The temperature in parts of the Antarctic was seventy degrees Fahrenheit above normal in mid-March. Pakistan and India saw their hottest March and April in more than half a century, and the temperature in areas of the subcontinent is above a hundred and twenty degrees this week. Temperatures in Chicago last week topped those in Death Valley. But, on Tuesday, three nonprofit environmental groups jointly released a report containing a different set of numbers that appear to be nearly as scary. They indicate that the world’s biggest companies—and, indeed, any company or individual with cash in the bank—have been inadvertently fuelling the climate crisis. Such cash, left in banks and other financial institutions that lend to the fossil-fuel industry, builds pipelines and funds oil exploration and, in the process, produces truly immense amounts of carbon. The report raises deep questions about the sanity of our financial system, but it also suggests a potential realignment of corporate players that could move decisively to change the balance of power which has so far thwarted rapid climate action.
To grasp the implications of the new numbers, consider Google’s parent company, Alphabet. It has worked hard to rein in the emissions from its products. Last year, for example, Google Sustainability published an account of the work it put into having casing suppliers convert from using virgin to recycled aluminum for Google’s new Pixel 5 phone, an immense effort involving everyone from the metallurgy team—which, the company said, “studied the chemical compositions of different recycled aluminum alloys and grades, looking for an optimal combination of alloying elements to meet our performance standards”—to executives who had “to go far upstream in the supply chain to the source that was supplying our aluminum, then negotiate a new type of deal that they’d never done before.” All this was done, Google said, in order to “lower the carbon footprint of manufacturing the enclosure by 35 percent.” It’s the kind of grinding work that goes on day after day at companies that take the climate crisis seriously.