Read all the way through for some truly staggering numbers


MAY 15, 2024 (

In one of the gigglier moments in modern movie history, Dr. Evil, awakening from thirty years of cryogenic sleep, threatens the world with utter destruction unless it pays him…one million dollars. (His criminal accomplices explain inflation to him, and he ups his price to $100 billion; happily, Austin Powers saves the world, and the cash).

Donald Trump has his own number—a clean billion, which is what he told fossil fuel executives they should pay in return for giving them literally anything they want in his next administration. That they would use that power to once-and-for-all overheat the earth is a given; the level of corruption and danger here is so over the top that it almost seems like a movie—but not a comedy, unless you run Exxon.

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That’s not the only valuation we’ve gotten in recent weeks. In a largely overlooked story a few weeks ago, a Reuters team obtained the report that Citibank had prepared for the Federal Reserve, outlining its exposure to climate risk—or, more exactly, the risk of the world actually taking this problem seriously and tackling it head-on. The report said that

The analysis said that if efforts to combat climate change ramped up enough to put the world on a path to bringing greenhouse gas emissions down to zero on a net basis by 2050, the bank would suffer $10.3 billion in loan losses over 10 years, more than the $7.1 billion in losses expected if those efforts did not speed up…

While the estimated hit to Citigroup would be small in relation to the $730 billion wholesale loan book assessed, the analysis provides rare insight into how the transition away from fossil fuels could affect a top Wall Street bank in a key area of its business.

The losses would occur because some of Citigroup’s borrowers in the oil, gas and real estate sectors would take a financial hit if the world was immediately put on track to curb overall greenhouse gas emissions to zero on a net basis by 2050, the document reviewed by Reuters showed.

One way of reading this is to say that Citibank values the earth at something less than the $3.2 billion it would lose if we stopped climate change. We can make this assumption because Citibank—along with its confreres in the big banking world—continue to pour huge amounts of money into the fossil fuel sector, completely ignoring the advice of scientists, and of the International Energy Agency which called for a halt to all new investments in 2021. The latest evidence of their incredible disregard for the future came this week, when Rainforest Action Network and partners issued the 2024 version of the invaluable Banking on Climate Chaos report. The 2024 edition shows that Citi has tossed just shy of $400 billion at the industry since the Paris climate accords were signed, good for second place on the all-time list just behind Chase and just ahead of Bank of America.

This explains why, among other things, there will be a Summer of Heat on Wall Street, starting soon—with civil disobedience centered on Citibank. (There’s even an Elders Week, which Third Act is helping coordinate—if you can remember banking before ATMs, we’ll see you July 8-13)

But there have been other estimates recently, far more realistic.

I wrote a few weeks ago about a new study that found global incomes would fall by a fifth. Now there’s an even newer study that goes that one better. It comes from economists at Harvard and Northwestern, and instead of using the traditional method of examining how much damage climate change will do country by country and then adding it up, they attempt to model the effects of global climate shocks—big disasters. There’s an excellent summary by one of the authors on Twitter, but I will highlight just a couple of points. Assuming the temperature increases 3 degrees Celsius—which is more or less the track we’re on, and I think pretty much guaranteed if Trump and his ilk succeed in slowing the transition to a clean energy economy—then there will be

a 31% welfare loss in permanent consumption equivalent in 2024, that grows to nearly 52% by 2100. Our results also indicate that world GDP per capita would be 37% higher today had no warming occurred between 1960 and 2019 instead of the 0.75°C observed increase in global mean temperature.

Those numbers to those who know how to read them are stark and staggering—the world would be far richer today were it not for global warming, and that number will just keep going up. But here’s the line that sticks in my mind:

“These magnitudes are comparable to the economic damage caused by fighting a war domestically and permanently.

That is to say, we are buying ourselves, and everyone who comes after us, a life in endless wartime, all because we can’t be bothered to rapidly transform our energy system. And when I say ‘can’t be bothered,’ I mean it. The oil companies are treacherous, but that makes venal sense: they’ve got no other business to fall back on (Well, except for Shell, which is learning to market completely bogus carbon credits). The banks are, in a sense, even more venal: Citi would lose a small fraction of its business if it behaved with any kind of moral clarity, but that is clearly too much to ask.

But others are…just ridiculous. In a remarkable piece of reporting Bloomberg’s Ben Elgin details how the California Restaurant Association put the kibosh on the city of Berkeley’s plan to prevent new restaurants from using gas, and instead getting them to use induction cooktops. Read it and weep:

When Berkeley became the first city in the country to ban the extension of gas pipes into new buildings, it targeted a contentious source of climate pollution. The combustion of gas inside of homes and businesses to power things like furnaceswater heaters and stoves accounts for 9% of California’s emissions, or 33 million metric tons of heat-trapping gases per year, equivalent to the entire climate footprint of Hong Kong.

With the US gas system continuing to expand – the industry connects one new customer to the gas grid each minute – Berkeley was the first to try to stop this climate problem from becoming bigger. Since it enacted its ordinance in 2019, more than 100 cities, counties and states across the country have followed.

Today, these efforts are reeling. The California Restaurant Association took the city to court in November 2019, arguing that its 20,000-plus members preferred cooking with a gas flame and that, even though the rule wouldn’t require changes to existing buildings, such an ordinance would limit their options when opening new locations. Moreover, they argued, federal energy laws preempt these aggressive local ordinances.

After a see-sawing legal battle, the restaurants prevailed. When Berkeley’s last-ditch request for a rehearing was rejected earlier this year, the city in March canceled its ordinance, prompting a jubilant CRA to declare it a “significant triumph for chefs and restaurateurs.”

Now, Bloomberg Green has learned, a coalition of gas companies and their supporters are planning to wield the restaurants’ legal victory to beat back similar rules across the western US. This puts restaurants directly at odds with a hospitable planet, as there’s no feasible pathway to avert catastrophic warming if places like California don’t sharply reduce gas combustion in buildings, according to climate experts.

I’m the cook in our household, and I’ve used induction cooktops for years—$60 from Amazon. They work better than gas—boil faster, finer temperature control—but even if they worked worse, who cares? We’ve got to actually make some changes or we can’t actually have a working world. Who’s going to go out for dinner on a melting planet. It’s incredible to have perfectly fine substitutes for fossil-powered technology and then refuse to use it: take, for example, the automakers, who a new study this week found to be united in their efforts to sabotage the transition to EVs

“An analysis of climate policy advocacy in seven key regions (Australia, EU, India, Japan, South Korea, UK and the US) finds that auto associations are leading efforts to delay and weaken key climate rules for light-duty vehicles.

“In the US, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation has led opposition to ambitious fuel economy (CAFE) and GHG emissions standards, while in Australia, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) led a strategic campaign to weaken fuel efficiency standards.”

“Of the eight automotive industry associations included in this study, every automaker (except Tesla), remains a member of at least two of these groups, with most automakers a member of at least five of these associations globally.”

If all of this seems overwrought to you—how could climate change actually do that much damage to our economy?—then finish off by reading a report by the veteran climate reporter Chris Flavelle in today’s Times. It delineates what global warming is currently doing to the home insurance market in the U.S.—which is to say, threatening to collapse it

The insurance turmoil caused by climate change — which had been concentrated in Florida, California and Louisiana — is fast becoming a contagion, spreading to states like Iowa, Arkansas, Ohio, Utah and Washington. Even in the Northeast, where homeowners insurance was still generally profitable last year, the trends are worsening.

In 2023, insurers lost money on homeowners coverage in 18 states, more than a third of the country, according to a New York Times analysis of newly available financial data. That’s up from 12 states five years ago, and eight states in 2013. The result is that insurance companies are raising premiums by as much as 50 percent or more, cutting back on coverage or leaving entire states altogether. Nationally, over the last decade, insurers paid out more in claims than they received in premiums, according to the ratings firm Moody’s, and those losses are increasing.

The growing tumult is affecting people whose homes have never been damaged and who have dutifully paid their premiums, year after year. Cancellation notices have left them scrambling to find coverage to protect what is often their single biggest investment. As a last resort, many are ending up in high-risk insurance pools created by states that are backed by the public and offer less coverage than standard policies. By and large, state regulators lack strategies to restore stability to the market.

As the former state insurance commissioner of California put it, “I believe we’re marching toward an uninsureable future.”

And since the insurance industry is the part of our capitalist system that we task with understanding risk, that’s saying something.


In other energy and climate news:

+Key players in the Big Oil ecosystem have apparently been cooperating with OPEC to raise prices for American consumers. The Federal Trade Commission is not happy—read their complaint here (except for the redacted parts).

For more dirt on this dirtiest of industries, a new book from Justin Nobel, Petroleum 238, chronicles the waste, some of it radioactive, that the hydrocarbon cartel has been piling up. Another good reminder that even if the climate wasn’t being wrecked we should be working hard to get off gas and oil.

And speaking of books worth reading: the veteran environmental journalist Jonanthan Mingle has a vivid new account of the fight against the Atlantic Coast pipeline; it chronicles some of the best activists in the country, and it makes the case that this newsletter keeps hitting on: don’t be fooled into thinking that gas is ‘cleaner.’

+Lots of farmers love solar power: as Peter Sinclair points out in this account, because “clean energy development, solar and wind, represent a financial lifeline to diversify incomes, keep farms in the family and farmers on  the land as stewards.” The option is often sprawling suburban development, which “will destroy open land essentially forever.” He’s also run the numbers for one midwestern state on how much land it requires:

An ambitious build out of utility scale solar in Michigan would require about 2.5 percent of our 10 million acres of agricultural land. By comparison, today we devote between 7 and 10 percent of that land to corn ethanol production, which is a much more destructive and less efficient use of that land.

A recent study by Renew Wisconsin showed that, comparing the use of farmland for ethanol or solar, as measured in the potential for EV vs combustion vehicle mileage, showed that “…ethanol used in internal combustion engines requires about 85 times the amount of land to power the same amount of driving as solar-charged electric vehicles.”

+Batteries, batteries, batteries. Here’s more on a subject I’ve been harping on: California now has such a big bank of batteries that when the sun goes down it can become the biggest source of power to the grid. As Julian Spector reports:

Dispatch data from CAISO shows that the evening hours are now a hotbed for battery activity. For instance, on the last day of April, the battery fleet kicked in around 6 p.m. and ran through midnight. The batteries hit a record for most power delivered just before 8 p.m., with 7 gigawatts; that was within spitting distance of the gas fleet’s performance at the time, something unheard of in years past.

For years, evenings in California were fossil gas’s time to shine. Now the evening capacity role is increasingly a toss-up with batteries, at least in the shoulder months. Gas will still play a crucial role in the hotter months as evening demand outstrips the capacity of the shiny new battery fleet. But the trends in April are validating the thesis that storage plus solar can extend the clean energy transition into the nighttime — and California’s clean energy fleet is only getting bigger.

And it’s not just California. Texas is playing big in the battery game too all of a sudden, and in late April they made up for a bunch of off-line gas plants and saved the system from a meltdown.

Enormous, digitally controlled batteries across the Lone Star State rapidly injected 2 gigawatts of power into ERCOT’s wires just before 8 p.m., staving off potential power shortfalls and lowering electricity costs for customers.

Aaron Zubaty, CEO of Eolian Power, was watching these events closely. His company owns and operates some of the biggest batteries in Texas, and he saw April 28 as a test for the ascendant Texas energy storage industry.

“This was the largest instantaneous amount of energy storage deployed to date in the Texas market, but nevertheless is a record that will be substantially exceeded this summer as more energy storage capacity is commissioned in the coming months,” he noted at the time.

It didn’t take long for that prediction to come true. On May 8, evening demand was climbing and conventional power plants totaling nearly 22 gigawatts of capacity were offline. Just before 8 p.m., the batteries surged more than 3 gigawatts onto the wires, beating the April 28 record by 50 percent.

+Fascinating graph, courtesy of the data mavens at Ember, shows that 51 countries have now seen their fossil fuel emissions from power generation drop dramatically. It’s a sign that renewables aren’t just adding to the power sector, but beginning to substitute for fossil fuels

+Down to the wire in New York for a bunch of key climate bills, particularly the Climate Superfund Bill (which passed the Vermont legislature last week!). Rich Schrader of the NRDC details the desperate efforts of the fossil fuel industry to, well, lie about Empire State energy policy

+Important podcasts: one walks people through the ongoing conversion of parts of the Amazon ‘rainforest’ into dry savannah as the temperature warms. Jeremy Campbell:

Where there used to be forest, you’re not going to get any more of that transpiration cycle, and so the drying isn’t limited to the places where deforestation happens. Where things are dry, things get hotter. And then when you add like we had last year with the horrible situation throughout the Amazon of an El Nino-induced heat spike and drought, then you have villages that rely on fish, rely on the rivers to get around because the rivers are the highways of the Amazon, who are literally stranded. So the drying out of the Amazon is a tremendous biodiversity challenge, it’s also a tremendous economic challenge. But it’s also a human tragedy that is taking tremendous costs on the people of the Amazon as well.”

Meanwhile, in the midwest the story is almost the opposite: With more co2 in the atmosphere, trees are outcompeting grasses across the Great Plains, as Science Friday reports. This slowly spreading ‘green glacier’ is bad for biodiversity—but also for the climate because the dark green trees absorb more sunlight than the prairies and grasslands they replace.

+A Sierra Club report details the grim conditions for workers and communities around new LNG export terminals along the Gulf of Mexico

Jeff Kiefer has worked for the last year as a safety manager for a contractor helping to build fossil fuel company Venture Global’s huge LNG (liquefied natural gas) export facility in coastal Louisiana. For up to 60 hours a week, Kiefer supervises his team as they construct steel framing for the $21 billion Plaquemines Parish plant, which, when completed in 2026, will cover some 600 acres and be one of the biggest LNG producers in the country.

Kiefer, a 70-year-old longtime energy sector worker, describes the experience as “hell.”

“It’s terrible conditions,” he told Sierra in a conversation in mid-April. “Today was miserable,” because high winds were kicking up even more dust than usual. Kiefer said he had to shelter in his truck to avoid the dust getting into his eyes and mouth.

+Finally, a truly notable obituary this week, for California Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey. Although the Times concentrates on his opposition to the Vietnam War, I think history will remember him most for being the GOP face of the first Earth Day. I interviewed him once, and remember him telling the story of that mammoth effort; after 20 million Americans took to the streets, he reported getting back to his Capitol Hill office on Monday morning and finding a line of Republican Congressmen out in the hall. “They all said the same thing: ‘tell us about this ecology stuff.’” It’s sobering to remember that once upon a time we had Republican environmental leadership. RIP.

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