Feb 28, 2020

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning! I'm filling in for Ben Geman, who is taking a well-deserved day off. What will you do with one extra day of your life? Happy Leap Year!

🚨🚨“Axios on HBO” returns with a bang: Roger Stone on his Christian salvation (clip); an in-depth interview with Weinstein prosecutor Cy Vance; and Kerry, Dukakis, others on Super Tuesday drama. Watch Sunday 6 pm ET/PT.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,093 words, ~ 4 minutes.

1 big thing: Hardly anyone talks about climate change

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Politicians, corporations, the media and activists are talking about climate change more than ever — but most Americans are not.

Be smart: If you’re reading this on social media, you’re probably the exception, not the rule. Just 9% of Americans talk about climate change often, surveys by Yale and George Mason University indicate.

Why it matters: What people talk about is what ultimately rises as a priority among the public, says Anthony Leiserowitz, senior research scientist and director of Yale's Program on Climate Change Communication.

By the numbers: More than half — 59% — of Americans talk about climate change with their family or friends "rarely" or "never," according to the surveys. That figure has more or less remained unchanged for a dozen years. As of late last year, it’s still at 59%.

  • About 40% of people say they talk about climate change “often” or “occasionally,” a figure that also remained mostly the same over the last 12 years.
  • The share of people talking about climate change “often” has almost doubled, though it’s still small: from 5% to 9%.
  • These numbers remain small despite an increase in the share of people who say they hear about global warming in the media: 19% in March 2015, to 35% in November 2019.
  • For the record: The data on this topic has an average margin of error +/- 3 percentage points and each survey had around 1,000 participants.

Driving the news: The volume of climate change coverage on nightly and Sunday broadcast news shows increased 68% from 2018 to 2019, according to a report out Thursday by the liberal nonprofit Media Matters.

  • But the absolute numbers are tiny: Climate change comprised just 0.7% of overall broadcast news coverage last year, the report found.
  • Most Americans consume news on TV, so the deluge of online media many see — including those of you who found this article via social media — is not what most Americans are getting.
“The climate community lives inside a green bubble, inside a green bubble, inside a green bubble. We see news articles about climate change every day. But that’s not the experience of most people, most of the time.”
— Anthony Leiserowitz
Bonus: Climate, in our conversations and media
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Data: Climate Change in the American Mind survey, 2008 to 2019; Note: Each survey is of approximately 1,000 U.S. adults, with an average margin of error of ±3 percentage points; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
2. Senate pushes bipartisan energy innovation bill

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A sweeping energy bill boosting federal support for everything from renewable energy to cybersecurity may get a vote as soon as next week.

Driving the news: The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), introduced the American Energy Innovation Act yesterday.

  • The legislation, running 555 pages, compiles some 50 separate measures the committee has debated and passed last year.

One level deeper:

  • Most of the bill’s components are narrow changes to existing federal policy or other government programs. Taken in aggregate though, Manchin calls it a “down payment” on technologies cutting emissions.
  • It does not include an overall target to reduce emissions or any economy-wide mechanism to affect emissions, such as a carbon price or a mandate.
  • Read the bill itself, a short summary and a longer summary.

Where it stands: The bill drops as politicians in Washington and on the campaign trail debate how aggressively the U.S. government should tackle climate change. Lawmakers are engaging in what has become a perennial debate about whether to try to go big or go small(er) with climate and energy policy.

  • To date, Washington has gone small(er), and this bill doubles down on that path, by expanding current government policies and pushing narrow measures, like subsidies and public-private partnerships.
  • A growing chorus of lawmakers, corporations and all Democratic presidential candidates want Washington to go bigger by creating new and economy-wide policies taking direct aim at emissions, such as a clean energy standard or carbon tax.

What they’re saying: Response to the bill was mixed, reflecting Washington’s overall divisions on the matter.

  • The National Mining Association and The Nature Conservancy both issued positive statements about the measure, even though the latter said more needed to be done.
  • Other environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club, outright opposed it. “This bill includes a number of small bore proposals, some productive and some detrimental,” said Melinda Pierce, Sierra Club’s legislative director.

What’s next: The full Senate may vote on it as soon as next week.

Go deeper: Centrist Democrats join GOP on energy bill (The Washington Examiner)

3. Growing virus recession threat

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In just a matter of weeks, top economists and investment bank analysts have gone from expecting the coronavirus outbreak to have minimal impact on the U.S. economy to warning that an outright recession may be on the horizon," Axios' Dion Rabouin writes.

What's happening: The spread of confirmed coronavirus cases in Europe, the Middle East and the U.S., and the speed at which they are being discovered has set the table for the outbreak to have a larger and much costlier impact on the U.S. and the rest of the world.

What they're saying: Business investment, which had declined through the last three quarters of 2019, could be further hit, Constance Hunter, chief economist at KPMG, tells Axios.

  • "If the virus spreads within the U.S. in any meaningful way that is going to have a negative impact."
  • Oil companies, already under pressure with prices in the toilet, would be squeezed even more by a likely slowdown in investment spending, Hunter adds.

My thought bubble: Another upshot of a recession relevant to Generate readers would be that climate change action would likely be put on the back burner. It's a lot harder for countries to prioritize long-term, chronic and serious problems (like global warming) during an immediate crisis that could threaten people's jobs.

Reality check: Stories noting how China's CO2 emissions are dropping due to the coronavirus merely shows the difficulty of addressing climate change. It's like someone looking to lose weight is happy he's eating less when sick. It's not a strategy, is besides the point and is insensitive to those dealing with the outbreak.

4. Wind blows past hydro as top U.S. renewable energy

Wind power has overcome hydroelectricity as the top renewable source of electricity generation in America, according to the Energy Information Administration, Axios' Orion Rummler reports.

Expand chart
Data: EIA; Chart: Axios Visuals

The big picture: Wind and solar's capacity to fuel America is growing as they become increasingly cost competitive.

  • Solar power systems are growing and becoming more efficient in commercial and industrial spaces, the Energy Department found last November.
  • Most hydroelectric capacity in the U.S. has been operating for decades, whereas 77% of wind capacity was installed in the last decade, per EIA.

Details: Steady increases in wind generation over the past decade are partially due to the decades-old wind production tax credit being extended, the EIA says.

Go deeper: Wind power is winning in the U.S. despite Trump's critiques

5. Lightning round: Eni, prices, Heathrow, fraud
  • Coronavirus sends oil prices to biggest weekly fall in four years. (Reuters)
  • Analysts expect another production cut at OPEC's upcoming meeting next week. (Barron's)
  • London's Heathrow Airport expansion plan was halted over climate change concerns, which could impact other development plans. (BBC)
  • Italian oil giant Eni says its oil output will peak in six years (Bloomberg), while the government mulls whether to keep the CEO in his job. (Reuters)
  • Fraud allegations emerge in South Carolina's failed nuclear plant. (The Post and Courier)
  • Judge voids oil and gas leasing in sage grouse habitat. (The Washington Post)
Ben GemanAmy Harder