Axios Trends

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July 27, 2019

Welcome to Axios Trends — our quarterly lookahead for politics, business, economics, tech and more.

  • We're starting something new and tying our insights to a theme. This quarter: climate change.
  • I'd love to hear what you think — just reply to this email, or write [email protected].
  • Smart Brevity count: 1,382 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Climate change's crucial moment

Illustration of a tiny woman holding up a giant circle

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Scientists for decades have warned of the time when climate change would begin to change our daily lives. We're now entering that moment.

  • The Fed, corporate executives, college students, retailers and politicians are all coming to grips with this seminal challenge.

The big picture: We as a species are now living with this problem like never before.

Climate change is ... 

Between the lines: We're entering a period of heightened awareness about the problem while simultaneously struggling to address it, given our world's continued deep reliance on cheap oil, natural gas and coal to power our lives.

  • It isn't a black-and-white problem, but it is a black-and-white moment wherein we have to decide whether to take big action.

The bottom line: We have been driving climate change for decades, and we’ll be dealing with it for centuries — but we can still manage and minimize it.

2. Pressure grows around climate-change summit

Illustration of the UN building in New York in a small circle

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Young people and Big Oil executives will join world leaders in September for the most high-profile summit on climate change since the 2015 UN conference that led to the Paris Agreement, Amy Harder writes.

Why it matters: The New York event is aimed at encouraging countries to increase their pledges to the Paris deal, in the face of rising global carbon emissions, falling investment in renewable energy and an American president who denies there’s a problem at all.

Driving the news: The United Nations is hosting the event and there will be two notable developments outside its Manhattan headquarters...

  1. On Sept. 20, thousands of people, led by students, are signing up to walk out of their jobs and schools to demand the world stop using fossil fuels. Millions could participate globally in what organizers say will be the largest such movement.
  2. On Sept. 23, the world’s biggest oil and natural gas producers will huddle at an invite-only forum, where CEOs are expected to face critical questions from environmental experts.

What’s next: This is all building up to the UN's 2020 climate-change conference. That’s when countries are expected to formally establish more aggressive commitments. Next year is also when President Trump plans to formally withdraw from the Paris deal.

Read Amy's weekly Harder Line column, which will tackle this topic Monday, in the daily energy newsletter Generate by Ben Geman. Sign up here.

3. The Fed begins to address climate change

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

For the first time ever, the Fed will host a research conference later this year dedicated solely to looking at the economic impacts of climate change, including the implications for monetary policy, Courtenay Brown scooped this week.

Why it matters: Other policy makers around the world say a warming climate will shift how central banks consider monetary policy, but the Fed is one of the few major central banks that hasn't joined a global initiative to assess climate risk management in the financial sector.

  • The Fed's conference and the call to submit research papers around climate-change signals the Fed's appetite to learn more about how climate change could change how it does its job.

Where it stands: The Fed is facing more pressure to consider the threats that global warming poses to the economy.

  • The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco — the regional bank that's hosting the conference — said in a widely circulated paper that "volatility induced by climate change" and any efforts to prevent climate change are "increasingly relevant" for the Fed.
  • A few dozen senators — including 5 who are vying for the Democratic presidential nomination — have already called on the Fed in recent months to take a bigger role in managing climate-related risks to the financial system.
  • But the face of the Fed, Chairman Jerome Powell, told lawmakers last month that climate change was a "longer-run issue," and said he didn't know that "incorporating it into the day-to-day supervision of financial institutions would add much value.”

The bottom line: Expect to hear more about how the Fed is thinking about the effects of climate change, and how it could threaten the stability of the financial system.

To read more on this topic, sign up here for the daily Axios Markets newsletter by Dion Rabouin with Courtenay contributing.

4. Climate change arrives in Democratic politics

Illustration of Benjamin Franklin on a $100 dollar bill peaking out from the background

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Global warming has burst into national politics as major Democratic 2020 hopefuls release aggressive plans and the party's voters prioritize the topic, Ben writes.

Where it stands: Several polls show climate change has broken through. This month, a CBS News survey found 78% of Democratic voters in early primary states call the topic "very important," putting it behind only health care.

Quick take: Forces prompting the increased attention from Democratic voters and candidates include...

  • Trump abandoning Obama-era policies.
  • High-profile Democrats led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez promoting the Green New Deal.
  • Heatwaves and scientific reports over the last year warning of the dangers of failing to stem emissions.

What they're saying: Zac McCrary with the Democratic polling firm ALG Research said the voter interest isn't a fad. Instead there's been a "fundamental, foundational shift in voters' attitudes, rather than reacting to any given event or point in time," he said.

  • Voter interest and a record of campaign trail promises could prompt a Democratic president to devote real political capital to tougher policies.
  • But, but, but: Absent unexpectedly large Democratic gains in the Senate or a change to filibuster rules, major legislation faces daunting odds.

What to watch: CNN will host a presidential candidate forum on climate change in September, and MSNBC is a media partner on another event — strong signals of the topic's entry to the national political stage.

5. Retail's climate cost is going up

Illustration of five women in vintage clothing

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The trends driving retail — speedy delivery, zero shipping fees and fast fashion — are harming the environment. And there's little incentive for big companies to consider their impact, Erica Pandey writes.

What's happening: Amazon made free 1-day delivery the new norm in the U.S., pushing its big competitors like Walmart and Target to speed up delivery and drive down fees, too.

  • Free and fast shipping are eliminating shoppers' motivation to bundle their orders. They're instead ordering a steady stream of packages to their doorsteps, pushing e-commerce and logistics companies to keep up by adding trucks, jets and even air hubs.
  • On top of that, the packaging materials that come with delivery boxes are exacerbating the global plastics crisis.
  • Stores like Forever 21, H&M and Uniqlo are selling cheap, lower-quality clothes that are easy to buy but often end up in landfills after a few washes. Clothing is the fastest growing category of waste in the world.

What to watch: Under pressure from activist employees and consumers, big retailers are setting goals to decrease their climate impact. Amazon aims to cut carbon emissions on shipments to net zero by 2030.

To read more from Erica, sign up for the daily Axios Future newsletter led by Steve LeVine.

6. TV news' climate change bias

Illustration of a vintage photo of a young boy watching television

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While newspapers are teaming up to double down on their climate change coverage, broadcasters are focusing on covering the byproducts of climate change — natural disasters and extreme weather, Axios' Sara Fischer writes.

Why it matters: Climate change tends to be a ratings killer for television, because it's theoretical and can be complicated to explain in short, visual bites.

  • But as the economic and political debate around the topic increases, media experts will be looking at the ways television outlets cover the issue, as television is still the most common place for Americans to get their news.

Between the lines: Media, which is struggling as a business, is often incentivized to cover what consumers want, not necessarily what's most important. (And Americans can be hypocritical about news they want to consume versus news they actually do consume.)

  • Now that climate change is a super-charged political issue, the media is starting to pay more attention.
  • 60 prominent news outlets in radio, TV, and print this week committed to running one week of focused climate coverage around the UN's climate summit in September.

The bottom line: Climate change still lags in on-air time, but is starting to get more attention in print. Expect to see even more coverage ahead of the 2020 election.

Sign up for Sara's weekly Axios Media Trends newsletter.

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