’s absolutism, the political presumptions it encodes, and the specific histories of power and violence that it masks. But the Anthropocene is a massively forceful concept, and as such it bears detailed thinking through. Though it has its origin in the Earth sciences and advanced computational technologies, its consequences have rippled across global culture during the last 15 years. Conservationists, environmentalists, policymakers, artists, activists, writers, historians, political and cultural theorists, as well as scientists and social scientists in many specialisms, are all responding to its implications.

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Big business stepping up its climate game as the future beckons

With the world’s attention focused on the COP21 climate talks in Paris, there are encouraging signs that the business world is ready to get fully on board and become as much a part of the solution as the problem.  Conservation International’s CEO Peter Seligman is encouraged:

If we are going to meet the challenges of a changing climate, we must accelerate nature-based solutions with deep involvement by the business sector. I am optimistic, because I see many companies recognizing that climate change is an economic issue — it affects sourcing, logistics and global markets. Sustainability is no longer an afterthought. It is an integral part of corporate operations and supply chains.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Leggett at Winning the Carbon War reports from Paris that “fully a thousand mayors announced that their cities were pledging to 100% renewable power targets” and that institutional commitments to fossil fuel divestment jumped by over 25% in just the past ten weeks.  Even more encouraging is a move by the G20 countries to form a Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) charged helping financial markets get a better handle on rapidly increasing climate change risks.  It will be chaired by Michael Bloomberg, who laid down the gauntlet:

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Two more notches in the fossil-fuel-free belt

Following up on this post from a couple weeks ago, here are two more striking indications that fossil fuel investing is becoming a losing game.  An analysis by Canadian research company Corporate Knights has found that 14 of the world’s largest institutional investors would have done much better over the past 3 years if they had divested from their major fossil fuel holdings and expanded investment in environmentally-oriented companies they already own.  The fourteen have a collective total of just over a trillion dollar in holdings, a figure that would have been 22 billion dollars (2%) higher had they divested.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was especially hard-hit; it totals about $40 billion, and left $1.9 billion (4.6%) on the table by sticking with its fossil fuel holdings.  The divestment criteria used is similar to the earlier comparison using the S&P 500 as a benchmark, targeting the Carbon Underground 200 (companies that have the largest as-yet-untapped reserves of coal, oil, and gas), plus utilities that generate more than 30% of their power using coal.

Meanwhile, MSCI, one of the world’s leading providers of financial indexes, made a simple tweak in its All Country World Index (ACWI), simply dropping 124 companies that have large reserves of oil, gas, or coal on their books.  The resultant fossil fuel free global index outperformed the ACWI by 60% in its first year (gaining 6.5%, versus 4.1%).  Tom Kuh, head of ESG indexes for MSCI, stressed that “Carbon is increasingly becoming a factor that investors are looking at in understanding risk in their portfolios.”  Responding to this concern, MSCI will be providing carbon footprints for all of its indexes beginning next year.

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A solid look at the (crucial)(freaky) topic of geoengineering

Hovering around the edges of the ongoing global conversation about climate change is the (specter)(promise) of geoengineering.  Many of us are (cautiously hopeful)(deeply unsettled) by the whole idea.  How about you?

2016.01.28 Remaking the Planet

This is one of those topics that every (informed)(caring) human will want to stay in touch with over the coming decade or so.  It’s hard to imagine a 2025 scenario short of total breakdown in which the need to compensate for our decades of feet-dragging hasn’t pushed geoengineering into the center of public discourse.

In the spirit of staying informed, this recent interview with Oliver Morton of The Economist is one of the best quick overviews that I’ve seen in the past year or so.  For starters, he reminds us that climate is not the first global system that we’ve purposefully engineered:

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We really are finally taking the climate bull by the horns

If you’re worried and wearied by the tone of climate change soundbites in the GOP primary, or have been worn down by decades of wholesale neglect to make the changes we’ve long known are needed, this recent article by Jonathan Chait will lift your spirits: The Year Humans Got Serious About Climate Change.  He acknowledges that “the weight of looming catastrophe (is) so soul-crushing that some people seek the release of final defeat rather than endless struggle in the face of hopeless odds.” Yet for the first time, despair is not the only game in town:

But guess what everyone’s been missing in the middle of their keening for the dear, soon-to-be-departed Earth? There is good news. And not just incremental good news but transformational good news, developments that have the potential to mitigate the worst effects of climate change to a degree many had feared impossible. Those who have consigned the world to its doom should reconsider. The technological and political underpinnings are at last in place to actually consummate the first global pact to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with — by the standards of its previous behavior — astonishing speed. The game is not over. And the good guys are starting to win.

Chait goes on to look at 

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Resilience AmeriCorps focuses on vulnerable communities

This summer, the Obama administration launched a new AmeriCorps program that dovetails perfectly with the local resiliency efforts that we’ve highlighted as part of the Close to Home resilient investing strategy.  Resilience AmeriCorps was formed “to assist vulnerable communities that lack the capacity to address climate-resilience planning and implementation.  The AmeriCorps VISTA members will increase civic engagement and community resilience in low-income areas, and help those communities develop plans for becoming more resilient to any number of shocks and stresses, including better preparations for extreme weather events.”  Or, as funding partner The Rockefeller Foundation put it: to “support the development of resilience strategies to help communities better manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable.”  Now that’s a punchy definition of resilience!

The focus on vulnerable lower income communities is especially encouraging, since many current grassroots efforts tend to involve generally better-off and already socially-engaged activists.  A White House overview of Resilience AmeriCorps stressed the importance of its social-justice priorities:

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