Bank of America to World: Just Drown Already
Finance capitalism as a suicide machine
Bank of America has its roots in California. Founded in Los Angeles in 1923, it was acquired by a San Francisco bank, which took the name in 1930—and over time it has grown to become the world’s second-largest bank by deposits, second only to New York-based Chase.
I tell you this for two reasons. One, California is, as of this writing, being absolutely battered by an “atmospheric river” that has knocked out power to hundreds of thousands, and caused mudslides on high ground along the Pacific Coast. As Andrew Dessler pointed out yesterday, the physics are pretty simple: “A warmer planet has more water vapor in the atmosphere. And, everything else being the same, an atmospheric river carrying more water vapor will cause more rainfall when it hits land and starts rising.”
And second, Bank of America is a proximate cause of this kind of chaos, because it refuses to stop lending for fossil fuel expansion. Indeed, last week it engaged in perhaps the single most irresponsible about-face of the climate era.
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Three years ago—in the wake of the Greta-inspired mass uprising of young people around the world—Bank of America apparently felt it had to make some gesture, so it chose a pretty easy route to demonstrate its newfound greenness. It said it would no longer lend for new coal mining or coal-fired power plants or for new oil exploration in the Arctic. These were seen to be beyond the pale because…well, they are. They represent some of the most egregious possible insults to this planet.
But last week they said, never mind. If you want some money for a new coal mine, our window is open again. If you’re an oil company that feels like searching for oil in the Arctic now that you’ve melted it, we can make a deal. As the Times reported last week
Bank of America’s change follows intensifying backlash from Republican lawmakers against corporations that consider environmental and social factors in their operations. Wall Street in particular has come under fire for what some Republicans have called “woke capitalism,” a campaign that has pulled banks into the wider culture wars.
That is to say, they’re far more afraid of some oil-soaked GOP state treasurer than they are of an atmospheric river bearing down on the world’s fifth largest economy. It’s proof, of course, that their words about climate change were just pious nonsense. They’d insisted that they understood how crucial it was to change: “Climate change is no longer a far off risk but rather a global concern with impacts that are already beginning to unfold, including increased frequency and severity of extreme weather conditions, melting glaciers, loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves and droughts.” But that was, we now understand, to be understood entirely as greenwashing, an effort to reduce the heat they were temporarily feeling.
The actual heat they could care less about. It’s not like something has happened since 2021—except the hottest year in the last 125,000, which takes us back even before the advent of money, if BofA executives can even imagine such a time.
But the only weather change they’ve noticed is political. Out with Greta et al, in with GOP politicians saying scary things. And BofA is not alone. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported last week that global giant HSBC, despite a solemn promise that it would stop financing new oild and gas fields, has found ways to keep
selling shares in the refining business of Saudi Aramco, one of the most aggressive expanders of oil and gas. An investor in HSBC told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that the bank’s policy has been cleverly worded to allow it to fund some of the world’s biggest polluters while boasting about its green credentials.
An analysis of Refinitiv data by TBIJ has found that in the year since HSBC’s new policy was announced, the bank has helped raise more than $47bn (£37bn) for companies that are expanding the production of oil and gas, despite dire warnings from scientists that this will push the world beyond its survivable limits.
This is all just sick. The International Energy Agency said in 2021 that if we had a chance of meeting the Paris temperature targets, finance for fossil fuel expansion had to end now. But the banks, and big asset managers like Blackrock, just can’t help themselves. For short-term gain, and to protect themselves from attack by right-wing politicians, they are willing to break the back of the planet’s climate system. The unbelievable economic fallout of those decisions—the fact that the world be immensely poorer, with its prospects hugely degraded, by the resulting rise in temperature—will be the problem of some other CEO down the road; it’s hard not to see our financial system as a suicide machine.
Fighting back is hard. At places like Third Act, we’ve done loads of sit-ins and pickets, and it helps—that’s the kind of action that forced these pledges in the first place. But we need some big players on our side. We’re trying, for instance, to convince Costco to pressure its banker Citi; we need the big tech companies, too, to worry not just about about the climate impact of their phones but also about the climate impact of their money (which is far far larger).
We have some champions, of course, but they’re not as hard-hitting as their Red State counterparts. Brad Lander, comptroller of New York City, gets credit for being willing to take the banks on—last week he announced that he’d try to get them to disclose their ratio of dirty energy to clean energy lending, which would certainly be good to know.
“Despite all their talk, the big banks have made little progress in the energy finance transition over the past couple of years,” said Comptroller Lander. “As long-term investors exposed to climate risk, we can’t just take their word for it. Reporting transparently on their ratios of clean energy to fossil fuel finance is key to seeing whether or not they are living up to their net-zero commitments. Right now, they aren’t – and that must change. Our planet, our economy, and our investment portfolios are all at stake.”
All of that is true. But if the planet is at stake, then perhaps a somewhat harder shove might be required. Lander’s plan seems like a way to win slowly, which on most political issues makes sense. But unless he also has a plan to refreeze a melted Arctic, this kind of pressure seems a tad too gentlemanly.
As you can tell, this about face by BofA stings. It takes so much work to move these guys an inch, and then given half a chance they slide right back to where they were before.
Small banks seem able to make money doing decent things—here’s a nice story about a merger of local California banks where they pledged, among other things, to "refrain from any new financing of fossil fuel extraction activities, especially expansion projects that would develop and lock in dependence on new fossil fuel infrastructure, either through corporate or project-based finance, subject to compliance with banking rules and regulations."
But the big boys? Damn them to hell, which is clearly where they’re content to send all of us.
In other energy and climate news:
+The Global Reporting Initiative, a voluntary but important way of keeping track of greenhouse gas emissions around the world, has introduced a new standard on responsible mining for critical minerals. It’s important, because without mining we’re not going to be able to build enough green energy, but we need to dramatically reduce the environmental and human rights impact of that mining. In the words of Carol adams, who chairs GRI’s Global Sustainabity Standards Board,
“From a sustainability standpoint, the position of mining is complex, in that it is both part of the solution and the problem. The low-carbon transition cannot be realized without key minerals that the sector provides – yet mining operations can have deep and damaging impacts on both nature and people.
We need detailed, consistent and globally comparable reporting on the most significant impacts of mining companies, which this new GRI Standard will deliver. Importantly, it will help mining organizations to improve how they communicate with key stakeholders on the issues that matter most to build trust with communities.”
Meanwhile, the world’s biggest jewelry seller—Pandora—has announced it’s not going to use newly mined silver or gold, instead recycling existing stocks
Using recycled, instead of newly mined, metals cuts Pandora's indirect CO2 emissions by around 58,000 tonnes annually, said Mads Twomey-Madsen, its senior vice president of communications and sustainability.
Recycled metal supply chains pose risks, as stolen gold can be sold as scrap to be recycled, and it is difficult to prove the origin of metals once melted down.
To mitigate the risks, Pandora uses a chain of custody standard developed by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). That standard, for example, excludes gold coins and gold bars as a source of recycled gold.
And in the LA Times, Sammy Roth reports that a vast new project to source lithium without mining is now officially underway. The scheme uses brine from geothermal projects along California’s Salton Sea
They envision the project that breaks ground Friday as the first of seven phases, with the potential to eventually produce 175,000 metric tons per year of lithium hydroxide and 350 megawatts of round-the-clock geothermal power. Other companies could add to the haul, with federal researchers estimating last year that the superheated brine deep beneath the Salton Sea contains enough lithium to fuel 382 million electric-vehicle batteries.
+Horrible Chilean wildfires have left at least 112 dead.
“It was more like a nuclear bomb than a fire,” said Mr. Castro Vázquez, 72. “There’s nothing left.”
The destruction in the Valparaíso region came as dozens of fires were burning across central and southern Chile, amid what officials have said are higher-than-normal temperatures for this time of year.
Several other countries in South America have also struggled to contain wildfires. Colombia has seen dozens of fires erupt in recent weeks, including around the capital of Bogotá, as the country has experienced a spell of dry weather. Firefighters have also been battling blazes in Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina.
+Democratic Senators and Representatives, led by Green New Deal co-sponsor Ed Markey of Massachusetts, introduced new legislation to study the environmental impact of AI. Which is good news, because asking Chat GPT the best restaurant in your town uses an ungodly amount of energy—by 2027, AI could be using as much power as Argentina.
+A fascinating new study in nature on the “energy return on investment” in renewable energy. EROI—how much energy it takes to make energy, in essence—was long viewed as the achilles heel of clean power, and I still have people asking me if building solar panels doesn’t take more energy than they can produced. Not true.
The results demonstrated that for all scenarios, none of the global EROIs goes below 10, which is a value considered to be the upper limit for the net energy cliff. This signifies that: (i) all scenarios are feasible from a techno-economic point of view, (ii) the diversification in RE technologies helps to smooth sudden EROI drops, (iii) restricting ET time leads to sharp declines in EROIs temporarily, but as time proceeds, EROIs are stabilised, and (iv) the storage dependency has an adverse impact on the EROIs trends. These important findings support the claims of technological optimism that the transition to 100% RE systems does not result in a significant disruption from a physical EROI perspective.
+Maine lawmakers joined their colleagues from California and Hawaii in endorsing the fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty:
Around the world, a growing bloc of 12 nations - Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, Fiji, Niue, the Solomon Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, Timor-Leste, Palau, Colombia, Samoa and Nauru - have endorsed this initiative. The Treaty is also supported by the World Health Organization, the European Parliament, nine Peruvian Indigenous Nations, 2,500+ civil society organizations, and over half a million individuals, including Nobel Laureates, 3,000 leading academics, scientists, hundreds of Indigenous, health, youth and faith groups, celebrities and influencers who understand the imperative of this crucial crusade.
“This resolution holds a profound significance not only for our generation, but also for the wellbeing of our planet for generations to come,” said Senator Stacy Brenner in the Maine Morning Star. “We find ourselves in a pivotal moment in history where the choices we make today will determine the future of our environment and the quality of life for all living beings.”
+More sea otters please! A new study finds
remarkable changes have occurred in the landscape as these adorable animals recolonize their former habitat in the Elkhorn Slough, a salt marsh-dominated coastal estuary in Monterey County.
The erosion of creek banks slowed on average by 69% after the sea otter population fully recovered at a time when rising levels, stronger tidal currents and nutrient pollution should be causing the opposite. Marsh and streamside vegetation is rebounding and putting down densely matted root systems that can increasingly stand firm against flooding and surging waves. These features, essential for making the estuary resilient, are on the mend in large part due to the sea otters’ insatiable appetite for herbivorous marsh crabs, according to a study appearing in Nature
Crabs are an important part of the slough ecosystem, but too many of them can ruin the wetland’s integrity. “Crabs eat salt marsh roots, burrow into salt marsh sediments, and over time can cause a marsh to erode and collapse. This had been happening at Elkhorn Slough for decades until sea otters recolonized the estuary in the mid-1980s and expanded into salt marshes over the last decade,” said lead author Brent Hughes, an associate professor of biology at Sonoma State University.
Did I include this as a shameless way to post some pictures of sea otters? I did
+New personalized home electrification planner from the excellent minds at Rewiring America!
+The Amazon had a horrid drought last year, apparently made thirty times more likely by the global rise in temperature from burning fossil fuels
Ben Clarke, one of the report’s authors and a researcher at the Imperial College London, said the results might come as a surprise to some. “As the Amazon drought worsened in 2023, many people pointed to El Niño to explain the event,” he said in a press conference announcing the results. “While El Niño did lead to lower levels of rainfall, our study shows that climate change is the main driver of the drought through its influence on higher temperatures.”
As further evidence of their findings, the authors point to additional impacts climate change has brought to the region. The dry season has been longer and harsher with each passing year. In 2023, the hottest on record, an exceptionally warm North Atlantic Ocean kept rain clouds away, and a series of heatwaves triggered record wildfires.
“These are all footprints of climate change and greatly contributed to this drought,” Regina Rodrigues, co-author of the study and professor of physical oceanography at the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil, said in the press conference. “While droughts are [a] key part of this biome’s history, they are becoming increasingly stronger and widespread.”
+As John Kerry steps down as chief climate envoy, John Podesta is taking over. Podesta—a long-time high level presidential councilor—will also stay on in his role overseeing the Inflation Reduction Act spending. I think he’s understood by all to be close to President Biden, meaning he should have the necessary diplomatic clout to keep global climate talks, however tenuous, moving forward
+Parisians have voted in a citywide referendum to triple the cost of parking for SUVs
Tony Renucci, director of the air quality campaign group Respire, said: “The result of the vote is a victory for Paris residents’ quality of life.” He added that Paris was sending a message that “the presence of these monsters on wheels was no longer desirable on our streets”.
Emmanuel Grégoire, Paris’s deputy mayor, posted on X as voting began: “Heavier, more dangerous, more polluting … SUVs are an environmental disaster.”
Under Hidalgo, Paris has for years raised pressure on drivers by increasing parking costs and gradually banning diesel vehicles, while expanding the bicycle lane network in the congested capital. The city has reduced the number of on-street parking spaces in order to make drivers use underground parking. There was a 71% rise in the use of bikes between the end of the Covid lockdowns and 2023, city hall said.
+Oops. Scientists say we may now need a Category 6 for hurricanes.
“Climate change has demonstrably made the strongest storms stronger,” said Michael Wehner, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “Introduction of this hypothetical Category 6 would raise awareness of that.”
Wehner and James Kossin, a distinguished science adviser at the First Street Foundation, suggest the Category 6 label could go to any tropical cyclone with sustained winds of at least 192 mph — an intensity that five storms have surpassed since 2013.
Meteorologists have for years debated whether the current hurricane scale adequately captures the hazards of today’s storms — it only takes winds into account, not pounding waves or flooding — and whether a new top-end category is needed. With the new research, the scientists say they are formalizing that discussion, in hopes of spurring more academic debate about the ways climate change is heightening weather hazards as we know them.
“Having [Category 5] mean anything above a certain threshold is becoming more and more problematic,” Kossin said. “It tends to understate the risk.”
+Tar sands oil producers in Canada get to self-report their own greenhouse gas emissions. But new research shows they have been underestimating their damage to the climate—by, oh, 6,000 percent. Scientists “noted that the total oil sands carbon emissions were larger than those from all human-made sources, from chemical products to cars, in megacities like Los Angeles.”
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