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GoGreenNation News: Fight Climate Change by Doing Less
GoGreenNation News: Fight Climate Change by Doing Less

Two weeks ago, I promised this newsletter would have more to say about the emotional sustainability of climate coverage and climate activism—which seems to be a theme of late. In the wake of the most recent U.N. climate report, for example, several prominent voices in the climate space have returned to the question of how to frame climate news optimistically, so that people don’t feel too overwhelmed.In a world where fossil fuel executives, meat megacorporations, and the like possess vastly more wealth and power than activists, tone probably isn’t the primary challenge in climate communication, as Kate Aronoff argued last week. At the same time, it’s true that sustainability continues to have the reputation of being a lot of work. And that’s a fascinating conundrum—because despite the plethora of popular articles promising five, 10, 12, 20, 22, 40, 58, or 101 ways to live more sustainably and fight climate change, a lot of the easy answers about how to live more sustainably involve doing less.Four years ago, climate writer Mary Annaïse Heglar penned a classic essay at Vox about being tired of people confessing their environmental sins to her. Too often, she wrote, people feel they need to “convert to 100 percent solar energy, ride an upcycled bike everywhere, stop flying, eat vegan,” or else they’re bad environmentalists. “And all this raises the price of admission to the climate movement to an exorbitant level, often pricing out people of color and other marginalized groups.” Personal action isn’t irrelevant in the fight for a livable future, she wrote, but it’s not the best place to focus one’s efforts, particularly if people then get overwhelmed and stop at the personal—neglecting to vote for robust climate policies because they’re so busy trying to find a place to recycle those pesky plastic bags. A lot of people clearly feel sustainable living means doing more: taking more time to sort recycling or buying special reusable containers, sourcing clothes from thrift shops or researching the most sustainable varieties of seafood. A lot of people also want guidance about how to live more sustainably (how to have a more sustainable yard, for example, was one question I recently heard raised in a meeting) but feel intimidated by the amount of work it might require (killing off your grass and installing a bunch of native plants is pretty daunting for nongardeners).But let’s take that sustainable yard question as a good case study. Sure, there’s a case for killing off your grass, planting a meadow of native plants, as The New York Times recently urged to ward off the insect apocalypse, or even adding a frog pond, as Emma Marris suggested at The Atlantic. But if you’re not ready or equipped to do that, there really is one easy trick to make your yard more sustainable: Do less. Mow it less frequently—the estimates on emissions from gas-powered lawn mowers vary, but all of them are staggering (greater than a car operating for an equivalent amount of time), and longer grass is more hospitable to insects and other wildlife anyway. Apply pesticides or herbicides less frequently—the runoff is terrible for watersheds (in fact, that might be an easier way to help amphibians than installing a frog pond). If you’re in a water-strapped part of the country, water it less frequently.Greater effort doesn’t necessarily mean greater environmental friendliness. This holds for so many other things as well, like clothes shopping. Donating your clothing or looking for sustainably produced labels has some serious limits, as recent reporting on the deluge of unused clothing donations and greenwashing of the fashion industry has shown. The real way to dress sustainably, as a growing number of experts acknowledge, is simply to buy less. The real way to make your commute more sustainable may not be to spend hours researching and then financing the latest e-bike, but to work less—by pushing for a four-day workweek, as Kate wrote about last year. You’d think that this would be a popular “solution” in a world where people are always bemoaning how little time they have, how little cash they have, how bad inflation has gotten. Yet “do less” isn’t always what people want to hear. Perhaps that’s because “do less” has a hint of austerity to it or because doing less may require swimming against the flow of a culture obsessed with aesthetics. Try doing or not doing anything remotely unorthodox with your lawn in a neighborhood with a neurotic homeowners’ association, and see how that goes. (Although, that being said, this Maryland couple sued those bougie troglodytes and won, so there’s hope.) Buying fewer clothes means ignoring the pressure to engage in competitive social signaling.Yet it’s worth remembering that it’s precisely this culture of aesthetics over substance that the corporations driving climate change have relied on again and again: by championing the idea of a personal “carbon footprint” in the first place, to make people feel guilty about their own lifestyles instead of questioning fossil fuel companies’ culpability; by marketing gas stoves as a lifestyle upgrade or plastics as convenient and more pleasant to use; by trend-churning to force seasonal purchases; and a multitude of other examples.If individual consumers are going to take on the task of fighting all this, perhaps the least they can do for themselves is—instead of adding 20 items to their to-do lists and shaming themselves for falling short—choose the path that saves them time and money, by rejecting the cult of aesthetics in the first place. There’s beauty in that too.Good NewsRenewable electricity generation surpassed coal in this country for the first time in 2022, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports. Bad NewsOver a year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine catapulted heat pumps and home insulation to the top of the Western European political agenda—to save on winter fuel—an independent report has found that the United Kingdom only “stuttered further” in 2022 on its path to energy efficiency. The chair of the independent commission blamed insufficient funding and an overreliance on “low-stakes incremental changes” and called for bolder policies. “The risk of delay in addressing climate change,” he said, “is now greater than the risk of over-correction.”Stat of the WeekThat’s the degree to which stricter limits on fine-particulate-matter air pollution could reduce mortality rates among older Black and low-income people in the U.S, according to a new study. Read the New York Times write-up here.Elsewhere in the EcosystemThe Gospel of DisasterSlate has a pretty wild story this week about the Christian relief organizations that are stepping up to the plate to help communities recover from climate disasters when the Federal Emergency Management Agency fails to get the job done (unfortunately a frequent occurrence, due to persistent underfunding):The Christian relief organizations that have stepped in as first responders—with little oversight—are diverse, spanning from well-intentioned community churches with decades of goodwill to billion-dollar evangelical charities that use far-right outrage to fundraise and take advantage of disaster to spread their gospel.The overwhelming majority of these organizations’ on-the-ground volunteers serve out of genuine compassion. But some of the country’s largest disaster charities are helmed by far-right extremist leaders who encourage volunteers to make proselytization a main part of their mission, bragging in press releases about how many disaster victims “prayed to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” For Samaritan’s Purse, that leader is president and CEO Franklin Graham, the evangelical titan who has called Islam a violent religion, compared trans people with pedophiles, and praised Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay policies, saying LGBT people will burn in “the flames of hell.”Read Nick Aspinwall’s story at Slate.This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

GoGreenNation News: BlackRock’s Larry Fink Shows Just How Ridiculous GOP Fearmongering About Sustainable Investing Really Is
GoGreenNation News: BlackRock’s Larry Fink Shows Just How Ridiculous GOP Fearmongering About Sustainable Investing Really Is

Republicans this week opened a new front in their war on “woke capital.” Attorneys general from 13 states filed a protest at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to keep Vanguard—one of the world’s largest asset managers—from purchasing shares in U.S. utility companies. The officials cited the company’s involvement in the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative—which aims to reduce emissions—as well as the sustainability-focused Ceres Investor Network. Vanguard, the attorneys general argued, aims “to shift global electricity production from natural gas and coal from approximately 67% of global electricity to approximately 0%.” Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron told S&P Global that his office would “oppose any effort that will undermine Kentucky’s economy, destroy good paying jobs, and make it harder for Kentuckians to heat their homes and feed their families.” The timing on this would be comical if the news itself weren’t so disturbing: As an interview with the CEO of the largest asset manager in the world made clear on Wednesday, his ilk pose much less of a threat to the fossil fuel economy than Cameron and his comrades in the battle against so-called environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) would seem to believe. Speaking to The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin this week, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink was resolute about his commitment to fossil fuels. “I actually believe we’re going to need hydrocarbons for 70 years,” he said when asked about Republican opposition to ESG and to him, personally. “I’m not happy with the narrative [that asset managers are hostile to fossil fuels] because it fills the airwaves,” he also said. He added that the company now spends considerable time defending itself against attacks from the right that are “not based on facts.”While Republicans have articulated their crusade against ESG as a defense of America’s hardworking energy producers, oil drillers and Fink have plenty in common. Neither see a contradiction between theoretical commitments to decarbonization and continuing prolific fossil fuel production indefinitely. Since Republicans began introducing so-called “Energy Discrimination Elimination” bills into statehouses, BlackRock has repeatedly emphasized their sizable investments in fossil fuels at home and abroad. “We expect to remain long-term investors in carbon-intensive companies, because they play crucial roles in the economy and in a successful transition,” the company wrote in a statement released this spring on achieving net-zero emissions by 2030. Even its ESG-themed investment products can still contain fossil fuel investments. Together, Blackrock and Vanguard have $60 billion invested in coal expansion. As of March, the biggest 30 asset managers have a combined $468 billion invested in 12 major private and state-owned oil and gas companies, including ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco. For Fink, at least, this isn’t in any sort of contradiction with his company’s high-minded, pragmatic commitment to a longer term vision: They can continue to reap returns from fossil fuels and decarbonization alike. As he told the New York Times, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed by Democrats in August will be an especially important part of that. As the economy transitions away from an era of asset price inflation and flashy unicorns, Fink envisions government subsidies for green technologies as a key frontier for investment in the years to come. “Those types of subsidies that are coming from the government to invest in decarbonization, it’s going to produce 12, 13, 14 percent returns very easily,” he said. “Now you’re able to more safely invest in other things that provide you a coupon to get to your returns. Despite all the doom and gloom there are more opportunities to invest in the market today than there was a year ago,” he told Sorkin. Investments in carbon capture and sequestration and less greenhouse-gas-intensive farming methods, he added, can deliver returns—provided the government throws in enough sweeteners. They’ll also, at least theoretically, make it possible to keep digging fossil fuels out of the ground and selling them. Fossil fuel executives have said about as much, praising the IRA’s expansion of tax credits for carbon capture and storage. On ExxonMobil’s most recent earnings call, CEO Darren Woods said the bill “contributed to the value proposition” for carbon capture and storage, adding that it “opens the aperture in terms of the CO2 that can be cost effectively captured or avoided.” Occidental Petroleum CEO Vicki Hollub similarly told her investors that the IRA will allow them to develop further carbon capture and storage and direct air capture projects. On Chevron’s most recent earnings call, Chevron CEO Mike Wirth was especially enthused that the Inflation Reduction Act had clarified their ability to snap up new leases on federal land for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, saying that Chevron was “kind of encouraged by the Inflation Reduction Act.” All announced surging profits.For BlackRock and fossil fuel companies alike, the climate policies that can pass muster in Congress don’t cut into their existing business so much as create exciting new asset classes and investment opportunities, since the state will now step in to backstop what might otherwise be risky investments. What the Republicans railing against ESG don’t seem to grasp is that the banks and asset managers they’re targeting are principally looking to cash in. So long as returns are flowing from both they’ll keep investing in fossil fuels right alongside the new technologies meant to erase their greenhouse gas emissions. What’s not clear—or relevant to companies solely interested in profits—is whether the technologies now being rendered more attractive investments by the IRA will actually work. Whether espoused by asset managers, fossil fuel executives, or the Biden administration, the win-win, all-of-the-above approach to energy policy is a massive gamble from a decarbonization perspective. The bet is that new, clean stuff will make the old, dirty stuff harmless or irrelevant. That’s not guaranteed. The irony of the GOP’s war on woke capital is just how much credit it gives the financial sector for speeding along the end of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, financiers have no such thing in mind.

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