Dec 9, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning and welcome back! I'll share a glimpse of my column, one of several in my ad hoc series on personal behavior, and then I'll hand things over to Ben Geman for the rest. 

Smart Brevity count: 1,219 words, < 5 minutes.

1 big thing: Rich and activist CO2 footprints

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: John Lamparski, Inga Kjer, Michael Buckner, Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Not all carbon footprints are created equally.

Driving the news: Famous, rich and activist people face acute scrutiny given their ability to influence the masses. With that in mind, I explored the travel and consumption habits of four notable people supporting action on climate change.

Why it matters: Individual behavior tackling climate change is getting greater attention as inaction on the matter persists among governments. A peer-reviewed study found that people are more likely to listen to others calling for action on climate change if they personally have lower carbon footprints.

Read the highlights below and click here to read my full column.

1. Greta Thunberg. A core part of the Swedish teenager’s message is how she eschews activities emitting a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, most notably flying (she’s also vegan). She sailed to and from Europe on carbon-free sailing boats over the course of weeks.

  • “Her activism and identity is tied to this core message," New York University professor Gernot Wagner said.
  • "On the one hand, she is leading by example, walking the talk. On the other hand, she clearly realizes that climate is a much broader, systemic problem."

2. Bill Gates. He's one of the richest people in the world with a huge house and a private jet. He’s also one of the biggest deep-pocketed investors in clean-energy technologies.

  • “I am investing in climate change very broadly and substantial amounts of money,” said Gates, according to previously unpublished parts of an interview with Axios from this summer.
  • “I don’t think there is anyone doing more, but if there is, congratulations to whoever that is.”

3. Al Gore. “He recognizes how important these everyday choices are, while spending most of his time working to catalyze a global effort to change laws and policies,” a Gore spokesperson said.

  • The former VP doesn’t own a private jet and offsets travel for himself and staff.
  • A vegan, Gore is now touting the experiments his Tennessee farm is conducting to try to make agriculture and livestock more climate-friendly.

4. Bill McKibben. As founder of the grassroots environmental group 350.org, McKibben is one of the world’s most polarizing, prolific and vocal environmental activists.

  • In a 2016 article, McKibben discussed his evolution on the question of personal behavior — having gone from thinking it’s an important part to far less so, given that experts agree systemic change is needed. He said he had “abandoned” efforts to fly less.
  • Today, McKibben says the most important thing to do is call for political change. He is, however, flying less than he did in the recent past.
2. Big this week: crude oil, UN rules, EU plans

Oil markets: The International Energy Agency will release its monthly market analysis on Thursday, which includes closely watched estimates for global demand growth.

  • Why it matters: It'll be the first since the new OPEC+ deal was reached, so I'll be on the lookout for what they say about the agreement's potential effects.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Information Administration's latest monthly report, which will include updated U.S. production forecasts, arrives tomorrow.

Climate change: This is the second and final week of the big annual UN climate meeting, which is unfolding this year in Madrid.

  • Why it matters: One thing to watch are negotiations over rules to govern international carbon credit markets under the Paris Agreement.
  • Where it stands: Politico explores sticking points in the talks over how to prevent "double-counting" in which "traded emission cuts would be recorded by both buyers and sellers."

Energy policy: European Union leaders could reach an agreement at their Dec. 12–13 meeting for making the bloc a net-zero greenhouse gas emitter by 2050, per multiple reports.

  • Why it matters: The EU as a group is the world's 3rd-largest greenhouse gas producer behind China and the U.S.
  • Where it stands: Per Bloomberg, Wednesday will bring release of the "European Green Deal" — a roadmap of legislative and policy steps toward the 2050 target.
  • "Barring push back by a small group of countries led by Poland, EU leaders will formally commit to the target when they meet in Brussels on Thursday," they report.
3. OPEC prevents the bottom from dropping out

The upshot of the revised OPEC+ deal seems to be that they've kept a floor under prices for now and even pushed them up, but they've hardly juiced the market.

Catch up fast: OPEC and allied producers including Russia on Friday deepened their production-limiting deal by 500,000 barrels per day as they seek to prevent a glut. But there was a twist: Saudi Arabia pledged to continue with a voluntary output cut of another 400,000 daily barrels.

  • That means an overall cut of 2.1 million barrels per day through March, when they'll revisit things.

Where it stands: Brent crude is trading down at roughly $63.79 this morning, slipping after a $1-per-barrel rise Friday that capped several days of gains as officials met to discuss production cuts.

What they're saying: Barclays analysts, in a note, called the cut "surprisingly deep."

  • But they caution: "[A] lack of clarity on the path for the group's output beyond 31 March 2020 and the exclusion of condensates from Russia's target calculations partly tempered the bullish sentiment."
  • Rapidan Energy Group, which had been predicting such a cut, expressed doubt about its efficacy.
  • But, but, but: They doubt it will be enough to "avert steep inventory builds (well above seasonal swings) and a corresponding crude price selloff in the coming weeks-to-months."
4. Mike Bloomberg's climate push

Mike Bloomberg today will announce a climate week that kicks off with the campaign's first ad on climate change, Axios' Mike Allen reports.

  • It's an online-only spot in California that's called "Smoke and Fire." It calls President Trump "the climate denier," in contrast with Bloomberg's battles with the coal industry.
  • Tomorrow, Bloomberg will speak at the UN climate conference in Madrid, where he will deliver an update from America’s Pledge, a group (which he co-chairs) that quantifies climate progress of 4,000 cities, states and businesses.
  • On Wednesday, Bloomberg will travel to California to announce policies to curtail the region's record wildfires.
5. A not-so-good milestone for natural gas
Expand chart

Data: EIA; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

A record amount of U.S. natural gas was released or burned at oil-and-gas well sites last year, EIA data shows.

Why it matters: The report Friday on venting and flaring is latest sign of the oil industry's struggle to rein in climate-warming gases as U.S. oil production surges.

  • Venting releases the powerful GHG methane, while flaring (or burning) produces CO2 emissions and also allows some methane escape.

What they found: Venting and flaring combined averaged a record 1.28 billion cubic feet per day in 2018.

  • "[T]he percentage of U.S. natural gas that was vented and flared increased to 1.25% of gross withdrawals, up from 0.84% the previous year," EIA said.
  • North Dakota and Texas accounted for the lion's share.

Where it stands: Oil wells in North Dakota and Texas, the heart of the U.S. boom, produce "associated" gas volumes that producers are sometimes unable to capture.

  • EIA notes that the crude oil boom has "outpaced the buildout of infrastructure to handle natural gas."
  • The flaring problem is the worst in North Dakota, where 17% of gross gas withdrawals are burned, per EIA.

What they're saying: The increase in Texas and North Dakota is "pretty shocking," per Daniel Raimi, an energy expert with the think tank Resources for the Future.

  • "It's also probably an underestimate of the problem. This has major local and global environmental impacts. Policymakers and industry can do better," he said on Twitter.
6. Catch up fast: PG&E and Tesla

Utilities: Pacific Gas & Electric reached a $13.5 billion settlement with victims of the 2017 and 2018 California wildfires that killed dozens of people and ravaged homes and businesses, Axios writes.

Elon Musk: Tesla CEO Elon Musk prevailed in a jury trial on Friday over whether his tweets calling a cave expert a "pedo guy" constitute defamation, and he will not be held liable for damages, according to multiple media reports.

Ben GemanAmy Harder