Mar 17, 2020

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Welcome back. Today's Smart Brevity: 1,212 words, 4.5 minutes.

🎵This week marks 30 years since Depeche Mode released "Violator," which provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Activism in the time of coronavirus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Social distancing is forcing advocacy movements to adjust their tactics, creating new hurdles for climate activists who use mass protests and on-the-ground organizing as important tools.

Why it matters: Climate change has risen on the political radar in recent years.

  • There are many reasons behind this, including the success of the Greta Thunberg-inspired protests and a burst of confrontational advocacy in the U.S. by the youth-led Sunrise Movement.
  • But even long before that, environmental groups have for decades used tactile organizing — think door-knocking, lobbying days and so forth — for issue-based campaigns and work in political races.

Driving the news: Those techniques are suddenly off the table.

  • Thunberg recently said via Twitter that "we’ll have to find new ways" to advocate and announced plans for "digital strikes."
  • Other examples are emerging. Consider the movement to push banks to stop financing coal and petroleum projects. The umbrella group, Stop The Money Pipeline, canceled April 23 rallies and says it's "pivoting to a series of online and individual tactics."

Threat level: Digital advocacy has long been a piece of the advocates' toolbox, but smart organizers have also long understood that it's a complement to on-the-ground work — not a substitute.

The big picture: "Over the last decade, the climate movement has become a movement through mass action," veteran organizer Jamie Henn tells me, citing everything from marches to civil disobedience to house parties and potlucks.

  • "There's no doubt that something is lost when you take that activity online," adds Henn, who works with the recently formed Stop The Money Pipeline group and co-founded

What's next: “This is a moment that demands creativity and thinking outside the box,” says Pete Maysmith of the League of Conservation Voters. "The climate crisis is not slowing down and our efforts to combat it are not going to slow down either."

  • “It is pulling out all the tools in our toolbox. That means phone calls, texting, and peer-to-peer and online organizing,” says Maysmith, the group's SVP of campaigns.
  • Maysmith lists efforts like online trainings, letter writing, and email campaigns. “We are just going to be engaging people in all the ways we can figure out."
  • Henn adds that Stop The Money Pipeline will provide tools to people to help them pressure financial institutions. "That means helping people move their money, cut up a bad credit card, tweet at CEOs, call corporate HQs, and connect with other activists in their area."

The bottom line: "The moment we're in requires a different sort of activism," Henn says.

2. The fallout from oil's collapse
Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals

ExxonMobil, citing an "unprecedented environment," said last night that it plans to "significantly" cut spending in light of the coronavirus and the collapse in oil prices.

Why it matters: The oil giant's announcement is the latest sign of how deeply the upended market is affecting the sector. Via Reuters...

"It was a stunning reversal for the largest U.S. oil producer, which two weeks ago pledged to 'lean in' to the market drop and maintain outlays in a belief oil demand would rise in the long run."

What's new: Per Bloomberg, Goldman Sachs analysts now estimate that global oil consumption has fallen by 8 million barrels a day, and they see Brent crude falling to $20 a barrel next quarter.

Catch up fast: The oil market has been upended by two huge forces: the deep cuts in travel and the economic fallout from COVID-19 that's cratering oil demand, and the collapse of OPEC-Russia production-limiting deal.

Where it stands: Exxon is among many oil companies large and small announcing major cutbacks.

  • Just yesterday the large U.S. independent producer Pioneer Natural Resources said it's reducing its planned 2020 capital spending by 45%.
  • And a top BP official yesterday said the company could lower its spending by 20%.
3. A stunning estimate about the new landscape

A joint statement from OPEC and the International Energy Agency says they reviewed the effects of the pandemic and price collapse on "vulnerable developing countries."

What they found: "[I]f current market conditions continue, their income from oil and gas will fall by 50% to 85% in 2020, reaching the lowest levels in more than two decades, according to recent IEA analysis." (Emphasis added)

  • "This is likely to have major social and economic consequences, notably for public sector spending in vital areas such as health care and education."
  • CNBC has more.
4. Senators to press Saudis on oil markets

A group of GOP senators are slated to meet with the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. tomorrow to make the case that the kingdom should back off plans to flood the market with low-price crude.

Driving the news: The meeting hosted by Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan follows an open letter to Saudi leaders from 13 senators, mostly from oil-producing states, which says "unsettled" energy markets are "unwelcome" amid the COVID-19 crisis.

We urge the Kingdom to assert constructive leadership in stabilizing the world economy by calming economic anxiety in the oil and gas sector at a time when countries around the world are addressing the pandemic.

Quick take: The long shot effort to prod the Saudis into reconsidering their posture underscores the limits of White House claims of U.S. "energy dominance."

  • While the U.S. has become the world's largest crude oil producer, it remains deeply tethered to global markets.
  • The price collapse is hitting U.S. producers hard, with a suite of companies already announcing steep cuts in planned spending.
5. Breaking down the environmental effects of coronavirus

A note from HSBC Global Research offers a helpful — if partial — frame for thinking about some ways the stunning halt to everyday routines will affect carbon emissions and the environment.

The big picture: I want to clear the decks by saying, again, that near-term emissions declines are happening for tragic reasons that nobody wants replicated.

What they found: Here's some key points from their note...

  • The massive air travel reductions have "caused some to rethink if, how, and where they obtain fresh produce. For example, less fruit or seafood being flown in from abroad may encourage more local sourcing."
  • More phone and video conferencing helps cut emissions. And they hint this will last as the business world "rethinks the 'absolute necessity' of face-to-face meetings."
  • Working from home is a "mixed bag." Fewer cars on the road cut carbon emissions and air pollution, but "potential savings in energy to heat/cool a workplace with fewer occupants is likely more than offset by the energy required to heat/cool additional homes."
  • More online deliveries are also a mixed bag. While delivery van emissions are more than offset by fewer personal trips, packaging use will rise.

Threat level: Reduced industrial output is cutting CO2, but there's "no structural change taking place, only postponement," and they see "potential fiscal stimuli for carbon intensive industries."

  • They're also the latest analysts to warn that responding to COVID-19 could sap resources and policymakers' focus on climate initiatives.
6. Catch up fast: PG&E, shale, Congress

Utilities: "Pacific Gas & Electric on Monday won court approval to raise $23 billion to help pay its bills over destructive California wildfires after Gov. Gavin Newsom dropped his opposition to a financing package designed to help the nation’s largest utility get out of bankruptcy." (AP)

Oil companies: "Apollo Global Management Inc. and other firms are backing off a commitment to finance shale driller EP Energy Corp. exit from chapter 11, people familiar with the matter said, the second major bankruptcy deal to falter over the turmoil in U.S. energy markets." (WSJ)

Congress: The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, citing COVID-19, has postponed plans to release a detailed suite of policy recommendations at the end of the month.

  • Why it matters: The proposals could help inform climate legislation that Democrats will push, especially if the party also gains the White House and the Senate in the 2020 elections.
Ben GemanAmy Harder