Sometimes it’s the Simplest Things
It is cool in the garden this morning. The leaves on the plants are wet from the evening dew, the sun not yet high enough to warm and dry them. It is late August of 2020 and the sky is blue, not a cloud to be seen. But it’s not the deep dark blue of June or July, it is the paler, washed-out blue of late summer. The summer is ending, and everywhere you look the signs of fall are beginning. The wild berries are mostly finished, seed pods are no longer growing and are drying in the heat of the day, the grass is mostly brown, and the light seems less intense.
It is a beautiful day in a summer punctuated by rage and hope, impatience, and violence, illness, and death. My brothers and sisters in the USA lash out at injustice while fires burn the West and winds batter the East. The summer light has changed and so has the world. Just like the light changing with the seasons, so too has society’s tolerance for inaction on the things that affect our future. It is not rocket science; simply stop destroying what mother nature has so beautifully created for us. Stop oppressing the poor and the weak and those without a voice. So many of those in power speak of doing the right thing, so few actually do anything to help.
It is really very simple; even a child knows right from wrong, and now we rely upon children to rise up in demonstrations like #FridaysforFuture and climate lawsuits.
In this week’s Top 5 roundup, we have 5 articles that are meaningful and impactful, yet the concepts behind them are rather simple. Simple, but not always easy to enact. I call them simple actions not to diminish them or the efforts that are being made because it is often very difficult to push these types of things across the line.
They are simple because they are obvious and anyone can see that they are the right thing to do.
Deutsche Bank ends fossil fuel investment – huge news and very impactful, but actually a pretty simple idea whose time has come. Founded in 1870, Deutsche Bank is the 17th largest bank in the world and manages 1.2 trillion euros (about $1.4 trillion USD). In an effort to do their part to meet climate goals in solidarity with 129 other financial institutions and lenders (that represent 1/3 of the world’s banks), Deutsche Bank announced last month that it will no longer finance any new oil projects in the Arctic or oil sands in Canada. Further, they also committed to no longer back hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in regions with water supply issues. But it didn’t stop at oil and gas, Deutsche Bank also said it will end its global business activities in coal mining by 2025 at the latest.
It’s simple because of fiduciary responsibility; the bank is beholden to provide the highest return on investment for its shareholders, and fossil fuel investments are now considered bad investments.
In December 2019, Goldman Sachs announced that it would no longer back new Arctic oil exploration, thermal coal mines, or strip mining. Shortly thereafter, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan also announced that they too would stop financing new oil and gas projects in the Arctic. As recently as January 2020, Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock (an investment company that controls $7 trillion USD), said to investors: “Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects. Awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”
Amazing news, and to be frank, it is the kind of news that the investment community has never heard from such a singly influential person. These banks hold so much wealth that the CEO or board of directors can truly influence huge change with just the stroke of a pen.
Then the pandemic hit.
Many of us watching were very concerned that these major changes would be walked back as investors panicked. In tough economic times, people often become very fiscally conservative. In this case, the fears were that the investment community would quietly stall plans to divest from the fossil fuel industry and revert back to the old ways – long guaranteed to eke out a profit, even at a great environmental and societal cost. Thankfully, the opposite has happened. Many analysts now see climate change as the next potential financial crisis and want to mitigate losses from it. They have decided to protect their assets by transitioning away from high-carbon industries.
But it’s not just the ROI that is forcing the issue; there is huge pressure from shareholders for greater transparency in regard to climate action. The average investor is much better educated on global affairs (climate change in particular) and has far greater access to information than ever before. This has forced large investors to rethink all operations, including who is steering the ship. One major criticism of leadership is determining if the companies are truly acting with impartiality. Due to pressure from activist investors, the board of JPMorgan Chase voted to remove 82-year-old former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond as the board’s lead independent director. A career oilman with Exxon since 1963, Raymond was the most outspoken critic against US legislation to curtail climate change and was CEO during Exxon’s alleged disinformation campaign to discredit climate science. Hardly an unbiased investment advisor.
In June, the majority of Chevron’s shareholders voted for the first time ever to align the oil giant with the Paris climate accord. A 53% majority of shareholders voted for a resolution seeking a commitment from the company to align its climate-policy lobbying activities with the goal of the Paris Agreement. This action was the first climate-related vote ever to win a majority of shareholder support and was the only one that won a majority.
Simple and smart.
Simple thing #3: Dutch city swaps asphalt for trees to adapt to climate change.
The Dutch city of Arnhem is making big changes to their roads and infrastructure in order to stave off the worst of the effects of climate change. The city is only 13m (39 feet) above sea level and has experienced a series of drought and flood events that have cost hundreds of millions of euros to repair. They have found that during major rain events, rapid water runoff from surfaces covered in asphalt, such as roads and parking lots, overwhelms the local storm sewer system. A porous and resilient surface such as that of grass or other natural material allows the water to percolate through the ground and contributes to groundwater aquifers. Most importantly, it slows the runoff to prevent flooding. A ground surface covered in plant material is also cooler and is known to significantly lower day and nighttime temperatures in summer – combined with the additional water in the aquifers, the use of resilient landscape provides a meaningful way to spare residents from the worst of the effects of climate change.
Track and share data. In this connected world, where a single smartphone has more computing power than all computers in the world in 1969 combined, and in a time when global networks allow text, photos, video and sound to instantly be received by tens of millions of people, in all corners of the world, the idea of tracking and sharing data on endangered and threatened species seems simple.
But until now, there has been no cohesive or coordinated effort to track, quantify, or understand how many species are actually going extinct. The idea of a human-caused extinction event can be overwhelming to even consider, but we cannot deny it is occurring. The first step in fixing a problem is to acknowledge it exists. The second is to quantify it, and the third is to take action. The simple idea here is to use data to understand the scope of the problem, then gain commitments from leaders to limit the damage. Yes, we must stop the extinction of species. Yes, it is a big problem and yes it will continue to happen at an increasing rate unless we do something. This is that thing and it’s a simple solution using readily available technology.
Simple thing #5: Solar-For-Coal Swaps Could Turbocharge Clean Energy Revolution.
Building a solar plant is cheaper than maintaining coal-fired electricity generation. This has been the case for some time and is the very simple economic model that is driving the clean energy transition. A recent white paper shows that up to 179 gigawatts of US coal-fired energy production are now uneconomical when compared to building solar. These plants continue to operate due to the perceived and very real local economic impacts of closing the coal plants and the subsequent lost jobs.
A solar for coal swap would be an incentive program where when a coal plant is shut down, it is replaced with a renewable energy generation plant of similar size. These new plants, either solar, wind, hydro or geothermal, would require people to build, install, run, and maintain them. This results in good jobs for former coal plant workers. Jobs that are clean and have a long-term future, jobs that provide skills that may be transferred to other industries in other areas.
Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can have the biggest impacts.
Happy Eco News, August 31, 2020
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