Economy

Shock, surprise, and the ESG investing moment; plus California's nuclear dilemma

By David Callaway, Callaway Climate Insights

A devastating heat wave in India has been blamed for a massive landfill fire spewing toxic smoke in New Delhi. Weather Underground reports, ‘What is most likely the most intense heat wave ever observed in Southeast Asia has been ongoing for the past several weeks. All-time national heat records have been observed in Cambodia, Laos, and (almost) in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam. Meanwhile extreme heat has resulted in all-time record high temperatures in the Maldives, India, China, and portions of Africa as well.’ 

The extraordinary story of the leaked Supreme Court abortion draft opinion this week, aside from its dramatic, Democracy-shaking impact on American politics, is also another stark warning to investors in climate plays that actual shifts in public action on priority issues usually come gradually, then suddenly.

The hackneyed phrase from Hemingway — gradually, then suddenly — is overused because it works so well in telling these types of stories. Even though pro-choice advocates argued for years that the Supreme Court was building up to this, the headlines from the leaked document shocked the nation.

So true with climate change. Despite consistent warnings and true-life examples such as India’s deadly heatwave and drought in the Western U.S., most people will generally turn a blind eye until — suddenly — they are affected. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, with all the implications it’s had on world energy markets, is another example. No one believed it until the troops were across the border. Then, prices soared.

Smart investors know this and try to get ahead of it. But three months into the energy crisis and the complementary bear market in global stocks, renewable energy stocks such as battery companies, electric vehicles, solar and wind firms, all remain depressed. Many suffer from inflation and supply chain issues despite the renewed interest from investors and calls for more clean energy from governments.

(As an aside, investors looking toward the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision this summer on whether the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate emissions should recalibrate their expectations now).

The dramatic climate wake-up call is still to come. It will likely have to do with lack of water in a major city, as we’re starting to see with gradual restrictions in Las Vegas and California. When it does, some investors will look brilliant. Others will play catch up. And a few will wonder what took everybody so long.

More insights below . . . .

Tuesday’s subscriber insights: Climate litigation growing for PR firms

. . . . Mention of public relations and advertising often brings an eye-roll to journalists and other cynics. But they are big businesses, helping anxious clients try to avoid bad headlines and, increasingly, increase positive vibes on social media. With climate change, though, they are now in the sights of activists equipped with subpoenas and other legal ammunition. Big trouble — or a tempest in a teapot? Read more here. . . .

. . . . The pictures lately from Lake Mead — the giant-but-shrinking reservoir behind the Hoover Dam — have been astounding. Bodies and intake valves exposed. High-and-dry boat slips and more. Now, Las Vegas — a big consumer of the lake’s water — is trying to cut back by banning “non-functional” or “outlaw” lawns in favor of gravel and desert plantings. Read more here.. . . .

. . . . Solar energy, the fastest growing form of renewable energy in the U.S., is an industry in crisis this year as a small solar company in California has caused giant size headaches for importers of solar panels after triggering a probe into Chinese dumping that has shut down projects across the country. How President Joe Biden addresses the issue will go a long way toward establishing our solar trade policy. Read more here. . . .

. . . . Cattle burps from space! For the first time, methane emissions from cattle have been photographed from space. As we know, agricultural methane emissions are a big problem in terms of global warming, Now a Canadian company claims it can pinpoint where they are coming from, much like flares from natural gas plants. Read more here . . . .

Editor’s picks: Wind train’s coming through; hydrogen ferry launches

Hydrogen-powered ferry to ply San Francisco Bay

A ferry powered by hydrogen fuel cells is scheduled to launch in San Francisco Bay next month and begin serving passengers in June, according to published reports. Switch Maritime LLC and boat manufacturer All American Marine Inc. have said they will deliver the passenger ferry Sea Change, a 70-foot, 75-passenger vessel that will serve stops along the San Francisco waterfront. Switch, a developer of hydrogen-powered ferries, raised $5 million in crowdfunding for the vessel and the project received some of a $3 million grant from the California Air Resources Board. Though Sea Change is not the first hydrogen-powered ferry — the hydrogen-powered MF Hydra launched in Norway in 2021 — it is the first to use gaseous hydrogen in a fuel cell in lieu of burning liquid hydrogen in an internal combustion engine, according to Switch. The vessel runs on 360 kW of hydrogen fuel cells with a 246 kg storage tank capacity. Siri Hedreen writes for S&P Global Market Intelligence that while Sea Change isn’t the first hydrogen-powered ferry, it is the first to use gaseous hydrogen in a fuel cell in lieu of burning liquid hydrogen in an internal combustion engine, according to Switch. The vessel runs on 360 kW of hydrogen fuel cells with a 246 kg storage tank capacity.

Could California nuclear plant stay open?

California’s last remaining nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, is scheduled to close in 2025, but Gov. Gavin Newsom has suggested the plant might continue to operate beyond that, as the state faces electricity shortages. The Associated Press reports that while Newsom has no authority over the operating license for the plant, he said owner Pacific Gas & Electric (PCG) could apply for some of the $6 in federal funding the White House is dedicating to refurbish aging nuclear plants in danger of closing. The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, located on California’s central coast, has been the focus of earthquake risk for decades. The AP report cited Erin Mellon, communications director for Newsom, as saying, “the governor is in support of keeping all options on the table to ensure we have a reliable (electricity) grid. This includes considering an extension to Diablo Canyon, which continues to be an important resource as we transition to clean energy.” The report says PG&E did not respond to the governor’s comments.

Data driven: How’s the weather up there?

New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is famous for its cold weather and extreme high winds (231 mph on the summit in 1934). The Mount Washington Observatory, dedicated to scientific research and education, says it all: “In winter, sub-zero temperatures, hurricane-force winds, blowing snow and incredible ice claim the peak, creating an arctic outpost in a temperate climate zone. Known as the Home of the World’s Worst Weather, Mount Washington’s winter conditions rival those of Mount Everest and the Polar regions.” The peak gets hurricane-force winds about 110 days a year. On Jan. 16, 2004, the observatory recorded a summit temperature of −42.0°C. and sustained winds of 87.5 mph, resulting in a wind chill value of −74.77°C. But new research shows even the mighty Mount Washington is feeling the effects of climate change. In Climate Trends on the Highest Peak of the Northeast, the authors examine long-term datasets showing: “Results reveal changing climate conditions, consistent in direction of change, including warming temperatures, changing winters, and extended growing seasons. Differences occur with weaker winter warming on the summit, and snow-related indicators providing unclear results for wind-influenced upper elevations. Recommendations for distributed monitoring, particularly for snow metrics, are encouraged for an improved understanding of the complex climate-change.”

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