Best of the summer + a new science mystery

climate narratives: annotated #4

Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

Welcome back to Climate Narratives: Annotated.

I’m writing to you from Paris, which is just emerging from a week-long heatwave with temperatures ranging from 36C-40C. Returning from the Gers after a long absence, I discovered a flat that was literally shedding heat from the walls.

If you were wondering why it's been so hot for so long this time, a good place to start is the excellent round-up of the latest scientific papers on how climate change increases the frequency of heatwaves and extreme temperatures, from the Science Brief team at the University of East Anglia, led by climate scientist Corinne Le Quere. Hovering over the visualization of all the recent titles of research papers gives an interesting overview of the academic discussion on this very close-to-home topic.

This newletter rounds up the best of the summer reading, plus one environmental science mystery to ponder. There’s an update on what’s coming in the autumn on the podcast, and a few reflections on gender and diversity.

Green and Sustainable Finance Highlights

👉 Your future risk of dying from heat will be determined by where you live and the local consequences of today’s economic inequality. 

As I was busy managing how to stay cool in the heatwave, I was struck by this outstanding Bloomberg visualization of the relationship between income inequality and vulnerability to extreme heat. Definitely a climate news highlight of the summer.

👉 Stop using the word “brown” to describe fossil finance

Green finance analyst and writer Kate MacKenzie wrote about this in late July, and it’s based on an earlier piece by the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. This terminology was on the way to becoming mainstream, and since the piece came out I’ve noticed a quick change to the term “non-green”.

As Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr wrote:

While not a cornerstone of U.S.-based climate activism, using the color brown as a proxy for dirty, fossil fuel industries has picked up steam in financial circles in Europe, which has begun to influence other parts of the world. ‘Brown’ is juxtaposed to ‘green’: the first is bad, the latter is good. And herein lies the problem.

But brown is not just another color like green. It is a color associated with people, and in particular people of color. And it has meaning in the world and in the environmental movement.

For people of color, it is hurtful and damaging to associate something that is detrimental to society with the word brown.

👉 Will Big Tech drive a new boom in sustainability bonds?

Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. issued US$5.75 billion in sustainability bonds on August 3, raising speculation about whether this signals the entry of a new class of players which have the potential to drive tremendous scale.

The sustainability bonds formed the centrepiece of a $10 billion bond sale, which secured record low borrowing costs not seen since 1980 for the tech giant. This was basically free money for Alphabet that also provides a huge ESG reputational boost.

The proceeds from the bonds will go towards eight specific areas ranging from energy efficient-technologies, emissions-free transportation, building affordable housing to racial equity through supporting Black-led businesses, according to Alphabet.

Green bonds have been a niche market since they were first created in 2008, and while the niche itself has seen phenomenal growth, concerns persist that it can’t scale. Former chief investment officer of Japan's $1.5 trillion Government Pension Investment Fund, Hiro Mizuno, warned in 2019 that green bonds were unlikely to become mainstream because:

For issuers, green bonds are “more costly and complicated and cumbersome” to arrange, he told the FT, while for investors, “it’s a bond with the same credit rating and the same interest rate — but they have to live with less liquidity”.

So what happens when the "masters of scale" - Big Tech - decide they want to play?

👉 The new microplastics mystery: they are showing up in the atmosphere

Everyone knows about the microplastics problem in the oceans, and indeed this awareness has driven a lot of very effective campaigns and changed consumer behaviours globally. But scientists are starting to detect microplastics in the atmosphere, and nobody knows how they got there.

Professor Peter Liss, writing in an editorial in the February 2020 edition of Marine Pollution Bulletin:

if there are measurable amounts of microplastics in the air then we will inevitably be breathing them, even in remote and apparently unpolluted parts of the world. What harmful effects this exposure might have is a subject of potentially great importance but again little investigated.

Beyond the recording

Over the summer, as I’ve taken a pause in the podcast recording schedule, I’ve been looking back on the first five episodes.

First off, mea culpa on gender balance for the first 5 guests. I'm flagging this because the podcast was launched during the lockdown and whilst I had a gender parity goal in mind, the reality was that I spent the same amount of time reaching out to men as to women, and the result was that the first part of season one has ... no women.

We all heard a lot during the lockdown about how women were carrying a much heavier workload than men as they took on more of the childcare, home schooling and housework responsibilities. So I have 2 takeaways to share from the Season 1 experience:

👉 It’s important to put in twice or even three times the amount of time and energy into ensuring diverse participation

👉 In order to have a diverse guest line-up, you need diverse networks

So if you have suggestions for future guests, please email them to info@climatenarratives.co

I’m very excited about some of the topics that we’ll be covering in the next few episodes. Climate change in the boardoom, green bonds and financial feminism will be up next.

If you missed any of the episodes - you can catch up on the whole season so far here.

Lastly, if you liked this newsletter, please help me get the word out. Thank you!

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From Paris, France,

Denise

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