Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns.

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Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns.

I’m skilled at eluding the fetal crouch of despair—because I’ve been working on climate change for thirty years, I’ve learned to parcel out my angst, to keep my distress under control. But, in the past few months, I’ve more often found myself awake at night with true fear-for-your-kids anguish. This spring, we set another high mark for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: four hundred and fifteen parts per million, higher than it has been in many millions of years. The summer began with the hottest June ever recorded, and then July became the hottest month ever recorded. The United Kingdom, France, and Germany, which have some of the world’s oldest weather records, all hit new high temperatures, and then the heat moved north, until most of Greenland was melting and immense Siberian wildfires were sending great clouds of carbon skyward. At the beginning of September, Hurricane Dorian stalled above the Bahamas, where it unleashed what one meteorologist called “the longest siege of violent, destructive weather ever observed” on our planet. The scientific warnings of three decades ago are the deadly heat advisories and flash-flood alerts of the present, and, as for the future, we have hard deadlines. Last fall, the world’s climate scientists said that, if we are to meet the goals we set in the 2015 Paris climate accord—which would still raise the mercury fifty per cent higher than it has already climbed—we’ll essentially need to cut our use of fossil fuels in half by 2030 and eliminate them altogether by mid-century. In a world of Trumps and Putins and Bolsonaros and the fossil-fuel companies that back them, that seems nearly impossible. It’s not technologically impossible: in the past decade, the world’s engineers have dropped the price of solar and wind power by ninety and seventy per cent, respectively. But we’re moving far too slowly to exploit the opening for rapid change that this feat of engineering offers. Hence the 2 A.M. dread.

There’s good news, too: as the crisis grows more obvious, far more people are joining in the fight. In the year since the scientists imposed that deadline, we’ve seen the rise of the Green New Deal, the cheeky exploits of Extinction Rebellion, and the global spread of the school strikes started by the Swedish teen-ager Greta Thunberg. It seems that there are finally enough people to make an impact. The question is, what levers can we pull that might possibly create change within the time that we need it to happen?

Some of us have begun to change our own lives, pledging to fly less and to eat lower on the food chain. But, whatever our intentions, we’re each of us currently locked into burning a fair amount of fossil fuel: if there’s no train that goes to your destination, you can’t take it. Others—actually, often the same people—are working to elect greener candidates, lobbying to pass legislation, litigating cases headed for the Supreme Court, or going to jail to block the construction of pipelines.

These are all important efforts, but we need to do more, for the simple reason that they may not pay off fast enough. Climate change is a timed test, one of the first that our civilization has faced, and with each scientific report the window narrows. By contrast, cultural change—what we eat, how we live—often comes generationally. Political change usually involves slow compromise, and that’s in a working system, not a dysfunctional gridlock such as the one we now have in Washington. And, since we face a planetary crisis, cultural and political change would have to happen in every other major country, too.

But what if there were an additional lever to pull, one that could work both quickly and globally? One possibility relies on the idea that political leaders are not the only powerful actors on the planet—that those who hold most of the money also have enormous power, and that their power could be exercised in a matter of months or even hours, not years or decades. I suspect that the key to disrupting the flow of carbon into the atmosphere may lie in disrupting the flow of money to coal and oil and gas.

Following the money isn’t a new idea. Seven years ago, 350.org (the climate campaign that I co-founded, a decade ago, and still serve as a senior adviser) helped launch a global movement to persuade the managers of college endowments, pension funds, and other large pots of money to sell their stock in fossil-fuel companies. It has become the largest such campaign in history: funds worth more than eleven trillion dollars have divested some or all of their fossil-fuel holdings. And it has been effective: when Peabody Energy, the largest American coal company, filed for bankruptcy, in 2016, it cited divestment as one of the pressures weighing on its business, and, this year, Shell called divestment a “material adverse effect” on its performance. The divestment campaign has brought home the starkest fact of the global-warming era: that the industry has in its reserves five times as much carbon as the scientific consensus thinks we can safely burn. The pressure has helped cost the industry much of its social license; one religious institution after another has divested from oil and gas, and Pope Francis has summoned industry executives to the Vatican to tell them that they must leave carbon underground. But this, too, seems to be happening in too-slow motion. The fossil-fuel industry may be going down, but it’s going down fighting. Which makes sense, because it’s the fossil-fuel industry—it really only knows how to do one thing.

So now consider extending the logic of the divestment fight one ring out, from the fossil-fuel companies to the financial system that supports them. Consider a bank like, say, JPMorgan Chase, which is America’s largest bank and the world’s most valuable by market capitalization. In the three years since the end of the Paris climate talks, Chase has reportedly committed a hundred and ninety-six billion dollars in financing for the fossil-fuel industry, much of it to fund extreme new ventures: ultra-deep-sea drilling, Arctic oil extraction, and so on. In each of those years, ExxonMobil, by contrast, spent less than three billion dollars on exploration, research, and development. A hundred and ninety-six billion dollars is larger than the market value of BP; it dwarfs that of the coal companies or the frackers. By this measure, Jamie Dimon, the C.E.O. of JPMorgan Chase, is an oil, coal, and gas baron almost without peer.

But here’s the thing: fossil-fuel financing accounts for only about seven per cent of Chase’s lending and underwriting. The bank lends to everyone else, too—to people who build bowling alleys and beach houses and breweries. And, if the world were to switch decisively to solar and wind power, Chase would lend to renewable-energy companies, too. Indeed, it already does, though on a much smaller scale. (A spokesperson for Chase said that the bank has committed to facilitate two hundred billion dollars in “clean” financing by 2025, but did not specify where the money will go. The bank also pointed out that it has installed 2,570 solar panels at branches in California and New Jersey.) The same is true of the asset-management and insurance industries: without them, the fossil-fuel companies would almost literally run out of gas, but BlackRock and Chubb could survive without their business. It’s possible to imagine these industries, given that the world is now in existential danger, quickly jettisoning their fossil-fuel business. It’s not easy to imagine—capitalism is not noted for surrendering sources of revenue. But, then, the Arctic ice sheet is not noted for melting.

The last minutes of a football game are different from the rest; if you are far enough behind, you dispense with caution. Since gaining a few yards cannot help you, you resort to more desperate, lower-percentage plays. You heave the ball and you hope, and, every once in a while, you win. So a small group of activists has begun probing the financial industry, looking for chances to toss the kind of Hail Mary pass that could yet win this game. The odds are definitely long, but just talking with these groups has begun to lift my despair.

 

Around the turn of the century, a California-based environmental group called Rainforest Action Network (RAN) was trying to figure out how to slow down the deforestation of the Amazon. It found that Citigroup, then the largest bank on earth, was lending to many of the projects that cut down trees for pastureland, and so it ran a campaign that featured celebrities cutting up their Citi credit cards. Eventually, Citigroup joined with other banks to set up the Equator Principles, which the participants call a “risk management framework” designed to limit the most devastating lending.

At some point in the campaign, RAN started paying twenty-four thousand dollars annually to rent a Bloomberg terminal, the financial-information monitor that sits on any broker’s desk, allowing her to track stock prices, bond issues, and deals of every type. “Our Bloomberg rep is always flabbergasted when he visits us,” Alison Kirsch, a climate-and-energy researcher with RAN, told me. “Essentially, we use it backwards.” The terminal will spit out the current league tables, which rank loan volume: showing, for example, which banks are lending the most money to railroad builders or to copper miners—or to fossil-fuel companies. “The banks all want to be at the top of those tables,” Kirsch said. “It’s how they keep score.” But RAN turns the tables upside down. Every year, after six months of detailed analysis, it publishes a thick report called “Banking on Climate Change,” which ranks the financial giants according to how much damage they’re doing.

This year’s edition, the tenth, shows Chase in the lead, as usual, followed by Wells Fargo, Citi, and Bank of America. Two Japanese banks and the British giant Barclays are also among the top ten, but it’s mostly a North American club—three Canadian banks round out the list. And the trend is remarkable: in the three years since the signing of the Paris climate accord, which was designed to help the world shift away from fossil fuels, the banks’ lending to the industry has increased every year, and much of the money goes toward the most extreme forms of energy development. In the lead-up to the Paris talks, a team of scientists published a big paper in Nature that listed the planet’s most catastrophic deposits of hydrocarbons, the ones that should be left in the ground at all costs. It included Arctic oil and the tar-sands sludge found in northern Alberta; Chase has aggressively funded the extraction of both. According to RAN, the bank’s largest single energy-sector client is TC Energy (until recently known as Transcanada), which is trying to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would stretch from the tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico—a project that President Obama rejected and that the NASA scientist James Hansen said would be the start of a “game over” scenario for the climate. (Chase would not comment.) Jason Opeña Disterhoft, RAN’s senior campaigner, told me, “It’s a climate moment. We’re in a process, as a society, of naming the actors most responsible for driving the climate crisis, and banks are absolutely on that list. And Chase—they’re No. 1 with a bullet, right at the top of the list of who should be held accountable.”

So what would happen if, tomorrow, Chase announced that it was going to phase out lending to the fossil-fuel industry—probably first by restricting loans for particular projects, and then by ending general corporate lending and banning the underwriting of new debt and equity for fossil-fuel companies? “Wells Fargo and Citi would follow within days,” according to Tim Buckley, a former managing director at Citi, who now serves as the director of energy-finance studies for Australasia at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (I.E.E.F.A.), a Cleveland-based nonprofit research group. In fact, “they’d look to go one step further, so as to pretend they weren’t really sheep. And this would have global ramifications—the music would stop, very suddenly.” Wall Street, Buckley said, “can be very deaf to warnings for years, but the financial-market lemmings will suddenly act in unison” once the biggest players send a signal. Everyone knows that the fossil-fuel era will come to an end sooner or later; a giant bank pulling back would send an unmistakable signal that it will be sooner. The biggest oil companies might still be able to self-finance their continuing operations, but “the pure-play frackers will find finance impossible,” Buckley said. “Coal-dependent rail carriers and port owners and coal-mine contracting firms will all be hit.”

Done badly, this halt could wreak chaos: the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, warned four years ago that the “stranded assets”—the coal, gas, and oil that need to be left underground—amount to a twenty-trillion-dollar “carbon bubble” that far exceeds the housing bubble that sparked the 2008 financial conflagration. Carney has been diligently trying to deflate the bubble ever since, in hopes of avoiding another crisis. That’s why it might make sense for Chase and the others to first announce that they were ending loans for the expansion of the fossil-fuel industry, while continuing to extend credit for ongoing operations. “If Chase does what we’re asking for and other banks follow,” Alison Kirsch said, “the impacts of that social signal would be significant immediately, while the economic impacts from transitioning off of fossil fuels would happen over time.”

And it must be said that, even if bursting this bubble did short-term damage to the economy, that damage would pale next to the kind of wreckage forecast for the planet if the fossil-fuel industry continues on its current path for another decade. Even in economic terms, twenty trillion dollars is paltry compared with the sums that experts now think unabated global warming would consume. At the moment, the planet is on track to warm more than three degrees Celsius by century’s end, which one recent study found would do five hundred and fifty-one trillion dollars in damage. That’s more money than currently exists on the planet.

Is there any chance that Chase might halt its fossil-fuel lending? Perhaps not. The bank grew into a global giant under the leadership of David Rockefeller, the grandson of John D. Rockefeller, who established the country’s original oil fortune, by founding the Standard Oil Company, one of whose successor companies is ExxonMobil. For many years, the Chase board’s lead director has been Lee Raymond, who served as the C.E.O. of Exxon during the years when it was working hardest to cast doubt on the reality of global warming. (In 1997, Raymond gave an infamous speech, in Beijing, in which he claimed that the planet was probably cooling, and that, in any event, it was “highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be affected whether policies are enacted now or twenty years from now.”) However, in 2016, the Rockefeller Family Fund announced that it would divest from fossil fuels, singling out Exxon’s conduct as being “morally reprehensible” and adding that “we must keep most of the already discovered reserves in the ground if there is any hope for human and natural ecosystems to survive and thrive in the decades ahead.”

The director of the Rockefeller Family Fund, Lee Wasserman, says that it’s time to take on the reputations of the bankers, in much the same way that the Sackler family has increasingly been shunned for its role in the opioid crisis. “When the neighborhood tavern serves up several rounds to an already drunken patron, and the inebriated person rams into a minivan loaded with Little Leaguers, it’s not only a tragedy—the bar may be sued out of business, and the bartender could face jail time,” he said. “How much morally worse is it to enable the expansion of a deadly fossil-fuel industry, whose business model is certain to cause the death and suffering of millions of people and the loss of much of the earth’s diversity? Big, sophisticated banks such as Chase and Wells Fargo understand climate science and know that our current path is leading towards climate catastrophe. Yet their machine of finance cranks along.”

Some activists have begun to envision a campaign to pressure the banks. Chase’s retail business is a huge part of its enterprise, as is the case with Citi, Wells Fargo, and the others. “One of the major risk factors going forward for these guys is generational,” Disterhoft said. “You have a rising generation of consumers and potential employees that cares a lot about climate, and they’re going to be choosing who they do business with factoring that into account.” In 2017, when Twitter-based activists accused Uber of exploiting Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban, rather than protesting it, it took just hours for downloads of the Lyft app to surge, for the first time, past those of the Uber app. Switching banks is harder, but, given the volume of credit-card solicitations that show up in the average mailbox every year, probably not much.

A few of the big European banks have begun taking steps away from fossil fuels already. In June, the French giant Crédit Agricole announced a change that Disterhoft calls the “gold standard to date”: the bank said that it would no longer do business with companies that are expanding their coal operations, and that, by 2021, its coal-business clients in the developed world would have to produce a plan for getting out of the business by 2030; its clients in China by 2040; and its clients everywhere else by 2050. BankTrack, an N.G.O. headquartered in the Netherlands, called the announcement a “welcome first step,” and, indeed, the restrictions have clearly begun to bite. In late June, an Indonesian power-company executive said, “European banks have said they don’t want to finance coal projects for a while. Japanese followed and now Singapore. About eighty-five per cent of the market now don’t want to finance coal-power plants.” He added, “Coal-power-plant financing is very challenging.” According to the I.E.E.F.A.’s Buckley, Crédit Agricole’s move helps explain why, for instance, Vietnam, which was supposed to be a key market for new coal-fired power plants, instead grew its “solar base tenfold in the twelve months to June, 2019.” At this point, the coal business is already on its heels, so campaigners are increasingly focussed on gas and oil, but C.A.’s move shows that big, quick shifts are possible.

Every year, Larry Fink, the C.E.O. of BlackRock, writes a letter to the C.E.O.s of the companies in which his company invests. This year, his letter was about capitalism with a “purpose.” Along with making a profit, he counselled, the C.E.O.s should be running their businesses to help “address pressing social and economic issues.” Given that the rapid heating of the planet would seem to meet that criteria, some have suggested that Fink should look at his own operation; BlackRock is the world’s largest investor in coal companies, coal-fired utilities, oil and gas companies, and companies driving deforestation. No one else is trying as diligently to make money off the destruction of the planet.

And no one else has as powerful a remedy at hand. Most of the money that pension funds and endowments and individuals invest at BlackRock goes into passive funds, which track a stock-market index, rather than trying to beat the averages. BlackRock, in essence, just buys the market. If the firm simply decided to exclude fossil-fuel stocks from its main funds—or if it even just decided to underweight the stocks—it would send a message like no other. (According to the I.E.E.F.A., it would also produce better returns for its clients. A study that the group published in early August notes that BlackRock investors lost ninety billion dollars over the past decade by staying heavily invested in fossil fuels, even as that sector dramatically underperformed compared to the rest of the market.)

The firm couldn’t make this change overnight. Casey Harrell, a senior campaigner at the Australia-based Sunrise Project—a nonprofit that coördinates a campaign called BlackRock’s Big Problem, which aims to pressure the firm to change its investing strategy—concedes that BlackRock simply holds too much stock: nine per cent of BP, seven per cent of Exxon. “If they had to sell it all at once, they’d get a bad price, and that would open them to legal exposure. But five years is absolutely doable,” Harrell told me. Tom Sanzillo, the finance director at the I.E.E.F.A., told me that he made just that suggestion at this year’s BlackRock shareholders’ meeting, in Manhattan. Sanzillo is not a rain-forest activist or a typical climate campaigner; he is a rumpled sixty-four-year-old veteran of the finance industry, who once served as the acting comptroller in charge of New York State’s two-hundred-billion-dollar pension fund. Here’s his account of what would happen if BlackRock decided to take an aggressive stand and announce that it would slowly start to exclude fossil-fuel stocks from the basket of equities in its biggest funds: “The stock market would react by driving oil- and gas-stock prices down for both private companies and those state-owned enterprises on the stock market to new lows—institutional investors would understand that continued investment in the fossil-fuel sector meant more volatility, lower returns, and negative future outlook.”

The sell-off in fossil-fuel stocks would be only half the story, though, Sanzillo says. Money would instead pour into renewable energy, and, since solar and wind power will be increasingly cheaper than fossil fuels, that shift would, in turn, “prompt substantial gains economy-wide, with manufacturing and other energy-intensive stock prices increasing.” The public-finance desks at every major bank in the world would issue economic-outlook alerts for every country whose economy depends on producing fossil fuels. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Australia, and Canada would risk seeing their bonds downgraded. But four-fifths of the world’s population lives in nations that currently pay to import fossil fuels, and their economies would benefit, as ample financing would allow them to transition relatively quickly to low-cost solar and wind power. It wouldn’t just be a market signal, Sanzillo said; it would be a “glaring red rocket,” a signal that the “fossil-fuel industry has the wind in its face and been kicked in the ass.” How large would that signal be? The assets under BlackRock’s management are worth nearly seven trillion dollars, making it, by some measures, the third-largest economy on earth, after the United States and China, and ahead of Japan.

If the damage to BlackRock’s core business from fossil-fuel divestment would be manageable—how many people are going to go out of their way to demand some climate destruction in their passive index funds, after all?—why isn’t the company already moving (and Vanguard and Fidelity and State Street with it)? BlackRock grew to its mammoth size in the years after the financial crisis, in part because it wasn’t designated by the government as a “systematically important financial institution,” and so it was spared some of the regulation that big investment houses loathe. That, obviously, could change. And Harrell referred me to a 2017 report from 50/50 Climate, an N.G.O. now called Climate Majority, which noted that, as of 2015, BlackRock handled the pension and other welfare funds for BP, Exxon, and Chevron, earning millions of dollars in fees. “You can imagine the impact on that business if BlackRock started marketing fossil-free funds as the default option,” he said.

BlackRock’s corporate-communications department would not confirm if the company handles those pension funds. But a spokesperson pointed out that customers, if they so choose, can already buy “no-carbon, low-carbon, and energy-transition investments,” which currently make up forty-four billion dollars, less than one per cent of BlackRock’s business. Company representatives also offer a wonderfully circular defense: a spokesperson said that BlackRock holds investments only in funds that “our clients choose to invest in.” He added, “Our obligation as an asset manager and a fiduciary is to manage our clients’ assets consistent with their investment priorities.” So the customers buy the product; BlackRock is just the middleman. Which is true, but there’s no reason that BlackRock couldn’t construct its own index, and market it in such a way as to make a fossil-free fund the default option for investors. It’s as if the firm were saying, The buffet at our restaurant has always included arsenic. It’s part of what makes it a buffet. But wouldn’t it be a nicer restaurant if you actually had to go out of your way to order the arsenic?

That’s what Amundi, one of Europe’s largest asset-management funds, has decided to do. Earlier this year, it committed to phasing out coal stocks from its passive index (along with investments in chemical and biological weapons and cluster bombs). As climate concerns grow, the pressure for American companies to do likewise, and to extend the ban to oil and gas, will also mount. In January, for instance, the Yes Men satire collective released a hoax version of Fink’s annual letter to C.E.O.s, the day before the real one was due to be released. “Within 5 years, more than 90% of our 1000+ investment products will be converted to screen out non-Paris compliant companies such as coal, oil, and gas, which we see as declining and endangered,” the fake letter said. What’s interesting was how believable the idea was—even the Financial Times tweeted out the “news.” And why not? If you think about it for a moment—just as a person, not as a cynical and knowing sophisticate—why would anyone invest in companies that can’t even meet the modest commitments we made at Paris?

In some ways, the insurance industry resembles the banks and the asset managers: it controls a huge pool of money and routinely invests enormous sums in the fossil-fuel industry. Consider, though, two interesting traits that set insurance apart.

The first is, it knows better. Insurance companies are the part of our economy that we ask to understand risk, the ones with the data to really see what is happening as the climate changes, and for decades they’ve been churning out high-quality research establishing just how bad the crisis really is. “Insurers were among the first to sound the alarm,” Elana Sulakshana, a RAN campaigner who helps coördinate the Insure Our Future campaign for a consortium made up mostly of small environmental groups, told me. “As far back as the nineteen-seventies, they saw it as a risk.” In 2005, for instance, Swiss Re, the world’s largest reinsurance company, sponsored a study at the Center for Health and the Global Environment, at Harvard Medical School. The report predicted that, as storms and flooding became more common, they would “overwhelm the adaptive capacities of even developed nations” and large areas and sectors would “become uninsurable; major investments collapse; and markets crash.” As a result of cascading climate catastrophes, the day would come when “parts of developed nations would experience developing nation conditions for prolonged periods.” In April, Evan Greenberg, the C.E.O. of Chubb, the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurer, said in his annual statement to shareholders that, thanks to climate change, the weather had become “almost Biblical” and that “given the long-term threat and the short-term nature of politics, the failure of policy makers to address climate change, including these issues and the costs of living in or near high-risk areas, is an existential threat.” To its credit, Chubb soon took a step that no other big U.S. insurer has managed, and announced that it was restricting insurance and investments in coal companies. But it still invests heavily in oil and gas, and so does virtually every other major insurance company.

The second thing that makes insurance companies unique is that they don’t just provide money; they provide insurance. If you want to build a tar-sands pipeline or a coal-fired power plant or a liquefied-natural-gas export terminal, you need to get an insurance company to underwrite the plan. Otherwise, no one in his right mind would invest in it. “You can’t even survey a pipeline route without some kind of insurance,” said Ross Hammond, a senior strategist with the Sunrise Project, which began looking at the insurance industry in 2016, while fighting plans for an Australian coal mine. “If you have a crew in the field, they need to be covered, Hammond said. “They break their ankle, they’re going to sue somebody.”

The insurance industry, in other words, has become the perfect embodiment of the axiom, attributed to Lenin, that “the last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.” (In fact, for a price, it would protect you against the risk that the rope might break.) James Maguire, before he joined a renewable-energy investment and advisory firm, spent the past quarter century as an insurance broker, much of that time in Hong Kong, where he led teams arranging reinsurance for vast fossil-fuel power plants. There’s no way they can be built without insurers, he explained: “You want to build a power plant in Vietnam? We’d get a lead insurer in Vietnam, and then arrange the reinsurance behind it. You could have twenty different companies involved.” And if a bunch of those companies, in essence, were to go on strike, refusing to underwrite new fossil-fuel projects? “Things would absolutely slow,” he said. “A project is typically not bankable until it is insurable.” Just as Exxon might be able to survive without bank financing, and might be able to buy back its shares if BlackRock put them on the market, it and a few other giant companies might be able to self-insure their ventures. But “it would absolutely create a more challenging financial process,” Maguire said. Insurance is so ingrained in our economy that it could work the same trick from many different angles—Mark Campanale, who directs the London think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative, says that just limiting the standard indemnity policies that cover a company’s officers and directors, to exclude coverage for those who don’t take climate change seriously, would be a big step. Insurance implies caution—but, in a rapidly deteriorating world, our only chance may be bold action. “There was five feet of hail in Guadalajara ten days ago,” Maguire said, when we spoke in July. “No company had a model that predicted that.”

Alec Connon is a soft-spoken Scotsman in his early thirties, who left home to shear sheep in New Zealand, and then went to Canada, to plant trees, before settling down in Seattle, where he has become a stalwart of the climate movement in the Pacific Northwest. (He is a leader of the local affiliate of 350.org.) He’s fought the construction of natural-gas terminals and has sat on railroad tracks to block oil trains. In 2016, he joined a flotilla of “kayaktivists” who blockaded a giant oil rig that Shell hoped would open the Arctic to oil drilling—a fight that ended in victory for the activists, late that year, when Shell announced it was withdrawing from the region.

Since the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline erupted, at the Standing Rock Reservation, in 2016, Connon has been focussed on the role of the banks that underwrite such projects. Working closely with indigenous-led groups, such as Mazaska Talks (Lakota for “Money Talks”), he helped launch one of the first campaigns to encourage consumers and communities to switch banks. Seattle—with plenty of money and plenty of environmentalists—has been a natural testing ground for such efforts. Two years ago, the groups organized their first civil disobedience, shutting down thirteen Chase branches for the better part of a day, with everything from pray-ins to picnics with live music. Last December, they laid a giant inflatable pipeline through the lobby of Chase’s Northwest headquarters and staged a black-clad human “oil spill”; in May, ten roaming “affinity groups” shut down each of the forty-four Chase branches in the city for a few hours.

“We worried at first that it might be a cognitive leap for people,” Connon said. “That it wouldn’t be as clear to people as going directly at the fossil-fuel companies. But that’s not been my experience on the ground. It’s pretty clear. You can tell the story in one sentence: they’re funding the fossil-fuel industry, which is wrecking the planet.” In fact, he says, it’s easier to take on the whole issue than small parts of it: “We’ve found it much easier to talk about fossil fuels in general, not coal or particular projects.” Could the idea scale? “Every town has a bank,” he pointed out, not to mention an insurance agent and a stockbroker. “If you could protest at forty-four Chase branches, you could do it at all five thousand across the country.”

Carolyn Kormann reports on what happens to the plastic that enters the world’s oceans.

It’s all but impossible for most of us to stop using fossil fuels immediately, especially since, in many places, the fossil-fuel and utility industries have made it difficult and expensive to install solar panels on your roof. But it’s both simple and powerful to switch your bank account: local credit unions and small-town banks are unlikely to be invested in fossil fuels, and Beneficial State Bank and Amalgamated Bank bring fossil-free services to the West and East Coasts, respectively, while Aspiration Bank offers them online. (And they’re all connected to A.T.M.s.)

This all could, in fact, become one of the final great campaigns of the climate movement—a way to focus the concerted power of any person, city, and institution with a bank account, a retirement fund, or an insurance policy on the handful of institutions that could actually change the game. We are indeed in a climate moment—people’s fear is turning into anger, and that anger could turn fast and hard on the financiers. If it did, it wouldn’t end the climate crisis: we still have to pass the laws that would actually cut the emissions, and build out the wind farms and solar panels. Financial institutions can help with that work, but their main usefulness lies in helping to break the power of the fossil-fuel companies.

Most of the N.G.O.s already at work taking on the banks and insurers, which include many indigenous-led and grassroots groups, are small; often they’ve had no choice but to focus their efforts on trying to block particular projects. (The vast Adani coal mine planned for eastern Australia has been a particular test, and at this point most of the world’s major banks and insurers have publicly announced that they’ll steer clear of involvement.) Imagine, instead, this financial fight becoming a fulcrum of the environmental-justice battle.

Even if that happened, victory is far from guaranteed. Persuading giant financial firms to give up even small parts of their business would be close to unprecedented. And inertia is a powerful force—there are whole teams of people in each of these firms who have spent years learning the fossil-fuel industry inside and out, so that they can lend, trade, and underwrite efficiently and profitably. Those people would have to learn about solar power, or electric cars. That would be hard, in the same way that it’s hard for coal miners to retrain to become solar-panel installers.

But we’re all going to have to change—that’s the point. Farmers around the world are leaving their land because the sea is rising; droughts are already creating refugees by the millions. On the spectrum of shifts that the climate crisis will require, bankers and investors and insurers have it easy. A manageably small part of their business needs to disappear, to be replaced by what comes next. No one should actually be a master of the universe. But, for the moment, the financial giants are the masters of our planet. Perhaps we can make them put that power to use. Fast.

Source: http://bit.ly/2MZOHXY

Ikea to Use Mushroom Packaging That Will Decompose in Weeks.

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Ikea to Use Mushroom Packaging That Will Decompose in Weeks.

The furniture retailer is looking at using biodegradable mycelium “fungi packaging” as part of its efforts to reduce waste and increase recycling.

It’s no secret polystyrene is devastating to the environment. But, do you know how exactly that is so? According to a fact-sheet provided by Harvard, polystyrene – which is made from petroleum, a non-sustainable, non-renewable, heavily polluting and fast-disappearing commodity – is not biodegradable, as it takes thousands of years to break down. In addition, it is detrimental to wildlife that ingests it.

Despite this well-known data, humans continue to toss more than 14 million tons of the stuff into landfills every year, according to the French ministry of ecology.

Sadly, until every individual decides to “be the change” and live consciously, styrofoam pollution will continue to be a problem. In fact, it’s already estimated that by 2050, 99% of birds on this planet will have plastic in their guts.

This is unacceptable. Thankfully, the Swedish company Ikea clearly agrees.

Aware of the environmental devastation polystyrene creates, the furniture retailer is looking to use the biodegradable mycelium “fungi packaging” as part of its efforts to reduce waste and increase recycling.

Ecovative-B1.pngImage: Ecovative

Mycelium is the part of a fungus that effectively acts as its roots, reports National Post. It grows in a mass of branched fibers, attaching itself to the soil or whatever surface it is growing on.

The American company Ecovative is responsible for developing the alternative styrofoam. “Mushroom Packaging,” as it’s called, is created by letting the mycelium grow around clean agricultural waste, such as corn stalks or husks. Over a few days, the fungus fibers bind the waste together, forming a solid shape. It is then dried to prevent it from growing any further.

Ecovative-B2.pngImage: Ecovative

The ingenious, eco-friendly packaging is truly a revolutionary invention, and it is one Ikea is intent on utilizing.

Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainability for Ikea in the U.K., relayed to the press that Ikea is looking to introduce the mycelium packaging because a lot of productsthat traditionally come in polystyrene cannot be recycled with ease or at all.

Mushroom Packaging, on the other hand, can be disposed of simply by throwing it in the garden where it will biodegrade within weeks.

The mushroom-based packaging was invented in 2006 and is manufactured in Troy, New York. Already, Ecovative is selling its product to large companies, including Dell – which uses the packaging to cushion large computer servers. In addition, it is working with a number of companies in Britain.

Ecovative-B3.jpgImage: Ecovative

“The great thing about mycelium is you can grow it into a mould that then fits exactly. You can create bespoke packaging,” said Yarrow.

Ecovative-B4.jpgImage: Ecovative

In the past, Ikea launched a vegetarian substitute for meatballs as a more eco-friendly alternative to the Swedish dish served in its cafes. The incentive to do so wasn’t purely to please more consumers but to reduce carbon emissions caused by supporting animal agriculture.

Source: http://bit.ly/3044UAH

HIV reported cured in second patient, a milestone in the global AIDS epidemic.

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HIV reported cured in second patient, a milestone in the global AIDS epidemic.

Scientists have long tried to duplicate the procedure that led to the first long-term remission 12 years ago. With the so-called London patient, they seem to have succeeded.

A colored transmission electron micrograph of the H.I.V. virus, in green, attaching to a white blood cell, in orange.
Credit…NIBSC/Science Source

For just the second time since the global epidemic began, a patient appears to have been cured of infection with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

The news comes nearly 12 years to the day after the first patient known to be cured, a feat that researchers have long tried, and failed, to duplicate. The surprise success now confirms that a cure for H.I.V. infection is possible, if difficult, researchers said.

The investigators are to publish their report on Tuesday in the journal Nature and to present some of the details at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle.

Publicly, the scientists are describing the case as a long-term remission. In interviews, most experts are calling it a cure, with the caveat that it is hard to know how to define the word when there are only two known instances.

Both milestones resulted from bone-marrow transplants given to infected patients. But the transplants were intended to treat cancer in the patients, not H.I.V.

Bone-marrow transplantation is unlikely to be a realistic treatment option in the near future. Powerful drugs are now available to control H.I.V. infection, while the transplants are risky, with harsh side effects that can last for years.

But rearming the body with immune cells similarly modified to resist H.I.V. might well succeed as a practical treatment, experts said.

“This will inspire people that cure is not a dream,” said Dr. Annemarie Wensing, a virologist at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands. “It’s reachable.”

Dr. Wensing is co-leader of IciStem, a consortium of European scientists studying stem cell transplants to treat H.I.V. infection. The consortium is supported by AMFAR, the American AIDS research organization.

The new patient has chosen to remain anonymous, and the scientists referred to him only as the “London patient.”

“I feel a sense of responsibility to help the doctors understand how it happened so they can develop the science,” he told The New York Times in an email.

Learning that he could be cured of both cancer and H.I.V. infection was “surreal” and “overwhelming,” he added. “I never thought that there would be a cure during my lifetime.”

At the same conference in 2007, a German doctor described the first such cure in the “Berlin patient,” later identified as Timothy Ray Brown, 52, who now lives in Palm Springs, Calif.

That news, displayed on a poster at the back of a conference room, initially gained little attention. Once it became clear that Mr. Brown was cured, scientists set out to duplicate his result with other cancer patients infected with H.I.V.

In case after case, the virus came roaring back, often around nine months after the patients stopped taking antiretroviral drugs, or else the patients died of cancer. The failures left scientists wondering whether Mr. Brown’s cure would remain a fluke.

Mr. Brown had had leukemia, and after chemotherapy failed to stop it, needed two bone-marrow transplants.

The transplants were from a donor with a mutation in a protein called CCR5, which rests on the surface of certain immune cells. H.I.V. uses the protein to enter those cells but cannot latch on to the mutated version.

Mr. Brown was given harsh immunosuppressive drugs of a kind that are no longer used, and suffered intense complications for months after the transplant. He was placed in an induced coma at one point and nearly died.

ImageTimothy Ray Brown, the first person to be cured of H.I.V., almost died during the treatment.
Credit…Grant Hindsley for The New York Times

“He was really beaten up by the whole procedure,” said Dr. Steven Deeks, an AIDS expert at the University of California, San Francisco, who has treated Mr. Brown. “And so we’ve always wondered whether all that conditioning, a massive amount of destruction to his immune system, explained why Timothy was cured but no one else.”

The London patient has answered that question: A near-death experience is not required for the procedure to work.

He had Hodgkin’s lymphoma and received a bone-marrow transplant from a donor with the CCR5 mutation in May 2016. He, too, received immunosuppressive drugs, but the treatment was much less intense, in line with current standards for transplant patients.

He quit taking anti-H.I.V. drugs in September 2017, making him the first patient since Mr. Brown known to remain virus-free for more than a year after stopping.

 

“I think this does change the game a little bit,” said Dr. Ravindra Gupta, a virologist at University College London who presented the findings at the Seattle meeting. “Everybody believed after the Berlin patient that you needed to nearly die basically to cure H.I.V., but now maybe you don’t.”

Although the London patient was not as ill as Mr. Brown had been after the transplant, the procedure worked about as well: The transplant destroyed the cancer without harmful side effects. The transplanted immune cells, now resistant to H.I.V., seem to have fully replaced his vulnerable cells.

Most people with the H.I.V.-resistant mutation, called delta 32, are of Northern European descent. IciStem maintains a database of about 22,000 such donors.

So far, its scientists are tracking 38 H.I.V.-infected people who have received bone-marrow transplants, including six from donors without the mutation.

The London patient is 36 on this list. Another one, number 19 on the list and referred to as the “Düsseldorf patient,” has been off anti-H.I.V. drugs for four months. Details of that case will be presented at the Seattle conference later this week.

The consortium’s scientists have repeatedly analyzed the London patient’s blood for signs of the virus. They saw a weak indication of continued infection in one of 24 tests, but say this may be the result of contamination in the sample.

The most sensitive test did not find any circulating virus. Antibodies to H.I.V. were still present in his blood, but their levels declined over time, in a trajectory similar to that seen in Mr. Brown.

None of this guarantees that the London patient is forever out of the woods, but the similarities to Mr. Brown’s recovery offer reason for optimism, Dr. Gupta said.

“In a way, the only person to compare with directly is the Berlin patient,” he said. “That’s kind of the only standard we have at the moment.”

“Yes, I would like to meet the London patient very much. I would say, take your time in— If you want to become public, do it. And it’s been very useful for science and for giving hope to H.I.V. positive people.” “We waited 16 months before stopping in the post-transplant period just to make sure that the cancer was in remission, the patient was well and that the measures we had of the H.I.V. reservoir in the body showed that there was very, very little virus there if any at all. And at that point, we stopped the treatment. And so we’re now 18 months in and we’re confident that this will be a long-term remission, but it’s too early to say as to whether this is a cure or not.”

Most experts who know the details agree that the new case seems like a legitimate cure, but some are uncertain of its relevance for AIDS treatment overall.

“I’m not sure what this tells us,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “It was done with Timothy Ray Brown, and now here’s another case — ok, so now what? Now where do we go with it?”

One possibility, said Dr. Deeks and others, is to develop gene-therapy approaches to knock out CCR5 on immune cells or their predecessor stem cells. Resistant to H.I.V. infection, these modified cells should eventually clear the body of the virus.

(CCR5 is the protein that He Jiankui, a scientist in China, claimed to have modified with gene editing in at least two children, in an attempt to make them resistant to H.I.V. — an experiment that set off international condemnation.)

Several companies are pursuing gene therapies but have not yet been successful. The modification must target the right number of cells, in the right place — only the bone marrow, for example, and not the brain — and tweak only the genes directing production of CCR5.

“There are a number of levels of precision that must be reached,” said Dr. Mike McCune, a senior adviser on global health to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “There are also concerns that you might do something untoward, and if so you might wish to have a kill switch.”

Several teams are working on all of these obstacles, Dr. McCune said. Eventually, they may be able to develop a viral delivery system that, when injected into the body, seeks out all CCR5 receptors and deletes them, or even a donor stem cell that is resistant to H.I.V. but could be given to any patient.

“These are dreams, right? Things on the drawing table,” Dr. McCune said. “These dreams are motivated by cases like this — it helps us to imagine what might be done in the future.”

One important caveat to any such approach is that the patient would still be vulnerable to a form of H.I.V. called X4, which employs a different protein, CXCR4, to enter cells.

“This is only going to work if someone has a virus that really only uses CCR5 for entry — and that’s actually probably about 50 percent of the people who are living with H.I.V., if not less,” said Dr. Timothy J. Henrich, an AIDS specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.

Even if a person harbors only a small number of X4 viruses, they may multiply in the absence of competition from their viral cousins. There is at least one reported case of an individual who got a transplant from a delta 32 donor but later rebounded with the X4 virus. (As a precaution against X4, Mr. Brown is taking a daily pill to prevent H.I.V. infection.)

Mr. Brown says he is hopeful that the London patient’s cure proves as durable as his own. “If something has happened once in medical science, it can happen again,” Mr. Brown said. “I’ve been waiting for company for a long time.”

 

Source: https://nyti.ms/2FoPbTd

NASA makes their entire media library publicly accessible and copyright free.

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NASA makes their entire media library publicly accessible and copyright free.

No matter if you enjoy taking or just watching images of space, NASA has a treat for you. They have made their entire collection of images, sounds, and video available and publicly searchable online. It’s 140,000 photos and other resources available for you to see, or even download and use it any way you like.

You can type in the term you want to search for and browse through the database of stunning images of outer space. Additionally, there are also images of astronauts, rocket launches, events at NASA and other interesting stuff. What’s also interesting is that almost every image comes with the EXIF data, which could be useful for astrophotography enthusiasts.

When you browse through the gallery, you can choose to see images, videos or audio. Another cool feature I noticed is that you can narrow down the results by the year. Of course, I used some of my time today to browse through the gallery, and here are some of the space photos you can find:

What I love about NASA is that they make interesting content for average Internet users. They make us feel closer and more familiar with their work and with the secrets of the outer space. For instance, they recently launched a GIPHY account full of awesome animated gifs. It’s also great that photography is an important part of their missions, and so it was even before “pics or it didn’t happen” became the rule. The vast media library they have now published is available to everyone, free of charge and free of copyright. Therefore, you can take a peek at the fascinating mysteries of space, check out what it’s like inside NASA’s premises, or download the images to make something awesome from them. Either way, you’ll enjoy it.

Source: http://bit.ly/37uH2bX

Alan Turing will appear on Bank of England’s 50-pound note.

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Turing, who was stripped of his job and chemically castrated for having sex with a man, is also the first known homosexual person to feature on a Bank of England note.

“As the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as war hero, Alan Turing’s contributions were far-ranging and path-breaking,” the bank’s governor Mark Carney said.

“Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand.”

Turing’s electro-mechanical machine, a forerunner of modern computers, broke the Enigma code used by Nazi Germany and helped give the Allies an advantage in the naval struggle for control of the Atlantic.

His work at Bletchley Park, Britain’s wartime code-breaking centre, was credited with shortening the war and saving many thousands of lives.

LGBT activists campaigned for banknote honour

Turing was stripped of his job and chemically castrated after being convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for having sex with a man.

Male homosexual sex was illegal in England and Wales until 1967. Turing killed himself in 1954, aged 41.

He was granted a royal pardon by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013.

In 2017, under new legislation known as Turing’s Law, Britain granted posthumous pardons to thousands of gay and bisexual men who were convicted of sexual offences under laws that have since been abolished.

Peter Tatchell, who campaigned for Turing’s pardon and organised LGBT activists to vote for him in an early round of nominations for the banknote selection, said Turing’s posthumous accolade was a breakthrough.

“This is a much deserved accolade for one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century,” Mr Tatchell said.

Note available in 2021

As well as an image of Turing, the new note will feature a table and mathematical formulae from a 1936 paper by Turing on computable numbers, an image of a pilot computer and technical drawings for the machines used to break the Enigma code.

The note will also include a quote by Turing about the rise of machine intelligence:

“This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.”

The 50-pound note is the Bank of England’s highest-value banknote and is rarely used in daily transactions.

The new note is expected to enter circulation by the end of 2021.

In 2015 the film The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay.

Source: https://ab.co/35ki8u2

U.S’s Biggest Christian Charity Channeled $56.1 Million to Hate Groups.

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U.S’s Biggest Christian Charity Channeled $56.1 Million to Hate Groups.

The U.S eighth-largest nonprofit donated $56.1 million to a series of organizations identified as hate groups from 2015 to 2017, according to a report from Sludge.

National Christian Foundation, which identifies itself as the largest Christian grant maker and one of the largest donor-advised funds in the nation, has served as a vehicle for individuals trying to anonymously send money.

Donor-advised funds allow individuals sending the tax deductible contributions to remain anonymous from the IRS and instruct where they want the payments to be sent. For those donating via NCF, this meant sending money to 23 organizations that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled hate groups. Most of the hate organizations that received money from the NCF opposed LGBT rights. The report also found that the NCF donated to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant organizations.

Organizations receiving the most funds from NCF included the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has advocated for sterilizing transgender individuals, and the Family Research Council, which has advocated conversion therapy. Members of the Family Research Council including Tony Perkins, the organization’s president, have sought to link pedophilia and homosexuality.

The NCF’s website says it has “accepted over $12 billion in contributions and made over $10 billion in giver-recommended grants to more than 55,000 charities.”

GettyImages-632843690
Anti-abortion advocates participate in a “die-in” demonstration on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House on January 27, 2017. Many of the organizations that received money from the National Christian Foundation (NCF) opposed issues like gay marriage and abortion. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“NCF is a national network of givers who are working to further the generosity movement in the areas they care about the most. Like other donor-advised fund sponsors, NCF helps thousands of generous people give to the charitable causes they care about, and we help them do so in the most efficient and effective manner possible,” Steve Chapman, a spokesperson for NCF told Newsweek when asked about the Sludge report. “In 2018, we sent $1.7 billion in grants to more than 26,000 charities who are bringing clean water to the thirsty, homes to the homeless, food to the hungry, healing to the hurting, and much more. We are solely focused on helping people give generously and wisely to their favorite charities.”

Aaron Scherb, the legislative director of watchdog organization Common Cause, noted that conservative religious organizations have previously donated large amounts to groups that further their political interests.

“The Religious Right and certain conservative religious groups have significant resources at their disposable. As we detailed in a 2015 report, they often flex their political muscle to further enhance their ability to spend big money in politics to drown out the voices of dissenting views,” he told Newsweek.

“It’s interesting to me that big donors have a mechanism to give money to causes that would be unpopular, like going after gay rights…. It’s not always so much about the total amount as it is about the mechanisms for funneling money into politics,” Lisa Gilbert, the vice president of legislative affairs at consumer advocacy group Public Citizen told Newsweek. “This is like a shell-game funnel of corporate money. So it might be an organization that has an innocent name, that sounds like a good, upstanding, innocent group” but is being backed by wealthy donors, she added.

She emphasized that the dollar amounts weren’t necessarily the most important topic illuminated by the Sludge story. Instead she focused on the source of money influencing public and political messaging.

“It’s not always about the aggregate amount. It’s not always about that for influence peddling.”

Source: http://bit.ly/2MN8A4y

Amazon removes books promoting autism cures and vaccine misinformation.

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Amazon is removing from its online marketplace “autism cure” books that unscientifically claim children can be cured of autism with pseudoscientific methods such as ingesting and bathing in a potentially toxic form of bleach and taking medication meant to treat arsenic and lead poisoning.

Amazon confirmed Tuesday that the books “Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism” and “Fight Autism and Win” are no longer available, but declined to answer specific questions about why it had removed them or whether they were part of a larger cleanup effort, citing a policy of not commenting on individual accounts.

The move by Amazon comes on the heels of a report in Wired published Monday that criticized the retail giant for offering medically dubious books and dangerous methods for reversing autism spectrum disorder. For years, news organizations have pointed out Amazon’s practice of hosting books that promote vaccine and other health-related misinformation, but the pressure has intensified in recent weeks.

Online platforms have been reacting to increased scrutiny from lawmakers and public health advocates over the health misinformation hosted on their websites. Last week, Facebook announced it would “downrank” vaccine misinformation shared on its platform and reject advertising that spread “vaccine hoaxes.” Pinterest has opted to block all vaccine-related search results, and YouTube disabled advertising on anti-vaccination videos last month. In February, Amazon pulled anti-vaccination documentaries from its Prime Video service.

Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in young children and for which there is no cure. Children with autism spectrum disorder display a broad range of characteristics, from difficulty interacting with peers or forming relationships to complete inability to function in school or work environments.

As of Monday, “Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism” sold for $28 and had 631 customer reviews and an average rating of 3.5 stars. The book extolled the healing power of chlorine dioxide, a form of bleach that adherents call the “Miracle Mineral Solution.” The book’s author Kerri Rivera, who lives in Mexico, claims 191 children have been cured of autism with a treatment of the chemical that the Food and Drug Administration warned can cause “severe nausea, vomiting and life-threatening low blood pressure from dehydration.”

The other removed title, “Fight Autism and Win” advises parents on chelation — an unproven treatment for autism that involves medicating a child with an antidote for mercury poisoning. The cure springs from the debunked theory that autism is caused by mercury exposure in childhood vaccines. Chelation therapy can cause serious side effects, including potentially deadly kidney damage, according to the Mayo Clinic. At the time of its removal, “Fight Autism and Win” sold for $25 and had a 4.8 star rating and 54 customer reviews.

The books’ removal was first shared Tuesday by anti-vaccine activist Larry Cook in a newsletter to followers. Cook’s Facebook advertisements — targeting pregnant women in states with measles outbreaks — were recently banned by as part of the platform’s crackdown on misinformation.

Cook attached an image that he says was sent by Amazon, explaining why the company had removed the title from his storefront.

“During our review process, we found that the subject matter of your book is in violation of our content guidelines,” the screenshot posted by Cook stated. “As a result we cannot offer this book for sale.”

Cook also profits from his Amazon storefront from which he promotes anti-vaccination content and earns commission from books bought on his recommendation.

“This title by Kerri Rivera has been on Amazon for SIX YEARS, and TODAY Amazon pulled it,” Cook continued in his newsletter. “Friends, seriously, stock up on books and DVDs right now, while you can!”

Source: https://nbcnews.to/2F2k6Vu