Lessons from Maui as global warming finds a new way to wreak havoc

Source: Stuart_Shaw / iStock via Getty Images

Hawaii is no stranger to natural disasters. Its history is fraught with hurricanes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions, even some wildfires. But this week’s wildfire fueled by winds from a passing hurricane was unique. The resulting destruction of historic Lahaina on Maui marks another sad notch on the belt of new ways that global warming has found to attack humanity.

Because of these frequent disasters, Hawaii is also adept at rebuilding. Some of the greatest family and business fortunes on the islands over the past few centuries have come from investment, mostly land, in the wake of natural disasters. While tourists are fleeing Maui this week, there is no doubt they will be back. It’s that special.

Sadly, it was changing business conditions that also helped fan the flames. The historic pineapple plantations that made Hawaii an agricultural center decades ago have been closed in recent years as it became cheaper to plant elsewhere, resulting in thousands of acres of empty grasslands, susceptible to fire.

For those looking for investment lessons from this deadly tragedy, it’s that the pace of natural disasters is picking up dramatically. More than a dozen in the U.S. alone so far this year that will cost more than $1 billion. Last year there were 18. Soaring insurance premiums and the continued loss of coverage in high-risk areas are the inevitable result. How this translates to financial sector risk — and pending risk disclosure regulations — are the key questions heading into the autumn.

For our part, we’ll be donating to the humanitarian funds on Maui, and hopefully visiting there again soon to lend support where we can. Hawaii may be down, but it’s not out.

Zeus: Political plan emerges that could end the climate culture debate – for good

. . . . Anti-ESG disruption by some Republicans has largely failed to persuade investors and business leaders from considering climate change in their strategies, as they prefer to believe the impact of global warming they can see right before their eyes, writes David Callaway. But a new strategy by those planning for a right-wing win in the presidential election next year, dubbed Project 2025, would essentially eliminate the progress the Biden Administration has made on the environment to date. Plans to roll back all renewable energy incentives and double-down on drilling, while not unexpected, would come at a time when it might actually be too late to wait for another election in four years. This election, for all its other importance, is make or break for efforts to fight climate change. . . .

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Thursday’s subscriber insights

Rivian, other EV shares caught up in market correction

. . . . When Callaway Climate Insights went to press (uh, send) earlier this week, Rivian $RIVN had just posted better than expected earnings and improved production numbers of its popular new trucks, with shares initially higher. But what a difference a couple of days make.

Shares of Rivian and most of the other EV makers fell in the last few days, dragged down by a pessimism that was more just a risk-off theme about the entire market rather than their individual survival stories. While challenged, Rivian appears to have the best chances of its class of 2020, which includes Nikola $NKLA , Fisker $FSR , Lucid $LCID , and Canoo $GOEV . It’s on pace to make 52,000 vehicles this year, which while not Tesla $TSLA (2 million) is certainly showing signs of scale, as well as demand. That shares had climbed more than 35% year to date before this week’s earnings probably put it in the category as a good candidate for profit-taking in this week’s carnage.

We aren’t convinced it’s out of the woods yet, but it likely has the best chance of being around to report second quarter earnings next year. . . .

Marvel Fusion deal with Colorado State pushes laser research

. . . . It was apparently just coincidence that the day after Lawrence Livermore Labs in California announced a second breakthrough in nuclear fusion research this week that German fusion company Marvel Fusion announced a $150 million joint venture with Colorado State University to expand short-pulse laser technology research.

At least, that’s according to Moritz von der Linden, who said Marvel knows the California group and supports their success. For Marvel’s part, von der Linden said the CSU deal to build a new laser lab will allow the company to expand its research and ultimately, with the help of Germany’s Siemens Energy, to gain a major customer and “built the first power plant of this type in the next decade.”

CSU said Marvel is one of the top three leading laser fusion companies in the world and that it has worked with them for years leading to this expanded partnership.

Meanwhile, one astute Callaway Climate Insights reader chimed in on our item earlier this week about the search for public fusion plays that the noise about fusion — which is nowhere near proven as a scalable, efficient energy source – distracts investors from the gains in mainstream nuclear fission (the splitting of atoms as opposed to the smashing together) companies.

The reader said NuScale Power $SMR , which is an early startup in the equally nascent, small module nuclear reactor business, is a bargain after it lost more than half its value in the last year. The shares were up on Thursday, proving that the nuclear theme continues to attract interest, even with this summer’s Oppenheimer movie out there. . . .

Who wants renewables? Raise one hand. Then the other

. . . . A tale of two Americas: On the one hand, there’s the 48% of Americans who say they are not even moderately concerned about the environment. That’s according to research from Numerator, which Mark Hulbert wrote about in a column headlined Has anti-ESG backlash made corporate America less green? And on the other hand, or maybe the same hand, there’s also the two-thirds of American adults who say they want the government to encourage production of solar and wind power, according to the Pew Research Center.

So, if the research is to be believed (and it is good research), half of Americans aren’t worried about environmental issues, but a majority still think the government should get behind renewables. Canary Media notes political divides somewhat align with peoples’ opinions on the environment and green energy: “Nine in 10 Democratic-leaning folks support the U.S. taking steps to become carbon neutral by 2050, but only 44% of Republican-leaning folks support this goal.” The Pew data also show an age gap, with younger Americans more likely to support phasing out fossil fuels.

It’s worth noting that in the Pew Research data, 66% of U.S. adults say the feds should encourage production of wind and solar power, while at the other end of the spectrum, 39% think the government should discourage coal mining. In the middle, there’s a pretty wide cushion of people who think the government should neither encourage nor discourage production of wind and solar power, the use of electric vehicles, production of nuclear power, oil and gas drilling, or coal mining. Maybe the respondents are hedging their bets. Like the Big Oil companies are. . . .

Editor’s picks: Record temps drive food prices higher

High temps driving global food prices higher

Record high temperatures are helping drive food prices higher around the world, says the World Economic Forum. A new report from the WEF calls on the financial sector to direct more resources into helping the food and agriculture sector to become more sustainable. “Over recent years food prices have been inflated by the pandemic and war in Ukraine — this summer’s extreme temperatures are exacerbating the problem. Soybeans, olive oil and rice are just three of the products being affected by shortages and price hikes,” the report says. The group says that while it’s normal for food prices to fluctuate alongside the seasons, the exceptionally hot and dry summer being experienced from Europe, to the US, to Asia and beyond has caused poor harvests and many crops to fail. Some crops are more susceptible to climate change than others.

Swiss Re: Thunderstorms top catastrophe losses

Swiss Re Institute says in new research that severe thunderstorms account for up to 70% of all insured natural catastrophe losses in the first half of 2023. The Zurich-based organization said in a statement that global insured losses from natural catastrophes are estimated at $50 billion, the second highest since 2011. In the U.S., thunderstorms were the main driver of global insured losses from natural catastrophes, well above 10-year average. Swiss Re Institute also said February’s earthquake in Turkey and Syria was the single costliest disaster both in terms of economic and insured losses. It said the quake resulted in insured losses estimated at $5.3 billion, whereas the preliminary economic losses are at $34 billion, estimates the World Bank.

Explain that: Great. Now we have a rock made of plastic

. . . . It’s sometimes referred to as “a new type of rock,” but in truth plastiglomerate is really a new incarnation of plastic. Rocks, as scientists note in Nature.com, “are formed naturally, whereas plastiglomerate is composed of anthropogenic products (plastic) shaped by anthropogenic processes or actions (burning).” Plastiglomerate was first documented in 2014 and continues to proliferate across the surface of the planet. It was described as a type of rock cobbled together from plastic, volcanic rock, beach sand, seashells, and corals that had begun forming along the shores in Hawaii. Geologist Patricia Corcoran of the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, and Charles Moore, captain of the oceanographic research vessel Alguita, found the “rocks” on a beach on the Big Island of Hawaii. In a paper in the Geological Society of America, they wrote, “Our results indicate that this anthropogenically influenced material has great potential to form a marker horizon of human pollution, signaling the occurrence of the informal Anthropocene epoch.” Plastiglomerates not only are long-lasting signs of human impact, they also signal the urgency of dealing with the global plastic pollution problem, especially in our oceans. . . .

Words to live by . . . .

“While the path forward to a cleaner and more sustainable energy future for planet Earth will not be easy, and mistakes will certainly be made, the choice we face is pretty clear. Either we maintain the status quo and continue to see more heat waves, drought, floods and extreme weather disturbances or we move away from fossil fuels and do our best to make sure that the planet we leave our kids and future generations is healthy and habitable.” — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Callaway Climate Insights