–As world leaders, envoys, executives and hedge funds gather for New York Climate Week, historical context on climate inaction is important
–I ask could an industrial dispute accidently or on purpose ramp natural gas prices higher? How to resist further temptation
Opinion by Mathew Carr
Sept. 20, 2023 — About two decades ago, I was beavering away at my desk in the barn-like open-plan floor of the newsroom at Bloomberg LP, which was then located on London’s Finsbury Square.
The square has a small park where you can eat lunch, as well as a green where people rarely play a match of lawn bowls. There’s lots of work to do in a Bloomberg newsroom.
My team leader at the time, Tim Coulter, sidled over to my desk and told me the story that we’d filed on the future of the global liquefied natural gas (LNG) market had excited the higher ups.
We’d written the article after I traveled over the Thames in a black taxi to the headquarters of Royal Dutch Shell and interviewed executives about the fuel in Europe and beyond.
The future of gas was rosy at the time because the world was meant to be shifting away from coal, which supposedly polluted even more, and gas markets were beginning to develop in the likeness of crude oil. I probably didn’t focus enough on the dangers of fossil fuels, something I now regret.
I figured the excitement felt by my boss’s bosses stemmed from the insight we had provided to Bloomberg’s customers, the richest tiny fraction of the world’s 1%. “Follow the money” was our mantra, plus “try to become the world’s most influential media company.”
Now, in weary hindsight almost 20 years later, I’m not so sure I understood the excitement at the time.
By following the money and tracking the geopolitical narrative during the past two decades, I now believe the biggest value that my reporting (and the work of others) provided was an additional strategy for the United States to assert and extend its economic, cultural and political dominance of the world.
While faking (?) enthusiasm for various UN climate pacts and global democracy, the US went ahead and embarked on the biggest and quickest expansion of crude oil and natural gas production in world history.
That’s been its focus. It does have a point when arguing it was trying to boost supply to counter energy markets being rigged by OPEC+, but why is America still mostly failing to make polluters pay?
Fossil Fuel Production Since 2015 – the Last Gasp?
Fossil fuels are not regulated enough and everyone from the US to OPEC+ need to start agreeing on that.
The United States and its companies undertook similar strategies in several of the most important industries the past three decades, partly because of bad regulation.
It didn’t regulate socal media properly while it commodified personal information around the world and then dominated that space. Now, the world is a victim of surveillance-capitalism, with eroded privacy and human rights, as other countries followed America’s lead.
It arguably was a key nation that exploited poor countries for valuable commodities, paying much lower prices than it should. Better regulation of markets would have helped, without hurting competition too much.
It used its dominant global currency to stuff the coffers of its inadequately regulated global banks and keep the rest of the world in place. Next, artificial intelligence will be deployed, not for the people, but for the billionaires, if that’s allowed because of inadequate regulation.
To be sure, Bloomberg energy and climate editors got weird / prone to censorship mainly when I wanted to write a story about future policy and regulation. Most of my stories went out uncensored.
As for Coulter, one of the best editors I ever had in my 30-year career as a journalist, he’s now managing editor of digital news at Bloomberg, covering Europe, the Middle East and Africa. That’s one of the most powerful positions in media because it helps set the news agenda not just for markets, but also for politics and even for science. I’m not saying here that Coulter, or anyone, has done anything unlawful (beyond my unfair dismissal litigation, see below, which he wasn’t involved in as far as I know).
News about regulation
The delay of effective regulation peddled by Bloomberg and others is at the heart of American soft power, which few in the mainstream media speak about.
Bloomberg doesn’t systemise the predatory delay of climate action by itself (it argues it doesn’t do that at all — while ignoring climate science in many of its future-looking oil stories).
Intelligence and misinformation moves almost seamlessly between multiple news outlets, think tanks such as Stratfor (according to documents uncovered by Wikileaks), global corporations including oil companies and U.S. government, military and intelligence officials.
Let’s look at how better behavior from global corporations, trade unions and governments could limit further predatory delay in this specific instance:
A ‘live’ instance in theory? I’m being slightly mischievous here
Stratfor — which says it’s the “world’s leading geopolitical intelligence platform” — on Sept. 18 published a blog on its website saying the world could face natural gas-price spikes over the next few months because of industrial strikes at Australian facilities of Chevron that account for about 6% of global LNG supply.
This situation could cost the world dearly. Examining circumstantial evidence about the potential increase in global gas revenues for gas companies if gas prices jump because of the Chevron strikes, the timing of industrial-relations fight could seem to be some sort of ploy to rip consumers off around the world. A hit to Chevron could in theory be a boon for other natural gas producers.
On Sept. 7, the trade union involved said Chevron bargaining was “the most inept of any employer the union has dealt with in the past 5 years.” There are further allegations Chevron has not paid its workers their pensions in the proper way.
Mild weather and full storage levels lower the chance that a gas-price surge will appear in a “natural way” this coming Northern Hemisphere winter.
Stratfor’s blog said there could be a total stoppage for two weeks, without specifying the source of the information.
Bloomberg has also reported the risk posed by the striking workers.
It includes this non-attribted statement:
“While the impact of strikes may be limited initially, as demand is currently weaker in Europe and Asia, any prolonged disruption will threaten supplies for the peak northern hemisphere winter season and is likely [sic] push up prices.”
CarrZee: Companies, trade unions and media organisations need to understand that what they do can impact everyone’s cost of living, given the interconnected nature of the global economy.
Could this be another form of 21st century market manipulation?
Chevron says no.
“No agreement has been reached with the unions following further conciliation sessions held this week with the Fair Work Commission,” it said Wednesday by email, responding to my questions.
“Chevron Australia engaged in meaningful negotiations in an effort to finalise Enterprise Agreements with market competitive remuneration and conditions, however, the unions continue to ask for terms significantly above the market. The ongoing lack of agreement reinforces our view that there is no reasonable prospect of agreement between the parties.”
Chevron didn’t immediately respond to the allegations about lowball pension payments.
The Australian government should intervene to help find a resolution to protect people around the world from further unnecessary cost-of-living impacts.
The global power of corporations, media and social media such as X means care with public utterances is more important than ever. Market manipulation could easily become more widespread while global companies and the billionaire-owned mainstream media state they believe in free competition.
Indeed, the underlined sentence above might spook gas markets unnecessarily even though it’s merely saying the lack of agreement means there’s less chance of agreement. I include it for completeness and to illustrate the point about careful public utterances in situations that might move global prices.
The fossil-fuel markets are already rigged too much.
Any resulting higher gas prices that balloons profits will tempt investors to allocate even more money to the dying fossil fuel industry, prolonging the climate crisis. So far, gas prices have not moved much on the Chevron dispute.
Beyond this theoretical example, here are just some of America’s apparent methods of predatory delay of climate action, especially action that would be directed toward climate justice (I’m not saying they are the only ones at it):
While global clean-energy investment jumped to $1.7 trillion a year from $500 billion in the past seven years, nearly all that increase is in wealthy countries plus China, according to the International Energy Agency.
That means climate justice remains painfully out of reach and the targets in the Paris climate agreement will only be met if emerging nations follow a much cleaner path than the wealthy countries have trodden. (I should say for balance that America does often take the lead in the wake of climate events that cause death, based on anecdotal observation.)
Most importantly, Europe incentivised climate action at home by making polluters of heat-trapping gas pay for those emissions. Brazil, and many other countries, are now following this template.
The EU payments stemming from its carbon market are going to boost government coffers, increasing society’s ability to provide extra support to the vulnerable.
Europe did this in 2005. Only last year, 17 years later, did the US really respond, and not by punishing the bad corporate behavior. That’s not allowed, apparently.
It rewarded clean behavior by installing possibly the biggest ever company welfare program in world history — the Inflation Reduction Act. Between 2005 and 2022 American companies made hundreds of billions of dollars in fossil-fuel revenue, instead of matching Europe’s carbon pricing effort and handing more of that money to taxpayers. (NOTE: companies do pay some tax in the US, I admit)
America’s strategy is working. Europe’s is suffering somewhat, alongside emerging nations.
One of the EU’s biggest utilities RWE has decided to put 16 billion euros ($17 billion) of clean-energy investment into the US (instead of Europe and elsewhere), it said in June, citing the IRA. (see PDF below)
Norway’s former Prime Minister Erna Solberg says the IRA is bad policy for the world:
“Instead of pricing the externality [putting a price on carbon], it means [countries] need to use money to compete against each other, to have this industrial change — money that we should have needed for education, for healthcare, for …other things. I think that it’s a great step that they [the US] are moving forward … on climate, but the industrial part of this is to make competition more difficult for other countries. It will maybe end up with a race on subsidies that only the rich countries can afford.”
On global climate action:
“Mostly it’s the US that has not delivered what it promised,” she said at the Economist Impact conference.
So, America pretended to repair the climate crisis, but it seems to have made it worse by failing to have the political bravery to make polluters pay amid a rigged oil market. It also appears to be deliberately complicating the carbon markets.
“Hope-and-change” Obama pretended to fight racism, warmongering and inequality, but seems to have made them more acute. Trump pretended to be for common people, yet he ended up as corporate America’s most enriching appointee for the wealthy. The fake Democrat Joe Manchin made the bad-but-lucrative IRA climate policy necessary.
“Biden has retained the tariffs on China imposed by Trump and added lavish subsidies designed to reindustrialise America and give the US the lead in the technologies of the future,” Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman, wrote on Sept. 19.
And meanwhile conflicted North American officials and their butlers, still stack the global multilateral organisations.
As I was told late last year by a credible official at global climate negotiations in Egypt, those people are not yet inclined to relinquish control.
Further, America’s military-industrial-intelligence complex is probably covering up the existence of new and advanced clean-energy technology developed from UFO crash sites, according to its own military and government whistleblowers. Yes, these are credible allegations.
And this is happening as the global climate negotiations are trying to reset market rules in favour of climate action.
Because of the coverups and misleading “climate-negotiation stances,” that’s an impossible task.
While America has led on some of the climate-risk data transparency initiatives, no one can set rational policy while deliberately being kept in the dark about technology and while dealing with multiple layers of fakery, both political and economic. The lawmakers don’t know what rational is. There will be further delay of climate action if this obfuscation persists.
America now needs to move first on disclosing all it knows about available technologies and it needs to deploy financial/energy market reform because it’s done the most damage. The 30 year climate negotiation needs to end now.
As for me (for full disclosure), I was fired by Bloomberg News three years ago. They cited my ‘lack of capability.’ I sued them and the UK judiciary is still not dealing with my case properly.
I contended I made more than 12 protected disclosures about specific Bloomberg behavior that was bad for the climate, including pointing out that we needed to improve news coverage of carbon pricing and fossil-fuel regulation in specific ways.
Instead of collaborating with me, the executives at the media company retaliated against me in at least 25 ways, some immediately after my disclosures took place. (That approximate retaliation figure includes the final sacking).
The UK judiciary apparently sided with US ‘soft power’, a miscarriage of justice that seems far from soft to me and my family.
World Temperature Warms in 2023
As you listen to fine words uttered by the US and other wealthy-nation executives and officials today (Wednesday) through Friday at New York Climate Week about the need for global sustainable development, remember that saving the climate is far from just about making money from the last days of fossil fuels.
Better fossil fuel regulation is needed now, as it was when I wrote about the future of the natural gas industry 20 years ago.
(more to come)