TWH – The United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow and the process of finding common ground to tackle the climate ended 24 hours later than expected and to the disappointment of many . The conference secured many commitments but only resulted in a partial agreement, many countries, but not all, pledged to stop releasing greenhouse gases from coal by the 2040s.
Unfortunately, several key players in the coal industry have not made their pledge – Australia, China, India and the United States have not all signed on. Even today, the Biden administration is organizing what is described as a historic sale of oil and gas leases. Nonetheless, with the rise in gas prices, several countries have coordinated the exploitation of their strategic oil reserves, an act which should do little to change gas prices but which will continue to underline the global dependence on fuels. fossils.
Even before the Glasgow World Summit, many concerned were exploring strategies to deal with the climate crisis. This article focuses on two of them. One strategy involves investment divesting from investment in fossil fuels. The other concerns the controversial technique of genetically modifying food crops to cope with drought.
While many pagans might be in favor of moving away from fossil fuels, there may be less enthusiasm for embracing the genetic modifications of food crops.
Public sector pension funds as a tool
In August, the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies (HBCLS) released a report titled âThe Power in a Pension: Work, Private Equity, and the Climate Crisis. A report on private equity fossil fuel assets, the role of retirement capital in the workforce and the impacts on marginalized communities and the environment.
The report questions the fiscal prudence of investing in fossil fuels. When a union invests the pension funds of its members, it bears a heavy fiduciary burden. Unionized workers pay part of their wages into a pension fund, and then the union invests those funds to grow over time and outpace inflation.
The HBCLS reported that public sector unions have 20 million members. These members include âteachers, public finance professionals, landscapers, firefighters and othersâ. Public sector pension funds amount to approximately $ 4 trillion.
Unions invest these funds in publicly traded stocks and bonds, as well as in private equity funds. Private equity funds differ from publicly traded funds. They face fewer regulations than publicly traded funds, and fewer regulations often make them less transparent.
HBCLS argues that private equity firms rely heavily on debt financing. They are also engaging in aggressive cost cutting measures. Under pressure, publicly traded companies withdrew funds from their fossil fuel investments. Protected by their lack of transparency, private equity firms are under much less pressure.
For example, HBCLS reported that Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, claims that “environmental, social and governance principles are integral to Blackstone’s business strategy.” Yet in 2017, Blackstone invested $ 1.6 billion in the Rover natural gas pipeline, a 1,126.5 km (700 mile) pipeline, with all the pipeline problems.
Are fossil fuels a bad investment?
HBCLS said businesses and political entities have started phasing out fossil fuels. At the same time, renewable energies have become cheaper. The UK has required all cars sold after 2030 to be hybrids. California has banned the sale of gasoline-powered cars only after 2035. In January 2021, General Motors announced that it would phase out internal combustion engines by 2035.
Paul Finch of the British Columbia General Employees’ Union conducted a risk analysis for fossil fuel investments. As a result of this analysis, Finch withdrew $ 20 million from fossil fuel stocks and bonds in 2014. Since that divestment, his union has earned 12.5% ââper year on its investments.
Members of public sector unions face another problem. In the United States, state governments must pay to clean up environmental disasters. That would mean less money for raises and health care for public sector workers.
Mitch Vogel of the Illinois State University Retirement System (ILSURS) spoke about a private equity firm. ILSURS had invested in this business. She operated a former Goodyear rubber factory near the Illinois River. LSURS, however, took notice of the private equity firm’s plans for these great returns. These plans included sacking unionized workers at the plant and dumping toxic waste into the Illinois River.
Vogel said: “We have decided not to invest in non-renewable energy investments that are hurting the whole of society.” ILSURS withdrew its funds.
In the HBCLS report, he cites that Deloitte, a global provider of financial advice and risk management and related services, is forecasting a continued decline of up to 4-7% based on reports from the independent research firm. and energy analysis Rystad Energy.
British Petroleum in its âEnergy Outlook 2020â predicted that fossil fuel use would continue to decline over the next 30 years, with cheaper renewables replacing fossil fuels.
Both demand and prices for oil fell dramatically at the height of the pandemic in 2020. And while demand and prices were expected to recover somewhat, 2019 was likely the peak of both.
According to the HBCLS report, âIn February 2021, Royal Dutch Shell joined with other oil majors in asserting that the world reached its peak oil production in 2019 and that in the future it expects to annual decreases “.
Investing in fossil fuels threatens Indigenous peoples
HBCLS discussed a private equity firm, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR). It had invested $ 6.6 billion in the construction of the Coastal Gas Link (CGL) pipeline. The pipeline would cross the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia, Canada.
The Wet’suwet’en Nation resisted this violation of their sovereignty. For at least a year, they delayed construction of the pipeline. This delay costs KKR money. The HBCLS noted that this resistance makes the investment a less prudent investment for union pension funds.
Sleydo ‘(Molly Wickham), spokesperson for the Gidimt’en checkpoint in Wet’suwet’en territory, explained that her nation had never consented to the construction of CGL. It would pass through Wedzin Kwah, the source of the Wet’suwet’en Nation watershed.
Sleydo ‘said the CGL pipeline threatens the spawning of Pacific coho salmon. She said, âIf this pipeline passes, it will forever destroy our ability to drink our river water. It will disrupt our salmon populationsâ¦ Our children and grandchildren may never be able to taste the salmon that is an integral part of who we are as a nation.
Adaptability and genetic alteration of Atacama plants
Climate change models predict an increase in aridity in some parts of the world. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) published a related article, âGenomic Ecological Plant at the Limits of Life in the Atacama Desertâ.
The article described an observational study of the genetics of vegetation in one of the most arid places on the planet. Researchers identified specific genes that allowed plants to adapt to extremely arid conditions.
For example, scientists could use genome editing technology to make crops more drought tolerant.
Chile’s Atacama Desert is the driest desert on the planet outside of the polar ice caps. About 50% of all precipitation occurs within five days in January and February. Besides the aridity, the Atacama also has large temperature variations within a day. The Atacama plants had to adapt to an extremely dry and hostile climate.
One of the authors of the PNAS journal article, biologist Gloria Coruzzi told Sciencealert.com: âIn an era of accelerated climate change, discovering the genetic basis for improving agricultural production and resilience in the world is critical. dry and nutrient poor conditions.
Scientists find the differences by comparing two groups. They were looking for the genes that allowed Atacama plants to adapt to the harsh environment. The PNAS article reports that the researchers sequenced the genes of 32 Atacama plants. These genes formed a group, the âdryâ group. For the other group, they needed genes from closely related plants that lived in more humid environments. Scientists have already sequenced the genes of many plants. The genes of plants that live in humid environments have formed the âwetâ group. Genetic differences between the two groups could identify adaptive genes.
Scientists have found 265 genetic differences. Not all of these differences would confer an evolutionary advantage on life in the wilderness. Some differences would. Fortunately, a few of these adaptive genes were identical to the genes of a much studied plant species, Arabidopsis. For this species, scientists have learned the genetic function of several of its genes. Some of these genes increase survival in intense sunlight and heat stress. Others were “critical for the absorption of water and nutrients”.
This finding suggests a technical, albeit somewhat controversial, way to increase the drought resistance of food crops. Chilean biologist Rodrigo GutiÃ©rrez told ScienceAlert that âas some Atacama plants are closely related to staple crops, including grains, legumes and potatoes, the candidate genes we have identified represent a gold mine genetics to develop more resistant crops, a necessity given the increased desertification of our planet. “
Not everyone is likely to be comfortable with the idea of ââgenetically modifying food crops, and some might even be horrified. Delays or inability to tackle climate change at a number of levels are likely to limit the choices available to mitigate the impact. Maintaining a food supply necessary to support human and animal populations may rely on the ability to genetically modify plants to meet these demands as the climate continues to warm and change.
The HBCLS report is forum based. This forum is now available as a YouTube video.
Editorial note: Manny Tejeda-Moreno contributed to this article.