Bezos climate zen falls short, Gates predicts climate disaster & why not tax carbon?
The newsletter for people "woke" on carbon and climate
|Walter McLeod||Oct 25, 2020||2|
(photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images; New York Magazine)
Issue No. 49
Welcome to the latest issue of Carbon Creed - a curated newsletter for people “woke” on carbon and climate.
With the national elections on the horizon, folks are starting to pay attention to the candidates and their policy platforms. Next Sunday, we’ll take a deeper dive into the carbon and climate positions of both Trump and Biden to prepare you for the next 4 years of governance. One thing is for sure, regardless of the outcome of the election, global decarbonization is an economic reality that’s here to stay. It cannot be stopped.
NOW, IN THIS ISSUE we discuss the puzzling apathy towards a carbon tax, and why that must change. Then we take a “behind the scenes” look at Jeff Bezos’ torrent of climate initiatives and why Amazon employees aren’t buying it. Our third post questions whether we need a new definition for corporate climate leadership. Lastly, we get an advanced peak into the upcoming book on climate by Bill Gates.
I hope you enjoyed last week’s post on the many advances in the electric vehicle space. If you want to chime in with your own EV or ICE data or experiences, please share your thoughts and opinions with the rest of our tribe. We welcome your views!
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NOW, LET’S GO DEEP!
Both parties used to love the carbon tax - what happened?
(source: Greg Perry/Winnipeg Free Press)
It’s been an unexpected turn for an idea that, for more than a decade, was often at the forefront of plans to address climate change—and even held the promise of garnering bipartisan support. Both Barack Obama and John McCain ran for president in 2008 promising to address climate change through a national cap-and-trade program. A federal carbon tax drew support in recent years from such strange bedfellows as ExxonMobil and Senator Bernie Sanders, corporate America’s sworn enemy.
Today, however, both parties are largely silent on the idea, if not outright hostile. On the Republican side, a lot has changed since 2008. Even as more Republicans—especially younger ones—say they care about climate change, the GOP’s proposals to tackle global warming have drifted toward the rocks. Earlier this year, House Republicans vowed to address rising greenhouse gas levels by planting 1 trillion trees; President Donald Trump famously called climate change a Chinese “hoax”.
Meanwhile, the insurgent left wing of the Democratic Party has cast carbon pricing aside in favor of more liberal, large-scale ideas. “For far too long, ideas like a carbon tax or cap-and-trade were touted as the premier solutions to climate change,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the popular Democratic congresswoman from the Bronx, wrote on Twitter last year. “They are inadequate.” The party’s presidential nominee, Joe Biden, has proposed a massive, $2 trillion package that would eliminate emissions from the electricity sector by 2035—but stopped short of recommending a carbon tax.
Somehow, over the past decade, what was once considered the policy-of-choice has gotten shunted to the sidelines. But the carbon price might not be dead just yet: There are still those on Capitol Hill who still believe bipartisan climate action is in our future—and that taxing or capping carbon could be the solution.
In 1776, the Scottish economist Adam Smith, writing in The Wealth of Nations, noted that certain goods like sugar, rum, and tobacco—which hurt their consumers and society as a whole—had nevertheless become “objects of almost universal consumption.” As a result, he said, they were “extremely proper subjects of taxation.” Smith was focused on 18th-century scourges, but he could just as easily have been talking about fossil fuels.
To those who spend their days thinking about money and markets, there’s a simple fix: Put a price on carbon to reflect its actual costs to the climate and human health. If fossil fuels are more expensive, the thinking goes, individuals, corporations, and governments will not only use less energy, they’ll also boost wind and solar power, expand public transportation, and take other steps necessary to decarbonize the economy.
Creed Comments: My prediction is that during the next 4 years we will see a federal carbon tax proposal. Research shows that carbon pricing generally polls well (68 percent of Americans say that they would support a revenue-neutral carbon tax). The challenge for policy makers is how to frame and sell the “tax” concept. I know it’s not a silver bullet, but it is part of the solution. We just need bipartisan leadership to get it done.
Amazon employees challenge Bezos for a more ambitious climate agenda
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
AS OVER a thousand Amazon employees prepared to walk off the job last September, CEO Jeff Bezos announced a series of lofty promises. Not about salary increases or more vacation time, but about climate change. Bezos said that Amazon would become carbon neutral by 2040, meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years early. It was an ambitious commitment, especially for a logistics giant that relies on planes and trucks to deliver packages right to customers’ doors.
The walkout’s organizers, a group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ), said that Bezos' Climate Pledge was a step in the right direction. Since then, Amazon has followed up the commitment with other efforts, including a $2 billion investment fund for companies working on decarbonization. This week, Amazon announced a new Climate Change Friendly program to help customers choose more sustainable products.
One year after the walkout, current and former workers say Amazon should still be doing more to reduce its impact on the environment. AECJ has demanded that the company commit to reaching zero carbon emissions by 2030, a far more ambitious agenda than the one Bezos announced last year.
Microsoft has said that it wants to be “carbon negative” within the next decade, promising to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it emits. Apple plans for its entire supply chain to be carbon neutral by 2030. Google committed to achieving zero emissions by 2030, meaning it will cease emitting carbon into the atmosphere completely. Even Walmart says it will achieve zero emissions by 2040. Amazon, on the other hand, has promised only to become “net” zero within the same timeframe—a strategy that typically relies on offset projects to make up for continuing to use fossil fuels.
A spokesperson for Amazon characterized the Climate Pledge as a bold goal and said that, unlike many tech companies, Amazon needs to account for the carbon footprint generated by shipping products around the world. As Amazon continues to grow and acquire more planes, delivery vans, and computer servers, its emissions levels are also always increasing, making it harder for the company to lessen its environmental impact.
At Amazon, employees say that climate activism has given their work lives more meaning. “It really has made me want to stay at the company, seeing how much change we can make with a relatively small group of people,” says one worker.
Even as Amazon made progress on the environment over the past year, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice repeatedly found itself in the company’s crosshairs. Two AECJ leaders were fired earlier this year after circulating a petition demanding more protections for Amazon warehouse workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
The AECJ members say that they plan to continue collaborating with warehouse workers, especially because Amazon’s logistics centers are often situated in low-income communities, which are likely to be hit the first and hardest by climate change.
Creed Comments: Amazon is an amazing example of how ESG (climate specifically) is impacting corporate America. The tech workers climate justice coalition has moved all the tech giants to get serious about carbon and climate commitments. Expect more worker and customer demands like this in the coming years. I admire that AECJ holds Bezos/Amazon accountable. Kudos to the tech workers for being the catalyst for change on carbon!
We need a new definition of corporate climate leadership
Today’s definition of corporate climate leadership centers on how companies can do less harm, gradually reducing their emissions—and the damages they cause—over time. But viewing the climate crisis only through the lens of their own contributions to the problem leads companies to focus on a very narrow slice of the available climate solutions. When seen from a more expansive viewpoint, one that includes sources of emissions as well as the Earth’s natural carbon sinks and the societal changes needed to sustain it all, you see a more complete picture of the world that is possible, and a roadmap for how to achieve it.
Every business must now ask not only “how can we reduce our emissions as quickly as possible,” but also “how can we use our full resources, scale, influence, the passion of our employees, and our broader community to help build a world where all living things can thrive?”
To begin to more fully address the crisis at the speed, scale, and level of expansiveness required, companies should not only focus on emissions reductions but also the acceleration of three critical areas:
More ambitious and expansive goal-setting
Employee and customer activation and enablement
Bridging the outside/inside strategy
Using their influence to advocate for climate policy at all levels of government
In this post, we identify a number of “accelerators” that create the conditions for climate solutions to scale in the world. One of these is setting goals. Goals are crucial because they govern direction, define what we are reaching for and what resources are needed to get there. And goal-setting is the primary way that most businesses articulate their climate ambition.
But the current gold standard of corporate climate goals, net zero by several decades from now, is grossly insufficient to the scale of the problem. This kind of long-term target is only adequate if every company on Earth not only makes the same commitment but achieves it before the deadline, a highly unlikely prospect. And long-term emissions-reduction targets too often lack intermediate targets and accountability mechanisms to ensure that these promises are turned into reductions in greenhouse gas concentrations that the atmosphere actually notices.
More expansive and ambitious goal-setting can articulate things like how businesses are showing up for their communities, getting involved in zoning and city planning, and the resilience and engagement of their employees and communities. It can represent how companies might work together, the culmination of thousands of individuals; workers, customers and community members, with their peers and society at large to reimagine entire sectors.
For example, to reimagine one of the most heavily emitting sectors in the U.S., the transportation sector, how might public transit agencies, policymakers, ride-sharing companies, EV charging companies, airports, and workers themselves come together to reimagine the system to be zero emissions, equitable, and accessible within 10 years?
A narrow focus on reducing a company’s emissions often limits the discussion to technical experts or policy wonks and deprives more workers inside those companies of bringing their full selves to the work, unnecessarily restricting the work to those problems that can be solved by technology.
The thing is, we need to not only achieve “drawdown”—the moment when atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases peak and begin to decline—we need to also build the world where we can sustain it. This requires the technological solutions but also the social and cultural changes and the relational, community-building work to carry us forward.
For too long, we have been trying to put parameters and constraints around something that is uncontainable. But the climate crisis does not fit into our neatly defined boxes, as much as we wish it would. It spills into every other aspect of life so responding to it with this level of expansiveness is the only way forward. We must enable the work to happen everywhere, at all levels, and for the work to take a much broader shape than we’ve ever imagined.
Creed Comments: The corporation as we know it, is forever changed by ESG and the global shift towards progressive social responsibility metrics. The Milton Friedman thesis (circa 1970) stating that, “the Social Responsibility of Business is to increase its profits" has been eclipsed. Soon all companies will be measured by their quarterly ESG metrics, in addition to financial fundamentals. This is a change for the better.
Bill Gates reveals details of his upcoming climate change book
Buildings will be the most difficult innovation challenge of the climate crisis, according to philanthropist and climate guru Bill Gates. The Microsoft founder made the prediction during a “fireside chat” at the GeekWire Summit last week.
While Gates supports renewable energy projects like solar and wind and the shift to electric vehicles, it is in the construction of new buildings where Mr. Gates believes there is a big hurdle to overcome: Emissions from the manufacture of cement and steel.
According to Gates, “We don't have a way of making cement that doesn't involve substantial emissions.” Industrial processes, like those used to make building materials, produce more than a fifth of global emissions.
The billionaire was an early backer of Heliogen, a clean energy company looking at how solar power might achieve the high-temperatures needed to produce steel and cement.
In his GatesNotes blog, Mr. Gates announced the release of his new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, slated for February 16, 2021.
“It’s inspiring to see so much passion these days for dealing with climate change, and to know that the world has set some ambitious goals for solving it. What we need now are practical plans to reach those goals.” - Bill Gates
The book will be a culmination of his 10 years of studying climate change with experts and investing in innovations. The goal is to explain the science in a clear and compelling way.
"I’ll also propose a plan for what we need to do over the next decade and beyond to build the tools that will help us eliminate greenhouse gas emissions while scaling up the powerful solutions we already have. And I’ll suggest some concrete steps that individuals, governments, and companies can take to make it happen.”
Creed Comments: "Author" isn't a new title for Gates Foundation co-founder Bill Gates. His prior books, The Road Ahead (1995) and Business at the Speed of Thought (1999) were business best sellers. But his next work tackles one of the vital issues of our day: climate change. I’m glad to see Gates actively investing in clean tech companies and pushing Microsoft to set a higher bar on zero emissions. But does that make Bill Gates a clarion voice for climate? We’ll see. How to Avoid a Climate Disaster will be published in February 2021.
The Keeling Curve a daily record of global atmospheric CO2 concentration.
Congressional Policy Tracker a summary of current federal energy legislation.
Click Clean your favorite apps and tech company clean power rankings.
Advancing Inclusion Through Clean Energy Jobs a report by the Brookings Institute.
Understanding ESG a series of ESG-focused thought leadership webinars for business and investors, presented by Baker McKenzie.
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