Aug 1, 2019

Axios Generate

Good morning! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,177 words, < 5 min read.

Breaking: "One person is dead and at least five were injured in central Kentucky after a gas line ruptured and produced a fireball that could be seen around the region early Thursday," NBC News reports.

  • The big picture: That explosion, and two refinery explosions in as many weeks underscore the inherent risk we take with our dependence on combustible fuels for our lives.
1 big thing: As the climate changes, so do our words

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As climate change and our debate around it intensifies, so are the words we use to describe it.

Why it matters: The presidential election season is directing more attention to our words and characterizations as we follow debates and rallies around the country. Words are especially important on a topic like climate change that is less tangible than others, such as health care.

Driving the news: Activists and many progressive politicians are calling climate change an emergency, while most Democrats say it’s a crisis.

  • Certain media outlets are revamping their coverage and, in some cases, changing their style books and using words like crisis — as CNN's Dana Bash did during the debates the past two nights.
  • Some Republicans, meanwhile, are slowly acknowledging the problem publicly, yet are turned off by the intensifying language used by many on the left. Conservatives aren’t (for now) offering much in the way of new, big policies.

My thought bubble: I use words like issue or problem to describe climate change. Elevating that description to crisis or emergency doesn't really fit because it implies a sudden urgency that doesn't capture the decades the problem has been developing or the centuries we'll be living with it.

  • Some outlets are adopting words like climate crisis and emergency, such as the left-leaning British publication The Guardian.
  • A spokesperson for the AP, whose stylebook is considered the journalistic standard, declined to comment on whether they would change their style to use words like this.

The other side: The biggest drivers of Earth’s rising temperature — oil, natural gas and coal — also have huge benefits to the world. That point has often been absent in the discourse as the problem of climate change worsens.

  • This makes the problem of climate change even harder, as nations work to swiftly reduce their dependence on these fuels without raising the energy costs on their people.

The bottom line: Climate change is like diabetes for the planet — and, if left unchecked, could worsen crises like flooding and heat waves. The best we can do is simultaneously cut carbon emissions and adapt to a warmer planet. That may not be the best description to grab headlines, win debates and rally activists — but it's the most accurate.

Go deeper: Read my full story, which includes some good ol' fashioned dictionary references.

2. Debate takeaways: Biden, coal and Trump

The second night of the second set of Democratic primary debates saw a spotlight on a candidate hardly anybody knows, a spat over coal and an area of criticism for the Trump campaign.

The big picture: The divide brewing within the Democratic Party between moderates and liberals was less stark last night compared to the first night, with most candidates supporting sweeping progressive goals.

Driving the news: 4 things caught my eye...

1. Joe Biden insisted his climate plan would eliminate coal and possibly natural gas too, when pressed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

  • Reality check: The former vice president’s plan doesn’t actually appear to do that, and his comments were vague: “We would work it out — make sure to eliminate it,” he said, implying it = coal and natural gas.

2. Expect Trump's campaign to surface this in attacks, judging by a tweet from campaign manager Brad Parscale: “Bye bye coal, Democrats & @JoeBiden just said they are done with you. How do you feel about that Pennsylvania?”

3. Inslee had his day in the sun when at least 2 other Democratic presidential hopefuls gave him credit for raising awareness about climate change.

  • The bottom line: This is good for Inslee, but given his low polling numbers, it’s unclear what staying power it’s having on the campaign trial.

4. Andrew Yang said it was too late to address climate change, and that he wants to focus on “putting money into people's hands so they can afford higher ground" to avoid sea level rise.

  • Between the lines: He raises the under-appreciated problem of adapting to a warmer world we’re already locking ourselves into, but without any nod to tackling the problem today, it came off as tone deaf to some.
3. Solar costs plummet in South Asia
Expand chart
Data: WoodMac; Chart: Axios Visuals

Solar costs have dropped precipitously in the last decade across South Asia and the Pacific, new research from consultancy Wood Mackenzie shows.

Driving the news: It’s already cheaper than coal in India, and is poised to be in Australia next year. Check out the above chart, which shows the cost of different power sources over the lifetime of a facility, including the cost of building it (known as the levelized cost of electricity) across South Asia and Pacific nations.

What they’re saying: India’s “high-quality solar resources, market scale and competition have pushed solar costs down to half the level seen in many other Asia Pacific countries,” said WoodMac research director Alex Whitworth.

Why it matters: It’s a sign of potential good news to come for efforts to address climate change. As nations in South Asia rapidly increase their electricity consumption, renewable energy will increasingly be able to help fill that demand in the coming decades.

But, but, but: Coal is still king in the region. Wind and solar made up just 6% of the region’s electricity, a number Whitworth says will increase to a “much higher level in coming years.”

  • The region will continue to build coal plants for the foreseeable future as it satisfies big power demand and balances out wind and solar resources that don’t always generate electricity, Whitworth says.
4. Lightning round: Earnings fail expectations


  • Shell on Thursday reported a 26% "slide in second-quarter earnings, which came well below expectations, after a volatile period that saw lower energy prices coincide with weaker performing gas, refining and chemicals businesses," the Financial Times reports.
  • Exelon also reported earnings that fell short of Wall Street expectations, with a net income of $484 million, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

What's next: Chevron and Exxon report earnings Friday.

5. Catch up fast: China, sanctions, explosions

Sanctions: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 20-2 to approve a bill putting sanctions on companies and individuals involved in building a major natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, Reuters reports.

China: BP and Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing are partnering on a joint venture to deploy a network of electric vehicle charging stations in China, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

Explosion: An explosion and fire at an ExxonMobil oil refinery in Texas caused minor injuries to 37 workers and forced nearby residents inside on Wednesday before being brought under control, per Reuters.

Investors: Axios Expert Voices contributor Anna Mikulska explores a trend we've covered a lot about big energy companies facing pressure from investors on climate change.

6. Quote of the day
“We have to acknowledge that technology does not deploy itself.”

Who said it: Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s energy innovation event Wednesday.

Why it matters: Grumet was arguing that adequately addressing climate change will require far greater investments in innovation than current levels. If that happens, then more controversial measures — like taxes and regulations — won't need to be so aggressive, he added.

Where it stands: The event was part of an effort by the Chamber, which is long known for fighting climate-change policies but has issued more recent statements supporting the need for action on climate change.

  • The Chamber supports energy innovation measures but opposes most environmental regulations and has no official position on a carbon tax.

What’s next: Christopher Guith, acting president of the Chamber’s Global Energy Institute, said Wednesday the group is going to push for “comprehensive energy innovation legislation.”