I’ve been taking a slow week as I’m visiting with my son in Ozark, Missouri. Brendan is co-manager, with his partner Liesel McCleary, of Finley Farms, an organic farm in a (small town) urban setting.

What’s amazing about the current generation of small-footprint farms is the emphasis on high output on low acreage, using simple, but very elegant tools.

There’s a whole book about this, Democracy in Chains by Nancy Maclean.

The whole culture war thing, abortion and all the rest, is just is just a sideshow to pull in the rubes. The real game is destroying the government’s ability to curb in any way the power of the wealthy and powerful.

I interviewed a prominent Arctic expert last week who had recently been in Russia studying some pretty vital permafrost issues – he wondered aloud when another such opportunity might arise.

Wall Street Journal:

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has delayed or derailed international collaborations studying climate change in the Arctic, with many Western scientists and scientific organizations cutting ties with Russian research institutions and canceling planned meetings or expeditions in Russia or Russian waters.

International tensions over the conflict could cripple research focused on a region that—along with the Antarctic—helps regulate climate across the globe, scientists say. Russia is one of eight countries that control land and ocean territories in the region north of the Arctic Circle.

“The Russian territorial waters and Russian coastline comprise a huge part of the region. We really need to know the full Arctic,” said Matthew Shupe, a University of Colorado Boulder atmospheric scientist. “If we’re limiting access to those regions, we’re going to miss out on some key knowledge to better understand how and why the Arctic system is changing.”

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which conducts ecological and weather monitoring in the Arctic, says war-related tensions haven’t affected its activities there. “All NOAA projects and observations are proceeding in the Arctic,” an agency spokesperson said.

That isn’t the case with other key players in Arctic research.

Dr. Shupe is a co-leader of an international Arctic research initiative to study climate change known as MOSAiC, for the Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate. As part of the project, scientists aboard the German research ship Polarstern recently spent a year collecting data in the region. Fieldwork for the expedition, which ended in October 2020, involved hundreds of crew, support staff and scientists, including up to 10 researchers from Russia, Dr. Shupe said.

But now Russian scientists aren’t expected at an April meeting when MOSAiC researchers will discuss the expedition’s data, said Markus Rex, MOSAiC expedition leader and head of atmospheric physics at the Alfred Wegener Institute, the German organization that led the project. It isn’t known whether the scientists will attend online, he said.

“We’re looking at this big pile of data, and they bring a lot of expertise to the table,” Dr. Shupe said of his Russian collaborators.

The Russian Embassy in Washington didn’t respond to requests for comment about the exclusion of Russian scientists and interruptions to other scientific collaborations.

Local organizers barred Russian scientists this month from the Arctic Science Summit Week, an Arctic-research meeting taking place this week and next in Tromsø, Norway, hosted by the International Arctic Science Committee, or IASC. The group is a coordinator of international research in the Arctic and includes scientists from 23 countries.

“In Arctic research, our ability to understand these rapid changes that are unfolding is like putting parts of the puzzle together—and without Russia you’re missing a big part of that picture,” said Matthew Druckenmiller, the U.S. delegate to the IASC council and a geophysicist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.

CNN:

Russian scientists are finding themselves isolated as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its second month. 

The country’s Mars rover project with the European Space Agency is on hold. Russian institutions have been suspended from CERN, the world’s largest particle physics lab, in Switzerland. A prestigious math conference has been moved from St. Petersburg to a virtual meeting, and Russian scientific journals are being frozen out of key international databases.

High-profile scientific journals such as Science and Nature aren’t rejecting research submitted by Russian scientists, but financial sanctions placed on Russia may make paying journal processing fees tricky. Ukrainian researchers are calling for a complete boycott of Russian institutions and academics.

But while welcoming the outpouring of support across the West for Ukrainian scientists, some academics think that shunning all Russian scientists could be counterproductive.

“Shutting down all interaction with Russian scientists would be a serious setback to a variety of Western and global interests and values, which include making rapid progress on global challenges related to science and technology, maintaining non-ideological lines of communication across national boundaries, and opposing ideological stereotyping and indiscriminate persecution,” said a letter published Thursday in the journal Science authored by five prominent scientists from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

John Holdren, a research professor in environmental science and policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the science adviser to former US President Barack Obama, was one of the authors. He said he wanted to make sure there was balance in the measures taken to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin and his regime.

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Walk and chew gum at same time.
Germany and Europe have to be assisted to transition from Russian gas. At the same time, transition to renewable energy sources has to be accelerated.

“Europe and the United States would be less exposed to the pressures this conflict is putting on our energy markets” if the transition to renewables was further along.

Also discussed, SEC proposals for corporate disclosure of climate risks – which Yellen said was “heartening”.

Wall Street Journal:

Koch Industries Inc., the energy-based conglomerate whose CEO long opposed environmental regulation and funded groups that questioned climate change, has emerged as one of the biggest financial backers of the battery industry.

A Koch Industries unit has made at least 10 investments worth at least $750 million in the U.S. battery supply chain and electric vehicles in the past 18 months, regulatory filings, news releases and FactSet data show. Koch’s battery investments are among the biggest from outside the auto industry, analysts say.Size of Koch Industries investments in​battery startups since 2021Source: Company announcementsNote: Includes equity and convertible debt​investments; doesn’t include other Koch battery​investmentsAspen​AerogelsEOSStandard​LithiumLi-Cycle$0 million$125$250

Founded more than 80 years ago as an oil refiner, Koch Industries is now the most diversified U.S. battery investor, said Vivas Kumar, a former Tesla Inc. senior manager and industry analyst who last year launched a battery-parts startup. “It’s stunning just how many different battery supply chain players they’ve taken a stake in,” he said.

Koch Industries is now a top shareholder in startups such as Freyr Battery SA, FREY -0.47% Aspen Aerogels Inc. and Standard Lithium Ltd. SLI 1.93% The money comes at a crucial time for many of these companies, which need to spend heavily to commercialize their products. Koch appears to be focused on building up the battery industry in the U.S.

“The speed of the energy transition is directly correlated with companies like Koch participating in it,” said Tom Jensen, CEO of Freyr, a Norway-based company working to make low-cost, sustainable batteries. Koch Industries has a 10% stake in Freyr, which was worth about $120 million as of the end of last year, according to FactSet. The companies have a joint venture to make batteries in the U.S.

Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kan., declined to comment about its battery investments. It has said little publicly about its battery strategy. The company has made the investments through Koch Strategic Platforms, a subsidiary of its investment group that it launched in late 2020 to invest in the energy transition, computing, automation and healthcare.

One of the groups they have backed, Americans for Prosperity, has fought efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions. They have donated to the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the CO2 Coalition, both of which also supported former President Donald Trump’s 2017 withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, argue against the benefits of electric vehicles and question whether global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels is a major issue.

In late 2020, Charles Koch, then 85 years old, wrote in a book that his partisanship was a mistake and said he hoped to address societal problems. His company’s political-action committee has continued donating heavily to Republican candidates.

Some analysts expect Koch Industries’ investments will spur others to follow them.

“When you see these large players jumping in the pool, you have to wonder, ‘What do they see that I don’t?’ ” said Chris Berry, founder of House Mountain Partners LLC, an adviser to battery-metals companies and investors.

Oilprice.com:

“It’s stunning just how many different battery supply chain players they’ve taken a stake in,” one former Tesla manager told the WSJ’s Ramkumar.

The shift of the conglomerate that started as an oil refiner is telling. What it tells us is that even the most conservative businesses are joining the energy transition drive. With annual revenues of over $100 billion, Koch is one of the largest privately-owned companies in the United States. And it is investing close to a tenth of these revenues in EVs and EV batteries. The ownership of the company makes the move into batteries even more important. Public companies such as Exxon only started setting emission-reduction targets and making other plans to reduce their carbon footprint after pressure from shareholders. Koch does not face such pressure. And yet it is investing in batteries.

The reason for this is quite likely pragmatic. Demand for EVs is projected to increase massively as governments continue to incentivize EV ownership. According to U.S. automaking giants GM and Ford, people won’t be buying anything else but electric cars in ten years or so, which is why both are preparing for an all-electric future.

GM plans to go all-electric from 2035. Ford is a bit more guarded, but it also has big all-electric plans for its near future. GM sold 2.2 million vehicles last year. That was down 13 percent from 2020, but still quite a number. In the best-case scenario, it will be selling at least as many EVs in 10 years. 

Ford, meanwhile, is the second-largest electric vehicle seller in the United States, behind only Tesla. Even though sales numbers are modest—a little over 13,000 units in January, including hybrids—this should increase thanks to government support and EV promotional campaigns, not to mention higher gasoline prices.

What all this means is that a lot more EV batteries will need to be manufactured. And the supply of raw materials for batteries is quite tight, meaning prices are high, too. And they are going to climb much higher in the future, according to all forecasts. In every situation where demand is projected to outstrip supply as it is in the case of electric car batteries, there’s a lot of money to be made.

Koch Industries has a reputation for being pragmatic. It is currently being criticized for not upping and leaving Russia as so many other U.S. and European businesses have due to the war in Ukraine. Just like that decision is likely driven by pragmatism, it is likely this one is too.

Pragmatism is not really trendy these days. Loud moral stances are. Yet it is often the pragmatists who are the best weathervanes of future trends. If the pragmatic, climate skeptic Koch brothers are investing hundreds of millions in EV batteries, the chances of these batteries actually being needed are very high.

New York Times:

 After parachuting into the frigid Alaska interior, Capt. Weston Iannone and his soldiers navigated miles through deep snow, finally setting up a temporary outpost on a ridgeline next to a grove of lanky spruce trees that were also struggling to survive.

Darkness was setting in, the temperature had fallen below zero, and the 120 men and women who had gathered as part of a major combat training exercise in subarctic Alaska had not yet erected tents. The supply line for fuel, essential to keep warm through the long night ahead, was lagging behind.

“Everything is a challenge, from water, fuel, food, moving people, keeping them comfortable,” said Captain Iannone, the 27-year-old company commander, as his soldiers shoveled deeper into the snow in search of a solid foundation to put up their sleeping quarters. “This is inherent training — understanding how far we can push physically and mentally.”

The first-of-its-kind exercise this month, involving some 8,000 troops outside of Fairbanks, was planned long before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but was driven in part by Russia’s aggressive moves in recent years to militarize the Arctic — a part of the world where the United States and Russia share a lengthy maritime boundary.

Tensions have been growing in the region for years, as nations stake claims to shipping routes and energy reserves that are opening up as a result of climate change. Now, with the geopolitical order shifting after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the competition over sovereignty and resources in the Arctic could intensify.

On the West Coast of Alaska, the federal government is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the port at Nome, which could transform into a deepwater hub servicing Coast Guard and Navy vessels navigating into the Arctic Circle. The Coast Guard expects to deploy three new icebreakers — although Russia already has more than 50 in operation.

And while the United States has denounced Russia’s aggressive military expansion in the Arctic, the Pentagon has its own plans to increase its presence and capabilities, working to rebuild cold-weather skills neglected during two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Air Force has transferred dozens of F-35 fighter jets to Alaska, announcing that the state will host “more advanced fighters than any other location in the world.” The Army last year released its first strategic plan for “Regaining Arctic Dominance.”

The Navy, which this month conducted exercises above and below the sea ice inside the Arctic Circle, also has developed a plan for protecting American interests in the region, warning that weakness there would mean that “peace and prosperity will be increasingly challenged by Russia and China, whose interests and values differ dramatically from ours.”

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If you have not seen the video above, you may be wondering how it is that suddenly densely populated areas of Colorado’s front range are subject to fast moving, deadly wildfires. It’s a new normal.

Raw Story:

“About 1,200 homes are being ordered to evacuate due to a fast-moving wildfire burning in an open space near the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder,” 9 News reports. “The CU Boulder South Campus was also being evacuated due to the NCAR Fire, BPD said. Colorado Parks and Wildlife said Eldorado Canyon State Park is now closed, and rangers are working to get visitors out of the park.”

Boulder police are working to evacuate approximately 1,200 residences.

“The fire is burning on the southwest side of Boulder in an open space area near NCAR, police said. The Boulder Fire Department is on scene fighting the fire,” the Denver Post reported. “At about 3:30 p.m., winds in Boulder were gusting to about 31 mph, humidity was 14% and the temperature was 73 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.”

Washington Post:

“Most homeowners should care about climate change and the potential impact on their families and property,” says John Berkowitz, CEO and founder of OJO Labs, a real estate technology firm that owns the Movoto listing site in Austin. “Unfortunately, the people who are most likely to be hurt are already disadvantaged in the housing market, such as first-time buyers and minority buyers who are focused on affordability now. They don’t have the luxury of time or money to think about what their property value will be in 2050.”

Lack of knowledge about climate risk makes it difficult for buyers to recognize that their home could be more costly to maintain, more expensive to insure, and more exposed to damage and possible destruction from a storm or fire. All those possibilities could also contribute to a decline in a property’s value or the inability to sell the home in the future. Yet few consumers consider these issues when buying a home.

Numerous studies have recently looked at the current impact of hazards on property values. For example, Redfin researchers found that homes in areas prone to wildfires sold for an average of 3.9 percent less compared with homes in areas with lower wildfire risk in California, Oregon and Washington state in 2020. Between 2012 and 2020, the median sales price of homes in low-risk areas increased 101 percent compared with an 88 percent increase in the median sales price for homes in areas with a high risk for wildfire, according to the study.

But home values don’t always correlate with climate risks. Hino co-wrote a report with Marshall Burke, an associate professor in the department of Earth system science at Stanford University, titled “The Effect of Information About Climate Risk on Property Values,” that focused on flood risk.

“Our research looked at the impact of regulatory flood plain maps, which are used to determine whether a home needs flood insurance, on home prices,” says Hino. “We expected to see that homes that require flood insurance would be less costly than similar homes that don’t require flood insurance, but that’s not happening.”

The main culprit is lack of information, says Hino.

“I read one study that found that less than 10 percent of buyers know that a house is in a flood plain before they make an offer,” says Hino. “They find out later when their lender checks the [Federal Emergency Management Agency] map to see if flood insurance is required.”

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