Congress is back in session for a few days between its July recess and its August recess. North Carolina closet case Patrick McHenry, McCarthy’s Financial Services Committee chair, plans to make the most of it by doing all he can to make sure the Climate Crisis is never addressed. He has called for four hearings in three days all about three letters— ESG, shorthand for “environmental, social and governance standards,” something Republicans fear even more than transgender children. In the words of the Punch Bowl crew yesterday, “Complaining about ESG in the financial sector is one of House Republicans favorite activities these days. The full panel meets on Wednesday to examine ‘environmental and social policy in financial regulation.’”
As Don’t Look Up filmmaker Adam McKay noted on Monday, “Anyone insisting that you ‘calm down’ about climate change is living in denial about the catastrophes at our doorstep. Without mentioning McHenry or the congressional Republicans, McKay described them to a t: “The ‘calm down’ set fancy themselves professional and sober-minded, a tasteful levee protecting the marvel of our civilization from the uninformed and hysterical masses. The ‘calm down’ person’s business is business as usual. They defend the status quo with a practiced rueful resignation: ‘Believe me, I wish things were different too, but it’s just the way things are.’ Only ‘the way things are’ is on a historic and murderous losing streak. They love to second guess the ‘strategies’ of those who are trying to actively change or challenge the ‘way things are.’… God forbid you point out to the ‘calm down’ guy the numerous conflicts of interest and moral hazards that have constellated around him or her for the past 30 years, a spirograph of wrong turns and straight up disasters his ‘calm down’ crowd has cheered and supported. Dark and soft money, advertising revenue, speaking fees, future jobs, board seats, university endowments, awards, hiring preferences, social media reach, financial markets, poll numbers, and on and on.”
Freak storms, fires, mass inhalation events, and megadroughts?
“A troubling look into our climate future,” the “calm down” expert intones, with vague ideas of a three-part series and who knows, maybe an award or two, running through his mind in an instant.
“But it’s all happening right now at the same time,” you say, scratching your head with an almost manic fervency.
“It’s happened before. Winter tornados, El Niño, droughts. Let’s not overreact,” he says or posts or op-edifies. “Calm down.”
And it is then that you realize this perfectly smooth stone of a person will get a lot of people killed. And after it happens, they will let us all know there was no way anyone could have ever known.
But McHenry and his committee “plan to spend the next few weeks holding hearings and voting on bills designed to send a clear signal: Corporations, in particular big investment managers, should think twice about integrating climate and social goals into their business plans. Committee conservatives will target the process in which advocates pressure public companies to adopt environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals using the shareholder voting process.”
Jim Himes (D-CT), a senior member of the committee and a former Wall Street banker himself, told me yesterday that "After years of denying the existence of climate change, the Republicans are now doing all they can to prevent the government and even the private sector from addressing this existential threat. And they’re showing how much value they place on the free market when their MAGA extremism is involved."
Have a little sympathy for Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Nikema Williams (D-GA). Not only will they be up against nearly 30 Climate-deniers from the GOP from gas and oil lobbyist Mike Lawler to some of Congress’ most bribed members— aside from McHenry— Pete Sessions (R-TX), Blake Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Alex Mooney (R-WV), Tom Emmer (R-MN), Roger Williams (R-TX), Andy Barr (R-KY)… they will also have to deal with corrupt conservative Democrats who dominate their onside on the committee: corporate whores like Josh Gottheimer (NJ), Gregory Meeks (NY), Sean Casten (IL), David Scott (GA), Stephen Lynch (MA), Bill Foster (IL), Joyce Beatty (OH) and Wiley Nickel (NC).
Politico reported that “While the committee’s bills have no chance of becoming law under President Joe Biden, the messaging— and industry’s response to it— will feed into a broader political conflict that could set the table for the next time Republicans control Washington. House GOP leaders are under pressure [from Trump] to score points in the right’s escalating war on what many Republicans call ‘woke’ capitalism— even though a number of senior GOP lawmakers would rather tell government regulators, instead of executives, what to do. While framed around holding Wall Street to account, Financial Services Committee Republicans appear to be picking spots where they’ll minimize friction with the industry’s biggest players.”
Lobbyists for their part want to avoid further inflaming tensions. Their companies are poised to be huge targets for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republican White House contenders who argue that corporations are exercising ideological agendas. Big money managers and banks already face a barrage of legislative attacks from state Republican officials over their policies on energy and guns. BlackRock’s Fink, the financial industry’s most prominent leader in the sustainable investing trend, said last month he will no longer use the term ESG because “it’s been misused by the far left and the far right.”
House Democrats, in a twist, are rallying behind the ability of Wall Street and investors to choose how they want to tackle societal issues such as climate change.
“We’ll continue to be the voice that’s defending the fact that the market should have choice,” Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL) said in an interview.
…Finance industry proponents argue that addressing issues like climate risk is critical for long-term investing and that there’s consumer demand for it as well.
Fink, who has urged business leaders to focus on the environment, said at the New York Times DealBook Summit in November: “Stakeholder capitalism is not woke— it’s not political, it’s capitalism.”
One of the congressional special election candidates in Rhode Island, progressive former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, is running on a strong Climate platform. This morning he told me that “By targeting ESG, Republicans are doing precisely what they're speaking out against: forcing investors to act ideologically (pro-fossil fuels and climate apocalypse), instead of letting them factor in the very real, concrete impacts of climate change into their investment decisions. It’s a classic 1984-style ‘war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength’ move by the GOP.”
You wouldn’t be a mind-reader to guess that Umair Haque has been warning about the end of mankind while these congressional toadies fiddle. Over the weekend he wrote about the political economy of extinction. “Call it boiling point,” he warned. “The hottest days in over 100,000 years. Scientists increasingly concerned we’re hitting tipping points. Vast swathes of the globe on fire, overheating, burning. So why is the planet boiling?”
“Why,” he asked, “aren’t carbon emissions falling? The answer to that question goes like this: as a civilization we have made no serious attempt, economically, socially, or politically, to make them fall. And so they go right on rising. Let me explain what I mean, and I don’t mean to disparage at all the hard work that many brave people have put in trying to make it happen. I’m just observing, like an economist, what is happening in the real world: emissions aren’t falling. They are going right on rising. Only now? The stakes couldn’t be higher. We appear to have suddenly crossed a threshold, into a new phase of warming. Tipping points appear to be hit, or destabilizing effects appear to be shattering models and predictions and forecasts, which is why scientists are ripping their hair out, trying to get anyone to listen.”
Imagine if the villains on the House Financial Services Committee were listening! They aren’t. They don’t want to. Their cash flow depends on them not listening. Haque offers to tell us/them what the economist in him sees: “What would be the simplest way to begin limiting emissions? A carbon tax. We barely have a single country on earth that has a carbon tax— and we’re at the threshold of catastrophic levels of warming, LOL. The UK announced one, and it backed out. America, LOL, has never gotten close. The EU has perhaps the closest thing to one, in a rich country— a ‘cap and trade scheme,’ which means that carbon permits can be bought and sold, but that’s not really the same thing as a hard tax, because of course there are many ways to game that system, like buying carbon credits in poor countries, by planting trees, for example, which never really get planted, or nobody monitors it, and so forth. When I say carbon tax, it’s important to note that it doesn’t mean on people, consumers. It means things like windfall taxes on fossil fuel producers and industries that emit large amounts of carbon. It means taxes, too, on extreme amounts of wealth— you’re not taking a private jet anywhere. Designing such a tax isn’t the point— just understanding it is.”
Even worse, he wrote, “[W]e don’t tax carbon— it’s that we subsidize it. Last year, carbon subsidies skyrocketed. LOL. Think about that for a second— here we are, needing to cut emissions, now, hard, fast— and instead, for some reason, we’re subsidizing them. It’s a truism in economics that you get more of what you subsidize, so of course, carbon emissions are hardly likely to fall when we’re not taxing carbon, we’re still subsidizing it. So why did carbon subsidies jump off the charts last year? There was a cost-of-living crisis— inflation skyrocketed, and that itself was half greedflation, half climate change making inputs actually more expensive. How did politicians try to solve all that? They began to subsidize energy. Take Biden— and I’m not anti-Biden, again, I’m just observing, which is the job of any decent social scientist or commentator. The Democrats created the illusion that inflation ‘fell.’ In fact, inflation for food and housing and things like clothing is still super high. But the average rate fell— why? Because Biden released reserves from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and voila, the price of gas fell. Smart thing to do politically, but in real terms? A carbon subsidy. That was repeated across the rich world, more or less, and so carbon subsidies exploded.”
Worth considering a and thinking about if you want a minute off from the awful implications of what Haque is saying. This is just one cycle, the most current. And, true, among these 20 civilization killers only 3 are Democrats, one, Blue Dog Vicente Gonzalez, happens to be a member of the House Financial Services Committee.
Corporate Democrats Lizzie Fletcher isn't on the Financial Services Committee, but as you can see, she takes more filthy money from the oil and gas industry than any other Democrat in Congress besides Henry Cuellar-- and it's close. This cycle, Fletcher is running in a newly redrawn district that is far more progressive than she is. Her opponent Pervez Agwan is an alternative energy expert. Yesterday he told me that "Republicans are more interested in the culture war instead of making this country livable for the average American. ESG goals are common sense measures that investors want to see implemented, but the establishment would rather see our planet trashed before risking a single one of their donors. The Committee's Republicans and establishment Democrats are not only denying the real-time effects of climate change, but they're actively standing in the way of efforts to stop environmental catastrophe. We need representation in D.C. that isn't choking progress for the rest of the nation." Please considering contributing to Pervez Agwan's campaign-- and Aaron Regunberg's campaign-- here.
Haque: “Why aren’t emissions falling? Why would they be? We haven’t put in place carbon taxes anywhere, almost, certainly not a civilizational scale, to reduce demand, and meanwhile, carbon subsidies are higher than ever. Put all that together, and you begin to see the complexity in the simplicity, maybe— or just the answer to the question. Let’s go a level deeper now. If we were serious about limiting emissions, what would be doing? Not just carbon taxes, on the one hand, and limiting, ending, subsidies, on the other— much more than that: we’d have a plan to phase out fossil fuels. We need one desperately. And that brings me back to what I said earlier: as a civilization, we aren’t doing anything remotely serious, at an economic, judicial, or political level to really stop carbon emissions, translation, using fossil fuels. At least not nearly fast enough or hard enough. We should be taking the money raised by a carbon tax and using it to fund this plan to phase out fossil fuels— investing in what we need, which is everything, all the basics, food, water, air, clothing, energy. that’s not complicated— even a child can understand the principle. But as a world, as a civilization, we’re nowhere close to doing it— and yet the planet’s at boiling point.”
Let me explain that at this deeper level by way of an objection. The first thing that a certain kind of person will say— shout, really, and it’s often an American man of a certain kind, goes like this: you want people to suffer?! You want to impose some kind of New World Order form of austerity on the planet? Freedom!!! LOL. Calm down, Ron. That’s not what I’m saying at all.
Let’s consider this problem realistically, but first, let’s deal with the objection. People like this suddenly worry that along will come “government agents,” in cyber-helmets, and make them…turn off their air-conditioning. Nobody’s saying that, or at least certainly I’m not.
But people who lodge this objection— you want the world to suffer? Because that’s what’ll happen if we use less fossil fuel!! Are you a maniac?— aren’t to be taken seriously. They don’t care about the world. The American libertarian shouting at me is hardly, LOL, concerned with the fate of poor people, in say, Pakistan. That nation was left almost half underwater by a mega-monsoon, and it’s still recovering, and will be for a decade or so. Millions of people lost their homes. Just like that. That was caused by climate change. So what’s bigger suffering? Events like that? And is the American libertarian really concerned that these people— to whom he’ll never support a politics that gives a penny, resources, power, equality, personhood— prosper? LOL, don’t kid yourself— this objection carries with it the sweet stench of foul hypocrisy.
Now. It’s true that if we were to impose some kind of hard authoritarianism, and send in cyber-troops to make you turn off your AC, people’s living standards would fall. LOL, again, nobody’s saying that. A plan to…phase out…fossil fuels…means just that. Phase out. That phrase, to us economists, has a meaning. It means: substitutes arrive, and they mean people’s standards of living don’t fall. That means things like in the IPCC paragraph I often quote, a nice summary of technologies we’ll need for the future:
There are feasible adaptation options that support infrastructure resilience, reliable power systems and efficient water use for existing and new energy generation systems (very high confidence). Energy generation diversification (e.g., via wind, solar, small scale hydropower) and demand side management (e.g., storage and energy efficiency improvements) can increase energy reliability and reduce vulnerabilities to climate change (high confidence). Climate responsive energy markets, updated design standards on energy assets according to current and projected climate change, smart-grid technologies, robust transmission systems and improved capacity to respond to supply deficits have high feasibility in the medium- to long-term, with mitigation co-benefits (very high confidence).
Quite obviously, if we don’t do any of that, living standards are going to fall precipitously, hard, and inevitably. If you think you can just survive…wet bulb temperatures…by turning on your AC…LOL…you’re sadly mistaken. At that point, if the power grid fails, which chances are it will, at least now and then — you? You die. That’s umm, the ultimate fall in a standard of living, as in, you don’t have one anymore.
…If we were serious, we’d have a plan to phase out fossil fuels. That doesn’t mean: a plan to send in agents to cart you off to jail for having an air conditioner, please, the paranoid Rand Paul fantasies of weak minds are tedious at this point. It just means what it says. As a civilization, we’d say something like: by 2040, we agree that renewables are our main source of electricity. By 2045, we’ll have invented bioplastics at scale, at they’ll have replaced fossil plastics. By 2037, we’ll have made green steel the main form of it. By 2045, green cement and glass will be the primary building materials we use. And by 2040, we will only employ closed loop manufacturing— we agree that linear forms, use it, dump it, deplete it, pollute it, are over with. We agree to phase all the old stuff out, and phase the new stuff in.
Such a plan exists precisely so that living standards don’t plummet. It is not the cause of living standards plummeting. So they don’t plummet as a result of everything from wet-bulb events to heat domes to dried up water systems to megafires sending giant plumes of smoke from Chicago to Palermo. Phasing out fossil fuels is how we stop living standards falling further.
…Phasing out fossil fuels is how we stop living standards falling further, and they’ve already begun to fall, which is the end of an era— fossil driven progress and growth. That age is now over, whether we like it or not, because the costs have begun to outweigh the benefits, and they will never balance to make fossil driven growth actually lift living standards again. Ever. To understand that, you only need to think about what kind of “living standards” there are on a boiled planet.
It’s important everyone understands this distinction, because, well…the hard right is putting out propaganda, fiercely, right about now, to disseminate the opposite message: phasing out fossil fuels will cause too much suffering! LOL— seriously? These guys, like I said, could care less about poor villagers in some forlorn nation losing everything because of a megafire, flood, monsoon, if they did, you know what, they’d be on the ground helping those poor souls, or at least sending some resources or pennies their way, but that never happens— so they say for political reasons, to stop fossil fuels being phased out.