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Topic: Climate Change and You (Read 735 times)

Climate Change and You

Judith Curry says
Quote
A few weeks ago I spotted this quote:

” “Climate change” is just a mental tattoo — a phrase we invoke with an air of scientific sophistication to give some sense of knowledgeability about the unknowable.”

That statement pretty much sums up the whole thing. Climate ‘science’ has become boring, mostly dotting i’s and crossing t’s (or worse yet, crossing i’s and dotting t’s). Even if we assume the science is ‘settled’, the policy discussion is even more boring – infeasible solutions that even if successfully implemented would very possibly leave us worse off than doing nothing (such has having inadequate electricity and fuel for heating during the winter).
Post COP 26, how do you feel about "Climate Change"?
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"Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility." - James Thurber
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts!" - Richard Feynman
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Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #1
Lots of work remains to be done, we have decades of wasted time to make up for.

The jerk is unlikely to be as strong needed though.

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #2
Ah! A physical metaphor for social-economic policy pretending to be about a physical phenomena... :) Do you expect (or hope for) a calamity large enough to convince us[1] to "get with the program"?
Do you claim the goal is an ideal (stable) climate?
The "us" your "we" refers to...
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"Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility." - James Thurber
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts!" - Richard Feynman
 (iBook G4 - Panther | Mac mini i5 - El Capitan)

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #3
The "program", as you call it, is ending a century of substance abuse. This did not happen at the speed it rationally should have, so there will be adverse consequences.

Those consequences will be there for us all, whether or not subgroups are "convinced". And yes, as a "program" we have moved on from science to engineering. 



Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #4
The substance you mean is -of course- petroleum, usually called oil. (But coal is also a form.) And its uses are myriad, as I'm sure you know. With what would you replace it?
For heating and fuel, there's electricity -- and the obvious source is nuclear power. (I'll let you explain why it hasn't caught on...)
For chemical manufactures, there's what, exactly?
as a "program" we have moved on from science to engineering.
The science is so politicized that it's become too contentious for serious scientists. Climate science has become a realm for activists, politicians, and grifters; of course, some -those few who wisely keep their heads down and continue their work without fanfare- will continue, and there's much to learn. But the public "debate" is poisoned.
Not to say there aren't and won't be more technological  improvements to energy production and storage. But there's no replacement for oil...
Add your "yet" to that and what you have is a campaign promise.

If your concern is over pollution, then indeed engineering is the key - together with prosperity. Without wealth other concerns take precedence. And the proven path to prosperity is abundant energy.
进行 ...
"Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility." - James Thurber
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts!" - Richard Feynman
 (iBook G4 - Panther | Mac mini i5 - El Capitan)

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #5
Climate science was politicized for decades by science denialists, but it doesn't matter that much anymore. There were dozens of those threads on old D&D, but the world has moved past that now.

The substance you mean is -of course- petroleum, usually called oil. (But coal is also a form.) And its uses are myriad, as I'm sure you know. With what would you replace it?
For heating and fuel, there's electricity -- and the obvious source is nuclear power. (I'll let you explain why it hasn't caught on...)
For chemical manufactures, there's what, exactly?

Fossil fuels to be exact, so petroleum, coal, fossil gas and peat. The last one is fairly marginal, and kind of proto-fossil anyway, the other three are splitting the total climate emissions fairly evenly between them.  And agreed, oil is the odd one out of the three, as it is used less for energy/industry like the other two, and more for transport and petrochemicals.

Petrochemicals aren't really the primary concern for emissions. The extraction, refinement and transport of oil have significant emissions, as have the production of plastics, but still relatively small compared with the emissions from burning fossil oils. And the largest use of petroleum is as fuel for fossil (ICE) cars.

As batteries get better fossil cars are disappearing from the new car market. In Norway 3 of 4 new cars sold today are electric, 1 of 5 are hybrids, leaving only 1 out of 40 cars diesel and 1 out of 40 cars gasoline. EU used to be well behind Norway, but is catching up, with 1 out of 4 cars now electric or hybrid.

Here in Sweden 1 out of 4 is electric, 3 out of 10 are hybrid. leaving fossil cars the minority. China is close behind the EU, 1 out of 6 cars are electric/hybrid (13%/3%). The US is lagging, but as roughly speaking the percentage of EVs doubles each year, fossil cars are turning into legacy. Not on the road though, fossil cars remain the majority for many years to come. Even in Norway 5 out of 6 cars are fossil, but as almost all new cars are electric and almost all scrapped cars are fossil, the proportion will change.



Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #6
Again: What generates the electricity? Some areas maintain hydro facilities, but they are increasingly disfavored. Where is the push for nuclear generation?
Climate science was politicized for decades by science denialists, but it doesn't matter that much anymore. There were dozens of those threads on old D&D, but the world has moved past that now.
:) Ah, yes! Denialists! (We won't mention the catastrophists...) Yes, the world has moved on, accepting the nature of the debate: Fanatics can't be reached by reason; evidence is of no importance and the "consensus" is maintained by excommunication... The dogma of AGW is deeply entrenched and demands obeisance and tribute.
But not results --  at least, not beneficial results. What's the latest estimate of -best case scenario[1]- temperature increase forestalled by 2050? By 2100?
(And by "best case" I mean at least that the commitments and promises made by political entities are kept. A very doubtful presumption, no?)
Excluding the cases where modern civilization collapses or where homo sapiens is expunged from the planet...
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"Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility." - James Thurber
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts!" - Richard Feynman
 (iBook G4 - Panther | Mac mini i5 - El Capitan)

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #7
The "Is there an anthropogenic climate change?" mock debate was never climate science, at least not in this century. It is about as relevant as discussing phlogiston theory. Even those funded by the fossil economy have moved on to other delaying tactics. That leaves those still to this day insisting on "climate hoax" or similar left behind. In the words of the late Douglas Adams: Anything you still can't cope with is therefore your own problem.

So not a very interesting or fruitful topic of discussion.

Scenarios for 2050 or 2100, now you get me interested. Global average temperatures are guesstimates based on policies and promises, neither of which are very reliable, but we may course correct as we go.



Climate Action Tracker have an update based on the most recent batch of promises and policies (mainly connected to COP26), 



Now, this is as mentioned a promise tracker. As a rough estimate half the promises are held, half are not. 

From these baselines it is possible to construct actual scenarios. 

Again: What generates the electricity? Some areas maintain hydro facilities, but they are increasingly disfavored. Where is the push for nuclear generation?
Oil is not used much to generate electricity, though the relative share might increase if other uses decrease. Our global use of energy including electricity is likely to increase, though not necessarily by a lot. There are large efficiency gains to be had, so the richest countries are likely to continue on their current path, getting wealthier while using less energy.

The very process of electrification is in itself a huge efficiency gain. While electric vehicles take energy from the grid, the energy used is far lower than the energy consumed by ICE. Emerging "middle-class nations" also have a huge efficiency potential. Poor nations, that use very little energy, don't. Their energy consumption will grow with growing wealth, as will the consumption of middling countries. All of this indicates a modest total global increase in power consumption the next 30-50 years. 

In the same period we need to phase out fossil fuels completely, which today provides the most of the energy supply. So we have a major global shortfall over the next 50 years.

In "bang for the buck" in this coming period, there is a clear winner. There is a Moore's law for photovoltaic cells that will not end any year soon. For almost half a century solar PV has gotten dramatically cheaper per kWh, and this will continue for decades more. Other power sources will not be able to compete on this measure. Not coal, not gas, not wind, not fission or fusion. 

However, this leaves us with a problem when – and here in Sweden where – the sun doesn't shine. As a Californian you know the duck curve. This, the electricity grid, production and logistics issues, and the economics of a rapidly improving products (if you build a solar farm today you will soon compete with newer farms having lower costs) will constrain the ever-higher rise of the sun. 

Coal power plants and nuclear power plants can't really perform that well in such an environment, because they provide flat output of energy. Same output at midday when energy is very cheap as in morning and evening when it is expensive. (That incidentally als makes nuclear a fine replacement for coal power plants, where conditions are otherwise suitable, they have very similar characteristics)

This is a reason hydroelectric is back in vogue. They can provide balancing power, and have a built-in energy storage as well. However they have a large environmental impact, and there's a limited selection of available rivers. Gas power plants (fossil gas or not), and garbage incinerators can provide balancing power too. 

Here in Europe, the northernmost continent, the energy profile is different. Here wind is the greater power, fortunately at the time of year when the need is greatest. But wind is more unpredictable than sun, so the need for balancing power is just as great. 

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #8
Have you considered solar power collection from Earth-orbit?

And -since you haven't replied yet: Might I offer some reasonable words from Roger Pielke, Jr. on Policy Causality?
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"Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility." - James Thurber
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts!" - Richard Feynman
 (iBook G4 - Panther | Mac mini i5 - El Capitan)

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #9
It's great, if you're already in space. To supply the terrestrial grid makes no sense, even if it were feasible. Similar with the old SF trope of asteroid mining, it makes no financial or engineering sense. The energy to accelerate the minerals to the Earth is higher than the energy expenditure to mine them on the planet.

All other power sources on Earth are way cheaper, way more convenient than orbital lasers.

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #10
To supply the terrestrial grid [from space] makes no sense, even if it were feasible.
No sense? As in no pollution, no land-use issues, no trading carbon credits...which only move the "bad stuff" around! And little need to rely on fossil fuels for electricity! (Do you really disbelieve that most of the world's electricity is generated via the burning of fossil fuels?)

As to feasibility:
The technology exists... And -thanks to Elon Musk- reusable boosters are finally here. Something that we (...space aficionados) have waited decades for! While orbiting laboratories are important, it's time for the commercialization of space. And solar power collection seems to me the next reasonable step in that process. Manufacturing should be concurrent; hence the lure of mining... (Will it be cheaper to lift materials up the gravity well than to propel through mostly empty space?) Of course, some folk would prefer we keep our feet on the ground -- even if much of it has to be given over to PV "farms"!
It's easy to be dismissive of technological advances  But it's hard to prevent them.
You're familiar with his Starlink program?[1] Note the complaints against it...

But if we're back to available, cheap energy for which the infrastructure is already in place, we're back to fossil fuels.
China's recent "complaint" seems disingenuous: I suspect the CCP is more concerned about losing control of the internet... :)
进行 ...
"Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility." - James Thurber
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts!" - Richard Feynman
 (iBook G4 - Panther | Mac mini i5 - El Capitan)

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #11
There are no land-use issues with solar or any other form of power generation. The land spent on energy is miniscule. Half the land mass of the planet is, mostly inefficiently, used for agriculture. We use a lot more space on roads, and you Americans on parking lots, than we will ever use on energy.

Renewable energy produces very little pollution, and as the energy sector bootstraps the carbon emissions decrease as well. Furthermore the required recycling rate (in the EU) is at minimum 85%, likely to increase to 98%+. Try to recycle solar panels in space. Or repair them for that matter. 


This is a classical case of "how can I promote product/technology X?", you have a product that  It solves problems nobody have, to a much higher cost than benefit, to cause problems nobody need.

Space has no economic value to Earth, now or for the rest of this century. All projects are because we can, because we want to or because we're curious. All valid reasons, but no profitable venture (except for the middlemen in the space industry). But we can think of it as a (very) long-term investment for when not only we, but everyone we know are all dead.

I like to see it as growing an economy. Space doesn't have the resources we had and have, but still the space economy can grow to be self-sufficient, and when it is self-sufficient it can grow to become comparable to Earth, and when comparable it can transcend. Not in millennia, but in centuries. Assuming no OakdaleFTL drive by then, centuries is also what it would take to arrive at other star systems. However, assuming space sufficiency around this star system, shifting to some other shouldn't be too hard, though interstellar space is bleak. But all that is the far future for space machines and those humans who have converted into machines.

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #12
and you Americans on parking lots
There's also the fairly self-evident point that roofing parking lots with solar panels would also provide very welcome shade that is often lacking. (Although it'd be cheaper and nicer looking to provision some space for trees.)

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #13
Yes, solar panels can share and often enhance the area they occupy. They impact their environment in controllable ways. They generally have low albedo (the intention is to capture sunlight after all), creating an often undesirable heat island effect. But they also provide shade, and they can retain moisture. When not in the form of panels, but films, they can further adapt, e.g. by being semitransparent and/or flexible. They can be combined with indirect light.

So the trick is to combine the effects that are locally desirable and reduce those that are not. Generally sunny regions are hot regions, and PV panels work better where it is cool, so cooling effects are more desirable than heating effects. For similar reasons deserts are not ideal. Not only are they usually hot (or not providing solar energy), they are dusty. The usual way to clean off solar panels are with water, not something deserts tend to have a lot of.

However they combine nicely with hydroelectric (and other) dams. Not only are the dam surfaces unused and mostly unusable surface, panels reduce the issue with evaporation, often solved with rubber balls or some such. Furthermore the water cools the panel, and since both are power plants the hydroelectric plant provides balancing power to the solar plant, and the solar plants extends the longevity and utility of the reservoir in places with irregular water supply.

Intriguingly they also work well with fish farms. The fish seems to prefer the shade from the panels. This indicates they may have a useful role with #aquaculture, floating windfarms, refugia and other sea installations. Offshore windfarms seems to have an incidental effect as artificial reefs, so platforms, floating or fixed, may become multipurpose.

Anything marine is implicitly more expensive to build and maintain. But panels also play well with farming, #agrivoltaics.  Different types of solar cover do well with different locales and types of farming (and many will be better off with pure farming or pure solar farms).

Cities are literally getting greener, with more vegetation, in part to reduce consequences of climate change, in part because they make city living more comfortable. Solar panels and films are likely to take some of the surfaces not appropriated by plants.


Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #15
Those EU nominations seem random. Judge for yourself how green the city is. The central parts have been widened and improved for sure during recent decades, but with buses and cars in mind, not necessarily pedestrians and certainly not bicylists. [1]

[video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkjTgaY0Qjk[/video]

Tram 4 I use most of all of the city public transport. Actually I use trains more than anything else, but trains are considered countrywide transport. At 8:18 in the video, just when exiting from a tunnel, are the office buildings where I work.[2]
I think there is some trick to the nomination, either "green" is defined by the city itself or it depends on the mood of the commissars. This happens often with those EU things.
Well, I have been to the city only a few times during these covid years. I live outside the city and I used to commute by train, but I work near-exclusively remotely now.

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #16
Those EU nominations seem random. Judge for yourself how green the city is.
I think these things are meant more as encouragement toward good development because otherwise a Dutch city such as Enschede, Zwolle, Leiden or Alkmaar would win every year for still being better at everything, which would be boring at best and discouraging at worst, even if technically accurate.

Or these days, perhaps Utrecht would be in the running again, unlike when I lived there for a bit. There was a 12-lane street where there had once been a canal, but the canal has been put back in.[1]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=587Ll81fyYU

https://eurocities.eu/stories/utrecht-from-car-to-boat/

Rotterdam is also de-Americanizing:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXuI--ERWs4

certainly not bicylists. [1]
About a decade ago Antwerp won the best cycling award and as someone from the Netherlands who cycles in Antwerp almost every day let me tell you Antwerp's made great strides but it's late '80s Netherlands level at best. It's certainly a lot better than your video though!
This isn't entirely the fault of bad 1930s city planning. There had been some people in favor of American-style stroads for reasons I can't fathom (perhaps they'd never actually been on or near any in person?), so after the war they conveniently swept a bunch of ruins from German and Allied bombs alike into the canals and paved them over into "modern" streets. Brussels did something similar, and boy were they proud of destroying the city in time for the world's fair to show all of their beautiful wide car roads. All of which transformed Brussels into the worst city in the Benelux between roughly 1945-1955. I don't like being in Brussels much and you can clearly point to ca. 1950 as the singular cause. Thankfully they've been undoing the damage a bit in the past few years. Imagine how nice Brussels might've been if they'd started on this track in 1970 like Amsterdam instead of in 2015. Or if they'd simply never torn down the old Brussels. But it's never too late!

It's also really depressing if you look into the history of American cities a bit. For example in Chicago in the 1960s they'd commissioned an expert report as to what would happen if they tore down all the nice buildings and replaced them with wider streets and giant parking lots. The experts' conclusion was that it'd be a horrible idea, resulting in a giant loss of livability and tax income, but somehow they went ahead and did it anyway! And they didn't have the excuse that half the buildings on the street were in ruins from the bombs or anything like that either; at least in Rotterdam it made a lot of sense to just dump it all in the canals.

I'm actually looking forward to visiting Paris again someday (but my wife's like "there's a pandemic, I'm not going to the busiest city in the world right now") because they've made great strides over the past two years. It's only a little over 2 hours by high-speed rail, so it's not even all that different from going to Amsterdam for a day.

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #17
I see. So it is like a rotating trophy title - everybody will get to be the greenest in turn. Maybe even like the "culture capital" title: Several capitals at the same time :D

I rewatched the video in my previous post more carefully to see how many bicyclists I spot. There's one at Kosmos stop at 4:47. He is supposed to ride on the marked edge of the car lane, but instead he is riding on the pedestrian sidewalk, against the rules as usual. Bicyclists only drive on their designated edge of the car lane when they feel suicidal. (I'm fairly suicidal. I occasionally ride on the tram tracks.)

And that's it. That's the only bicyclist I noticed in the whole video going through the busiest parts of Tallinn. There was just one and he was not brave enough to ride on the stripe designated for bicycles. Quite a well-earned "greenest" title.

There's the Paberi stop at 6:07. It's been revamped entirely for pedestrians plus the tram tracks. It is a very remarkable improvement from the pedestrian point of view compared to what used to be there last century. However, guess what they did to achieve this. They cut a whole new highway through the city, erasing some dilapidated blocks parallel to this pedestrian section. The logic is obvious: For every widening of pedestrian space, cars must receive at least as much.

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #18
I see. So it is like a rotating trophy title - everybody will get to be the greenest in turn.
I think there's a truth behind it, as the article I linked puts it:
Quote
“Tallinn [...] demonstrated commitment and concrete actions to create healthier, better places for its citizens,” said Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius.
I don't know who's to blame for the "Europe's greenest city" phrasing[1] when it means something closer to the city in Europe that has arguably made the biggest improvements over the last few years. When you more accurately say something like "Europe's most greenifying city" it's obvious that it could still easily be one of the very worst.[2]
Largely rhetorical since I blame the article's headline writer. The EU calls it a "European Green Capital" award which doesn't imply it's the greenest city, just that it's a city that's done something they apparently want to spotlight (or that has managed to successfully lobby for the title in spite of its meager actual achievements).
I hope it's not quite that dire of course. :)

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #19
Utrecht (where I've never been) has gotten a lot of positive press lately. I suspect in good part because of that humongous central station bicycle parking house, though it seems it is doing a lot of other things right as well.

Things tend to get conflated. What's good for the environment needs not be good for the climate and vice versa. What's good city life need not be positive for either climate or environment. Bicycling/(assisted) human-powered vehicles cuts the diagonal. It doesn't really do much for the climate, except that it discourages sprawl and encourages efficient cities. It doesn't do that much for the environment, except negatively by reducing the need for cars and roads. But done right it can do much for liveable cities. Done wrongly, it's another thing for pedestrians to worry about and reduce the life expectancy of bicyclists. Oslo used to be quite awful, it's better now.

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #20
I suspect in good part because of that humongous central station bicycle parking house
To be clear I'm fairly sure they already had some humongous ones; they merely renovated/replaced and/or scaled it up a bit. It's better marketing to say it's the largest in the world or to mention the new absolute number than to say that you have a few thousand extra parking spots.

Things tend to get conflated. What's good for the environment needs not be good for the climate and vice versa. What's good city life need not be positive for either climate or environment. Bicycling/(assisted) human-powered vehicles cuts the diagonal. It doesn't really do much for the climate, except that it discourages sprawl and encourages efficient cities. It doesn't do that much for the environment, except negatively by reducing the need for cars and roads. But done right it can do much for liveable cities.
I'm not entirely sure what you're trying to say here. "Good for the environment" always means something closer to "neutral to the environment." If you supply your winter heating needs by cutting some branches from your local trees which regrow it's neither "good" nor "bad," but that's exactly what makes it "good."

Of course it's theoretically possible to build "proper" cycling infrastructure that doesn't include plenty of space for green in the city, so you'd still have the environmental issues from paving over every little piece of ground.

Edit: just after I wrote that, this popped up on my Twitter feed to (kind of[1]) illustrate the point.
It claims to have cycling infrastructure. I don't see any.

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #21
Edit: just after I wrote that, this popped up on my Twitter feed to (kind of[1]) illustrate the point.
It does not say it won some green(est) capital title. It won Excellence in Concrete Paving award :)
It claims to have cycling infrastructure. I don't see any.

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #22
My point is simply that in the Netherlands, that same street would look more like this or like that. The included greenery is good for both the "livability" (local environment), making it feel more pleasant, reducing heat island effect, cleaning air, etc., as well as for the soil because if you pave over everything it's more difficult for water to get away, the soil may not get enough water, etc. etc.

It would theoretically be possible to make safe separated bike lanes like in my second picture without including any greenery, with bollards or other forms of artificial barriers. For a Dutch example, see here, for a Belgian one see here. Note of course that it's because it's a much narrower street than in the Twitter link above. In any case, it's a possible example where the best compromise may not include (much) greenery, though I remain unconvinced. And heck, it still somehow manages to have more greenery than that picture from Wisconsin.

But yes, I realize that excellence in concrete paving may not give any consideration to things other than concrete. Perhaps the concrete is excellent quality if you ignore the infrastructure design.

Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #23
I'm not entirely sure what you're trying to say here. "Good for the environment" always means something closer to "neutral to the environment." If you supply your winter heating needs by cutting some branches from your local trees which regrow it's neither "good" nor "bad," but that's exactly what makes it "good."

In a way. The ultimate in environmentally friendly is a full self-erasure, "take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints" style. Any attempt to better nature is to make it worse, and unnatural. 

I am not sure about that, I think there should be a place for augmented nature. However, neither are what I meant, it was just a shorthand for avoiding environmental harmful externalities like  habitat destruction and fragmentation, pollution, or resource abuse. And defragging nature is an environmental positive, if we take the current state as the baseline. Likewise rewilding is likely to be a positive.



Re: Climate Change and You

Reply #24
From The Atlantic magazine's Weekly Planet newsletter:
Quote
3 Ways to Think About the SEC’s New Climate Rule
In 1966, at the height of the Cold War, The Wall Street Journal ran an ad that made a surprising claim: Every day, the Kremlin got 12 copies of the paper delivered. The Journal wasn’t boasting that it was helping to advance the spread of world communism, it was making a point: The publication’s coverage was the best guide to America’s “competitive, consumer-driven economy.” Unlike in Soviet Russia, the work of the American economy happens out in the open where everyone can see.

That openness is in part the result of regulation. Since the 1930s, the Securities and Exchange Commission has required public companies to publish certain financial information about their profits, dividends, debt, and risks. These disclosures help investors make better decisions about where to put their money, which makes the economy more efficient. (Well, at least in theory.)

On Monday, the SEC announced that it would add another layer to this set of essential disclosures, requiring companies to also release information about their climate risks. Starting next fiscal year, the country’s largest public companies—such as Walmart, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, and ExxonMobil—must publish data about their greenhouse-gas pollution, their exposure to various challenges such as sea-level rise, and any plans they have to minimize their exposure to these risks. Some companies must also publish information about their “downstream” emissions, that is, the carbon pollution from customers using their products. (These are called “Scope 3” emissions in corporate-climate jargon.)

The rule is a big step, and it signals the growing importance of climate concerns in the business world: Apple, Amazon, and other tech companies already publish much of these data in their disclosures, and the country’s largest institutional investors have been clamoring for more firms to do so. Some stock-market regulators in Europe require similar disclosures.

In a sense, the federal government is requiring companies to account for their carbon in the same way that they account for their cash—and frankly the two do have a lot in common. Companies make thousands of debits and credits to the carbon system every day, just as they add to and subtract from their bank accounts. In both cases, we care most about net flow: profits and carbon footprint at the corporate level, scaling up to GDP and national emissions at the national level.

The new SEC rule is more than 500 pages long, and I haven’t read it all yet. “It’s awesome, it’s very cool, it’s overdue—and it’s also extremely boring and plain vanilla,” Ilmi Granoff, the senior director of sustainable finance at Climateworks Foundation, told me. Still, the rule is likely to stay in the news over the next few years. Only the draft rule was published Monday; the rule won’t be finalized until later this year, at which point it will face a long court fight.

So for now, I want to focus on just a few aspects of the rule here.

1. It takes aim at “greenwashing.” Corporate net-zero plans are growing in popularity, and they’re also … a little suspect. Bloomberg Green has found that the net-zero plans of 25 of the world’s largest companies do not actually add up to zero. Now, if a company has a net-zero plan, the new SEC rule will require it to disclose how it will get there.

Net-zero plans are “sort of the Wild West right now,” Madison Condon, a professor at Boston University School of Law, told me. “The SEC has already started to send letters to corporations being like, Hey, you have this net-zero goal, but nothing in your capital expenditures have changed in any way. Can you explain this discrepancy, how you allegedly are changing your entire business model in the next 15 years?” The new rule will help standardize these goals, making sure companies actually intend to keep the promises that they make in public.

One of the flukes of U.S. law is that while it’s legal to lie to the public, it’s illegal to lie to investors. That’s why, when New York sued ExxonMobil a few years ago over its failure to publish its internal science on the dangers of climate change, prosecutors argued that it had defrauded its investors above all. (New York lost that case.) The SEC is now saying that when a company publishes a net-zero plan, it is making a material statement about the future of its business, and it must be as careful to tell the truth in that statement as it would be when discussing its profits and losses.

2. It’s long overdue. The SEC has required companies to disclose their environmental risks as far back as the 1970s. Congress was first warned about the risks of climate change 34 years ago. And as the climate reporter Andrew Freedman at Axios has pointed out, in 2019, a Fortune 500 company—PG&E, California’s largest electricity utility—became the first to declare bankruptcy because of climate impacts. The general idea of the rule—that companies need to conduct the exercise of going through their statements, looking for climate risks that could spiral out of control—is so sensible, the fact that it only happened now is surprising. The delay reflects how long policy makers have taken to understand the destructive scale of climate change.

And I would add that even critics of climate-minded financial regulation—a group that has, in some contexts, included myself—concede that climate-related disclosure is “anodyne.” In this often controversial arena, mandatory disclosures are some of the most widely accepted policies out there.

3. It could get overturned anyway. In the hearing where the rule was unveiled yesterday, Hester Pierce, the SEC’s sole Republican commissioner, announced that she could not support the rule. She argued that it overrode the SEC’s authority, that companies already had to reveal climate risks under the SEC’s existing risk-disclosure rules, and that the new rule aimed to force companies to “do the bidding” of regulators. (She turned off her video for much of the speech, saying that it would “reduce the carbon footprint of my presentation on this platform by 96 percent.”

But she also previewed another argument that I suspect we will hear more of. She repeatedly implied that the SEC’s new rule ran afoul of the Supreme Court’s “major questions” doctrine, a loosely defined principle that courts should look skeptically at rules that have “vast economic or political significance.”

Perhaps you can see the issue here. Simply dealing with climate change will require technocratic tweaks to many aspects of American law. In that way, it resembles cybersecurity or cryptocurrency—real-world shifts that could cause real damage if they’re not countenanced by our governance. Yet a faction of the American political system, particularly on the right, has decided that any climate policy is controversial, that anything touching this new risk should be taken up exclusively by Congress. Last month, a federal court ruled that the doctrine prevented the Biden administration from considering any costs of climate change when undertaking an executive action. (That decision has since been reversed.) Most important, the Supreme Court heard a separate—and potentially landmark—case last month that could essentially strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to regulate carbon pollution.

A self-perpetuating logic has infected conservative jurisprudence in America; it risks finding that any rule touching climate change cannot be promulgated, simply because of its subject matter. Given the influence that conservative judges have over the judiciary, and especially in the Supreme Court, it could soon be settled law that even a minor climate rule confronts a “major question,” fit only for lawmakers to answer. If allowed to spread, this idea will bring U.S. policy out of the realm of the real, further discredit corporate planning around energy, and push the American energy system deeper into paralysis. If you think simply disclosing risks is major, wait until they arrive.
(Since they urged me to forward the newsletter, I feel no compunction at posting the relevant section in its entirety. Plus -for folks like ersi who don't like to click on my links- this is "easier"! :) )

Just a few quick points.

"[W]hen New York sued ExxonMobil a few years ago" was in 2019, after a four-year's long investigation... (Details)

"PG&E, California’s largest electricity utility—became the first to declare bankruptcy because of climate impacts" assumes our recent droughts are "caused" by Climate Change™ and that those droughts "caused" the wildfires that incurred PG&E's astronomical liabilities...
The attribution of the droughts is of very low likelihood (to use the jargon), and the wildfires had more to do with land use policies and piss-poor forest management.

'it could soon be settled law that even a minor climate rule confronts a “major question,” fit only for lawmakers to answer' is -of course- a rallying cry! Our wise and benevolent bureaucrats and executives know what's best — for us... Coming early this summer, the decision in West Virginia v. EPA will likely be jeered and derided!
The Great Greta may even be called upon to add het "How dare you!" to the reasoned debate... :)
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