Some Wednesday Why Questions

Several news stories have crystallized over the past few days forcing me to ask some why questions. Here are just a few on this Wednesday.

Why is the party that is adamant voter fraud is more prevalent the one who causes more of it? Today, the GOP North Carolina chair was indicted for bribing a public official with campaign donations. This is on the heels of the GOP Congressional candidate absentee ballot fraud issue and the unconstitutional gerrymandering that has gone on under GOP tutelage in NC.

Why are we playing politics with the President overriding an unheard of 25 security clearances, including two relatives? I don’t care what party is responsible, this should give all Americans pause, especially given the President’s poor attention to vetting, conflicts of interest and the fact his two relatives do not hold positions that were approved by the Senate. The CIA has been concerned about Jared Kushner’s culpability for some time, eg.

Why is the British parliament failing to read the tea leaves on Brexit? There is a petition with 6 million names asking for a cancellation of Brexit. When the petition was criticized for foreign involvement, it was determined that 96% of the names are UK citizens. I read today that Ford will re-evaluate what to do with two British car plants depending on what happens. They are not alone.

Why is Shell Oil pulling out of an US based petroleum industry lobby group beginning next year? Its shareholders are forcing the company to more demonstratively  address climate change and support the Paris Climate Change Accord. It should be noted Exxon Mobil shareholders asked the company to report back on what they are doing about climate change. Both companies were active on climate change research before they decided to pretend it was not a problem in public.

Why would the President even consider closing the border with our third largest trading partner, not to mention the people who live in Mexico and work in the US? This would be harmful to the US economy, per Senate leader Mitch McConnell (and many others) and even more so for border states. It also overlooks the greatest need to help with the chronic border problem – immigration judges. Walls and closures are just costly theatrics.

Why is it OK to want to trade with North Korea, but not Cuba? The real reason is Obama opened the doors to the relationship. For some reason, Trump has an unhealthy focus on things Obama did. But, trading with Cuba is desirous to many Americans and Cubans and is far easier to get a return on investment. Commerce is a good way to break down barriers.

That is all for now. Let me know what you think or if you have any more why questions.

 

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Corporate shareholders are acting on climate change

While fossil-fuel funded politicians avoid addressing climate change and strip away governance enabling industry polluters, shareholders have been picking up the baton. Last week, Reuters published an article called “Chevron ties executive pay to methane and flaring reduction,” which defines specific gas emissions targets.

The article penned by Jennifer Hiller notes that it is not just executives with incentive plan targets to reduce emissions. 45,000 employees also have incentive plan emission targets. In other words, their pay is tied to combatting climate change. The intermediate goal is to reduce gas emissions by 25% by 2023.

While Chevron is the first to tie incentives to reducing gas emissions, in the month before the current US President announced our pullout of the Paris Climate Change Accord, three energy companies -ExxonMobil, PP&L and Occidental Petroleum – announced shareholder votes requiring management to report on efforts to address climate change. The Exxon-Mobil vote is telling in that they face a shareholder lawsuit and one by the New York Attorney General, Barbara Underwood, for misrepresenting the impact of climate change on their business to investors.

Per The Guardian, the NYAG lawsuit notes Exxon’s “longstanding fraudulent scheme” to downplay the impact of climate change including under-representing the “proxy costs” of fossil-fuel extraction. This lawsuit follows a three-year investigation and uses Exxon’s own research and scientists’ speeches against them. Before they took a “global warming is a hoax” public relations stance around the turn of the century. Exxon was active in climate change research. Even Shell produced a video in the 1990s that was made for educational purposes about the dangers of climate change.

But, it does not stop there. Well before fossil-fuel company shareholders made these impositions on management, more forward thinking companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, IKEA and Walmart have invested in renewable energy like wind and solar energy. IKEA and Walmart are using their expansive store rooftops to place solar panels, while the three technology companies have used all of the above renewable energy strategies to power their  data centers. In my state of NC, these companies have helped propel the state forward as a top four solar energy state.

Let me close with my favorite Super Bowl commercial of last week, Budweiser produced a commercial that noted their beer is now being produced by wind energy. Seeing the Clydesdales meander down a road surrounded by windmills was a beautiful sight. It showed this is not a future goal – it is here. And, just to show it is making a difference, over 1/3 of Iowa’s electricity is produced by wind energy and Germany just announced renewable energy now exceeds coal energy as the biggest electricity source and they plan to be 100% renewable energy powered by 2038, twenty years from now.

Walmart and Mars

What does this title mean, you ask? Walmart and Mars are two global companies moving the ball forward to combat climate change. Mind you, it is not just altruism driving these efforts, it is creating a sustainable, more predictable and better cost model. And, companies care about cost.

On PBS Newshour yesterday, an update on an earlier story was provided.  Walmart has a goal of being 100% renewable energy powered which they established a decade ago under CEO Scott Lee. They started simply, retraining their truck drivers on better ways to shift gears and drive to save fuel costs and actually measure fuel efficiency in truck driver performance.

Walmart also is converting their 12,000 stores to renewable energy. The PBS Newhour update noted that almost 500 stores in the US have been converted to solar power. Now, 28% of their US energy needs comes from solar energy. Retail stores have a lot of roof space, so companies like Walmart and IKEA have growing numbers of solar powered stores. They are also asking their suppliers to be better environmental stewards.

Mars is known for its candy, the biggest seller being M&Ms. Their goal is to make decisions that are “good for the environment and good for Mars,” They are using combinations of solar and wind energy to power their manufacturing plants. They just rolled out a new wind farm in Texas, a state that produces more wind energy than any other. Mars has noted their costs are lower with the renewable energy.

Fortunately, Walmart and Mars are not alone. Google, Facebook and Amazon are driving forces behind renewable energy given their significant data and distribution center power needs. Their centers in North Carolina are a reason NC ranks so highly on solar energy lists.

Yet, we should not lose sight that the cost of renewable energy has decreased so greatly, the decision is not just environmental, it is economic. Paula Diparno of CDP said on PBS Newshour that addressing climate change is “no longer a punishment, it is an opportunity.”

That is a huge shift in mindset. She added that there are three stakeholders for companies – customers, shareholders and management. Customers are noticing, shareholders are becoming more insistent and management better be paying attention. To this end, Blackrock, a major institutional investor, is requiring its companies to define what they are doing about renewable energy and climate change.

To this end, because of Blackrock’s efforts, Exxon Mobil’s shareholders voted last year to require management to do more and report back on addressing climate change. Ironically, this vote was the day before the current US President announced that he was withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Accord. That contrast speaks volumes.

 

Pope is at it again

Last week, Pope Francis again revealed why he is a global leader. Leveraging the biblical teachings that God wants us to take care of our environment, he reiterated his concerns on climate change to oil executives. Per a Wall Street Journal article called “Pope Francis Criticizes Continued Search for Fossil Fuels at Meeting with Oil Executives,” he encouraged oil executives to find ways to leave fossil fuel energy in the ground. Per the WSJ article:

“’Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!’ he said at a Vatican climate change conference attended by top executives including Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Darren Woods, BP PLC Chief Executive Bob Dudley and BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Laurence Fink.

At the conference, co-sponsored by the University of Notre Dame and featuring nearly 20 speakers Friday and Saturday, the pope said that an estimated 1 billion people still lack electricity and noted that access to energy is an essential resource for escaping poverty. But he warned that a failure to reduce the use of fossil fuels would lead to a ‘spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty.’

The poor ‘suffer most from the ravages of global warming,’ he said, through water shortages and extreme weather which in turn drive mass migration, among other ways.
Pope Francis commended oil and gas companies for adopting policies that account for ‘assessment of climate risk’ and he encouraged the practice of environmentally sensitive ‘green finance’ investment strategies. But he warned that ‘markets and technology’ wouldn’t be sufficient to stop climate change, since our ‘current economic system thrives on ever-increasing extraction, consumption and waste.’

Earlier this year, BlackRock’s Mr. Fink in a letter urged chief executives at global companies to ‘make a positive contribution to society.’ The world’s largest asset manager has played a key role behind the scenes in insisting that companies take action to respond to climate change.

Pope Francis’ meeting with oil executives and investors comes almost exactly three years after the publication of his encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he called global warming a major threat to life on the planet and said it is mainly caused by human activity. In that document, which as an encyclical ranks among the highest levels of papal teaching, the pope blamed special interests for blocking policy responses and indicted the market economy for plundering the Earth at the expense of the poor and future generations.”

With the US President announcing his intention to leave the Paris Climate Change Accord, other global leaders, like Pope Francis are continuing the push. Ironically, Exxon Mobil’s shareholders voted (the day before Trump’s announcement to leave the Accord) to obligate the company leadership to inform them of what they are doing to address climate change. Fortunately, US cities, states and businesses are picking up the baton dropped by the President. The US has passed the tipping point on renewable energy, in spite of the President and his EPA head’s efforts.

Pope Francis should be commended for leading the charge. Taking care of the least of us has been a mantra of this leader. I recognize he is not perfect, but is concern for people and the environment is meritorious. And, unlike Messrs. Trump and Pruitt, the pope is a scientist, with a Masters in Chemistry and has worked as a chemist.