The chickens are coming home to roost.
Even before the western United States became a regional inferno, even before the Midwest U.S. became a summertime flood zone, even before an annual hurricane season so bad that the government is running out of names to attach to them, even before Colorado saw a 100 degrees Fahrenheit heatwave swan dive into a 12-inch snowstorm within 48 hours.
Even before all that, we’d been watching the real-world risks of climate change looming and growing across the United States and around the world. And the costs, financially and otherwise, are quickly becoming untenable.
Lately, a steady march of searing heat, ruinous floods, horrific wildfires, unbreathable air, devastating hurricanes and other climate-related calamities has been traversing our screens and wreaking havoc to national and local budgets. And we’re only at 1C of increased global temperature rise. Just imagine what 2C or 3C or 4C will look like, and how much it will cost.
We may not have to wait terribly long to find out.
It’s natural to follow the people affected by all this: the local residents, usually in poorer neighborhoods, whose homes and livelihoods are being lost; the farmers and ranchers whose crops and livestock are withering and dying; the stranded travelers and the evacuees seeking shelter amid the chaos. And, of course the heroic responders to all these events, not to mention an entire generation of youth who fear their future is being stolen before their eyes, marching in the streets. So many people and stories.
But lately, I’ve been following the money.
The financial climate, it seems, has been as unforgiving as the atmospheric one. Some of it has been masked by the pandemic and ensuing recession, but for those paying attention, the indicators are hiding in plain sight. And what we’re seeing now are merely the opening acts of what could be a long-running global financial drama. The economic impact on companies is, to date, uncertain and likely incalculable.
The financial climate, it seems, has been as unforgiving as the atmospheric one.
Last week, a subcommittee of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) issued a report addressing climate risks to the U.S. financial system. That it did so is, in itself, remarkable, given the political climes.
But the report didn’t pussyfoot around the issues: “Climate change poses a major risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system and to its ability to sustain the American economy,” it stated, adding:
Climate change is already impacting or is anticipated to impact nearly every facet of the economy, including infrastructure, agriculture, residential and commercial property, as well as human health and labor productivity. Over time, if significant action is not taken to check rising global average temperatures, climate change impacts could impair the productive capacity of the economy and undermine its ability to generate employment, income and opportunity.
Among the “complex risks for the U.S. financial system,” the authors said, are “disorderly price adjustments in various asset classes, with possible spillovers into different parts of the financial system, as well as potential disruption of the proper functioning of financial markets.”
In other words: We’re heading into uncharted economic territory.
Climate change, said the report’s authors, is expected to affect “multiple sectors, geographies and assets in the United States, sometimes simultaneously and within a relatively short timeframe.” Those impacts could “disrupt multiple parts of the financial system simultaneously.” For example: “A sudden revision of market perceptions about climate risk could lead to a disorderly repricing of assets, which could in turn have cascading effects on portfolios and balance sheets and therefore systemic implications for financial stability.”
And then there are “sub-systemic” shocks, more localized climate-related impacts that “can undermine the financial health of community banks, agricultural banks or local insurance markets, leaving small businesses, farmers and households without access to critical financial services.” This, said the authors, is particularly damaging in areas that already are underserved by the financial system, which includes low-to-moderate income communities and historically marginalized communities.
As always, those least able to least afford the impacts may get hit the hardest.
This was hardly the first expression of concern about the potentially devastating economic impacts of climate change on companies, markets, nations and the global economy. For example:
- Two years ago, the Fourth National Climate Assessment noted that continued warming “is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century, especially in the absence of increased adaptation efforts.” It placed the price tag at up to 10.5 percent of GDP by 2100.
- Last month, scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said that while previous research suggested that a 1C hotter year reduces economic output by about 1 percent, “the new analysis points to output losses of up to three times that much in warm regions.”
- Another report last month, by the Environmental Defense Fund, detailed how the financial impacts of fires, tropical storms, floods, droughts and crop freezes have quadrupled since 1980. “Researchers are only now beginning to anticipate the indirect impacts in the form of lower asset values, weakened future economic growth and uncertainty-induced instability in financial markets,” it said.
And if you really want a sleepless night or two, read this story about “The Biblical Flood That Will Drown California,” published recently in Mother Jones magazine. Even if you don’t have a home, business or operations in the Golden State, your suppliers and customers likely do, not to mention the provenance of the food on your dinner plate.
Down to business
The CTFC report did not overlook the role of companies in all this. It noted that “disclosure by corporations of information on material, climate-related financial risks is an essential building block to ensure that climate risks are measured and managed effectively,” enabling enables financial regulators and market participants to better understand climate change’s impacts on financial markets and institutions.
However, it warned, “The existing disclosure regime has not resulted in disclosures of a scope, breadth and quality to be sufficiently useful to market participants and regulators.”
An analysis by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure found that large companies are increasingly disclosing some climate-related information, but significant variations remain in the information disclosed by each company, making it difficult for investors and others to fully understand exposure and manage climate risks.
The macroeconomic forecasts, however gloomy, likely seem academic inside boardrooms. And while that may be myopic — after all, the nature of the economy could begin to shift dramatically before the current decade is out, roiling customers and markets — it likely has little to do with profits and productivity over the short time frames within which most companies operate. Nonetheless, companies with a slightly longer view already are considering the viability of their products and services in a warming world.
Consider the recommendations of the aforementioned CFTC report, of which there are 20. Among them:
- “The United States should establish a price on carbon.”
- “All relevant federal financial regulatory agencies should incorporate climate-related risks into their mandates and develop a strategy for integrating these risks in their work.”
- “Regulators should require listed companies to disclose Scope 1 and 2 emissions. As reliable transition risk metrics and consistent methodologies for Scope 3 emissions are developed, financial regulators should require their disclosure, to the extent they are material.”
- The Financial Stability Oversight Council “should incorporate climate-related financial risks into its existing oversight function, including its annual reports and other reporting to Congress.”
- “Financial supervisors should require bank and nonbank financial firms to address climate-related financial risks through their existing risk management frameworks in a way that is appropriately governed by corporate management.”
None of these things is likely to happen until there’s a new legislature and presidential administration in Washington, D.C., but history has shown that many of these can become de facto regulations if enough private-sector and nongovernmental players can adapt and pressure (or incentivize) companies to adopt and hew to the appropriate frameworks.
Finally, there is collaboration among the leading nongovernmental organizations focusing on sustainability reporting and accountability.
And there’s some news on that front: Last week, five NGOs whose frameworks, standards and platforms guide the majority of sustainability and integrated reporting, announced “a shared vision of what is needed for progress towards comprehensive corporate reporting — and the intent to work together to achieve it.”
CDP, the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, the Global Reporting Initiative, the International Integrated Reporting Council and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board have co-published a shared vision of the elements necessary for more comprehensive corporate reporting, and a joint statement of intent to drive towards this goal. They say they will work collaboratively with one another and with the International Organization of Securities Commissions, the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation, the European Commission and the World Economic Forum’s International Business Council.
Lots of names and acronyms in the above paragraph, but you get the idea: Finally, there is collaboration among the leading nongovernmental organizations focusing on sustainability reporting and accountability. To the extent they manage to harmonize their respective standards and frameworks, and should a future U.S. administration adopt those standards the way previous ones did the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, we could see a rapid scale-up of corporate reporting on these matters.
Increased reporting won’t by itself mitigate the anticipated macroeconomic challenges, but to the extent it puts climate risks on an equal footing with other corporate risks — along with a meaningful price on carbon that will help companies attach dollar signs to those risks — it will help advance a decarbonized economy.
Slowly — much too slowly — but amid an unstable climate and economy we’ll take whatever progress we can get.
The Changing US EV Market — Podcast
Zach is tryin’ to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.
Gossip, Carbon Emissions, & Electric Cars: Deliberate Disinformation Goes Viral
The internet has the ability to bring the brain power of all human beings together to devise ways of making our civilization better. In theory, it could be the way to force changes in government that would limit the power of tyrants.
In reality, the simple “like” button created by Mark Zuckerberg — without a similar “dislike” button — has created a monstrous perversion in which unfiltered gossip substitutes for wisdom, a development that has virtually destroyed our ability to engage in critical thinking. If concerted action to address an overheating planet fails to materialize, it will probably be because the idea didn’t get enough likes on Fakebook.
Recently, a Fakebook post appeared that showed two identical cars, one a diesel spewing a cloud of sooty smoke from its tailpipe and the other an electric car running on electricity generated by coal-fired facilities shooting clouds of sooty smoke into the air. The caption reads, “Manufacturing the battery for one electric car produces the same amount of carbon dioxide as running a petrol car for eight years.” As with everything on Fakebook, the source of that claim is not revealed. All that matters is that someone posted it and others “liked” it. And so now people are spreading that lie to their family and friends.
PolitiFact decided to delve into this claim a bit and decided it is “mostly false.” Why mostly? Because, as should be intuitively obvious to the most casual observer, every manufacturing process creates carbon emissions, even making batteries and assembling cars. There are emissions associated with the production of steel, aluminum, copper, glass, and tires. There are even emissions associated with making that “vegan leather” that is so popular right now.
PolitiFact contacted Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, for clarification about the claim that manufacturing a battery creates as many emissions as driving a gasoline powered car for 8 years. He responded by saying that producing a 75 kilowatt-hour battery for a Tesla Model 3 results in 4,500 kilograms of carbon dioxide if it is made at the Gigafactory in Nevada. That’s equivalent to driving a gasoline-powered sedan for 1.4 years at a yearly average distance of 12,000 miles.
If the same battery is made in Asia, manufacturing it would produce 7,500 kilograms of carbon dioxide, equivalent to driving a gasoline powered sedan for 2.4 years. That is nowhere near the 8 years claimed by that cartoon on Fakebook. The larger emission amount in Asia can be attributed to its “higher carbon electricity mix,” which relies more on coal for energy production than the electrical supply in Nevada.
“More than half the emissions associated with manufacturing the battery are associated with electricity use,” Hausfather said in an email to PolitiFact. “So, as the electricity grid decarbonizes, emissions associated with battery production will decline. The same is not true for sedan tailpipe emissions.”
PolitiFact notes that the Fakebook post does not mention the carbon emissions associated with the electricity used to build conventional cars. That post also omits the fact that the emissions created during battery manufacture are offset over a short period of time by zero tailpipe emissions during operation. There is no gasoline or diesel-powered vehicle on the face of the Earth that offsets any of the emissions associated with its manufacture.
Lying Liars & The Lies They Tell
Most of what PolitiFact found when it investigated the claims made by that Fakebook post will come as no surprise to CleanTechnica readers. But the pernicious effect of such lies cannot be downplayed. I recently had dinner with an educated man who has a Ph.D in economics. During our conversation, he asked about my LEAF and said he heard electric cars were not very clean because the electricity needed to charge them comes from burning coal. So this sort of deliberate disinformation gets around to people at all levels of society.
The corrosive effects of our internet culture are everywhere. I know people who believe that every person who got vaccinated against the coronavirus will be dead within 6 months. Critical thinking is in short supply these days and the lack of it is a clear and present danger to civilization. Ignorance can be cured with information. There is no cure for stupidity. If you agree, please like this story and share it with your friends!
Featured image courtesy of Volkswagen.
The Transformation of Appalachian Coalfields Into Solar Farms Is Starting
Sun Tribe Development is taking on a unique opportunity to be the first to generate large-scale renewable power on the coalfields of Central Appalachia, Energy News Network reports. Described as a breakout moment for the region, the plan is to have up to 75 megawatts of solar power capacity across hundreds of acres of deforested mine lands in Virginia and Tennessee.
The writer interviewed Danny Van Clief, the CEO of Sun Tribe Development, and led with the fact that his choice in taking a career in solar energy was the freedom to jump with both feet into formidable challenges. One such challenge is transforming around 550 acres of deforested mine lands across the Nature Conservancy preserve into a large-scale solar farm within two to three years.
“If it were easy, everybody would be doing it,” Van Clief said to Energy News Network about plunging into untested territory. “I’m thrilled … to play a small part in the energy transition in Southwest Virginia.”
“This is a breakout moment for the region. There’s been a lot of talk about this but not as much action,” he added. Van Clief, who has been in the solar industry as an executive for 15 years, joined Sun Tribe in 2019, where he headed up its large-scale solar business. Since his time there, the company has completed 100 MW of utility-scale projects. So, it is just getting rolling.
The article noted that since the conservancy acquired the 253,000-acre Cumberland Forest property, which spans Southwest Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, and Eastern Tennessee, it’s been wanting to do something with the land in terms of an energy transition. In total, there are an estimated 13,000 acres of former surface mines that scar the property.
The conservancy, which is focused on protecting land, waterways, and wildlife, has been wanting to use the Cumberland Forest as a potential showcase to prove that investments in nature could yield financial returns. Last year, the conservancy collaborated with the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy to determine the acreage on the property that would be accessible to utility lines and other infrastructure that is needed. Following that, the organization started seeking proposals from private solar developers.
Brad Kreps, director of the conservancy’s Clinch Valley Program in Abingdon, Virginia, shared some thoughts on this. “We can do things that are good for nature and people,” he said. “A mission of conservation and economic recovery can be compatible. These two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
Sun Tribe was chosen as the developer after a 9-month review of a total of 15 applicants. Sol Systems, a Washington, D.C.-based company, will finance and operate the solar systems once they are built. Kreps also spoke of how excited the organization is about the project. “We’re super excited,” he said. ” This is kind of the next big milestone.”
“We’re trying to show how an area that has historically played a role in supplying energy can build on its past and create a diversified economy that still has an energy component.”
Sun Tribe is tasked with the fun job of working with county and state agencies to secure the paperwork and permits. The article noted that another hurdle is connecting with PJM, the independent regional transmission organization that manages the grid in Virginia and 12 other states. It also detailed that the half dozen parcels selected for solar range in size from 70–125 acres. Five of these are in Virginia and one is in Tennessee. Four of the Virginia sites are in Wise County and the other one is in Dickensen County. Also, several of the sites are in Appalachian Power territory, but Kentucky Utilities also serves a small part of the region under the name Old Dominion Power.
If this project comes to fruition, then it will impact the local quality of life in a positive manner, increase tax revenue, and provide long-lasting jobs that pay well.
Coal to Sunshine
Replacing coalfields with solar arrays is a beautiful renewable energy option that can empower those affected by coal. Well, those who are still living. EndCoal noted that in the U.S., coal kills around 13,000 people annually, and the figure is 23,300 in Europe. Coal is also responsible for over 800,000 premature deaths annually on a global scale. Following this are many millions more serious and minor illnesses.
I vaguely remember my Aunt Effie when I was really little. What I remember was her constant hacking, and I think she was on oxygen, too. I’m not certain, but I remember my mother talking about Aunt Effie having breathing difficulties. She told me this was due to her husband working in the coal mines. Her emphysema was caused by second-hand exposure to the dust.
So, replacing these scars on the conservancy with solar is akin to tattooing roses over scars on the body. Or tattooing something that reminds you of your value, worth, and reason for surviving. This is a beautiful project and, personally, I’m rooting for its success.
“Lavish P.” Shows Us That Law Enforcement Isn’t Taking Autopilot Abuse Seriously
A couple days ago, a San Francisco man got himself arrested for driving around in a Tesla Model 3. Unlike most of us who would get pulled over for speeding (hey, it’s a fun car and it’s quick), Param Sharma got into trouble for turning on Autopilot and climbing into the back. The problem? He’s been doing this for months, had a run-in with law enforcement for this before, and started doing it again as soon as he got out of jail.
For those unfamiliar, Autopilot is only a driver-assist feature that most Tesla vehicles have. It maintains speed, stops for vehicles or objects in front of it (usually), and holds the car in the center of its lane. It’s not a perfect system, and isn’t safe to operate without constant driver attention. If it makes a mistake, you have to be ready to be able to take over quickly, so sitting in the back is quite dangerous (and illegal).
Before we get into what law enforcement is doing wrong here, let’s talk a bit about the Autopilot abuse we’ve been seeing from this guy in the past.
He Appears To Be Controversial Internet Personality “Lavish P.,” Who Has A History Of Doing This
A number of websites say he’s YouTube’s controversial “Lavish P.”, a man who likes to flaunt wealth on his YouTube channel. He’s known for referring to people who can’t afford luxury goods as “peasants,” and is proud of driving a Tesla without a driver. Subsequent media interviews (more on this below) make it pretty clear that he’s the same guy who made these videos:
He claims to own several 2021 Teslas, but claims that the Model 3 is the only one that gives him a good screen to look at while he abuses Autopilot and rides in the back. In this video and others, he’s always talking about how he’s better than the “Blue Collars” who do their own driving. He also claims that he once had a chauffeur who drove his Rolls Royce, but that the guy had gas and didn’t get along with him. “Computers don’t fart, bruh,” he said.
In another video, we see how he’s doing what he does. While he claims to have the Full Self Driving Beta (FSD Beta), the visualizations on his screen are not consistent with the FSD Beta’s. He has the driver’s seatbelt buckled without him in the seat, and he occasionally leans into the front to wiggle the steering wheel and prevent “nag” from stopping him.
He Got A Citation (Without Arrest) For This In April
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) told the San Francisco Chronicle that they found him doing this in April. At the time, they gave him a ticket for illegally misusing the feature.
People who know Autopilot’s limitations know how dangerous this is, as it could not only kill the driver, but other people on or near the road. Autopilot isn’t inherently dangerous, of course, but it can make big mistakes at just the wrong time. If someone isn’t there to steer and take control of the pedals, disaster can strike. Most of us who are familiar with the system think it’s arrest-worthy on the first offense, like with this guy in Florida who sat on top of his car while a Cadillac feature kept the vehicle between the lines. [Editor’s note: As someone with the same version of Tesla Autopilot, I can’t imagine trying to pull such a stunt. It could end very badly very easily.]
That CHP decided to let the guy go with a ticket he could contest in court or just pay shows that they didn’t take this very seriously.
He Did It Again Immediately After Posting Bail, And Is Still Doing It
After getting out of jail, Sharma gave KTVU an interview, in which he expressed that he thought it was perfectly acceptable to abuse Autopilot like this.
He told the reporter that his next court date is July 6th, and that he plans to keep climbing into the back until at least then. He says he always drives a route in the front seat first to make sure it works well before riding in the back, and that he’s been “brake checked before really hard” without a collision, so therefore it must be safe to do what he does.
“Elon Musk really knows what he’s doing, and I think people are just tripping, and they’re scared of the future,” he said, before vowing to never stop abusing the feature. “I paid ten thousand for the Full Self Driving Feature, and it does what it’s designed to do….”
He didn’t stop there, though. The next day, he showed off his “self driving” Tesla for KTVU. He claims that he bought a brand new one to replace the one that was stuck in impound, but note that the Model 3 doesn’t have temp tags.
This guy can’t be for real. Less than 24 hours after being arrested, he shows up to be filmed by a local news crew doing the exact same thing that got him arrested.
His arrogance is astounding 🤯🤬 pic.twitter.com/gu3Dn9LGuz
— Drive Tesla 🇨🇦 #FSDBetaCanada (@DriveTeslaca) May 13, 2021
So, he’s not only continuing to do this, but he’s doing it on TV, and nobody is stopping him.
Law Enforcement Isn’t Taking This As Seriously As They Should
If I took a walk in San Francisco with my rifle, even safely slung from my shoulder and not pointed at anybody, you can bet that within minutes I’d face a swarm of law enforcement officers who would quickly arrest me, and I’d be lucky to not get shot by them. California and San Francisco take this perceived danger to the public extremely seriously — in fact, so seriously that they’d even arrest me for possessing it in an apartment (assuming I rented one there — I don’t). Mere possession of an unloaded “assault weapon,” even secured in a gun safe, is intolerable to California authorities, because I could hypothetically hurt people with it. It’s that big of a deal to them because they don’t want people getting killed.
But when Param Sharma did something far more dangerous, the automotive equivalent to pointing a loaded gun at strangers on the street, he got a citation for the first offense. For the second offense, he got arrested, but got out within hours. Now, he continues to do it, even on television, and he’s still a free man. He could be doing it right now, with no further consequences.
I’m not trying to beat up California for their harsh gun laws here. I get it. Guns frighten people and some people really do misuse them, so it’s not a completely unfounded fear people have. There’s at least some logic in play there. I just wanted to illustrate what it looks like when they take an issue seriously, so we can compare it to this situation.
What completely and totally baffles my mind here is that they’d be so easygoing when a person presents a much greater threat to public safety. One Autopilot or camera malfunction, and he could kill dozens of people on the freeway. He could end up sending 4,000 pounds of steel, aluminum, and batteries through some kids’ bedrooms before he could climb back up front. One small computer error and he could run down dozens of pedestrians before he even has a chance to react.
We know that the software isn’t ready to run without human supervision, and that it will eventually surprise him with a malfunction. It really is more dangerous than someone randomly firing a gun in the city would be, and he’s out on bail continuing to do it and brag about it on TV.
Does that seem right to you?
It makes ZERO sense for safety advocates and public officials to engage in hand-wringing about the safety of Autopilot, and try to blame Tesla for this, when authorities seem almost completely unwilling to punish the people who willfully abuse the product and endanger the public with it. If this continues, expect dozens or hundreds of other people to do this because they think they can get away with it like Sharma does.
When that happens, it won’t be Tesla’s fault. It will lay squarely at the feet of a broken criminal justice system with its priorities completely out of whack.
Featured image: screenshot from the “Lavish P.” YouTube Channel.
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