Nov 6, 2019

Axios Generate

Ben Geman

Good morning! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,159 words, ~ 4 minutes.

The backers of the report Amy Harder cited in her latest column — the one on the impact of voluntary action cutting emissions — responded. It's worth a read.

At this moment 35 years ago, Chaka Khan was atop the Billboard R&B charts with today's classic intro tune...

1 big thing: In the path of rising seas

Amy Harder reports...While the debate rages about how to fight climate change, the impacts that rising temperatures have already locked in are getting worse.

Why it matters: We’re learning more about how much of the damage is irreversible, like with rising sea levels.

That underscores the need to focus on adaptation, not only cutting emissions to limit the extent of future harm.

Driving the news: Rising sea levels will threaten 40 million more people — three times that of previous estimates — over the next 30 years, new research says. Poorer Asian countries are most at risk.

What they’re saying: “Most sea level rise between now and 2050 is already baked in,” said Benjamin Strauss, co-author of the peer-reviewed report by science organization Climate Central.

What’s new: The researchers used a more sophisticated method of determining “the true ground level from the tops of trees or buildings,” co-author Scott Kulp told the NYT.

  • This method has already been used in more developed parts of the world, but not Asia, which is one reason the projected impacts are newest and most dire there.
  • “The numbers are biggest in Asia generally because there is such high-population density and it is so concentrated in the lowest elevations toward the coast,” Strauss said.
  • The research doesn’t account for population growth, so the impact could be even greater if these countries keep growing, which they’re expected to.

How it works: The research finds that 40 million more people will live in areas below high-tide levels by 2050 — which means, Strauss said, that “either you get coastal defense or you better move.”

  • This increase is on top of the 110 million people already living below high-tide levels with protection from infrastructure, like levees.
  • “While levees can protect us, they may also give us a false sense of security, because when they fail the results can be catastrophic,” said Strauss, noting the challenges facing New Orleans.

What we’re watching: Strauss hopes that this research galvanizes cities to better prepare for rising seas, but also adds momentum to cut emissions to limit the worst impacts by the end of this century.

  • His research suggests that if we continue business as usual — emissions left mostly unchecked — up to 200 million more people will be at risk by 2100.
2. More sobering climate news

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The research Amy explored is among several developments that underscore the march of global warming and its toll.

Driving the news: Axios' Orion Rummler reports that by a slim margin, last month was the warmest October ever recorded, new data from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service shows.

Why it matters: "The significant because it shows that 2019 is certain to be one of the warmest years on record," the Washington Post's Andrew Freedman reports.

The big picture: The temperature analysis coincidentally arrived on the same day 11,000 scientists labeled climate change as an "emergency" for the first time in a report.

Writing in the journal Bioscience, the scientists argue that global human activities' effects on the environment have not been properly addressed in public discussions on climate change.

Go deeper

3. The slowing shale boom

U.S. oil production growth is slowing down. And soon, the industry may slam on the brakes, according to a new analysis and a top industry executive.

Driving the news: The consultancy IHS Markit sees U.S. oil production growth "essentially flattening out" in 2021 after slowing to 440,000 barrels per day in 2020.

Meanwhile the CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources — a big shale producer — told analysts yesterday that the surging Permian Basin will "slow down significantly over the next several years."

Why it matters: It's the latest sign that producers — facing modest prices and investor demands for returns — are repositioning after the boom that has made the U.S. the world's largest oil producer.

  • It's a contrast to 2018 when U.S. production surged by nearly 2 million barrels per day.
  • The slowdown could also bring new challenges for local economies in Texas and elsewhere that are tethered to the industry, a topic Orion explored here.

What they found: IHS said producers are responding to lower prices that stem from trade wars and weaker than expected demand.

They see prices for the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate averaging around $50-per-barrel in 2020 and 2021.

What's next: The consultancy expects "modest growth" to resume in 2022 after flattening in 2021, but not a return to the surge of recent years.

The bottom line: "[T]his is a new era of moderation for shale producers," IHS analyst Raoul LeBlanc said in a statement.

“Investors are imposing capital pushing down equity prices and pushing up the cost of capital on debt markets," LeBlanc said.

But, but, but: IHS says a $65-per-barrel price would "provide the ability to post strong volume growth while also providing meaningful returns to shareholders."

4. The growing push to overhaul PG&E

Nearly two dozen California mayors and county leaders — including San Jose and Sacramento — are pressing state regulators to help them transform the embattled, bankrupt power giant PG&E into a customer-owned cooperative.

Why it matters: Their new letter to the California Public Utilities Commission shows how PG&E's power shutdowns amid wildfire risk and overall performance are prompting calls for a seismic re-think of its structure.

The CPUC has a key oversight role in the company's bankruptcy reorganization and recently launched a probe of power shut-offs that have affected millions.

What they're saying: The local officials argue that a cooperative structure would help provide tens of billions of dollars needed for "system hardening, wildfire protection and cyber-security."

  • "A mutualized PG&E can raise capital from a broad pool of debt financing in amounts substantially greater than can an investor-owned PG&E, and at much lower cost," it states.

But, but, but: PG&E opposes the plan, per The Wall Street Journal, which reported yesterday on the city and county proposal.

Where it stands: California Gov. Gavin Newsom met yesterday with PG&E's CEO Bill Johnson and "reiterated the state’s frustration with PG&E and strongly urged the parties get to a resolution that ensures what we saw over the last month never happens again and results in a transformed utility," his office said.

In recent days Newsom has threatened a state takeover of the company.

The big picture: "Some of Wall Street’s biggest names are jostling for control of the utility, including a group of bondholders led by billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Management Corp.," Bloomberg reports.

5. Two politics things: Warren and Virginia

2020 election: Elizabeth Warren is bashing Twitter's upcoming ban on political advertising — and climate change is part of her thinking.

  • "Twitter's new ad policy will allow fossil fuel companies to buy ads defending themselves and spreading misleading info—but won't allow organizations fighting the climate crisis to buy ads holding those companies accountable. We need accountability," the Democratic White House hopeful tweeted yesterday.
  • The intrigue: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey replied to Warren that he would "take this into consideration."

Virginia: Democrats won control of Virginia's state legislature in yesterday's election and that could have energy and climate policy repercussions.

"Consider this: Dems took complete control of state [government] in NM, NY and WA in 2018. This year, they all passed laws calling for carbon free electricity by 2050," E&E News reporter Ben Storrow noted in a thread of tweets that also looks at Democratic moves in other states.

Ben Geman