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Week 16: Are we just plain stupid?
In this issue: ▸ State of the Global Climate (it’s grim) ▸ Climate diplomacy is hopeless ▸ The fallacy of “investing in nature” ▸ Temperature check: alarming findings from Riksbank Advisor
The messages are becoming brutally clear, yet they fall, like dead leaves, on deaf ears. Something is terribly wrong and we are continuing to ignore signals that, year after year, are becoming more dire, more deadly.
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I read this 55-page-long report, State of the Global Climate 2022, despite that I did not want to read it. I left it lying on my desk for some time, trying to find all sorts of reasons to avoid it.
I went back and glimpsed through the pages, ignoring headlines. Turned on the TV to see yet another advert for some series called “Succession” where apparently psychopaths got their own show. Tables, graphs, numbers. I tried to read the foreword, and after the first section, I took another cup of coffee. Black, this time with no sugar.
I had this prenotion of “here we go again,” and report after report, we get the same message. Do we understand what we are being told? Are we so stupid, ignorant, afraid or egoistic as a species? Or is this just too much for anyone normal to take in?
Things are unfolding in front of us, and our children would make millions to take to the streets and demand utter and immediate change, storming parliaments, financial institutions, fossil fuel-producing companies, and the entire system that violently destroys our common future. Nope.
The tranquillised middle classes of the Western hemisphere are not in the mood. Inflation, rising airplane tickets, food prices, interest rates and on top of all of that, most of the fun destinations for summer vacations in Europe in 2023 are already booked. What is left to do? Cry and laugh at the same time. I wanted to drink huge amounts of alcohol after I read this.
State of the Global Climate (it’s grim)
Earth broke grim new records for melting glaciers, rising sea levels and ocean heat last year, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).
The WMO’s annual State of the Global Climate report, which tracks climate indicators and impacts, cited a record high for ocean heat content in 2022. Some 58% of the ocean surface experienced at least one marine heat wave last year, the WMO said.
The average global sea level also reached a record high in 2022; the WMO noted that the rate of average sea-level rise globally doubled between the decade spanning 1993 to 2002 and the decade that ended in 2022.
Glaciers also saw above-average losses in mass last year, a finding backed up by a separate report from the European Space Agency, released on Thursday. The ESA found that ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica has reached a new record, and now accounts for a quarter of sea-level rise.
“While greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and the climate continues to change, populations worldwide continue to be gravely impacted by extreme weather and climate events,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. “For example, in 2022, continuous drought in East Africa, record-breaking rainfall in Pakistan and record-breaking heatwaves in China and Europe affected tens of millions, drove food insecurity, boosted mass migration and cost billions of dollars in loss and damage.”
The WMO’s report follows an assessment of the state of climate change in Europe published Thursday by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. As feedback loops from a drying Earth likely lead to high temperatures again this year, scientists and policymakers are preparing to adapt to life on a hotter planet.
You can read more here.
Climate diplomacy is hopeless
In an interview with The Guardian, author Andreas Malm said “If we let the dominant classes take care of this problem, they’re going to drive at top speed into absolute inferno,” Malm said in the interview with The Guardian. “Nothing suggests that they have any capacity of doing anything else of their own accord because of how enmeshed they are with the process of capital accumulation”.
The climate emergency is a class issue, always has been. The elites are not prepared or rather willing to take the urgent action needed to avert catastrophic climate change.
From 2018 onwards, Extinction Rebellion and the climate strike movement brought tens of thousands onto the streets. But even as public opinion swung behind their calls for radical change, emissions and investments in fossil fuels continued to grow.
The problem, said Malm, was their absolute commitment to non-violent civil disobedience – the most stringent rule of XR, in particular – which left fossil capital nothing to fear from public opinion in bourgeois states where “capitalist property has the status of the ultimate sacred realm”.
Malm called for a campaign of sabotage of fossil fuel infrastructure, to break the taboo against targeting property. Or, he contended in one of the book’s epigrams, “property will cost us the earth”.
Climate change isn’t a challenge for humanity; it’s a competition of one class against another. There’s a small group of wealthy people who do not want us to shift to a more sustainable world because it jeopardises their ability to keep adding billions more to their net worth, regardless of the millions of people who will suffer as a result. The rich think they’ll be able to protect themselves from the worst effects of climate change, so they won’t do anything.
The fallacy of “investing in nature”
Over the last couple of months, I came across a number of posts on social media as well as newspaper articles about something that in principle means monetizing nature but is presented as something much more noble and with a twist of “investing in nature-based solutions” or something like “finance for biodiversity”. I wrote about this before and I want to make one point clear. We don’t own nature, it is not ours to own, and we don’t own its unique capacity to regenerate itself and its beautifully functioning systems. We can learn from it, nourish it (instead of depleting it) and respect it. We are predators. And this predator behaviour has recently played itself out in the full swing in the empire of dreams, California.
Groundwater gold rush where Banks, pension funds and insurers have been turning California's scarce water into enormous profits, leaving people with less to drink.
Last year almost 1,500 domestic wells went dry state-wide, and the state auditor reported almost a million Californians had no safe drinking water in their homes. Today the people of Woodville drink bottled water.
This winter’s record storms, a welcome break from drought, lifted Woodville’s water level 18 feet. It will take decades of wet winters to refill the aquifer. For drought is only part of California’s water woes.
The invisible hand, it turns out, belongs to the long arm of investors in New York, Toronto, Zurich and other financial capitals. Some of the world’s largest investment banks, pension funds and insurers, including Manulife Financial Corp.’s John Hancock unit, TIAA and UBS, have been depleting California’s groundwater to grow high-value nuts, leaving less drinking water for the surrounding communities, according to a Bloomberg Green investigation. Wall Street has come to Woodville, wringing it dry. Since 2010, six major investors have quadrupled their farmland under management in California, to almost 120,000 acres in all, equivalent to a third of all the cropland in Connecticut. Despite epochal drought, these companies have fuelled the growth of permanent crops, disregarding some of the most basic principles of sustainable investing.
Over the past decade, the financier-farmers have poured millions of dollars into digging deep wells, expensive capital projects that many communities couldn’t dream of matching on their own. In a presentation to investors obtained by Bloomberg Green, one company said it will eventually have to dial back its groundwater pumping yet can still reap handsome returns before that day comes.
Since the start of 2019, one of every six of the deepest wells in the San Joaquin Valley has been drilled on land owned or managed by outside investors, according to Bloomberg Green’s analysis of state well completion reports through August 2022. Of the landowners that have drilled the greatest number of deep wells since 2019, two of the top three are institutional investors: TIAA and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board of Canada.
This rush for water is an outgrowth of a decades-long bet on farmland by investors who see food cultivation as an asset class virtually assured of appreciating in a warming, more populous world. Globally, large investors and agribusinesses have snapped up about 163 million acres of farmland in more than 100 countries in the past 20 years. The land grab has given rise to a grab of an even scarcer global commodity: water. In a bid to ensure thriving investment portfolios, some of the world’s largest financial entities have amassed control over lakes, rivers and underground aquifers in places from California to Africa, Australia to South America, giving them outsize roles in managing an endangered resource that’s the basis of life on Earth. The trend has contributed to shifting hydrological patterns that stand to permanently disrupt communities’ access to fresh water. Local populations are paying the price in drained wells, high water bills and contaminated water supplies.
Temperature check: alarming findings from Riksbank Advisor
Swedish shame. It has specific colour and smell. Invisible. What is absurd is that this piece of research has not been covered by any big news outlet in Sweden. The reason? Well… Cristina Cella, an advisor at the Riksbank (Central Bank of Sweden), has examined the temperature alignments of 122 Swedish equity funds in a new Staff Memo. The results suggest that, on average, the funds in the sample are aligned to a temperature increase of 2.77 °C, well above the upper limit of 2°C set out in the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, the results show that there is, on average, no significant difference between the temperature alignment of funds that have joined leading climate initiatives and funds that have not. There is also no difference between funds that have a 'Low Carbon Designation' from Morningstar and those that do not.
Cella has also looked directly at the funds’ exposure to firms with different transition risk profiles. This analysis showed that the funds collectively invest substantially in securities issued by firms that still have significant work to do to green their operations. You can find the full document here.
Have a great, full-of-messages, week!
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