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A landmark year for the pandemic—and for climate change

December 15, 2021, 5:00 PM UTC

Hello from London.

It’s the last Green, Inc edition of the year, and our chance to look backwards at another year for the history books—and what comes next.

It’s been a wild year. Not just because it’s year two of a global pandemic that has included multi-month lockdowns, vaccine roll outs (or in many countries, a non-roll out), and now, the roll out of boosters. But because, as I worried out loud in February 2020, while the pandemic was gaining force, it wasn’t clear whether the global health crisis would suck all the momentum out of action on climate change, as people focused on a threat to their lives that often seems more immediate.

That hasn’t turned out to be the case—even if climate action hasn’t always been as bold and urgent as readers of this newsletter know it surely must be. There has been a growing awareness, at least inside some circles, of the impact that climate change and biodiversity loss had on the creation of a global pandemic. There has been a recurring warning that, in so many ways, both the risks of the pandemic—the feedback loops, the global inequality, the politics—and its most inspiring moments of co-operation—in particular in science and healthcare—have eerily mimicked the challenges and failures of climate action. There has also been a sense that our systems were already sitting perilously close to snapping—take the global supply chain, for example—even going into the pandemic.

Old habits have proved difficult to fix, however, and the situation is still troubling. Even with vast sums of money now shifting in the direction of decarbonization (albeit chaotically, see the Businessweek piece I’ve linked to below), we’re living in the midst of an unbalancing. Seasons are becoming unpredictable, food security is at risk, and around the globe, whether you’re rich or poor, it is no longer possible to insulate yourself from the magnificent and terrifying spasms of a planet out of whack. We’re also producing feedback loops that are difficult to see the consequences of—environmental ones, but also to our everyday lives. The most notable feature of the energy crisis we’re now in, I would argue, is not the unreliability of our energy systems themselves—but the fact that natural disasters and unpredictable weather have disrupted them in ways we either didn’t know how to anticipate, or couldn’t bring ourselves to.

It can be tempting to not face this head on, or to pretend things are better than they are. It can also be tempting, comforting in its own way, to pretend nothing at all can be done—that the game is up. It is uncomfortable, undeniably, to exist in an uneasy and unresolved and terrifying middle. But it’s a place that I hope more people are coming to find themselves in—a place where talking about climate change is not a taboo, or a death sentence, but something we can grapple with collectively, resolving to push forward, whatever it takes.

Until next year.

Katherine Dunn
katherine.dunn@fortune.com
@katherine_dunn

CARBON COPY

ESG Mirage 

This blockbuster read from Bloomberg Businessweek dives into some of the ESG themes that we often talk about in this newsletter—including the prevailing confusion about what ESG actually measures, and how those ratings compare between agencies and industries (not well). 

Watering down 

During COP26, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and parts of London were papered in climate-specific advertising. One of those campaigns, which urged action from political leaders, say their ads—which featured photos of real people affected by climate change—were rejected from train stations and airports, who argued the ads were too distressing. They were ultimately watered down. Channel 4

Russia blocks UN

The UN's Security Council was set to declare climate change a threat to peace. Alas, that move has been vetoed by Russia. That's not in itself surprising. Russia generally blocks any expansion of the Security Council's powers, but the declaration—had it happened—would have been another step towards countries acknowledging the security risks that come with rising temperatures. Washington Post 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

So you’ve captured carbon. Now what? by Eamon Barrett

Where gas prices are headed in 2022, according to leading forecast models by Lance Lambert

Why modern boards need to invest in ESG for companies to thrive by Dan Reilly

Startup and VW ink deal to turn Europe’s Rhine valley into global source of EV battery metal by Christiaan Hetzner

China’s reluctance to phase out coal challenges ‘fair share’ climate commitments by Eamon Barrett

Companies won’t get to net zero without taking a hard look at their supply chains by Aman Kidwai

Mission methane: More food companies turn to feed additives to reduce carbon footprint by Lisa Held

CLOSING NUMBER

2 miles 

The depth of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, a critical force for cooling the earth. The current encircles Antarctica, drawing deep water from the oceans and taking on CO2 and heat—a phenomenon called upswelling. Now, this currrent and the Southern Ocean are being disrupted by climate change, with knock-on impacts for the rest of the climate. “Antarctica is melting from the bottom,” one oceanographer says. 

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