Future of work@home, clean energy is hot & carbon kills

The newsletter for people "woke" on carbon and climate

(image: Crismatec)

Issue No. 40 - August 23, 2020

Welcome to the latest issue of Carbon Creed - a curated newsletter for people “woke” on carbon and climate.

My name is Walter McLeod, and I appreciate your time and interest. We hope to hear from you as we navigate this weekly journey through the good, bad and ugly of carbon and climate. Thanks for indulging my down-time at the beach - it was exhilarating.

In this issue, we feature some great posts from Bloomberg Green - the low-carbon future of work@home, the clean energy revolution, connections between climate and weather and the Dalai Lama’s upcoming climate book. I hope you enjoy the menu!

You can ping me anytime at mcleodwl@carboncreed.com.

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The future of work@home is low carbon

Working from home has reduced carbon emissions—that much is clear. And while this state of affairs won’t go on forever, with offices around the globe starting to reopen, some companies won’t return to normal. Instead, they will implement long-term work-from-anywhere policies. So that will make a bit of difference once the pandemic recedes, and is one of the few silver linings in this public health catastrophe.

Telecommuting eliminates the air pollution from your actual commute, paper and plastic waste from your to-go cups, and many other climate-unfriendly derivatives of the workaday world. Transportation before the novel coronavirus contributed about one-quarter of global emissions. Daily U.S. carbon emissions, it turns out, were down 15% from March to early June

But that’s only part of the story. People who are able to work from home appear to also be working on sustainable living skills. For the 90 days that led up to Earth Day (April 20) this year, Google found searches for “how to live a sustainable lifestyle” increased by 4,550%, according to chief sustainability officer Kate Brandt. “This trend began before Covid, but it’s much more front and center for people because they are spending so much time at home,” she said.

There are a variety of actions people have become interested in, according to Google. Searches for composting and switching to green energy providers have been popular, as individuals look more closely at their carbon footprint. 

“People are talking about food waste and single use packaging all the time right now,” said Bridget Croke, managing director at recycling infrastructure firm Closed Loop Partners.

Once people adopt more sustainable behaviors, they often stick with them. A survey of working parents by Bright Horizons this week found that only 13% wanted to go back to their normal work life. 

Source: This post is adapted from the original by Emily Chasan, who writes the Good Business newsletter about climate-conscious investors and the frontiers of sustainability.


The clean energy revolution has arrived

The clean energy transition has begun. It will impact and change the world in three (3) important ways: money, time and scale.

The first way the collective rise of clean energy technologies has changed us is money: Their success frees up significant early-stage capital to support new companies, unlocks orders of magnitude more long-term cash for financing assets, and has led to the re-emergence of cleantech.

Now that wind, solar, and batteries no longer need venture financing, climate investors can focus on companies that’ll benefit most from an early-stage angel, and hopefully create a virtuous cycle of investments and returns.

A second way these technologies have changed us is time: now that solar, wind, and batteries are officially low-risk, we can include them in our vision of the future. There’s a nice example of this shift in risk perception in a recent story by the Texas Observer on the state’s booming solar business. A rancher whose land has been in the family since the 19th century recently leased a plot to a solar developer who wants to install 709,000 panels on the property. The rancher’s logic? With oil leasing looking increasingly risky and likely to be a depleting source of revenue over time, solar is the long-term option. “I want to be able to hand the land down to the next generation,” he told the paper. “If I can make enough on 1,300 acres to pay the taxes on 10,000 acres, it’s worth it.”

A third way these technologies change us: scale. Not just their own, but the scale of the markets they could create. Earlier this year BloombergNEF analyzed the potential consequences of electrifying energy-intensive sectors of Europe’s economy, including doubling the continent’s clean energy capacity. One result: total electricity generation, which has essentially zero growth right now, would increase by 75% over the next three decades. That’s a huge change in an already huge market, not to mention a qualitative shift in our concept of how big a market can be and the purpose scale could serve.

In 2001, the world installed 290 megawatts of solar generating capacity. The 2020 solar project on the Texas rancher’s land alone will generate 200 megawatts of solar power. Something impossible two decades ago, and still fairly remarkable a decade ago, is now commonplace, which makes a person wonder: what’s next?

Source: This post is adapted from the original by Nathaniel Bullard, a BloombergNEF analyst who writes the Sparklines newsletter about the global transition to renewable energy.


How are climate and weather connected?

It’s hot. It’s flooding. It’s burning. Is it climate change or weather? Do these impacts effect human society in ways beyond the physical elements?

Climate is weather. Not literally, of course. Climate is the long-term batting average, while weather is what happens in any one baseball game. Climate is your personality, weather is your mood today. Climate, in short, is weather averaged.

This chart from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows how the two are intimately linked.

Source: UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Heat kills. Whether the temperature outside is 21°C or 22°C (around 70°F or 72°F) makes little difference. The latter might even register as a bit more pleasant. Increase it to 32°C (around 90°F), however, and all sorts of bad things begin to happen. If you’re a New York City high school student taking the Regents exam, you’re suddenly over 10% more likely to fail.

Hotter temperatures make workers and, with it, entire economies less productive. They kill crops. They kill animals. They kill people, especially the poor. One additional day above 32°C increases the chance of dying that year by 0.11%. And that’s in the United States.

Indians are 5 to 10 times more likely to die because of extreme heat, driven by rural India. Relatively richer urban Indians have the same mortality rate from extreme heat as the average American, pointing to the impact of extreme poverty. The rich adapt. The poor suffer.

If climate change is your personality and weather your mood, climate change is making all of us moodier. That goes for increased road rage and car crashes on hot days as much as for increased police aggressionrobberiesdomestic violenceassaults, and murders. And heat on the baseball field leads to more pitchers hitting batters with errant balls as retaliation.

These individual effects extend to increased peasant rebellions in Qing China, political instability in Medieval Egypt, ethnic riots in India, communal conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, and civil conflicts and political coups globally. The link between climate and conflict is strong, and unmitigated climate change all but ensures that it’s getting stronger.

A few more sultry nights may well sound pleasant after hiding in (Covid-19-transmission-proof) air-conditioning all day. But those small increases in global averages go hand in hand with large increases in extremes. These extremes are not just unpleasant. They are all too often deadly.

Source: This post is adapted from the original by Gernot Wagner, who writes the Risky Climate column for Bloomberg Green.


(source: IPPC)

Lack of government preparation: coronavirus and climate

Turn back the clock to September 2019. The World Bank and the World Health Organization have together put out a new report on pandemic preparedness.

Between 1997 and 2009 zoonotic outbreaks—pathogens crossing over from animals to humans—that did not become pandemics cost the world economy $6.7 billion each year. Pandemics cost a lot more. A new influenza-type outbreak on the scale of the 1918 pandemic could cost as much as $3 trillion, or about 5% of global economic output, the joint World Bank-WHO panel projected.

The cost of preparing against the threat would be a mere $3.4 billion each year. In other words, the report concluded, every $1 spent on preparation would yield at least $2 in economic savings—and potentially a lot more if it curbs a pandemic. Much of the money will be spent strengthening health infrastructure in poor countries, which could help alleviate poverty because infectious diseases disproportionately affect the poor. All that is, of course, secondary to avoiding the grief of losing countless lives. 

Also in September 2019, the World Bank participated in the publication of a different report on preparing against climate change. It found that spending $1.8 trillion in the coming decade on climate-friendly measures would generate $7.1 trillion in economic benefits. In November 2019, the Economist Intelligence Unit found that, if the world doesn’t do more to cut emissions, the economic cost could be as much as $7.9 trillion each year by the middle of the century. 

Covid-19 and climate change are different types of crises. The pandemic will be over within years and a single technological solution (vaccines) can bring it to a halt sooner. Climate change will cause devastation for decades to come, even if we start cutting emissions, and it cannot be solved with technology alone.

Despite the differences, both crises pit humans against fundamental laws of nature. Because we understand physics, chemistry, and biology so well, we are granted the advantage of foresight. We may have thrown away some of that advantage in controlling the spread of coronavirus, but that only means there isn’t much room for excusing continued climate inaction.

“Preparedness is a choice,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. “The decision not to prepare in the face of an obvious threat is no excuse when you find that threat is overwhelming later on.”

Source: This post is adapted from the original by Akshat Rathi, who writes the Net Zero newsletter on the intersection of climate science and emission-free tech. 


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