Follow the money – away from fossil fuel companies?

Well perhaps “follow the money” isn’t quite right – it’s more a question of watching where the money isn’t going. We may be able to actually steer it in better directions. Pressure on financial institutions is starting to have an impact on fossil fuel companies. This is “another lever” when governments don’t seem to listen. We may have more direct influence as a consumer, shareholder or customer than we do over governments.

One recent example: Goldman Sachs are no longer investing in Arctic oil drilling or thermal coal.

In the long term, fossil fuels don’t look particularly attractive. Many of those “assets” will inevitably stay in the ground and they won’t be worth very much. Credit agency Moody’s recently adjusted ExxonMobil’s credit outlook to negative

And some financial instutions are taking more ethical initiatives. Climate Action 100+ is “an investor initiative to ensure the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters take necessary action on climate change”. An institutional investor with $35 trillion in funds to steer the relevant companies in the right direction. This is a link to their 2019 progress report

“4ºC of global warming is optimal” – perhaps not for human beings…

So I saw the words “4ºC of global warming is optimal” and couldn’t even get my head around it at first. Possibly because the extreme double-take had twisted my neck. Then I read some more about the methodology used to create these results by a winner of the so-called “Nobel Prize” for economics.

I have seen some flaky assumptions in my past life, especially in relation to cost-benefit analyses, but this was almost literally unbelievable. Anyone skeptical about the degree of rigour in classical economics is unlikely to change their mind based on this analysis. The authors of the original paper extrapolated from the relative economic growth of individual states in the contiguous USA (i.e. not Alaska or Hawaii) to the whole planet. Because the whole world is just like the contiguous states of the USA, obviously. The economists’ conclusion was that 4ºC of global warming is optimal in terms of economic costs and benefits. It would seem that 4ºC of global cooling would be OK too, based on their analysis, even though that would cause a new Ice Age.

A lot of the really serious concern about global heating is that the processes involved are non-linear. Tipping points, positive feedback loops, that sort of thing. Permafrost melting. That old favourite about Earth’s albedo and polar ice melting which people were banging on about in the 70s. Or possibly the 60s. It definitely pre-dated the original BBC Edge of Darkness.

So choosing a benign, unrepresentative, linear set of starting assumptions doesn’t seem terribly smart. Obviously this is all very reassuring for anyone keen on business as usual, but there are suggestions from health professionals that the picture isn’t so rosy

Fortunately there is other work going on in this area which involves some climate scientists too. Almost any sort of actual scientists would be an improvement.

A simple guide to sustainable fish – or perhaps not

A simple guide to sustainable fish would be useful, except the situation is very complicated and fish stocks keep changing. This means it’s difficult to work out the best thing to do, when you are actually in the shop (or a restaurant) buying some fish. The label about sustainability is only giving you a headline statement and some schemes are more reliable than others.

Current guidance in shops about whether a particular fish is sustainable are seen as too complicated but some of those are simplified and there are a variety of schemes with varying degrees of credibility.

To really get a handle on whether fish in the shops are sustainable you need to do quite a bit of research so the idea of some sort of traffic light label seems very optimistic. The Marine Conservation Society Good Fish Guide has a traffic light and 1-5 rating system but within these ratings for particular fish species and general geographic area there are variations depending on specific locations, methods etc.

The Marine Stewardship Council MSC blue tick relates to specific wild fisheries worldwide, based on an independent audit.

So perhaps our simple guide to sustainable fish depends on how we define the word “simple”…

Life-cycle assessment of coffee pods – one less thing to feel guilty about

Do you feel guilty about using your Nespresso machine? Life-cycle assessment of coffee pods shows they actually have less environmental impact than most other methods of making coffee.

They are actually better for the environment than other options, based on a rigorous life-cycle assessment of their total environmental impact. The popular belief that coffee pods are bad for the planet is really a misconception.

Taking into account the total life-cycle impact of bringing the coffee to the cup including waste, energy and recycling, other options such as drip machines or filters have a significantly worse impact. The (literally) unpalatable truth seems to be that instant coffee is the most environmentally friendly option, with capsule machines in second place.

As usual, it’s important to go beyond the obvious and superficial answers to really understand how to reduce our impact. Everything is complex and interconnected. The real answer may be counterintuitive.

So you don’t need to feel guilty about your Nespresso machine, but if you are now feeling guilty about your filters (unbelached or otherwise), or your drip machine, positive solutions are available.